Classical, May 2020

hfnalbum.pngVaughan Williams
Symphonies Nos 3, 'Pastoral', and 4; Saraband 'Helen'
Helen Watts, David Butt Philip, BBC SO & Ch/Martyn Brabbins
Hyperion CDA68280 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

After 'London', the countryside in landscape and spiritual reflections, then the turbulent No 4, memorably recorded by the composer in 1937 with the BBC SO [now on Naxos 8111048]. Each RVW symphony took steps in a new direction, as with Beethoven's. And the scherzo from No 3 is not unlike that composer's merrymaking folk – although here they scamper away, not heading to a storm but the inspired solo soprano voice, set far back. A shock, then, to run from that finale to the bellicose 4(i). Both works receive outstanding recordings in Brabbins' series and his completion of the 1913-14 unpublished Marlowe setting (tenor, chorus and orch), Saraband, is a rewarding bonus. CB


JS Bach/Bartók
French Suite No 5, BWV816; Partita No 2, BWV826/Out of Doors; Suite Op.14
Julien Libeer
Harmonia Mundi HMM902651

'Classy' just about sums up this contrasting pairing of composers by a young Belgian pianist (33) who has been studying with Maria João Pires. He plays a Steinway in the Limousin arts centre, Ferme de Villefavard (you can see film of this on the Internet), and delivers an outstanding sound. The impact of Bartók's pesante 'With pipes and drums' after the Bach BWV216 Gigue is quite dramatic; and Libeer's 'Night Music' following Bartók's 'Musette' gives an idea of his expressive range. After the Bartók 'Hunt' and lonely 'Sostenuto' finales, returning to Bach makes good programmatic sense. CB


Carmen Suite/Pines of Rome
Bavarian RSO/Mariss Jansons
BR Klassik 900183 (downloads to 48kHz/24-bit resolution)

Schnittke's 1967 adaptation of Bizet's Carmen (with bits of L'Arlésienne and Maid of Perth impudently thrown in) was scored for strings and 47 percussion instruments. It was written for his wife, a Bolshoi prima ballerina, to perform but immediately condemned by the Soviet authorities. Rozhdestvensky's Melodiya/EMI LP was acclaimed as an unmissable audiophile release (1968). Jansons' live recording is from 2017, and he brings out all of its inherent dark drama – no 'tongue-in-cheek' for the more exotic scoring. The Respighi, given six months before he died last year, is another all-stops-out performance. CB


Music by Chabrier, Debussy, Duruflé, Ibert, Massenet, Ravel and Saint-Saens
Sinfonia of London/John Wilson
Chandos CHSA5252 (SACD; downloads to 96kHz/24-bit res)

España, L'après-midi d'un Faune, Rapsodie Espagnole, the 'Méditation' from Thais (with a tastefully expressive violin part by leader Andrew Haveron) – for his second disc with the Sinfonia of London John Wilson adds to these popular masterworks Saint-Saens's Rouet d'Omphale (rarely heard nowadays), Ibert's Escales and Three Dances by Duruflé. The orchestral quality in these French pieces reminded me of the Philharmonia in its early hey-day, and while the popular tracks are all enjoyable, you need this for the piquant Ibert Palermo/Tunis/Valencia/Tunis pictures and Duruflé's Op.6. CB