James Jolly continues Gramophone's new digital concert series with Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Bach and Debussy
The Gramophone Listening Room is a weekly playlist compiled by Gramophone’s Editor-in-Chief, James Jolly. Each week it’ll feature three new releases with complete performances, something from the back catalogue and a handful of tracks from new or imminent releases as a coda. And the Listening Room playlist will be available on Apple Music, Qobuz and Spotify. So, if you want to up-to-date with the most ear-catching new releases, climb aboard …
Felix Mendelssohn’s string quartets – there are six in all – have a special magic all of their own. I got to know them thanks to the fine set made for DG by the Melos Quartet back in the early 1980s, and now the young Paris-based Arod Quartet give us a two of them (Nos 2 and 4) as well as the Four Pieces for string quartet on a new album from Erato. Their first experience playing as a group was in a Mendelssohn quartet and they clearly relish the challenges of these two works with playing of a breathtaking freshness and nimbleness (the way the two violins play together is wondrous). I’ve chosen the Op 44 No 2 Quartet (Mendelssohn’s Fourth). The Arod is a quartet to watch out for, and I’ve also added a little song – for which the Arod are joined by that wonderful mezzo Marianne Crébassa – as a bonne bouche.
Sony Classical has recently mined its archives to compile a huge box-set of Rudolf Serkin’s recordings (the 75-CD set will be reviewed in the November issue by Jed Distler). It set me on a brief SerkinFest and I remembered a very fine Orfeo set of the five Beethoven piano concertos and Choral Fantasy made in the final months of 1977 with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Rafael Kubelík, a wonderfully attentive and humane partner. I’ve chosen the Choral Fantasy, that rather dotty work that veers from being a piano concerto to a string quartet to an oratorio to a strange precursor of the Ninth Symphony in about 19 minutes. Serkin clearly believed in it and Kubelík directs a terrific performance.
The violinist Amandine Beyer’s wonderful ensemble Gli Incogniti have just released a new album called ‘BWV … or not?’, the premise being quite a few works by other hands were, for many years, mistakenly attributed to JS Bach. The recording mixes up genuine Bach with mistaken-for-Bach and contains some gems. I’ve chosen a couple of pieces - one by Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, immortalised as the furnisher of the theme for one of music’s greatest sets of variations - and one actually by the JSB himself, a Fugue in G minor.
The Latvian composer Georgs Pelēcis, now 70, writes music that overflows with atmosphere yet seems to be created using the simplest of building blocks – completely tonal, often almost naïvely facile and yet able to touch the heart with extraordinary power (occasionally the music of Erik Satie is called to mind). His Concertino bianco dates from 1984 and, as its title might imply, it’s written using just the white notes of the piano’s keyboard. A recent ABC recording finds the Australian pianist Tamara-Anna Cislowska joining the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and creating a remarkable mood of peace and calm.
Taster tracks this week include a short sequence from Sir Simon Rattle’s LSO Live release of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, spellbinding live at the Barbican and mesmerising as a recording – this is music that the LSO plays so well, and Rattle’s cast is a very strong one. I’ve also taken Roussel’s F major Prélude et fugue from Lise de la Salle’s new 'Bach Unlimited' album from Naïve and, to end, ‘Assez longtemps la crainte et la tristesse’ from Halévy’s opera La juive sung by Joyce El-Khoury with the Hallé and Carlo Rizzi (Opera Rara), as stylish as it is beautifully sung.