Classical, June 2021

hfnalbum.pngSinfonia Of London/John Wilson
English Music for Strings
Chandos CHSA5624 (SACD; downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

The longest of the pieces here by the four English 'B's is Britten's Frank Bridge Variations – that composer represented by his short (faintly Delian) Lament prompted by the Lusitania sinking in 1915. From Lennox Berkeley we have the Serenade for Strings and from Bliss his Music for Strings, premiered in 1935 by the VPO under Adrian Boult, 'at the top of his form'. The jolly opening movement of the Serenade will keep you listening to the very end – although Richard Hickox [Chandos] brought more depth to this score. Wilson makes the Britten cohesive and fairly introspective in spite of the 'character' movements. The Jan '20 recordings were made at St Augustine's Church, Kilburn: this adds a slight ambience to the sound. CB


Andreas Haefliger, Helsinki Po/Susanna Mälkki
Piano Concertos by Ammann, Bartók (No 3), Ravel (For the left hand)
BIS BIS-2310 (SACD; downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

Swiss composer Dieter Ammann wrote his ½hr 'Gran Toccata' Concerto especially for Haefliger, and in the 2019 US premiere Mälkki accompanied him. After a few bare notes (repeated at the very end), we are soon thrown into a whirlpool of sound, with heavy use of percussion. Hints of Petrushka and Ravel in jazzy mode, but little repose and it just shows what a masterly work the Ravel Concerto is – a fine account from pianist and conductor. They bring a Mozartean simplicity to the Bartók (no longer seeming 'modern' in any way), and the sound is excellent. CB


Ernst Ottensamer, Academy Of London/RNS/Richard Stamp
Copland: Clarinet Concerto; Appalachian Spring (Suite)/R Strauss: Duet Concertino, etc
Signum Classics SIGCD654 (downloads to 44.1kHz/24-bit resolution)

This was the final concerto recording by Ottensamer (VPO principal from 1983) and in the Strauss his partner is Stepan Turnovsky (VPO bassoon soloist from '85); the orchestra is the Royal Northern Sinfonia, and there's also the Prelude to Capriccio. Appalachian Spring here restores the original chamber instrumentation and additional strings suggested by Copland. It's not the jazziest Concerto performance you'll hear but the solo playing is very fine and Stamp brings clean textures to both Copland works. The late Strauss Concertino is more closely balanced. CB


Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell
The Forgotten Recordings
Somm Ariadne 5011-2 (two discs; downloads to 96kHz/24-bit res)

Szell came to Cleveland as music director in 1946 and they made a few Columbia recordings, later transferring to Epic. The material here, though – Bach's Suite No 3, Brahms's Academic Festival Ovt. and Haydn Variations, Mozart's Symphony No 39 and Schumann's No 4, a Firebird Suite, Vltava and Till Eulenspiegel – were all part of a deal Szell agreed with mail order company 'Book-of-the-Month Club'. Made in 1954-5 (five in early stereo) these recordings have a warmth and spiritedness that sets them apart from the Szell remakes. The Clevelanders play their socks off for him and I was thrilled to hear this collection, dated sound notwithstanding. CB