If you follow such things you will probably have seen that the Bergen recording of Britten’s Peter Grimes won Gramophone magazine’s “Record of the Year” award. This came as no surprise as it is very, very good. My detailed review is in the Fall 2020 edition of Opera Canada. In that review, which was made using the electronic copy supplied by the distributor (16 bit, 44.1kHz stereo .wav files), I speculated that the commercial release, which is hybrid 24 bit/48kHz stereo and SACD surround, might well be “demonstration quality”. It is. I’ve now had a chance to sample the SACD version and it’s really good. There’s a really good level of detail and transparency with plenty of entirely natural sounding bass extension. That’s generally been my experience of such releases on the Chandos label and this is one of the best of them that I’ve heard. If you have gear that will play SACD you really should hear this!
No, not Flanders and Swann but rather a well constructed new recording from Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. It contains music by four composers exemplifying that lush territory that lies emotionally, if not always temporally, between Wagner and the Second Vienna School. The two central works were both inspired by Richard Dehmel’s Verklärte Nacht. The first is a 1901 setting of the text for mezzo, tenor and orchestra by Oskar Fried. It’s lushly scored and rather beautiful. The sound world is not dissimilar to Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder. Gardner gets a lovely sound from his players and some really gorgeous singing from Christine Rice and Stuart Skelton. The second Verklärte Nacht is the more familiar Schoenberg piece for string orchestra. It’s curious how without voices and with only strings it manages to sound almost as lush as the Fried.
One of the “selling points” of John Storgårds’ new recording of Shostakovich’s 11th Symphony (The Year 1905) with the BBC Philharmonic is that it uses real church bells rather than orchestral tubular bells for possibly the first time since the original recording by the Leningrad Phil. They are interesting but that’s not the main reason to buy this disk. There are two far stronger ones. It’s extremely well played. Storgårds conjures up an almost unbearable amount of tension and it never really relaxes. This is a performance that will have you on the edge of your seat throughout. Needless to say, he’s very well backed up by the BBC’s Salford based orchestra who produce exceptionally lovely string tone and brass that is emphatic without quite the “teeth on edge” quality of some Russian orchestras.
Hubert Parry’s Judith has been making something of a comeback. A new performing edition by Professor Stephanie Martin was performed at Koerner Hall by the Pax Christi Chorale in May 2015. That seems to have sparked some interest since the piece was transplanted to the Royal Festival Hall in London in April 2019 where rather larger forces presented the piece to generally good reviews. Subsequently the same forces mad a studio recording which has just been released as a hybrid SACD/CD release. If you want to know more googling “Parry Judith” will bring up a small library of articles on the “Judith Project” and how this piece has been unfairly neglected.
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.
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.
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.
My recently acquired media player plays SACD disks. I recently acquired a review copy of one such. It’s the Chandos recording of Berlioz’ L’enface du Christ recorded by Andrew Davis and the Melbourne Symphony. It comes with three “tracks”; standard (more or less) CD which will play on a CD player and both stereo and surround tracks in SACD format. Now “standard CD” for Chandos is a bit higher definition than most CDs. 24 bit at 48kHz versus 16 bit at 44.1 kHz. Is there a detectable difference?