Classical, March 2021

hfnalbum.pngKremerata Baltica/Gidon Kremer, Mario Brunello
Searching For Ludwig – related works by Beethoven, Léo Ferré and Giovanni Sollima
Alpha Classics ALPHA660 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

The two main works here are Beethoven's String Quartets Op.131 and Op.135 transcribed for strings, the latter directed by cellist Mario Brunello, the C-sharp minor led by Kremer. A garish piece by Ferré, Muss es sein?, is rescored (cello, strings, percussion) with Ferré's manic vocal interjections over-dubbed. The other – far more approachable – new work, Note Sconte, rather dreamlike, was composed in memory of Franco Rossi, cellist in the Quartetto Italiano, and is based on Beethoven fragments. The Kremerata playing is wonderful, solo strings alternating in Op.131 with greater intimacy than in the last Quartet. CB


Bavarian RSO/Mariss Jansons
Bruckner: Symphonies Nos 3, 4, and 6-9
BR Klassik 900718 (six discs; downloads to 44.1kHz/16-bit res)

This reissue set gathers together concert performances given between 2005 and 2017 in the Munich Philharmonie and (No 7) the Vienna Musikverein – this last is also available separately on SACD. Coals to Newcastle but the best thing here, I'd say. Jansons' Bruckner was warmly affirmative, full of colour – how he achieved results is detailed in the booklet. But there's some variability: 9(iii) is noble while a heavy tread mars (ii); No 8 is admirably spacious but has none of Furtwängler's sense of tragedy. And for CD listening 4(ii) seems too slow, even if it worked in the concert hall. What is consistent is the high quality of orchestral playing, notably in the brass section. CB


COE/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Schubert: Symphonies 1-6, 8 & 9
ICA Classic ICAC 5160 (four discs; downloads to 44.1kHz/16-bit res)

Nikolaus Harnoncourt's most persuasive performances of Beethoven and Mozart were given with the COE. In 1993 we had his first Schubert cycle, with the Concertgebouw [Teldec], and in 2017 a live Berliner Philharmoniker SACD set was released. Remastered from ORF Austrian stereo radio tapes, this cycle comes from performances given at the Styriate Festival, Graz, in July '88. (The illustrated booklet has reminiscences by some of the players.) This is an assertive Schubert set – rough even, in 8(i) – unlike the smooth, 'polite' COE/Abbado DGs. Minuetti are fast, trios dancelike; leadbacks and transistions are fuss-free; and a 'live' feel is perceptible. CB


BBC SO/Martyn Brabbins
Vaughan Williams: Symphony No 5, Pilgrim's Progress
Hyperion CDA68325 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

This fourth CD coupling in Hyperion's Vaughan Williams cycle with the BBC SO comes with Scenes adapted from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (with solo voices and two BBC vocal groups; 27m). There's unexpected variety in this selection with Emily Portman's unaccompanied 'Flower girl's song' a highlight. No 5 is the composer's quietest, arguably greatest, Symphony and in (i) it's almost as if the music flows of its own volition – nothing interventionist in Brabbins' account. You simply hope nothing goes amiss in either 'Romanza' or that inspiring finale, and all is well in a distanced Watford hall production by Andrew Keener/Simon Eadon. CB