Classical, May 2023

hfnalbum.pngSir András Schiff
JS Bach: Inventions & Sinfonias, etc
ECM ECM2635/36 (two discs; downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

'C – this one go plunk' wrote Molesworth in his searing critique of the 'skool piano'. All the notes go plunk on Schiff's clavichord, but that's part of its charm. It can't be overstressed that Bach sat and wrote daily at the clavichord, a smaller and quirky cousin to the harpsichord, and this feels like the closest we could come to standing over his shoulder and turning pages in the music room of his Leipzig home. The instrument's action and decay set the pace in the Capriccio And Ricercar à 3, but they hardly inhibit Schiff's imaginative vision in a climactic Chromatic Fantasia And Fugue that sweeps all before it. Schiff says he now hears Bach differently after getting to know the clavichord, and perhaps you will too. PQ


Stile Antico
Byrd: Mass For Four Voices, Motets And Sacred Songs
Decca 4853951 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

Don't let the chill-out Tudor design deceive you: these are super-polished but gutsy and intelligent, deeply repeatable performances. Late rarities bookend the album and make the case for Byrd as the Elizabethan polyphonist supreme: Retire, My Soul surpasses Tomkins for aching suspensions, while the vaulting architecture of Tribue Domine outdoes the model of Tallis's Salve Intemerata at Stile Antico's spacious Tactus. By contrast, Mass For Four Voices is lovingly shaped, as if overheard, yet marked by text-led flurries of defiance. Turn Our Captivity is sung as a one-per-part madrigal of wounded faith. If Byrd is just a name to you, then start here. PQ


Chiaroscuro Quartet
Mozart: 'Prussian' Quartets, K575, K589 & K590
BIS BIS2558 (SACD; downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

Chiaroscuro imbue this trio of perennially underrated masterpieces from 1789-90 with an unhurried spirit of lateness and retrospection. Only diehard Amadeus Qt. fans will resist their autumnal tints on a base of pure tone: one of many colouristic sleights of imagination is the viola-led opening to K589(ii) like an offstage horn. Minuets and trios bring high rhetoric and sudden contrasts. The 86m playing time is largely occupied by taking all the repeats in K590 so that it takes on Jupiter-like dimensions, and each time around they find something new and often unexpected but never un-Mozartian, especially the grave and then ecstatically flowering Andante. PQ


Munich Phil./Zubin Mehta
R Strauss: Symphonia Domestica
Münchner Philh. 5452356035 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit res)

You'd think one of Strauss's spiritual homes would get the name of one of his major works right (see above), but never mind: this is Mehta's fourth Symphonia Domestica on record, and his finest. The LAPO [Decca] was brisk and flashy, BPO [Sony] and LPO [LPO live] were let down by the engineering. The Munich PO play their hearts out for their nonagenarian chief emeritus. Perhaps the hero's initial return home is more sluggish than careworn, but the heat soon rises with the fiery arrival of his wife, and never lets up. Mehta builds the love scene gloriously; the finale more patiently, teasing out every polyphonic twist and turn and keeping the brass on a tight leash. PQ