Saturday, December 19, 2009

This week I listened to

"Dreamland: Contemporary choral riches from the Hyperion catalogue"
Various choirs

This is a cheap sampler I came across by accident on the Hyperion web site (download for only 3 quid), which gave me a chance to check out some composers I wasn't familiar with. Everything's great, here, as you'd expect from any well-chosen Hyperion sampler, and I must definitely explore this repertoire further. Highlights included Morten Lauridsen's chant-inflected "Ave, dulcissima Maria" and the "angel calls" that open Rihards Dubra's "Stetit Angelus".

"Midsummer Night"
Kate Royal; Orchestra of English National Opera/Edward Gardner

Much as I tend to rely on the various magazines and online sources for advice on what to spend my money on, I know by now that many of the albums that turn out to be my favourites aren't ones that the critics raved about. This one's a good example; reviews were good or better, but it just didn't seem to stand out, at least in the sources I go to. Fr'instance, BBC Music Mag's Michael Scott Rohan called it "something of a mixed bag, often impressive but never quite as overwhelming as it should be". Anyway, I got it, and I'm very glad I got it. Of course, I'm a repertoire person rather than a performer person, and there were several unfamiliar pieces here, all - yes - impressive. If I get round to a final reckoning of my best of the year, this one will be in there.

Frolov: Works for violin and piano
Nicolas Koeckert; Rudolf Joachim Koeckert; Kristina Miller

Talk about not judging a CD by its cover. I knew what I was getting, but what would you think? The cover's got a generic and not especially lovely photo of some church; the composer is Igor Alexandrovich Frolov (b. 1937), and the contents are listed as Concert Fantasy; Divertissement; Romance; Spanish Fantasy. Well, the name and date indicate an obscure member of the generation of Russian composers that includes Gubaidulina and Schnittke, but the titles of the works might make you wonder if the date was a typo and Frolov was actually a contemporary of the "Mighty Handful" a century beforehand. Well, either way, you probably wouldn't be expecting to hear an arrangement of Jerome Kern's "Smoke gets in your eyes", but that's the sort of album this is. The Concert Fantasy is on Themes from Porgy and Bess; there's also a version of a Scott Joplin rag, and various other jazzy shenanigans. The Divertissement starts off like Bach but soon begins to swing. It's a fun album of light music, in short, and one that deserves a wider audience than just the classical nerds who browse alphabetically through the Naxos display looking for curiosities. Naxos's art director needs a beating.

Smetana: Orchestral works
Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra/Theodore Kuchar

This is a 3-disc set; the one I listened to this week was disc 2, which has the three big symphonic poems Wallenstein's Camp, Hakon Jarl, and Richard III, plus bits of The Bartered Bride as well as three other short pieces - the overture to the puppet-play Doktor Faust and two polkas called The Peasant Woman and To our Girls. Fanfare's much-missed reviewer/nutjob Lynn René Bayley persuaded me to buy it: "This is a recording of very high worth by a conductor of genius". It's certainly a vivid and exciting set (disc 1 is an excellent Ma vlast), and I agree with her enthusiasm for Hakon Jarl in particular.

No comments: