Sunday 15 August 2021

Symphonies of Youth & Maturity

I'm reviewing here two collections of symphonies, the first a set of String Symphonies composed by Felix Mendelssohn, begun by him at the age of eleven, and five symphonies of Camille Saint-Saëns, the 'French Mendelssohn', the first numbered symphony of Saint-Saëns begun at the age of fifteen.

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, The Complete String Symphonies, also includes Concerto for Violin and Strings in D Minor, Münchner Rundfunkorchester, c. Henry Raudales, 3 CDs, BR Klassik

 There are twelve symphonies in this set and listening through them reveals the composer's self-development beginning with C.P.E. Bach, then, in No. 4, comes an experiment with the French overture, developing on further as the composer's skills and knowledge widenened, until come works with the four movements of the classical symphony. The later numbers all have their own form, such as No. 12, with its initial fugue and an expansive final movement. All are a joy! The Mendelssohn family dining-room concerts revived a tradition of 'house music', not only for amateur guests but, increasingly professional players who took part in this intimate setting. It's a mistake to binge on these symphonies - my recommendation is for listening to just one or two at a time to imbibe their full musical flavours.


Saint-Saëns, Complete Symphonies, Malmö Symphony Orchestra, c. Marc Soustrot, 3 CDs also includes Le rouet d'Omphale, Op. 31, La jeunesse d'Hercule, Op. 50 & Danse macabre, Op. 40, Naxos

The label of 'French Mendelssohn' implies a light and inventive touch, clear in these works from the word go. Only the composer's 'Organ Symphony' (No. 3), is well known, the others should be equally so. Two of the five symphonies have no catalogue number, but this certainly does not make them any the lesser. The Symphony in F Major was a prize-winning competition entry with a wonderful final movement of theme and variations. The symphony in A Major is the first, dated 1850 and is a tribute to Mozart. If you wish Mozart had given us more beyond his final 'Jupiter' symphony, let this satisfy your appetite.

Thursday 25 February 2021

Reviews: In the Mood

Nothing can replace the experience of live music. There are, however, some pluses inherent in recordings. There is the obvious, that the choice is infinite. There is another that I'm appreciating more these days and that is the ability to choose listening material to suit your mood. Sometimes I like listening to Bruckner. Sometimes, I'm just not in the mood. Choosing what one listens to can be an interesting, self-reflective process. Here are my new CD recording choices that provide a widespread array of genres. Something here for everone, to coin a phrase.


Richard Strauss, Complete Tone Poems, boxed set of five CDs, Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg, c. François-Xavier Roth, SWR Classic

The symphonic poem represents the step beyond the classical symphony, appearing in places where composers were creating a national music.These by Strauss are, for me, always a treat, full of quiet moments of repose, soaring strings and powerful brass, not to mention the endless themes and motifs. Simply the best! An addition to this is Strauss's musical epitaph, Metamorphosen, scored for 23 solo strings.

Bruckner, Symphony No. 6, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, c. Mariss Jansons, BR Classic

Choose your moment to listen to this carefully, for like all Bruckner's symphonies it is a massive listening undertaking. Commit for three quarters of an hour of intense symphonic outpouring, a relatively short symphony for Bruckner. His symphonies always adhered to the same symphonic form, but within that framework are exploited all the endless possibilities.



Girolamo Frescobaldi, Unpublished Music from Chigi Codices, recorded at the organ of Basilica palatina di Santa Barbara in Mantova, organist, Ivana Valotti, Tactus

These are beautiful short pieces of atmosphere, a stream of spiritual delight on the old organ (1565) of the Mantova Basilica. The time period from whence these came is, in music, the beginning of Baroque experiment and innovation, when Frescobaldi, from Ferrar, played a leading role in shaping the language of keyboard music.


Théodore Dubois, Piano Quartet in A Minor and Piano Quintet in F Major, CPO

Piano, Oliver Triendl; Violin, Nina Karmon; Oboe, Stefan Schilli; Viola, Anja Kreynacke; Cello, Jakob Spahn

The chances are, this French composer is new to you. Born 1837, died 1924, known in France as a composer-organist, Dubois was born in rural Champagne and his musical life developed as a child in Reims at the cathedral. These are Elgarian pieces without the angst, perfectly formed. They are so dated, but in a nice way! The oboe in the quintet is a relatively rare instrumentation so adds that little something to the experience. Easy to picture these pieces performed over 100 years ago, surrounded by the French equivalent of Victorian paraphenalia, dress, decor.