CD Reviews: November

Bruckner: Symphony no. 8
Australian World Orchestra
Sir Simon RattleScreen Shot 2016-11-07 at 3.44.19 PM.png

ABC 4814532
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What a task! Coupled with a great aspiration to present a gargantuan work by incoming international musicians who don’t normally act as a team, but with a ‘Manager’ who knows how to get the best out of his players. That is what we have on the table with Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Australian World Orchestra- ‘one of the great orchestras of the world’- in a recorded performance of Bruckner 8 in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House. And no wonder that the performance was crowned ‘Best Orchestral Concert of the Year’ at the 2016 Helpmann Awards.

Bruckner began work on the Eighth Symphony– the last symphony the composer completed- and it was premiered under conductor Hans Richter in 1892 in Vienna, and dedicated to the Emperor in 1885.The 1890 premiere was twice scheduled to occur under the direction of the young Felix Weigartner, but each time he substituted another work at the last minute, eventually telling Bruckner that he was unable to undertake the performance because the work was too difficult and he did not have enough rehearsal time! In particular, the Wagner Tuba players in his orchestra did not have enough experience to cope with their parts. Did Sir Simon become affected by similar difficulties in his Sydney performance? I don’t think so! One anonymous writer described the symphony as ‘the crown of music in our time’ whilst Hugo Wolf wrote to a friend that the symphony was ‘the work of a giant that surpasses the other symphonies of the master in intellectual scope, awesomeness, and greatness.’ Need one say any more? Acquiring this recording could be a valuable memento of a great Australian musical occasion.

– Emyr Evans

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The Seattle Recital
Works; Beethoven, Chopin, Proko ev, Debussy, Ravel & Bach
Emil Gilels, piano

DG 479 6288
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Recently, I came across a web page listing the greatest 25 pianists of all time. Whilst the usual suspects were there, one was strangely absent. I found it incomprehensible that the Ukrainian virtuoso Emil Gilels would not be included and I immediately dismissed the list. This previously unreleased recording, a live recital from Seattle in 1964, dispels any theories that he is not up there with the very best concert pianists of all time.

The recital opens with a powerful and energetic reading of Beethoven’s Waldstein sonata. His recordings of the Beethoven sonatas are legendary and this is no exception. Whilst some of the intricacies of the work are lost (and I put this down to the recording equipment) his powerful surges in the outer movements are counterbalanced tremendously with moments of delicacy and serenity in the short slow movement which serves as more of an introduction to the finale.

Other highlights on this disc include a jaw dropping account of Prokofiev’s brief one movement Sonata No 3, and a brash, virtuosic account of Stravinsky’s popular Russian Dance from Petrushka. There is more Prokofiev, with excerpts from his Visions Fugitives, as well as shorter works from Debussy and Ravel. He finishes with a Bach Prelude in B Minor which displays his ability to encompass music from all periods of Western music. His account of Chopin’s rarely performed Variations on Là ci darem la mano evokes sensitivity combined with a majestic grandeur and sense of occasion. Whilst the music itself is spectacular, I feel as though DG could have done more to clean up this recording and remove more of the background noise, especially the incessant coughing from the audience. This was particularly noticeable towards the end of the first movement of the Waldstein Sonata.
This is an important release in the 100th anniversary of his birth. Connoisseurs of Gilels will be tripping over themselves to get hold of this. They won’t be disappointed.

– Frank Shostakovich

 


Richard Strauss: Symphonic Interludes from Intermezzo & Ein Heldenleben
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Sir Andrew Davis
ABC 481 2425screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-3-44-52-pm
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Coupling these two choice opuses from the pen of Richard Strauss is not coincidental. Their link is that they are semi- autobiographical….and before I am accused of being vague with words, let me just add that the incidental music from Intermezzo is based on a fictionalised version of what happened to Mr and Mrs Strauss’ relationship, while the longer Ein Heldenleben is Mr Strauss’ self-glorification in the role of hero. Strauss once told a friend: “I don’t see why I should not compose a symphony about myself. I find myself quite as interesting as Napoleon or Alexander.”
Initially, I should praise the Melbourne Symphony and Sir Andrew Davis for the way he has moulded this excellent orchestra. It has biff, bash, and no lack of bravado. As for Intermezzo, it is based on a misunderstanding on the supposed affair that Strauss had with a ‘pen- pal’ which almost led to divorce proceedings. Strauss, on his part, objected to his flirtatious wife having a dalliance with a younger singer. And so the plot (which Strauss was forced to write as he could find no collaborators) was born. The incidental music is light, frothy and highly appealing. Which, alas, is more than I can say for Ein Heldenleben. Strauss loved his brass and that has front-of-house status in this symphonic poem. Hopefully for me, it is like a hair shirt ……. an acquired habit!!

– Randolph Magri-Overend


These reviews appeared in the November edition of Fine Music Magazine – you can subscribe to our monthly magazine and have it posted to your home or business or click the link here to read online.

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