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Sibelius Kullervo
Title: Sibelius Kullervo
Artist: Helena Juntunen (soprano), Benjamin Appl (baritone), Lund Male Chorus, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Dausgaard (conductor)
Label: Hyperion
Format: CD

Sibelius really did write eight symphonies; the destruction by his own hand of the nominal Eighth is of course an immeasurable loss, but there is the still-underappreciated early Kullervo symphony as a makeweight. Written when Sibelius was only 26, Kullervo has been described as a “suite of five symphonic movements resembling tone poems”, making it a cousin of the Lemminkäinen Suite, and it is the work in which he established his own musical voice. Brought up as a Swedish-speaker, reading the Kalevala seems to have kindled Sibelius’ enthusiasm for Finnish language and folklore, and Finnish folk music clearly had an impact on Sibelius’ compositional thinking in Kullervo. The story is mythological and melodramatic, concerning the tragic eponymous hero, who commits unintentional incest and after unsuccessfully seeking death on the battlefield, atones by suicide. The central movement, depicting the crime being committed, uses solo soprano and baritone voices, and for the final movement Sibelius adds a poignant male chorus; all is sung in Finnish. Kullervo is a vast and exhilarating symphony, almost 75 minutes long, which may be why it was not first recorded until as late as 1970. As the breakthrough work by one of the early 20th century’s most significant composers it deserves to be far more widely known.
Elgar Caractacus
Title: Elgar Caractacus
Artist: Huddersfield Choral Society, Orchestra of Opera North, Martyn Brabbins (conductor)
Label: Hyperion
Format: CD2

Written in the same decade as Kullervo, Elgar’s Caractacus  was commissioned for the 1898 Leeds Festival. Historically, Caractacus was a British warrior defeated by the Romans who was taken to Rome, where he and his family were permitted to live their lives out as, effectively, hostages, while being presumably made ‘civilised’. At first glance this story would seem riskily unpromising for such an eminent composer as Elgar to consider. However, his librettist, Henry Acworth, managed to lighten the imperialistically homiletic elements of the tale while also injecting some fictional romance; the emperor Claudius even makes an appearance! Irrespective of the worth of the subject-matter, Caractacus is a substantial piece that contains some of Elgar’s lovelier music, and a worthy precursor to the Enigma Variations and the Dream of Gerontius.
Finzi: Choral works
Presell | Available Mid August
Title: Finzi: Choral works
Artist: Trinity College Choir Cambridge, Stephen Layton (conductor)
Label: Hyperion
Format: CD

Gerald Finzi is finally being awarded the attention his intensely personal music deserves. Although of Italian-Jewish ancestry, and no declared faith, he made a significant and enduring contribution to Anglican church music, and arguably is one of the most pastorally-inclined of early 20th century British composers. This new CD offers a sequence of his smaller anthems for choir and organ, culminating in the more extended and intense Lo, the full, final sacrifice. Also included is a Nunc dimittis by composer David Bednall written as a companion to the Magnificat of Finzi that opens the disc. Separating these sacred works are a pair of contrasting brief secular pieces, All this night for massed voices, and White-flowering days, a madrigal, which display Finzi’s skill as a choral composer at both ends of the scale. Completing the disc is Seven poems of Robert Bridges, a collection of exquisite small settings that are rarely heard as a group. All the secular songs are for unaccompanied chorus. His music is some of the loveliest to have been written in the English choral tradition, and this CD will give admirers of that tradition much pleasure.
Mozart: The Jupiter Project
Presell | Available Mid August
Title: Mozart: The Jupiter Project
Artist: David Owen Norris (piano), Katy Bircher (flute), Caroline Balding (violin), Andrew Skidmore (cello)
Label: Hyperion
Format: CD

Now this is an interesting proposition: an attempt to recreate “how Mozart’s large-scale orchestral works might have been encountered in Georgian Britain” and performed by “kind of ensemble which played such a prominent role in its musical life”, that is, a quartet of flute, violin, cello, and piano. In the later 19th century symphonies were frequently first encountered as works for the monolithic ensemble of two pianists, but the arrangements on this new CD, in the hands of these very skilled interpreters, manage to be colourful chamber music, with a recognisably symphonic flavour. The works presented in this radical garb are, as the title suggests, the Jupiter Symphony No. 41, the 21st Piano Concerto, and the Magic Flute and Marriage of Figaro Overtures. The arrangements were not made by Mozart himself, of course, but by his contemporary Clementi, and two very eminent composers of the next generation, Hummel and J B Cramer. It is startling to hear such familiar repertoire so very differently, but it is a testament to the magic of Mozart’s music—and his arrangers’ skills—that they sound utterly idiomatic. This is not an essential CD, admittedly, but no Mozartian will want to miss it …or any other music-lover, for that matter.
Bach: The Toccatas
Presell | Available Mid August
Title: Bach: The Toccatas
Artist: Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord)
Label: Hyperion
Format: CD

Bach’s seven Toccatas are early works, with complicated provenances; in fact, the last one is barely a toccata at all. They are also confidently magnificent music that present the young Bach as an assertive and vital composer; it is possible they were written as a vehicle for his own playing. Performed here in their edgy intensity by Mahan Esfahani on a sonorous and multi-timbred harpsichord the results are sufficiently impressive that one wonders why they are so often performed on piano. Even today the harpsichord is not as popular as it deserves to be; CDs like this are indispensable ambassadors for this wonderful instrument.
Stanford: A Song of Agincourt & other works
Presell | Available Mid August
Title: Stanford: A Song of Agincourt & other works
Artist: Ulster Orchestra, Howard Shelley (conductor)
Label: Hyperion
Format: CD

I’ve always thought of Stanford’s music as amiable, but this new CD goes a long way towards correcting that impression, offering music ranging from the intensely sombre: Verdun Solemn March, to the absurd: Fairy Day. The Solemn March, and its companion the Heroic Epilogue, are both orchestrated movements from an Organ Sonata that Stanford dedicated to Widor; written in 1917 the original Sonata was a homage to the French involvement in the battle of Verdun. Fairy Day, Three Idylls for female chorus and small orchestra, were written in 1912, before the darkness descended on Europe, and have an almost naïve charm that reminds us of how much less quaint fairies seemed at the time—this was only a few years before Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle’s fairy flirtations. Balancing these expressive poles are a Brahmsian Overture in the style of a tragedy, a slightly Elgarian Welcome March, and the stand-out work, A Song of Agincourt, which, as its title indicates, is a set of very effective variations on the famous Agincourt Song. The Song of Agincourt is a substantial and celebratory piece that Stanford wrote immediately after the end of the First War ‘in commemoration of those members of the Royal College of Music who fought, worked, and died for their country’. While Stanford cannot be accused of being profound, the dignified expressivity of his music is never less than impressive, and unambiguously English.
Copland and Chavez - Pan-American Reflections
Title: Copland and Chavez - Pan-American Reflections
Artist: The Orchestra of the Americas, Carlos Miguel Prieto
Label: Linn
Format: CD

The Orchestra of the Americas is a remarkable organisation: not quite a youth orchestra, it hosts young musicians from more than 25 countries, and has worked with many composers-in-residence from Philip Glass to Tan Dun. On this new CD from Linn the Orchestra underlines its broad North-South continental links by including works by the premier North American and Mexican composers: Copland and Chavez, respectively. Copland’s Third Symphony will probably be familiar to many listeners, with its treatments of the Fanfare for the Common Man themes. Written at the end of WWII, it is an expression of national optimism, and has come to be seen as the American Symphony. Chavez’ works, by comparison, have never really caught on outside his native Mexico, and it is a treat to have a new recording of his brilliant and concise Second Symphony, ‘Sinfonía India', characteristically full of driven rhythms, brilliant orchestral colours, and strong gestures. The music of Mexico, from Chavez to Revueltas, has a unique feel, and I hope the Orchestra of the Americas will bring us more such in years to come.
D'Indy Piano Sonata In E, Op. 63 / Tableaux De Voyage
Title: D'Indy Piano Sonata In E, Op. 63 / Tableaux De Voyage
Artist: Jean-Pierre Armengaud (piano)
Label: Grand Piano
Format: CD

One of my most unexpected listening surprises of recent years was stumbling on the excellent Piano Sonata of Vincent d’Indy. He was known as a conservative, a monarchist, and his ardently anti-Dreyfuss stance led to a diminution of his reputation from which his music is only now recovering. In this work, however, his conservatism is a strength, allowing his vision a robust, dare one say, magisterial expressiveness. It is a formidably intelligent and powerfully beautiful work that sweeps the listener along as it progresses through a huge and kaleidoscopic series of variations—and that’s just the first movement. The finale is equally huge and complex, and these two towering structures are separated by a shorter Scherzo with two trios that functions as the heart of the work. It is thought that Dukas’s huge and tempestuous Piano Sonata from 1900 may have provided d’Indy with a model, but the two works are not much alike—d’Indy is too much his own man to really reflect any influence except his mentor, César Franck. Accompanying the Piano Sonata on this new CD from Grand Piano are a selection of movements from d’Indy’s cycle Tableaux de Voyage, pieces of quiet contemplation that provide respite after the grand eloquence of the Sonata.
Falla El sombrero de tres picos, El amor brujo
Presell | Available Early July
Title: Falla El sombrero de tres picos, El amor brujo
Artist: Marina Heredia (cantaora) feat. Carmen Romeu (mezzo-soprano), Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Pablo Heras-Casado
Label: Harmonia Mundi
Format: CD

In the last few months there have been several lovely new releases of Spanish music, but most wore the filter of 19th century style. In this new release of music by Falla, the outstanding Spanish composer of the 20th century, we are offered two of his major works: the ballet el sombrero de tres picos—the Three-cornered hat, and a gitanería (gypsy piece), el amor brujo—Love the Magician. El sombrero contains much music that may well be familiar—it has been plundered often for film and TV—and Falla’s orchestration, for all its Spanish distinctiveness, is oddly reminiscent of Petroushka. The slightly later El amor brujo is a darker work, with a plot that involves unfaithfulness, gypsies, and ghosts, and ‘the kiss of perfect love’. Not for nothing is Falla’s great hit the explosive Ritual Fire Dance excerpted from this gitanería. Falla’s music manages to be a rich mix, combining sung evocations of the cante jondo with music of a wistful nostalgia, and earthy dances. Certainly, the music of Granados or Albeniz, or for that matter Chabrier or Ravel, injects the Spanish soul into a broader European soundworld, but Falla’s more abrasive and startling masterworks take us far closer to how the Spaniards hear themselves.
Mozart Libertà!
Presell | Available Mid July
Title: Mozart Libertà!
Artist: Raphael Pichon (conductor)
Label: Harmonia Mundi
Format: CD2

In his liner notes to this CD, ensemble Pygmalion director Raphäel Pichon explains that the title refers to Mozart being “now in search of liberty in both his private and his artistic life. He had finally broken free from the authority of his father and the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, Colloredo, and gradually identified himself with the spirit of the age, the Enlightenment”. Pichon sees the years 1782-86 as constituting Mozart’s laboratory, in which he experimented with musical and dramatic solutions to how to express “the myriad aspects of human behaviour”. The music on the CD, which combines arias from early Mozart operas with excerpts from operas by Paisiello, Vicente Martín y Soler and Salieri, has been organised as three Scenes: La folle giornata (The crazy day), Il dissoluto punito (The debauchee punished), and La scuola degli amanti (The school for lovers). The attentive reader will recognise that these are what Pichon calls aperitifs for the three great Da Ponte operas: nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni,and Così fan tutte. If you are intrigued by this attempt to put the development of Mozart’s greatest operas into context, or if you just enjoy Mozart performed marvellously, then this 2CD set is going to appeal.
Howells English Mass & Cello Concerto
Title: Howells English Mass & Cello Concerto
Artist: Guy Johnston, Britten Sinfonia, Christopher Seaman, King's Voices, Ben Parry, Choir of King's College, Cambridge; Stephen Cleobury
Label: Kings College
Format: SACD2

Having spent much of my youth as a grudging member of a church choir, I tend to avoid music that is too preachy, and had consigned the composer Herbert Howells to that basket. I was therefore initially unexcited by the prospect of this 2CD set, effectively a portrait of Howells. The first of the two CDs presents his remarkable English Mass, flanked by two other liturgical works, a Te Deum and a Magnificat. Like Finzi, Howells was not a committed Christian and yet his church works possess a moving sense of conviction, perhaps due to his connectedness to earlier English music; Vaughan Williams remarked that he “felt Howells to be the reincarnation of a lesser Tudor luminary”. However, also present is a sensuality reminiscent of French choral music, subversive of Anglican austerity,that gives the music a distinctly un-ecclesiastical richness. The second CD features Howells’ magnificent and large-scale Cello Concerto, an underappreciated work that deserves to be ranked with those of Finzi and Moeran, and like his church music combines the English pastoral mood with a more Delius-like fantasy. The program is completed by three of Howells’ organ works: a worthy and dignified finale. This release is a revelation: this music is excellent, and wide-ranging, and astonishingly expressive. I’m sorry to have underestimated Howells for so long. Fortunately there is plenty of his music around on CD so that we may explore his music further.
Beethoven Egmont
Presell | Available Mid July
Title: Beethoven Egmont
Artist: Elisabeth Breuer (soprano), Robert Hunger-Buhler (recitation), Helsinki Baroque Orchestra, Aapo Hakkinen (conductor)
Label: Ondine
Format: CD

These days the Overture to Beethoven’s incidental music to Goethe’s Egmont is frequently heard, not least as a filler after one of the symphonies. The remainder of the incidental music is much less often encountered, less often still performed on period instruments, or with the originally-specified narrator. This could be because the work is a bold statement of Beethoven’s political views; according to the CD liner notes “an absolute determination to create a sense of the triumph of freedom as the Utopian dream of the whole of mankind”. Despite his not liking Beethoven, Goethe himself approved of the music as an expression of his intentions. This performance by the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra under their director Aapo Häkkinen presents the work in as authentic a reconstruction as is possible, allowing us to hear the work as a manifesto of Beethoven’s world-view, not couched in the abstract forms of a symphony, but as drama.
Mysliveček: Adamo ed Eva Oratorio
Title: Mysliveček: Adamo ed Eva Oratorio
Artist: Peter Van Heyghen, Il Gardellino
Label: Passacaille
Format: CD2

The Czech Josef Mysliveček was an older contemporary, mentor, and friend of Mozart until a breach in 1778. Despite his northern European links, Mysliveček spent most of his life in Italy, and his large-scale oratorio Adamo ed Eva, which was first performed in Florence in 1771 when his connections with Mozart family were at their strongest, is a fine example of Italian classicism. Mysliveček’s music has been praised for its “melodic ingenuity as well as transparency and lightness of musical language”, and the ensemble il Gardellino who are expert proponents of period instruments and performance practice, bring out all its charms.
Mark-Anthony Turnage: A Constant Obsession
Title: Mark-Anthony Turnage: A Constant Obsession
Artist: Nicky Spence (tenor), Chamber Domaine, Thomas Kemp (conductor)
Label: Resonus
Format: CD

For a while Mark-Anthony Turnage was the archetypal wild young thing of composers, producing crossover jazz works like his collaboration with John Scofield Blood on the Tracks, and operas that cocked a serious snook at the establishment: Greek, Anna Nicole (ugh!). But we all move on. As the Times reviewer puts it: “Turnage is now a family man, and his musical language has mellowed in step without ever turning soft”. The works on this new Resonus CD are still couched in an up-to-date style, but belong more to the world of Britten or Tippett than Miles Davis or Steven Berkoff. The music is engagingly accessible, even occasionally touching, and the works descend in scale from the melancholy song-cycle for tenor and ensemble A Constant Obsession, via his piano quartet Three for Two and piano trio A Slow Pavane, to the violin and piano work Four Chants, before the riotous ensemble closer Grazioso! There will never be new works from Britten or Tippett sadly, but Turnage’s more recent output seem to me to worthily continue that tradition.
Joseph Marx: Piano Concerto & Castelli Romani (2nd Piano Concerto)
Title: Joseph Marx: Piano Concerto & Castelli Romani (2nd Piano Concerto)
Artist: David Lively (piano), Bochum Symphony Orchestra, Steven Sloane
Label: Naxos
Format: CD

My first encounter with the demanding piano music of Joseph Marx was on a Chandos CD released by the fine Australian pianist Tonya Lemoh, and I was stunned that I had managed to miss this impressive composer. Followers of the Hyperion Romantic Piano Concerto series will already have a recording of the first work on this new Naxos disc, Marx’s Romantic Piano Concerto. For the rest of us this will be a remarkable discovery: Marx shares with Korngold a richly fertile melodic invention, ripe harmonic language, and sumptuous orchestrations …and yet never had any connection with film. The Concerto is a large-scale work that unhurriedly takes us on a journey through the Viennese late-romantic landscape—Jorge Bolet apparently regarded it as “his favorite among the great virtuoso concertos because of the enormous show of strength required from the soloist”. The second work on the disc is much less familiar again (there is no other current recording): Marx’s second piano concerto, known as the Castelli Romani, which, while less opulent, has absorbed elements of Debussy and (of course!) Respighi and offers a quite differently pleasurable listening experience. My preference is probably for this latter work, with its mellow picturesqueness, but both on one CD is honestly irresistible, especially in the fine performances by David Lovely and band—and at Naxos price.
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Written and compiled by Chris Dench

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