Nigel Kennedy’s repackaged 1986 recording of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto is an adventure – free, rhapsodic, emphasising the constant flow of song which is the work’s main asset. Perhaps he’s a little over-keen to emphasise what melancholy there is here, nearly bringing the outer movements to a halt with the bitter-sweet dreams of second subjects, but the Canzonetta is a miracle of introspection. All this passes Gil Shaham by. While the young Israeli clearly has a fabulous palette, conjuring a bright, beautiful sheen at the top of the instrument (though unduly spotlit by DG), he rarely uses it discriminatingly enough, and the sense of flexible movement so vital for the Tchaikovsky is missing.
Taken from the best Debussy cycle to appear in the CD era, these repackagings gather the items that one-disc-at-a-time buyers tend to miss. Playing combines flair, care, and great musical enjoyment. High points include the superb Anne Queffélec as solo pianist in the Fantaisie and some rare items: the Rapsodie for alto sax, the whimsical orchestration of La plus que lente featuring cimbalom, and piano pieces scored by other hands. The Ulster Hall acoustic is spacious but clear.
This release - set for March 2017 - is a piece of history: it is a combination of unreleased and historic audio and visuals. It allows a unique view of the enigmatic maestro Grigory Sokolov’s life because it offers an opportunity to hear authentic performances from over ten and even twenty years ago accompanied by a brand-new film by Nadia Zhdanova.
Ernest Chausson’s death in 1899 in a bicycle accident robbed French music of a major talent. Almost his entire orchestral output fits on this extremely fine CD. Yan Pascal Tortelier’s performance of the richly romantic Symphony is the best since Munch’s Boston Symphony recording. Like Munch, Tortelier knows how to keep the music moving along–he’s only an insignificant two minutes slower than Munch for the whole work–without overindulging the more luscious moments, which in Chausson’s opulent setting really do take care of themselves. Even better, rather than some overplayed encore piece by another composer, the symphony is coupled with two very attractive, rarely heard tone poems and two charming orchestral excerpts from the composer’s incidental music to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The orchestra plays with conviction, Chandos’ sonics are gorgeous, and if you don’t buy this disc, you’re missing out on some marvelous stuff.
This programme of 1920s French music is in the hands of a conductor who gets right into the spirit of it, and plenty of spirit there is too. Apart from the Ibert, this is ballet music, and that work too originated as a theatre piece, having been incidental music for Eugene Labiche's farce The Italian Straw Hat. Poulenc's unfailingly fresh and bouncy suite from Les biches is very enjoyable although Chandos's warm and resonant recording takes some of the edge off the trumpet tone that is so central to the writing. The geniality of it all makes one forget that this is remarkable music in which (as Christopher Palmer's booklet essay points out) the twentieth-century French composer evokes eighteenth-century fetes galantes through the eyes of that greatest of nineteenth-century ballet composers, Tchaikovsky.
Lili Boulanger's setting of the 130th Psalm is a choral masterpiece. Tortelier and his forces deliver a vivid performance, recorded with tremendous presence. There is even more power in the old Markevich performance, done under Nadia Boulanger's supervision, but the superior Chandos recording makes a difference. Faust et Hélène is a somewhat immature student work (a strange qualification for music by a composer who died at 24), but it is also well performed. The remaining music represents Boulanger's visionary eloquence. This disc is highly recommended as an introduction to a great composer. After you hear it, try the Everest disc, despite the duplications. It contains Boulanger's deathbed Pie Jesu, a brief piece of such intense power that it will leave most listeners in tears.
The exclusive Chandos artist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet is a master of this repertoire. This is his second concerto recording for the label, after his survey of the complete piano concertos by Bartók (CHAN10610) which was released in September to high acclaim and voted ‘Orchestral Choice of the Month’ by the magazine BBC Music. Bavouzet’s complete recording of the piano music by Debussy also scooped awards from BBC Music and Gramophone, which wrote: ‘This could well be the finest and most challenging of all Debussy piano cycles.’ On this new release, Bavouzet is accompanied by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Yan Pascal Tortelier, a conductor steeped in the French tradition and utterly at home in this repertoire. The result is a totally idiomatic performance of these French masterpieces for piano and orchestra.
Florent Schmitt was well known as a critic and composer during his lifetime, but his compositions fell into neglect after his death. Difficult to pigeonhole, he has been called everything from conservative to neo-romantic to revolutionary, and Dutilleux wrote of him that he ‘gave back to the French school certain notions of grandeur’. The three works on this CD are all remarkable in their own ways – for their rhythmic exuberance, their rich and varied orchestration, their imaginative use of traditional harmonies, and in the case of Le Palais hanté and La Tragédie de Salomé for their exploration of the dark side of humanity.