STRAUSS: Don Quixote, Op. 35. Romance for Cello and Orchestra. Sonata
in F, Op. 6
HOLMGREEN: Concerto Grosso for String Quartet and symphonic
Moving Still for baritone and string quartet. Last Ground for
string quartet and ocean.
About six months ago this site covered a superb SONY recording of Strauss's An Alpine Symphony with the Dresden State Orchestra conducted by Fabio Luisi (REVIEW) who continues his Strauss series with Don Quixote. This is equally fine, with the youthful Jan Vogler as the errant Knight. Vogler for some years was principal cellist with the Dresden orchestra until 1997 when he began his solo career. The imaginative coupling features the composer's other work for cello and orchestra, the Romance, a youthful work that dates from 1883, fourteen years before Quixote. As a generous filler we have a relatively neglected Strauss work, the F major Cello Sonata in which Vogler is joined by Louis Lortie. All three works were recorded some years ago for RCA by Steven Isserlis in Bavaria with Lorin Maazel conducting (and pianist Stephen Hough), but this new one has the advantage of state-of-the-art SACD engineering.
The Kronos Quartet has been around for more than three decades (they were founded in 1973) and has earned the respect of the musical world for their innovative programming and there intensive focus on commissioning works. They are on the cutting edge of the contemporary music scene including jazz and rock. Typical of their interests is this new release of works commissioned from major Danish composer Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen (b. 1932). The original version of Concerto Grosso dates from 1990; five years later it was revised and recorded by Kronos. On this new disk we have the third version which was made in 2006, recorded during a "live" performance in the Danish Radio Concert Hall in November 2007 although there is no evidence of an audience. In this latest version, Concerto Grosso is scored for string quartet and an orchestra with no strings except two double-basses. The orchestra is arranged in a circle around the quartet, and Holmgreen has said, "the work becomes a flow with a number of situations where the string quartet is set up against different soundscapes." Performance time is an uninterrupted half-hour. Moving Still dates from 2005 and is for baritone and string quartet, although the baritone never sings: he recites Hans Christian Andersen's text for In a Thousand Years (which includes counting to ten forwards and backwards) to a plunking, grating string quartet accompaniment and a taped track of "syncopated mouth music that reinforces the quartet's agitated pulsation and transport rhythms." This music is in two parts; the second uses Andersen's patriotic poem In Denmark I Was Born as a text. This was written for Paul Hillier (founder of the Hilliard Ensemble) but it surely doesn't display his voice. Last Ground, composed in 2006, is for string quartet and "ocean." It includes manipulated recordings of sea sounds with crashing waves. For many, this will be the most "listenable" music on this SACD. Other works include some of the ugliest sounds you'll ever hear emanating from musical instruments, replete with scratching, plucking, doodling, and smashing. Specialists in avant-garde will delight in this; others approach with extreme caution. Surround sound effect is minimal.
Admirers of violinist Rachael Podger will welcome this latest issue of her performances of Mozart's sonatas for keyboard and violin. This is Volume 6, containing the three sonatas listed above and as before, the fortepianist is Gary Cooper. Elegant performances, as are all in this series. This is a rather expensive way to acquire this repertory; all of Channel Classics' SACDs are premium price. This brings up again the policy of disk pricing—does it seem proper that a CD such as this with only two performers should cost as much as their recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 6 with the Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer which has at least 100 more players? At any rate, if you are looking for stylish period performances of this repertory, here it is.
R.E.B. (February 2009)