Classical, June 2019

hfnalbum.pngJS Bach
Violin Concertos, Sinfonias and other works
Isabelle Faust, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
Harmonia Mundi HMM902335.56 (two discs; downloads)

Isabelle Faust turns here from the Partitas and Sonatas to Bach's solo and double Violin Concertos partnered in BWV1043 with leader Bernhard Forck, but includes music more often heard with keyboardists. Indeed CD1 starts with the familar D-minor, BWV1052, while CD2 has the Orchestral Suite No 2, Faust replacing flute – her Badinerie is an utter delight. So is the Sinfonia BWV174, better known as Brandenburg 3(i), but with substantial added winds. The booklet analysis explains that there's evidence that Bach may have first thought of many pieces as for violin, while his organ sonatas were probably begun as trios. It's an unmissable and unique library set. CB


Piano Sonata No 3; Mazurkas; Nocturnes; Berceuse
Maurizio Pollini
DG 483 6475 (downloads up to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

Recorded early last year in the Munich Herkulessaal, Pollini revisits late Chopin works Opp.55-58), adding the three Mazurkas Op.56 which he has not recorded before. Klaus Hiemann has managed a magnificent sound – no pedal thumps here, albeit we hear Pollini's customary distant vocal promptings. His Chopin has a resolute and authoritative manner, and it's good to have the Berceuse without cotton-wool softness, and the Nocturnes without Ingrid Fliter's recent self-indulgence [Linn]. Timings in the Sonata differ by up to 40s, plus or minus relative to his 1984 DG version, and this is a compelling remake. CB


Symphony No 7
Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer
Channel Classics CCSSA38019 (downloads up to DSD256)

The subject of a Dutch television documentary now on the Internet – filming the preparation of this recording and with Fischer's extensive thoughts on the work – Symphony No 7 ends his Mahler series (he doesn't conduct No 8). He hopes to dispel the idea of it as a problematic symphony, pointing to many Jewish motifs and key sounds (like barracks bugle calls), notably in the Rondo finale. It's a happy contrast to No 6, he says. Even so it is a long, difficult listen (though timings are all shorter than with Bernstein). The spectral Scherzo comes off best and there's consistent orchestral transparency and detail. CB


Symphony No 5; Four Romances on Poems by Pushkin
James Platt, Hallé Orchestra/Sir Mark Elder
Hallé CDHLL7550 (downloads up to 44.1kHz/24-bit resolution)

No two accounts of this symphony could be more different than the classic 1959 NYPO Bernstein [Sony] and Elder's – a live recording from Jan '18. With Bernstein we're in at the brooding deep end from the start, but here the music is allowed – so it seems – to speak for itself, with a more transparent tonal palette. The (ambiguous) finale seems to tie everything together. The songs, beautifully focused by the young British bass, relate to the main work: suggesting Pushkin was a sop to the Soviet regime before Shostakovich found himself condemned in Pravda. Excellent notes by Stephen Johnson, with texts included. CB