The latest release on the Chandos label from Sir Andrew Davis consists of three works by Sir Arthur Bliss; The Enchantress, Meditations on a Theme by John Blow and Mary of Magdala.
The Enchantress was written for Kathleen Ferrier and premiered in 1951. The text is a free adaptation of the Second Idyll of Theocritus by playwright Henry Reed. The preface to the score tells us that:
I’ve been listening to Christoph Prégardien and Michael Gees’ new Schumann and Wagner recording for a number of reasons. I was very impressed with Prégardien when he appeared at Toronto Summer Music in 2018. I’m not familiar with the Schumann Op.90 Lenau Lieder und Requiem. I don’t think I have ever heard a tenor sing the Wesendonck Lieder. And, this is the first SACD of a song recital to come my way and I wanted to see if it made any appreciable difference.
Peter Greve is a Dutch composer of works for various forces all of which could, I suppose, be considered tone poems as they all have thematic/storyline elements. The “stories” for the pieces on the CD can be found here. Stylistically Greve is eclectic but very satisfying to listen to. The Palace of the Dreamking, perhaps unsurprisingly, has a Nordic feel to it particularly in the opening passages. It’s tonal and almost Sibelius like but then it gets agitated, percussive and more dissonant but for returning to a more elegiac mood. He has a real gift for melody too.
The Toronto Symphony have a new CD out. It’s a couple of Berlioz works recorded under the baton of Sir Andrew Davis at Roy Thomson Hall in September 2018. The first piece is the rarely heard Fantaisie sur la Tempête de Shakespeare for which the orchestra is joined by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. It’s an early piece inspired by one of Berlioz’ unrequited passions (like everything else by Berlioz!) and was considered daringly modern in its day. It’s said to be the first piece to introduce a harp to the symphony orchestra and it also includes piano four hands. It’s very colourful and rather brash which is territory that Sir Andrew excels in. There’s great clarity to both the singing and the playing.
Suzanne Farrin’s Dolce la morte sets poems by Michelangelo inspired by his relationship with Tommaso de’ Cavalieri dealing with the joy and complexity of desire and spiritual fulfillment. They are really intense poems and Farrin has scored them for counter tenor and seven piece chamber ensemble. The music is complex and intriguing. The vocal line consists mainly of long, high legato lines that play around with pitch in a variety of ways. The instrumental accompaniment is often also quite high and somewhat drone like with percussive insertions and places where the strings sound uncannily like another voice. It’s haunting and quite disturbing and definitely the sort of music one doesn’t fully “get” on first hearing but which makes one want to come back to it.
I got hold of the recent Chandos recording of Berlioz’ L’Enfance du Christ largely because I wanted to take a look at the Super Audio CD format. On that subject my thoughts are here. But it was also a chance to listen to a piece I was entirely unfamiliar with. I’m glad I did. It’s quite beautiful music; lyrical rather than dramatic, except perhaps in the early sections where Herod is having a hissy fit. I can see why it’s not done very often though. It calls for seven soloists plus chorus and a big orchestra.
Heimweh is a CD of Schubert songs from young German soprano Anna Richter and pianist Gerold Huber with a bit of help from clarinettist Matthias Schorn. It’s an interesting combination of the familiar and the less familiar with a bit of a leaning to the more lyrical, less dramatic end of the Schubert canon. Familiar material includes Der Hirt auf dem Felsen and the three parts of Ellens Gesang but there’s material that I’m much less familiar with too like Der Zwerg and Viola. I guess thirteen minute long songs about snowdrops just don’t get programmed that often. There’s also the slightly odd Abschied; where the piano accompanies spoken text.