Classical, November 2023

hfnalbum.pngCleveland Orchestra/Welser-Möst
Berg: Lyric Suite; R Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier (Suite)
Cleveland Orchestra TCO0007 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

The Cleveland's own label continues to put similar ventures in the shade with engineering that zeroes in on a world-class ensemble at the top of its game. Welser-Möst keeps his 40m synthesis from Der Rosenkavalier on the move, trusting his Cleveland players to draw all the tenderness and richness from Strauss's score. They bring sexy swing and cheeky portamento to the waltz rhythms, especially for Baron Ochs's 'poor me' act at the close of Act 2. Far more detail emerges from the third act Pantomime than you could ever hear live, and the Trio still casts its spell, with the final duet adding to an unusually complete sense of the drama in condensed form. The Berg Lyric Suite is no less glorious in its sinuous way. PQ


Iceland SO/Ollikainen
Thorvaldsdóttir: Archora, Aion
Sono Luminis DSL92268 (CD + Blu-ray; downloads to 96kHz/24-bit)

When she emerged a decade ago, Anna Thorvaldsdóttir seemed to put her heritage behind her with an ear and an imagination reflecting her Stateside education. These orchestral canvases, full of fire, ice, eruptions and earthquakes, show that she has come fully to terms with 'being Icelandic' in the mould of Jon Leifs. Archora moves like lava, stealthily but inevitably. Aion is a triptych all its own in which the same themes are viewed from different perspectives, and ultimately transfigured in a radiant apotheosis. All that's missing is variety: but I guess you don't ask a volcano to sprout flowers. The hi-res recording has an astonishing depth of field. PQ


Helsinki Chamb Ch/Schweckendiek
Saariaho: Nuits, Adieux; Echo, etc
BIS BIS2662 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

Rush-released after the composer's death in June, this collection makes a fitting tribute to the memory of Kaija Saariaho in a medium we don't associate with her. The album is named after Reconaissance, a 25-minute sequence of alien soundscapes from 2020 setting texts by her son Aleksi Barriere and ending with a Requiem. Percussion effects and breathing techniques underline the otherworldliness which came to define her later pieces. I prefer the sparer texture and more sharply defined harmony of the earliest cycle here, Nuits, A.03dieux, from 1991, before French influence had tamed the Finnish forest spirits within her. Fully immersive sound and performances. PQ


Elizabeth Atherton, Jess Dandy, Peter Rose, BBC PO/Storgards
Shostakovich: Symphony No.14, Tsvetayeva settings
Chandos CHSA 5310 (SACD; downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

No.14 has a fine heritage of British-made recordings beginning with the version by its dedicatee, Britten. A practised Fafner and Osmin, Peter Rose is perfect casting for the iron-black bass part. I'd love a nudge more string bass to match, but turning up the volume serves to underline the definition of the BBC PO's playing and biting articulation of the singers. Atherton curls her lip magnificently in Lorca's 'Malaguena' before turning on sinuous charm for Apollinaire's 'Loreley': a fine balance struck between black humour and bleak despair. Dandy pours floods of tone into the spare textures of the six Marina Tsvetayeva settings. PQ