The Listening Room: Episode 6

James JollyFri 1st December 2017

A Francophile playlist including Berlioz, Fauré, Saint-Saëns and the all-but-unknown Hélène de Montegeroult, plus a classic from Kyung Wha Chung and Krystian Zimerman

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The recording event of 2017 surely has to be Erato’s newly released set of Berlioz’s epic Les Troyens. Recorded during two concert performances (plus patching sessions) in Strasbourg last spring, it sees John Nelson on the podium, a conductor who has directed eight productions of this vast work during his long career. His love and admiration for the score shines out from every bar. And Erato’s A&R genius, Alain Lanceron, has cast it with the skill of a master-chef. With Joyce DiDonato and Michael Spyres as Dido and Aeneas, it is sensationally good. I’ve selected the end of Act 4 which culminates in the great love duet ‘Nuit d’ivresse et d’extase infinie!’ but we start with one of those gloriously cast smaller roles, the sweet-voiced tenor Cyrille Dubois as Iopas.

Pop and rock musicians ‘crossing over’ to classical music have a left a trail of carnage through the record catalogue (no names, no pack drill), but Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood’s piece, Water, for the Australian Chamber Orchestra strikes me as something worth paying attention to. Clearly influenced by Messiaen, though harmonically less adventurous, Water is a truly engaging work with some quite glorious sounds. Greenwood’s ear for orchestral colour is very sure and the piece is gorgeously played by the ACO.

From the archive, a Gramophone Award winner from years back, and still a terrific example of really classy chamber-music playing – Kyung Wha Chung and Krystian Zimerman in the Respighi Violin Sonata.

From Marianne Crébassa’s new solo album Erato (and I make no apologies for dip once again into what been a spectacular couple of months worth of releases from the Paris-based company), I’ve chosen Fauré’s seldom heard mini-song-cycle Mirages. Faultlessly done by this fine singer (the Anna on Les Troyens, incidentally) with Fazil Say at the piano.

Staying in France, and I know this week’s Listening Room is rather Francophile, I’ve a rarity from the time of the Revolution, a piano sonata by the aristocratic Hélène de Montgeroult. It’s reckoned that her musical talent saved her from the guillotine and after the Revolution she became one of the first women teachers at the Conservatoire. Edna Stern, playing a period instrument, does her proud.

My tasters his week are a lovely Saint-Saëns chorus sung by The King’s Singers, the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symhony played by the orchestra that premiered the work, Cologne’s Gürzenich (here under the estimable François-Xavier Roth), and, to end, the soprano solo movement from Brahms’s A German Requiem, but here given in its English version for which the orchestra is replaced by two pianists (and with James Baillieu and Richard Uttley doing the honours, quality is guaranteed). Fine singing from Mary Bevan and the Choir of King’s College, London under Joseph Fort. And, for once, it doesn’t sound like the last rehearsal before the orchestra shows up. 

The tracks

Berlioz Les Troyens, Act 4 (excerpt)

Cyrille Dubois (Iopas); Joyce DiDonato (Didon); Michael Spyres (Énée); choirs; Strasbourg PO / John Nelson (Erato)

Greenwood Water

Australian CO / Richard Tognetti (ABC)

Respighi Violin Sonata

Kyung Wha Chung (vn) Krystian Zimerman (pf) (DG)

Fauré Mirages

Marianne Crebassa (mez) Fazil Say (pf) (Erato)

De Montgeroult Piano Sonata No 9

Edna Stern (pf) (Orchid)

Saint-Saëns Deux Choeurs, Op 71 – No 1, Les Marins de Kermor

The King’s Singers (Signum)

Mahler Symphony No 5 – Adagietto

Gürzenich-Orchester, Köln / François-Xavier Roth (Harmonia Mundi)

Brahms An English Requiem – How lovely are your dwelling places

Mary Bevan (sop) The Choir of King’s College, London; James Baillieu, Richard Uttley (pfs) / Joseph Fort (Delphian)

James Jolly

James Jolly is Gramophone's Editor-in-Chief. His blogs explore live and recorded music, as well as downloading and digital delivery.

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