Classical, October 2019

Piano Sonatas Opp.109-111
Steven Osborne
Hyperion CDA68219 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

These three last Beethoven Sonatas were recorded by Steven Osborne at the Perth Concert Hall in Feb '18. It's a shame the Steinway used has such a thin upper treble – especially when the Op.111 variations venture into that register. Osborne's Beethoven is very personal but both gripping and every minute detail counts. The first movement of Op.111 is like an exhaustive trek through expressive extremes, while the quiet playing in (ii) is very lovely. In Op.110(ii) his fast tempo is the same as Sudbin's in his recent BIS version – it's a movement which old-school pianists, Kempff, Backhaus, saw more as 'Moderato'. Essential, no matter how many versions you already have. CB


Symphonies Nos 6 and 9/Siegfried Idyll, etc
Leipzig Gewandhausorchester/Andris Nelsons
DG 483 6659 (two discs; downloads to 192kHz/24-bit resolution)

This is Vol 4 in Nelsons' Bruckner cycle, with the Parsifal Prelude separating the two symphonies and a full-orchestra version of the Siegfried Idyll as opener. The acoustic is rather cloudy and the way in which Nelsons rather milks the two Bruckner scores for expression – extended pauses, extreme pianissimi – won't please listeners who have, say, Klemperer in No 6, Abbado in No 9, Haitink in both. The slow progress of the Adagio in No 6 makes it something of a relief when it finishes – timing 19m 45s versus 15m 18s with Haitink. There is of course fine playing from the Leipzig orchestra but these readings disappoint. CB


The Marriage of Figaro
Soloists, Philharmonia Orch & Ch/Carlo Maria Giulini
ICA Classics ICAC5157 (mono; downloads to 44.1kHz/16-bit res)

This is from a 1961 BBC broadcast from the Royal Festival Hall, 15 months after Giulini's studio recording was completed for EMI and with an almost entirely new cast. A brisk overture sets the pace for this sparkling performance with its lively vocal acting – especially from Fernando Corena (Figaro). Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is the Countess (extensively applauded by aficionados), Söderstrom Susanna and Teresa Berganza a delightful Cherubino. There's a reminder too of the artistry of the late Heather Harper, who takes the role of Barbarina. Excellent playing from the Philharmonia Orchestra in its prime. CB


24 Preludes
Boris Giltburg
Naxos 8574025 (downloads to 192kHz/24-bit resolution)

Whereas the Debussy Préludes have pictorial titles, like the Chopin set Rachmaninov's (1892/1903/1910) are abstract pieces – albeit not without poetry. This was most memorably realised by Peter Katin [Somm]; and the Moura Lympany reissues from 1941-2 [Eloquence] should be heard too. But this Naxos set is a real bargain, especially at 192kHz/24-bit – £7.89 with booklet. It was produced last October by Andrew Keener at the Wyastone Concert Hall. Giltburg brings an intimate address to these pieces, even when the writing is dramatic. You'll just want to stay listening until his disc finishes. CB