Boston SO/Nelsons (Deutsche Grammophon)
Don’t press play without checking the volume levels first: Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra begin their new Shostakovich series with the Passacaglia from the opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and its first chord is genuinely cataclysmic. It at once recalibrates your ears and sets the tone for the ensuing performance of the 10th Symphony, recorded live four months ago, one that is as tense as it is vibrant. The first movement, full of sinewy, characterful woodwind solos, is kept at a slow burn. The second is taut and exciting, bad cop to the good cop of the third movement, which early on has an almost Nutcracker-esque spring in its step. Nelsons chooses to allow some genuine triumph into the finale – he says it might be Shostakovich dancing on Stalin’s grave – but its perkiness is still razor sharp. The orchestra has just extended Nelsons’s contract, and this is why.
Angela Hewitt (Hyperion)
This is the fifth volume of Angela Hewitt’s cycle of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, and she is recording a full set of Mozart’s concertos too; and yet she is still probably best known for her Bach. So perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s when Beethoven slips into Bach-style fugues in the final movement of Op 110 that Hewitt sounds most masterful. Elsewhere she is incisive and thoughtful too, even if the two earliest works here, Op 2 no 2 and Op 10 no 1, demand a certain lightness of touch that they don’t quite get – the flurries and flourishes sound like collections of notes rather than single, self-propelling gestures. The second movement of Op 78 is a deft dialogue of question and answer, and Hewitt brings an inevitability to Op 110 that makes sense of its changes of direction even if she doesn’t obviously revel in the full extent and novelty of its inspiration.
Bruckner Orchester Linz/Davies (Orange Mountain Music)
Conductor Dennis Russell Davies has every right to feel proprietorial about Philip Glass’s symphonies – he has been responsible for the commissioning of all but one of them. But the latest, the 10th, began life in a different guise altogether, as Los Paisajes del Rio, the score that Glass composed for a fireworks display which closed the 2008 Zaragoza Expo. In Spain it was played by the composer’s own ensemble of voice, keyboards and reeds, but Glass subsequently reworked it as a five-movement symphony for full orchestra lasting just over half an hour, which Davies conducted for the first time in 2012. Its extrovert origins as latter-day fireworks music remain clear, though, as Glass’s orchestration, with its brassy edge and martial percussion – lots of snare drum – underlines in Davies’s performance. The Concert Overture that follows is another celebratory piece, composed for both the Toronto and Baltimore orchestras to mark the 200th anniversary of 1812, when the US joined in against the British during the Napoleonic wars. Glass’s 2012 Overture is a slightly perfunctory affair, rousing enough on its own terms, but not a major statement by any means.
Royal Albert Hall, LondonCharles Dutoit trod a clear-minded path through the complexities of Shostakovich’s 15th; pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja’s Mozart – with cadenzas by Britten – was less successful
The closing work of Charles Dutoit’s Prom with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was Shostakovich’s 15th Symphony – his most cryptic, some would say. Written in 1971, when the composer’s health was already failing, it’s a terminal, introverted, bitterly funny piece that draws its listeners into a world of riddles, allusions and private jokes as its themes morph into other men’s music – notably Rossini’s and Wagner’s – or into other works by Shostakovich himself. No other symphony yields up its secrets quite so obdurately; arguments about its meaning are legion.
An underrated Shostakovich interpreter, Dutoit probed its ambiguities and paradoxes with considerable finesse, avoiding the overt political anger some bring to it and taking us instead on a clear-minded journey through its labyrinthine complexities. The grating climaxes of the second and fourth movements were fierce in their impact, but we were reminded first and foremost that this is a symphony of interwoven instrumental solos, at once sparse and virtuosic. The RPO played it with great dexterity and refinement.
John Scott, who has died aged 59 of a heart attack, was a world-class organist and gifted choir trainer. Since 2004 he had been organist and director of music of Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, New York, and before that of St Paul’s Cathedral, London.
His association with St Paul’s began in 1978, as assistant organist both there and at Southwark Cathedral, south of the River Thames, and he also accompanied the Bach Choir, conducted by David Willcocks (1979-91). As organist and director of music at St Paul’s from 1990, John made many recordings with the choir for the Hyperion label, and directed it in services for the 100th birthday of the Queen Mother, the victims of 9/11, and Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee in 2002, which he marked with his own anthem, Behold, O God, Our Defender.
Leonard/Graham/Saito Kinen O/Ozawa (Decca)
Seiji Ozawa studied with both Charles Munch and Pierre Monteux, and French music, from Berlioz to Messiaen and beyond, has always been one of his specialities. Ozawa’s acute ear for orchestral texture and colour and his fastidious attention to detail has always been heard at its best in his discs of the works of Debussy and Ravel, but until now he has never recorded L’Enfant et les Sortilèges.
This version is taken from staged performances of the one-act opera at the Matsumoto festival in 2013, which used the staging by Laurent Pelly that had been seen at Glyndebourne the previous year, and which was also revived there earlier this month. The Japanese production signalled Ozawa’s return to conducting after his recovery from serious illness and – released now to mark his 80th birthday – it’s a performance of remarkable assurance, beautifully recorded with scarcely any extraneous stage noise, and every texture and instrumental detail perfectly placed and meticulously realised by the fabulous hand-picked Saito Kinen Orchestra.
Usher Hall, EdinburghAn all-Mozart concert was a joyous culmination to the Budapest Festival Orchestra’s Edinburgh residency
Related: The Marriage of Figaro at Edinburgh festival review – Fischer's innovative take on Mozart
It has been a fine long stay at the Edinburgh international festival for Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra: long enough for Fischer to injure his foot playing basketball on a day off, long enough for us to get to know multiple facets of this intoxicating conductor-orchestra team. Last week, they presented The Marriage of Figaro in a debatable production whose most inspired move was putting the musicians centre stage. A superb chamber recital featured ultra-charismatic playing in Bartók and Prokofiev, and now this all-Mozart concert provided a joyous culmination – despite containing a requiem. The sheer musicianship of this ensemble, its depth, grace and dynamism, is invigorating to witness.
Royal Albert Hall, LondonNeither their Schoenberg or Beethoven were wholly successful, but with Tchaikovky’s Fourth, Barenboim and his orchestra rose to the heights
Even before they play a note, the mere sight on the Royal Albert Hall platform of the orchestra Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said co-founded 16 years ago, consisting almost entirely of young musicians from Israel and the Arab countries, remains a uniquely inspiring one.
They began their Prom with Schoenberg’s First Chamber Symphony, a relatively early piece from 1906. Like all of Schoenberg’s music, the result is thematically dense, even though its textures are as open and airy as one would expect from 15 solo players assembled in a large chamber grouping, rather than a slimmed-down orchestral ensemble. Individual playing standards were consistently high, though there were a few untidy moments, and the piece needed a keener sense of momentum to maximise its expressive coherence.
The BBC Radio 6 Music favourite and keyboard wizard performed in a sold-out Prom earlier this month. If you enjoyed that, why not try these?
One of this year’s sold-out Proms has been the late-night show by Nils Frahm and A Winged Victory for the Sullen, programmed by BBC Radio 6 Music’s Mary Anne Hobbs. Frahms is unquestionably a very talented pianist, but his performance – and rapturous reception – has got me thinking about the infinity of possible connections waiting to be made between the worlds of “contemporary classical” and “alternative”, whatver they might mean.
Here’s a playlist I made for 6 Music that explores the boundaries of contemporary and classical music. And, if you love Nils Frahm and his many keyboards, try these masterpieces of pianistic possibility.
The Prelude to Act One of Wagner opera Tristan and Isolde, performed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and conducted by David Robertson at the Sydney Opera House in June 2015. For the first time the orchestra is releasing an entire Opera in Concert performance on its YouTube channel. The first act is available now, with acts two and three to be released on 31 August and 14 September, respectively
Watch and listen to act I of Tristan and Isolde in full here
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