RACHMANINOFF: Symphonic Dances, Op. 45. The Isle of the
Dead, Op. 29.
The Rock, Op. 7.
PÉCOU: Symphonie du Jaguar. Vague de piuerre
TCHAIKOVSKY: Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33. PROKOFIEV: Sinfonia
concertante, Op. 125.
CORP: Guernsey Postcards (2004). Piano Concerto No. 1 (1997). Symphony
No. 1 (2009).
Recordings of young Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra continue to impress. He has been director of the RLPO since 2006, and the orchestra has never sounded better. Petrenko doubtless eventually will complete his admired Shostakovich series, and he now turns to Rachmaninoff with this generous coupling of two major symphonic works plus the neglected early fantasy The Rock. Everything is right about these powerful, detailed interpretations of Symphonic Dances and Isle of the Dead. These are among the finest recordings of these works. Even in Petrenko's hands, The Rock, one of the composer's weakest works, doesn't amount to much. Another plus of this release is the magnificent sonic quality obtained by executive producer Andrew Cornall, producer John Fraser and engineer David Pigott. Rachmaninoff's rich sonorities are captured to perfection. I eagerly await the next issue in this Petrenko Rachmaninoff series, the second and third concertos with spectacular pianist Simon Trpceski as soloist.
German-born Eugen D'Albert (1864-1932) studied with Franz Liszt. D'Albert was an important figure during his era both on the concert scene and as a teacher. A leading virtuoso pianist of his time, he was an eccentric performer judging by his few recordings. He composed prolifically, but with the exception of Tiefland, the seventh of his 21 operas, his music is seldom performed. Recently his two piano concertos have been recorded, and now the enterprising CPO label, always in the forefront of unrecorded repertory, offers a fascinating CD that contains the Symphony in F for large orchestra and a solo scene for soprano and orchestra called Seejungfräulein (Mermaid). This 17-minute work was composed in 1898 for the third of D'Albert's six wives, dramatic soprano Hermine Finck. The text by James Grun is based on Hans Christian Anderson's fairy-tale ballad about a mermaid who can become human only if she can win a man's love. Mermaid begins gently and builds to a radiant climax that easily could have been composed by Strauss and matches the best moments of Tiefland composed five years later. A showpiece for the soprano, it is easy to imagine Leonie Rysanek or Gundula Janowitz soaring through it. Young soprano Anna Kasyan sings this demanding music with poise and total control. Seejungfräulein is the only reason to get this CD. The four-movement symphony, written in 1884 when the composer was very young, is overly long (49:56), totally undistinguished thematically—it goes on and on and gets nowhere. Conductor Bäumer and the Osnabrücker orchestra do what can be done for this aimless symphony, and the audio is fine. Complete texts are provided for Mermaid.
Thierry Pécou (b. 1966) is a challenging composer who, according to CD notes, has "embarked on a singular personal itinerary, far removed from notions of avant-garde and post-modernism which focus solely on the aesthetic history of the Western world....the composer has gone out to meet cultures distant in space and time...." I'm not really sure what that means, but now you have an opportunity to hear two of his major works, the four-movement 37-minute Symphonie du Jaguar written in 2002, and Vague de pierre which dates from 2007. Symphonie du Jaguar is for clarinet, trombone, violin, cello, five female voices and orchestra. It was inspired by Mayan civilization and includes jungle animal and human sounds in highly rhythmic patterns. Vague de pierre (Stone wave) is a literal translation of the name of a Chinese literary painter of the late 17th century and the writings of François Cheng and François Jullien on art and philosophy in China. Program notes give detailed information about all of this along with texts. Jaguar is a jumble of sounds that I find unconvincing, but Vague de pierre is another story. This is a powerful symphonic tapestry of brutal intensity, challenging for the listener but rewarding as well. These doubtless are definitive performances of both of these works, and the audio quality is stunning, with percussive effects that will test your sound system.
Superb cellist Gautier Capuçon is heard in concerts recorded December 23-25, 2009 in the Mariinsky Theatre Concert Hall. Sparks fly in these extraordinary performances with the young virtuoso cellist and veteran conductor Gergiev. Of particular importance is the spiky Prokofiev cello concerto, a major addition to the conductor's Prokofiev recordings on other labels. James Mallinson was producer and has captured a detailed sonic picture (unlike the recent Rachmaninoff disk on the Mariinsky label), and fortunately for the listener, applause has been eliminated.
Ronald Corp (b. 1951) has written much music for chorus and has an active career as a choral director. As a conductor he has made numerous fine recordings of British and American light music as well as some ventures into more challenging repertory. On this new Dutton CD we hear Corp conducting three of his own works. Guernsey Postcards is a pleasant three-movement suite of frothy music reflecting sights and sounds of Guernsey. The piano concerto was written in 1997 supposedly in the style of the great Romantic piano concertos. Cord said of this work that it is three movements and lasts about thirty-five minutes...scored for full orchestra, but with only three (and not four) horns! In this recording it takes more than forty minutes, a rambling rather vapid piece easy to forget. Symphony No. 1, inspired by the first symphony of Roy Harris, has considerable substance, a four-movement work of considerable power—no note-spinning here. This is an impressive addition to the repertory, and we can assume this performance is definitive. Throughout, the Liverpool Orchestra plays superbly, and Dutton's audio is excellent. It is unfortunate this CD is premium price.
R.E.B. (February 2010)