TCHAIKOVSKY: Hamlet, Op. 67. The Tempest, Op. 18. Romeo
and Juliet Fantasy
About two years ago this site covered a DG release of Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolivar Orchestra's electrifying performances of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 and Francesca da Rimini (REVIEW). Francesca was recorded live and had splendid, well-balanced sound, but Symphony 5 suffered from a rather diffuse studio recording. This new Tchaikovsky disk, recorded in February 2010, has excellent although not demonstration quality audio. Again Dudamel shows he is a conductor of imagination—all of these performances bristle with energy, yet there is no lack of passion in Romeo and Juliet (one of the longer recorded versions, 22:14). The youthful orchestra is magnificent, and what a pleasure it is to hear Tchaikovsky's big tunes played with sonorities produced by massed strings.
Riccardo Chailly may seem to be an odd choice to conduct Gershwin, but he has a respectable history with Gershwin's music. His 1986 Decca recording with the Cleveland Orchestra of Cuban Overture, An American in Paris, Lullaby and the Labèque Sisters as soloists in Rhapsody in Blue, has been a consistent best-seller. Now we have this disk, which rightfully has been a best-seller in Europe for some months. Jazz pianist Stefano Bollani is soloist in the jazz band version of Rhapsody, the Concerto in F, and the youthful rag (Gershwin was 18 when he wrote it) called Rialto Ripples. In this and the Rhapsody, Bollani does some improvisation and in program notes points out that Gershwin did the same. Chailly and his splendid Gewandhaus Orchestra are on their own in the colorful Catfish Row suite taken from Porgy and Bess. It sounds as if everyone involved is having a great time. These recordings supposedly were made live during concerts January 28-30, 2010, but there are no audience sounds and applause has been cut out as well. This is a terrific issue, even if you have other recordings of these familiar works.
José Serebrier's two-disc set of Glazunov's concertos is labeled as the composer's complete concertos, although three of the works aren't concertos (Song of the Minstrel/Reverie/Meditation). The the set doesn't include the composer's Two Pieces for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 20, which easily could have been included. However, let us enjoy what is here)—superlative performances of very beautiful music. Unfortunately, Glazunov has been ignored by many conductors, and his music seldom appears in concerts. He is at his best in his ballets Raymonda and The Seasons, both of which approach the grandeur of Tchaikovsky's best ballets, and it is unfortunate so few recordings of these currently are available. Serebrier's recent recordings of all of the composer's symphonies have been universally praised, and the same quality continues in these smaller-scale works. You might not recognize the excellent soloists (except for Rachel Barton Pine) but all are masters of their instruments. Jascha Heifetz championed the violin concerto (and recorded it twice), but it appears very seldom in concerts today, which is unfortunate as it is one of Glazunov's finest works. Barton Pine tosses it off brilliantly, and the accompaniment could not be bettered. The two piano concertos are lovely miniatures, also strangers to the concert stage—they simply cannot compete with virtuoso showpieces written about the same time. Alexander Ramonovsky makes a strong case for them, as does Wen-Sinn Yang for the two cello pieces: the Concerto Ballata composed in 1931 dedicated to Pablo Casals although he apparently never played it, and the lovely Song of the Minstrel, introduced to many listeners through Mstislav Rostropovich's 1975 recording with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony. The Russian Orchestra is in top form, and the engineering could not be bettered. And the two CDs sell for the price of one. Don't miss this one!
The renewed interest in music of British composer York Bowen (1884-1961). Bowen wrote primarily for the piano, and recently there have been recordings of two of his piano concertos (REVIEW), piano music played by Joop Cells (REVIEW) and piano sonatas played by Danny Driver (REVIEW). Bowen composed only two symphonies both while he was young: Symphony No. 1 dates from 1902, No. 2 from 1909. Bowen already was a master of orchestration, evident particularly in the delightful scherzo from the second symphony. Both symphonies are given wonderful performances by the expert BBC Orchestra; this is the first recording of Symphony No. 1, and easily the top version of Symphony No. 2. Two major symphonies by a Brit composer in definitive performances. What more could one ask?
Pierre Boulez recorded both of Ravel's piano concertos with Krystian Zimmerman (G Major, Cleveland Orchestra, 1994; Left Hand Concerto, LSO, 1996). Now we have this new pairing made during concerts in Cleveland in February 2010. Competition is keen for both. The G major is available in more than a half-dozen recordings by Martha Argerich, and other Ravel specialists as well including Marguerite Long whose two recordings of this work which is dedicated to her have just been issued and reviewed on this site (REVIEW). Pierre-Laurent Aimaro and Boulez give elegant performances of both concertos, there is no trace of an audience, and applause has fortunately been eliminated. The generous filler, the five movement Miroirs is a studio recording played with crystalline tone, although the central piece, Alborada del gracioso, is given a rather tame performance.