Flute and piano are not my favourite tipple, but Hans-Udo Heinzmann and Irish-based Elisaveta Blumina makes a compelling case for these three – the French opener as floaty as a summer dress, the Norwegian dunked in Brahms and the Prokofiev second sonata suppressing wartime anxieties (and better known in its violin-piano form). The soloists here play as equals, and the playfulness itself is delightful.
So who’s the new Django Reinhardt, then? Half French, half-Rumanian, Nemtanu mixes authentic Csardas dances with Ravel’s idealised Tzigane, a sonata by Georges Enescu with a gypsy fantasy by Sarasate. Unafraid of the harsh edge of her strings, she plays with rich intensity and a troubled personality. The accompaniments, too, are constantly intriguing.
Jack Liebeck is one of the most engaging young violinists in Britain and Katya Apekisheva is a Leeds prizewinner. So why does their Brahms sound undercooked? The recording was made in December 2007 in Potton Hall, some two years before Jack signed a record deal; it may have been rushed out to mark Sony’s return to classical fray. The volume is low, the range constricted and the instruments shady and recessed. The piano sounds as if the tuner should have stayed an extra hour. The playing is faultless but lacking in the large gestures that Brahms requires if we are to believe in his present-day relevance. Much to enjoy here, but more to rue.
The contralto Lorraine Hunt Lieberson will soon have more posthumous records to her name than live ones, so vastly has she sold since her death two summers ago, aged 52. A viola player who found her voice while freelancing in Boston orchestras, Lorraine enjoyed brief fame at the summits of opera before falling victim to breast cancer. The Bach cantatas and Handel arias presented here are pre-fame performances in Boston’s Emmanuel Church with an orchestra of old friends and an ambience that is devout in Bach and declamatory in Handel, not an easy fit. Her Sunday-morning Bach style is reminiscent of Kathleen Ferrier at her most touching and orotund, every consonant an immaculate offering. In scenes from Handel’s Hercules, a concert rarity, she switches to brimstone and heartbreak, bringing a Purcell-like translucence to the lament, ‘When beauty sorrow’s’. The only shortcoming on this church-owned record of her emergent gifts is the over-friendliness of the accompaniment. Spurred on by fiercer conductors than the resident Craig Smith and John Harbison, Lorraine could – and did – melt mountains.
History of the Violoncello. Paganiniana, 1983.
Once upon a time there was a label called Everest that produced classical records in dazzling covers, with spectacular sound to match. Like many of the best, it was set up by a man who learned his trade in military radar and ballistic missiles. Everest flourished from 1958 for four years, after which its catalogue fell into the hands iof liquidators and lawyers, never to appear on CD – until this week, when it pops up at an impulse £6 a disc. Neither of the Latin American composers on this release are played much in concert nowadays, more’s the pity. The second Bachaianas Brasileiras of Heitor Villa-Lobos takes us on a little train ride through the jungle, while the Argentine Alberto Ginastera delivers two Workers Educational-type ballets, titled Estancia and Panambi and almost impossible to listen to sitting down. Played by a New York pick-up band, and by the LSO at its most bristling – is that the young Jimmy Galway on flute solo? – these scintillating sessions could never have been made by a major label with three salaried suits watching the wall clock for musicians’ overtime. It’s fabulous playing, fun, fun, fun.
The Art of Tone-Production on the Cello. London, 1913.
Too gifted for his own good in maths, philosophy and natural sciences, Saint-Saens (1835-1921) wrote orchestral music with such ease that most of it has been deservedly forgotten. Of five piano concertos, only the second gained concert posterity, thanks in the main to a lapel-gripping solo introduction which appealed to egotistical pianists because it allowed them, rather than the conductor, to dictate tempo and structure. The concerto is full of whimsical objects, like a rich bouillabaisse, and although top heavy in an overlong first movement, sustains the appetite until the bowl is bare. More piquant is the Mediterranean plat du jour, the so-called ‘Egyptian’ fifth concerto, a piece of 1896 cultural imperialism that steals souk tunes and transposes them amusingly to western modalities. Thibaudet plays with appropriately skittish superficiality, adding gravitas where required in the filler piece, Cesar Franck’s symphonic variations for piano and orchestra. The flaw in the meal is chef Dutoit and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, a former Michelin-starred band now reduced to scraggy sound.
New Directions in Cello Playing. ofnote, 1995.Schroeder, C.
This is a disc of two halves. The first is a perfectly decent performance of the Brahms double concerto by the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra with the busy French brothers Capucon on violin and cello. The solo instruments are placed too far forward – not so much in your ear as in your face – and the tempi are metronomic, lacking any element of surprise. Conductor Myung Whun-Chung never extinguishes the seatbelt sign on this flight.
No such precautions, though, in the elegiac quintet where clarinettist Paul Meyer asserts an insouciance that takes both speed and dynamics to unexpected extremes and the texture of the music to the very brink of otherworldliness. The Capucons play with baroque intricacy and the extra violinist, Aki Sauliere, and viola Beatrice Muthelet sound as if they have been playing in this group all their lives. This is Brahms with an Yves Montand accent and a lightness that dispels Brahmsian gravitas.