The Listening Room: Episode 10 (29.12.17)

The Listening RoomFri 29th December 2017

Magnificent Schubert from Krystian Zimerman, 20th-century lyricism courtesy of Elgar and Copland, Paavo Järvi's Hindemith, violin concertos by Sibelius and Gordon Jacob, Copland from Louisville and songs from Benjamin Appl

For the last Listening Room of 2017, some favourite releases from the past 12 months as well as a few new releases. Gramophone’s 2017 Artist of the Year, Vasily Petrenko opens and closes the programme with music by Elgar and Rachmaninov, two composers who perhaps symbolise Petrenko’s musical journey from Russia to England. Elgar’s Carissima is so English while the little-heard Spring Cantata by Rachmaninov seems to conjure up a Russia as primal as Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (with which it is coupled on this fine new release from Onyx).

Krystian Zimerman’s late-summer recording of the last two Schubert piano sonatas is his first solo studio releases in decades, and reaffirms his standing as one of the greatest living pianists. It’s certainly been worth the wait, though I hope it encourages him to venture into the studio a little more frequently. I’ve chosen the A major work, D595, a piece of colossal ambition which Zimerman gauges to perfection.

Early in 2017 came a superb coupling of the violin concertos by Tchaikovsky and Sibelius from Lisa Batiashvili with Daniel Barenboim conducting his Staatskapelle Berlin. So, as Batiashvili is about to gives us a new version of the Prokofiev concertos, I thought I’d revisit the Sibelius, a performance with a nice touch of chill about it, but beautifully shaped, and very finely partnered by Barenboim.

Gramophone’s 2016 Young Artist of the Year, the baritone Benjamin Appl made his Sony Classical debut with a kind of autobiographical programme called ‘Heimat', tracing his journey from Germany to the UK, where he now lives. I’ve dipped into it for songs by Schreker, Schubert and Ireland. And James Baillieu is Appl’s imaginative pianist-partner, a really satisfying musical collaboration.

The three Järvi conductors adorn our January 2018 cover, so I’ve dipped into Paavo’s new Hindemith recording for the ever-inventive Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber by Paul Hindemith, a composer who deserves to be heard way more often – I always wonder whether Benjamin Britten knew this work from 1943 when he wrote his Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra a couple of years later, as there seem to be many similarities of scoring and colour. Paavo Järvi draws some magnificent playing from his Frankfurt orchestra, a band he’s elevated to a really classy ensemble.

Another conductor-orchestra partnership that has been gathering attention across the pond is the Louisville Orchestra and Teddy Abrams - a rare example of an orchestra giving dynamism (and optimism) to a city. From their debut release, a very imaginative programme, I've gone for Aaron Copland's quintessentially American Clarinet Concerto - and Teddy Abrams proves himself as fine a clarinettist as he is conductor.

Some rare English fare comes in the form of Gordon Jacob’s Violin Concerto on a new recording from Clare Howick, the BBC Scottish SO and Grant Llewellyn. It dates from 1953 and finds Jacob in quite a serious mood but always drawing on his innate lyricism. This new recording does it justice and I hope prompts exploration of the other concertos that join it – by Paul Patterson and Kenneth Leighton.

Jonathan Dove’s Piano Quintet of 2008 and inspired by a stay in Umbria, though certainly not an evocation of that beautiful part of Italy. It’s a striking work, full of imaginative sounds, and it shares with Brahms’s Piano Quintet, a work that Dove played often as a young man (often in its two-piano version), a terrific sense of dynamism and coiled power. It’d be hard to imagine a finer performance than this one by Charles Owen and the Sacconi Quartet. 

Listen on:

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The tracks:

Elgar Carissima

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Vasily Petrenko (Onyx)

Schubert Piano Sonata No 20 in A, D959

Krystian Zimerman (DG)

Schreker Waldeinsamkeit

Benjamin Appl; James Baillieu (Sony Classical)

Hindemith Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber

Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra / Paavo Järvi (Naïve)    

Schubert Der Wanderer, D498

Benjamin Appl; James Baillieu (Sony Classical)    

Copland Clarinet Concerto

Teddy Abrams; Louisville Orchestra; Jason Seber (Decca Gold)    

Quilter Love calls through the summer

Carolyn Sampson; Iestyn Davies; Joseph Middleton (BIS)    

Jacob Violin Concerto

Clare Howick; BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Grant Llewellyn (Dutton)    

Ireland If there were dreams to sell

Benjamin Appl; James Baillieu (Sony Classical)  

Dove Piano Quintet

Sacconi Quartet; Charles Owen (Signum)  

Sibelius Violin Concerto

Lisa Batiashvili; Staatskapelle Berlin /Daniel Barenboim (DG)

Rachmaninov Spring Cantata, Op 20

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Vasily Petrenko (Onyx)    

The Listening Room

James Jolly's weekly exploration of the newest and most interesting classical releases. Available on Spotify, Apple Music and Qobuz

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