Classical, May 2019

Symphonies Nos 3, 5 and 8, 'Unfinished'
CBSO/Edward Gardner
Chandos CHSA5234 (downloads up to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

A bold start to a new Schubert cycle when we already have the benchmark VPO/Carlos Kleiber CD of Symphonies Nos 3 and 8 – although some may not like his unconventionally fast Allegretto, 3(ii) – and recent VPO/Abbado 5 and 8 [both DG]. However, the CBSO players more than hold their own in these Birmingham Town Hall recordings, while Gardner's interpretation of the 'Unfinished' is one of the most engaging

I have heard. The pause and heavy brass interpolations in (i) are quite menacing to the vulnerable line. At 0m 14s into No 5(i) Gardner makes a subito piano that seems to interrupt the flow (for me) in otherwise wholly enjoyable accounts of the two earlier symphonies. CB


Symphonie Fantastique (arr Heisser)
Jean-François Heisser & Marie-Josèphe Jude
Harmonia Mundi HMM902503 (downloads up to 44.1kHz/24-bit res)

This isn't Liszt's 1833 piano reduction of the Berlioz, but one prepared (30 years ago) by Heisser for two pianists. They play a 1928 Pleyel 'double piano' belonging to the Musée National de la Musique, Paris, having two facing keyboards, two sets of strings but a shared soundboard. Heisser tends to dominate but the two pianists are impressive in the accuracy of their coordination. Does it reveal any new insights into the work itself? No – but the interpretation of 'Scène aux Champs' is quite poetic and there are fascinating timbral effects in both the March and 'Witches' Sabbath' finale. CB


Violin Concertos Nos 1, 2 & 3
LSO/Nikolaj Znaider
LSO Live LSO0804 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

Late last year the Russian violinist (now increasingly conducting large-scale works) said he wanted to be known in future by his family name Szeps-Znaider. Here he completes his Mozart concerto series, playing with a full complement of the LSO's strings but with quite quick tempi and strong accents. It's a midway version between, say, the old Grumiaux/Philips series and more austere accounts like the Faust/Harmonia Mundi or Carmignola/DG. Cadenzas are not overlong and are presumably Znaider's own. The balance is good although violins are all on the left and at times they do sound rather bright. CB


Symphony No 1; En Saga
Gothenburg SO/Santtu-Matias Rouvali
Alpha ALPHA440 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

To see Rouvali conduct is to watch an extreme solo ballet performance – index finger stabbing ever upwards. (He says his whole body must convey the music.) Here he begins his Swedish orchestra's third recorded Sibelius cycle – two were with Neeme Järvi. It's an exciting start, with excellent sound, Rouvali and/or his producer ensuring that we hear every orchestral detail. More importantly it has the feel of a live performance. Some tempo changes are perhaps exaggerated (this is a young man's Sibelius), as in the quiet near-ending part of En Saga. But the final gallop and opening atmosphere are impressive. CB