CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews


Best Recordings of 2015 (#2)

Time for a review of classical CDs that were outstanding in 2014 . My lists for the previous years: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, (2011 – “Almost”), 2010, (2010 – “Almost”), 2009, (2009 – “Almost”), 2008, (2008 - "Almost") 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.

# 2 - New Release

Karol Szymanowski, Symphonies 1 & 3, Love Songs of Hafiz, Ben Johnson (tenor) / Edward Gardner (conductor) / BBC Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, Chandos SACD

available at Amazon
K.Szymanowski, Symphonies 1 & 3, Love Songs of Hafiz
E.Gardner / B.Johnson / BBC SO & Chorus
(Chandos SACD)

Szymanowski is a composer I always wanted to love and – on CD, at any rate – only ever got to appreciate. This disc has finally changed it. It’s almost as if I had never heard Szymanowksi’s Love Songs of Hafiz, for tenor and orchestra, before: So more obvious does this most ravishing fin de siècle (though actually 1922) vocal symphony jump out of the speakers here: Right up there with Mahler’s Lied von der Erde, Zemlinsky’s Lyric Symphony and not that far from Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder (except more economical). It’s the centerpiece on Chandos’ third disc of their orchestral Szymanowski survey, and alongside the (snappy) First and (choral) Third Symphonies, it’s given a simply enrapturing account by Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony forces. No other recording has brought Szymanowksi so close to my heart and ears yet!

# 2 – Reissue

Franz Schubert, Symphonies 1-9*, Frans Brüggen (conductor) / Orchestra of the 18th Century, Decca

available at Amazon
Franz Schubert, Symphonies 1-9*
F.Brüggen / Orchestra of the 18th Century

The strides that have been made in historically informed performance are on display every year: new superlative recording and performances seem to chase each other; old composers are discovered in new aural ways, the technical difficulties that used to plague that part of the industry have all been but evaporated (certainly on disc, where a humid afternoon can’t do any damage to the tuning of a whole instrument section), and the pool of quality players for these HIP purposes has increased manifold.

And yet, there are some finds among the recordings of the HIP heydays, that stand up to the best of what has come since. Although with much going for it, Frans Brüggen’s famous Beethoven cycle, recorded between 1984 and 1992, isn’t the one I’m thinking of. I find his tempos too broad, actually, and the music-making maybe, occasionally too genteel. The Schubert cycle, however, is tremendous top-to-bottom, First-to-Ninth*. Only Jos van Immerseel’s excellent 1997 cycle comes even close to such sustained sunny, sparkling, yet seriously great Schubert. It took me a considerable while to find affordable copies of the out-of-print discs once I was hooked by the disc with symphonies 2, 3 and 5 (often overlooked among the lot, here sublime)… but now the search is easy, as Decca has re-released the set in its bare-bones cheapo “Collector’s Edition”.

* Re-numbering musicologists be damned, the “Great C major Symphony” is still “No.9” to me, and the ‘missing’ 7th just a quirk I enjoy. 

No comments: