Friday, 27 January 2012

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, January 2012)

D’ERLANGER & CLIFFE Violin Concertos
Philippe Graffin, Violin
BBC National Orchestra of Wales / David Lloyd Jones
Hyperion 67838 / *****

Baron Frederic d’Erlanger (1868-1943) and Frederic Cliffe (1857-1931) were English composers, contemporaries of Delius and Elgar, whose fortunes all but fell by the wayside. There were strong reasons: d’Erlanger (who had French and German ancestry) was a banker by profession albeit a highly-skilled musical amateur, while Cliffe’s composing career only lasted some 17 years. Nevertheless both wrote a violin concerto each, lasting half an hour. In terms of sheer melodic interest, these could rival the best of Bruch, Goldmark and Glazunov, just to name composers whose violin concertos remain in the active repertory.

The d’Erlanger concerto in D minor (1902) combines drama, lyricism and a playful streak most discernible in the mercurial finale. His Poeme (1918) is an achingly beautiful romance, coloured with impressionist hues, that deserves many listens. Cliffe’s concerto (1896), also in D minor, opens in the throes of passion before luxuriating in seamless melody – the slow movement is a peach - and a particularly flashy cadenza. Following the examples of Bruch, Brahms and Joachim, the easy-going humour and rhythms of a Hungarian-flavoured finale complete the showpiece. French violinist Philippe Graffin plays with a beautiful tone and requisite agility to ingratiate the listener to these neglected masterpieces. Ardently recommended.

The English Concert / Harry Bicket
Decca 478 2260 / ****1/2

This is a useful primer of baroque vocal music, just under an hour of solo arias and “bleeding chunks” representing six composers, which will win friends for a refined genre that is sometimes considered specialised or niche. The protagonist is the Australian-born soprano Danielle De Niese, of Sri Lankan extraction, whose purity and sensuousness of voice in the 13 tracks are a sure winner. Her enunciation of the words in John Dowland’s Come Again is clear as crystal, lending the song an extra dimension of poignancy. Her thrilling runs and clarion calls for Handel’s Let The Bright Seraphim is brilliantly echoed by Mark Bennett’s trumpet.

For sheer introspective beauty, it is hard to beat Dido’s Lament: When I Am Laid In Earth from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, or the closing duet Pur ti miro from Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea, where she is joined by counter-tenor Andreas Scholl. This collaboration is mirrored in the opening duet of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, another sublime moment The album closes in a lap of reassuring serenity with Sheep May Safely Sleep, sung in the original German, from J.S.Bach’s Cantata No.208. Despite the relative short measure, this very enjoyable album is self-recommending.

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