Classical, June 2020

Le Portrait musical de la Nature/Symphony No 6
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin/Bernhard Forck
Harmonia Mundo HMM 902425 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit res)

A 'Grande Sinfonie' with birdsong, a thunderstorm, a trickling brook and descriptive movement-headings – no, not Beethoven's, but a work heard 20 years before the 'Pastoral', composed by Justin Knecht and believed to be known to Beethoven. Necht's storms are even more violent than his successor's! The juxtaposition here is obviously thought-provoking, and fortunately, we have the most enjoyable period-instruments 'Pastoral' I've so far encountered. Leader/director Forck has his players with winds grouped to the right of the soundstage and the timbres of flute and oboe make a magical effect at the end of (ii) and in the peasants' awkward band trio. CB


The Late String Quartets, Op95-135
Brodsky Quartet
Chandos CHAN20114(3) (three discs; downloads to 96kHz/24-bit res)

The recording dates show the Brodskys began with the last quartet and Grosse fuge (Oct '17), and finished by tackling the Cavatina from Op.130 (Apr '19); the sessions were held at Potton Hall. What sets this cycle apart – and it's good to have the F-minor, Op.95, as a bonus – is the feeling that these players are communing with the music with an inward concentration that's different from performances 'played out' to an audience. The way each player joins in with the 'conversation' of the Quartet, clearly positioned yet not spotlit, draws you into a set of interpretations which are especially fine in the slow movts. CB


Violin Concerto; Verklärte Nacht
Isabelle Faust et al, Swedish RSO/Daniel Harding
Harmonia Mundi HMM902341 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit res)

Of the music by the Second Viennese School composers, Schoenberg's is the most difficult for listeners – his atonal Violin Concerto from 1936, when he was living in the States, has as a sweetener here Verklärte Nacht in its original string sextet scoring (Faust with distinguished soloist colleagues). Five tracks are provided for this sensitive performance but crescendi are accompanied by the sound image moving forwards. Faust's commanding playing along with the admirable support from Harding should open doors for many in the Violin Concerto, however – Hahn's [DG] is with the same fine orchestra. CB


String Quartets Opp.138, 142 and 144
Fitzwilliam Quartet
Linn CKD612 (downloads to 192kHz/24-bit resolution)

The Fitzwilliam String Quartet was formed in 1968 and during the late '70s recorded all of Shostakovich's string quartets for Decca. Only violist Alan George remains from the original lineup and in the Linn booklet he recounts their close contact with the composer – they gave the UK premieres of all three of his last quartets re-recorded here. Op.144 is the one comprising six Adagio movements; in Op.138 he asks the players to strike their violins with bow-sticks. Philips Hobbs has secured outstanding sound quality for these often harrowing, but compelling, works and the interpretations are surely definitive. CB