SHCHEDRIN: The Left-Hander
'ENGLISH HYMN ANTHEMS"
SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 43, Symphony No. 7 in C,
The remarkable Rodion Shchedrin wrote his comic opera The Left-Hander for his friend Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theatre who premiered it in July 2013 and can be heard on this intriguing 2-disk set. We hear that premiere recorded in terrific surround sound. . This two-act opera is "a comedy about Russians and Englishmen, new technology, old traditions—and drinking plays an important part. Shchedrin wrote his own libretto for this opera which is based on the novella by Nikolai Neshkov. The plot is bizarre to say the least, about a left-handed squint-eyes gunsmith from Tula who is given the task of refurbishing a work of art presented to the tsar by British, a dancing steel flea. It is all one big farce that probably will be of little interest to most listeners, an odd top father reminiscent of Shostakvich's The Nose. . As usual, Shchedrin's orchestration is unique, colorful and imaginative (he includes music for a forging scene). Don't expect any "arias." And the vocal writing is very demanding, particularly for the sopranos. The performance surely must be definitive. Audio is stunning, with the colorful octal effects captured with uncommon clarity and impact. Detailed program notes are included and the complete libretto in Russian and English. A very classy presentation of an unusual work.
The superb King's College Choir has issued another SACD on their own label, This site praised a previous issue of the Fauré Requiem this past September (REVIEW). Now we have this splendid collection of British anthems, a total of 12 mixing the new with the familiar. Performances could not be bettered, and the magnificent engineering realistically captures the choir's sound performing in the resonant acoustics of the King's College chapel Profuse program notes an complete texts add to the attraction of this issue.
There are dozens of recordings of Sibelius symphonies, but not many are on SACD. Sir Colin Davis's London Symphony set is diminished by the dry acoustics of London's Barbican Hall. The similar coupling by the London Philharmonic directed by Paavo Berglund is uncompeitive for audio reasons. Jansons and the RCOA have recorded only No.2, and doubtless finest of all are the Minnesota Orchestra's conducted by Osmo Vänska;however, they have recorded only numbers 1, 2, 4 and 6, but are scheduled to complete the series (the conductor already has recorded all 7 with the Lahti Symphony, but these are not SACD). This new series with the BBC North Wales Orchestra offers little competition in spite of the excellent playing of the British orchestra; they simply do not have the sonority this music requires. Excellent audio with the orchestra in front. Wait for Vänska's conclusion to his Minnesota set.
R.E.B. (March 2015)