Shostakovich from the BBC Philharmonic

shosty12&15The latest release from the BBC Philharmonic and conductor John Storgårds is a generous coupling of two Shostakovich symphonies; Symphony No. 12 in D Minor (The Year 1917) and Symphony No.15 in A Major.  That’s a total of 85 minutes of music.  It’s also an SACD release from Chandos so technically it’s exemplary.

Really the quality of the music making and the quality of the recording reinforce each other.  Shostakovich symphonies tend to be a combination of delicacy and detail coupled with stirring, even bombastic, climaxes.  I was struck by just how delicate Storgårds makes his orchestra sound when he wants.  There’s some really beautiful woodwind playing for instance.  Then, just when I’m writing a note to myself that “this is a bit civilized for Shostakovich”, wham!  In comes the brass and percussion in a shattering climax.  And the contrast is so much more effective with the extended frequency and dynamic range that SACD affords.  Tying it all together is a kind of restless energy that runs through both symphonies.  It’s really good.

The recording was made at the BBC Media Centre in Salford in August and September 2022 and it was recorded, as Chandos do, in 24 bit, 96kHz resolution, which is what allows the full quality of SACD to emerge.  The physical disk has the usual multi and 2 channel SACD mixes plus a standard res CD track.  It’s also available digitally as MP# or standard and high res FLAC.  The excellent booklet is also included in the digital release.

Catalogue number: Chandos CHSA 5334

Dark with Excessive Bright

DarkwithexcessivebrightI’ve listened to and liked a lot of Missy Mazzoli’s operatic and vocal music but hadn’t had much exposure to her purely instrumental writing so  was interested to get hold of a copy of her new SACD release Dark with Excessive Bright.

The title track was originally composed as a concerto for double bass and string orchestra but here it’s given in two reworkings for solo violin; one with string orchestra and the other with string quintet.  The soloist is Peter Herresthal and in the orchestral version he’s accompanied by Bergen Philharmonic conducted by James Gaffigan.  I think all the hallmarks of Mazzoli’s music, excet perhaps the use of electronics, are present in this piece.  There’s a baroque sensibility combined with 20th century minimalism but in the context of the 21st century’s embrace of individual voices rather than dominant fashions.  So, largely tonal chords are recycled n different, fairly repetitive rhythmic patterns, but it never gets dull or new agey.  I think I like the arrangement for string quintet even more.  Here it’s players from the Arctic Philharmonic conducted by Tim Weiss accompanying.  The textures are lighter and it seems to have more clarity.  Good stuff.

Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres), played by the Arctic Philharmonic and Weiss, is fascinating.  There are rococo loops, slow at first, then wilder, playing over a hurdy gurdy like wheezing, droning sound.  It gets louder and more insistent and quite ominous before fading away into nothingness. Continue reading

Solti’s Die Walküre

soltiwalkurecoverI have now had a chance to listen to the new SACD release of the 1965 Solti recording of Wagner’s Die Walküre.  (For some reason Das Rheingold hasn’t arrived yet).  I’m not going to do a detailed review of the performance since pretty much everything that could be said about it has been, and by people better qualified than me.  As you might expect for a recording twice voted “recording of the century”.  I’ve also already written about the technical details of the new transfer in my review of the sampler disk.

Continue reading


Ygdrassil coverYggdrasil is a new record by the Norwegian women’s choir Cantus conducted by Tove Ramlo-Ystad.  There are eleven works on the record by various composers and all inspired, more or less loosely. by the idea of the World Ash Tree of Norse legend.  Sometimes they are a fairly literal telling of some episode from myth, other times they explore broader ideas around a tree that lasts for a long time, but not for ever, and contains within it its own destruction and the seed of its rebirth.  So, themes of humanity and Earth’s place in the Cosmos, the destructiveness of war, greed and climate change all have their place.

Continue reading

Candide on SACD

candideMy review of the recording of the London Symphony Orchestra’s semi-staged version of Bernstein’s Candide starring Jane Archibald, Sir Thomas Allen, Leonardo Capalbo and Anne-Sophie von Otter, conducted by Marin Alsop, is now up at Opera Canada.  It’s a hybrid CD/SACD release with exceptionally good sound quality.

The Golden Ring

thegoldenringGeorg Solti’s recording of Wagner’s Ring cycle made between 1958 and 1966 has probably had more words written about it than any other classical recording.  They are perhaps best. summed up by Gramophone Magazines comment that it is “The greatest of all the achievements in the history of the gramophone record”.  It’s an amzing cast that no-one could afford to assemble for a studio recording today, it’s the Wiener Philharmoiker and, of course, Solti himself.  But most opera lovers and certainly the audiophile ones will know all this.  So why am I writing about it?

Continue reading

Demo quality

grimesbergenIf 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!

Music to wallow in?

verklartenachtNo, 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.

Continue reading

Shostakovich with bells on

shosty11One 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.

Continue reading

Judith’s Saga

judith_sHubert 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.

Continue reading