Classical, November 2022

hfnalbum.pngLatvian Radio Choir/Sigvards Klava
John Cage: Choral Works
Ondine C210123 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

Piano, yes, string quartet, cacti and cassette players – but who knew that Cage wrote for choirs? The album is a revelation: charming, mysterious, requiring no special affinity with the avant-garde or in-depth study of the composer's chance procedures. There are four pieces, 'texted' (with instructions and diagrams instead of exact notation) but without texts, even for the syllabic Hymns and Variations. The opening five-minute Five (denoting the number of parts) is simply entrancing, floating weightlessly like Ligeti's Lux aeterna, free from bogus mysticism. In the half-hour Four6 I hear a still summer morning: the buzz of crickets, croak of frogs and hum of heat. Immaculate singing and engineering here. PQ


Stravinsky: The Firebird, The Rite of Spring, Faun and Shepherdess, Scherzo, Symphony in E flat, etc
LPO Live LPO0123 (two discs; downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

The first of three promised LPO Stravinsky volumes invites direct comparison with the LSO/Rattle album of the early Diaghilev ballets. Jurowski's ear for texture is no less acute but his Rite is redder in tooth and claw, especially the slow-burn brutality of Part 2. The tricky RFH acoustic is filled out by the coolly sensuous caress of Jurowski's phrasing in The Firebird. CD1 is better still: an indispensable collection of the pre-Paris Stravinsky, up to the rediscovered Chant funèbre Op 5. The Firebird pre-echoes of the Scherzo Fantastique are deliciously pointed, and the early Symphony emerges as a major work. PQ


B'Rock Orchestra/Jacobs
Schubert: Symphonies 8 & 9
Pentatone PTC51896894 (downloads to 192kHz/24-bit resolution)

The packaging for this 88-minute single CD (!) carefully avoids assigning numbers when the quantity of Schubert's surviving symphonies is so contested. Jacobs argues that the 'Unfinished' is to all purposes 'complete' and relates it (as do Rattle and others) to a piece of autobiographical prose, Mein Traum, which is recited. The jury's out – but not on the performances, which stride forward purposefully, underpinned by a gutsy walking bass. All repeats are taken in a glorious, rustically tinted account of the 'Great' C major, not the last word in precision but with its heart in the right place, culminating in a slow-burn, ultimately transcendental finale. PQ


Beauty Farm
Gombert: Motets, Volume 3
Fra Bernardo FB2231711 (two discs, downloads to 44kHz/16-bit res)

Right from the grinding harmonic gears of the opening five-part Pater Noster, Beauty Farm remind us that Gombert (1495-1560) stands alone of his kind among golden-age polyphonists. Unlike Gesualdo's addiction to graphic dissonance in his madrigals, Gombert always keeps the polyphonic wheels turning, purring onwards despite the funny noises coming from the engine. Each volume of this Dutch male-voice ensemble's pioneering project turns up remarkable premieres: this time it's the painful fragility of Egregie Martyr, pitched intentionally high, and the crosshatched lines of Anima nostra sicut passer packed close like a Dürer miniature. PQ