The Listening Room: Episode 56 (22.1.19)

The Listening RoomTue 22nd January 2019

Florence Price's First Symphony, a baritone Nuits d'été, Meyerbeer choral music and pre-release tracks by Lang Lang, Andris Nelsons, Lucie Horsch and Philippe Jaroussky

Florence Price’s First Symphony is slowly coming out of the shadows, and thank goodness! She was the first African-American woman to have a piece played by major American orchestra – that was in June 1933 when Frederick Stock conducted her E minor Symphony when it won a Wanamaker Foundation Award. It’s not a masterpiece but then life would be boring it every composition were, but it’s far from negligible and though the spirit of Dvorák hovers over it, I’ve enjoyed the piece now for some years. So it’s great that another recording – and a fine one – has come along.

Among the longer works this week, I’ve Hector Berlioz’s glorious song-cycle Les nuits d’été – sung by a baritone, and though it would take a lot for me to abandon my treasured Crespin and Baker recordings, it’s good to hear it painted, as it were, in a different colour – and Stéphane Degout is a wonderfully idiomatic performer. Needless to say François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles are ideal partners.

A few discoveries this week, too: a set of variations by the composer Fred Hersch, best known as a jazz pianist. He’s taken the theme from the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony and treated it to some pretty finger-twisting elaborations. (And for piano buffs I've Liszt’s Rigoletto Paraphrase played by Boris Giltburg, a player who’s been getting some great reviews.) Jarmas Järnefelt is best known as a conductor, particularly of the music of Sibelius (who was married to Järnefelt’s sister). Well, as composer Järnefelt had a vivid musical voice, though clearly not in the same league as his brother-in-law. Jaakko Kuusisto conducts Sweden’s Gävle Symphony Orchestra in a reconstruction of the score that Järnefelt wrote for the 1919 film, The Song of the Scarlet Flower. Chapter 1, ‘The First Flush of Spring’, gives a good idea of this composer’s late-Romantic language.

On the vocal front we’ve the incomparable Voces8 singing Barber Agnus dei (aka the Adagio from the String Quartet and later for massed strings), we’ve a Psalm setting by Meyerbeer (quite difficult to place if you heard it un-introduced) and, from many years earlier, Byrd’s Tristitia et anxietas sung by the ever-stylish Stile antico. For a single voice I’ve couple of songs by Pfitzner sung by the tenor Colin Balzer, possessor of a nice voice and clearly an intelligent Lieder singer.

Puccini’s lovely quartet movement Crisantemi and Max Richter’s November played by Mari Samuelsen (newly signed to DG) provide gentler, more Romantic interludes. And, staying with string-dominated textures, I've a sonata by Daniel Purcell (either the great Henry’s brother or cousin).

Pre-release tracks find Lang Lang playing that Beethoven’s miniature Für Elise that used to echo around the corridors of my school and thousands of others, Philippe Jaroussky sings Cavalli, Andris Nelson continues his Award-winning Shostakovich symphony cycle (with a taster of No 6) and recorder-player Lucie Horsch plays an arrangement of Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from Solomon.

Listen on:

SpotifyApple Music

The tracks:

Järnefelt Songs of the Scarlet Flower – Chapter 1, 'The First Flush of Spring'

Gävle Symphony Orchestra / Jaako Kuusisto (Ondine) 

Barber Agnus dei

Voces8 (Decca)

M Richter November 

Mari Samuelsen; Konzerthausorchester Berlin / Jonathan Stockhammer (DG)

Meyerbeer (arr Salvi) Psalm 124, 'Wenn der Herr nicht bei uns wär' 

Andrea Chudak; Jakub Sawicki; Neue Preussische Philharmonic / Dario Salvi (Naxos)

F Price Symphony No 1

Fort Smith Symphony Orchestra / John Jeter (Naxos)

Byrd Tristitia et anxietas

Stile antico (Harmonia Mundi)

Liszt Paraphrase de concert sur Rigoletto, S434

Boris Giltburg (Naxos)

Puccini Crisantemi

Quatuor Modigliani (Mirare)  

Pfitzner Lieder - Op 2 No 3, 'Kalt und schneidend weht der Wind'; Op 6 No 3, 'Zugvogel'

Colin Balzer; Klaus Simon (Naxos)

D Purcell Sonata Sexta

La Rêveuse (Mirare)

Hersch Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky

Natasha Paremski (Steinway & Sons)

Berlioz Les nuits d'été 

Stéphane Degout; Les Siècles / François-Xavier Roth (Harmonia Mundi) 

Beethoven Bagatelle No 25 in A minor, WoO59, 'Für Elise'  

Lang Lang (DG) PRE-RELEASE TRACK

Handel Solomon – The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba

Lucie Horsch; Academy of Ancient Music (Decca) PRE-RELEASE TRACK

Cavalli L'Ormindo, Act 2, 'Che città'

Philippe Jaroussky;  Artaserse (Erato) PRE-RELEASE TRACK

Shostakovich Symphony No 6 – Presto

Boston Symphony Orchestra / Andris Nelsons (DG) PRE-RELEASE TRACK

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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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