Friday, 27 April 2012

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, April 2012)

Brodsky Quartet
Chandos 10708 / ****1/2

The Britain-based Brodsky Quartet, renowned for its versatility and collaborations with non-classical artists, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year with an album comprising solely encores, short pieces performed at the end of a concert. All of these are in the form of transcriptions, mostly by its violist Paul Cassidy. The programme begins in the sunny climes of Spain with dances by de Falla and Sarasate, culminating with the latter’s rip-roaring Zapateado, punctuated by foot stamping from the players. The Home Countries are represented by Elgar, of course, but there is to be no Salut d’Amour. Instead Chanson de matin and Chanson de nuit, separated by the whimsical La Capricieuse, provide soulful reminiscence without the cloying sentimentality. Oh how the English loved French titles!

Some of the best music here is French, epitomised by the Blues from Ravel’s Violin Sonata, in former first violinist Andrew Haveron’s arrangement, where the jazzy effects of the original are passed around all four instruments. The Central European contribution includes Mendelssohn, Kreisler and Godowsky, although one might consider the piano quintet arrangements of movements from Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood to be somewhat superfluous. Most of all, it is the infectious spirit of music-making (with two members from the original 1972 quartet, violinist Ian Belton and cellist Jacqueline Thomas still playing) that makes this disc a very enjoyable one.

EMI Classics 95422 2 (5 CDs) / ****1/2

This budget-priced box-set brings together the music of three British composers whose lives were inevitably intertwined. Irishman Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) and Hubert Parry (1848-1928) were important musical and academic establishment figures, whose standings in posterity were gradually and eventually eclipsed by the emergence of Edward Elgar (1857-1934). While Salut D’Amour and Serenade for Strings (included here) are hardly obscure, much of “The Lighter Elgar” is. You will not find profundity in his six partsongs From the Bavarian Highlands, based on German dances, but miniatures like Elegy and Sospiro can be very moving. 

Stanford’s fame now lies in his choral music for the Anglican church, and an entire disc by the Choir of King’s College Cambridge conducted by Stephen Cleobury confirms its quality. His Third Symphony, also called the Irish Symphony, uses Irish melodies, quotes from Brahms’s Fourth Symphony and sounds like Dvorak. The most underrated of the three is Parry, composer of the ode Blest Pair of Sirens (sung at the Royal Wedding of 2011), who may be referred to as the “English Brahms”. Sir Adrian Boult conducts his stirring Fifth Symphony, the splendid Symphonic Variations (an equal to the German’s Haydn Variations) and quite appropriately, Elegy to Brahms of 1897. Lovers of the traditional in symphonic music need not hesitate.

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