Thursday, 8 January 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, January 2015)

YORK BOWEN Chamber Music
Gould Piano Trio et al
Chandos 10805 / *****

There has been a recent revival of music by English composer York Bowen (1884-1961), who had been neglected for decades because of his unabashed romantic sensibilities, at odds with the avant-garde trends for much of the latter half in the 20th century. As he was a fine pianist and wrote much for the piano, the nickname of “English Rachmaninov” stuck, even though none of the music here remotely resembles that of the Russian’s. The Clarinet Sonata in F minor (1943) carries on where late Brahms had left off. It possesses that rich, mellow timbres which ingratiate the ear, and takes on darker vibes in the single-movement Phantasy Quintet (1933), where the bass clarinet holds court.

There are three piano trios included here, dating between 1900 and 1946. Showing no tendency to modernise and fit in with the times, he used lush harmonies and broad melodies, all of which were an anachronism for the age. The unfinished Piano Trio in D minor (1900) receives its first ever recording in a performing edition by the Gould Piano Trio, while the Piano Trio in E minor (1946) is the lengthiest at 24 minutes and three movements. One who appreciates the perfumed pages of Richard Strauss, Ernö Dohnanyi or Erich Korngold will enjoy these works. Clarinettist Robert Plane and the Gould Piano Trio, augmented by violinist Mia Cooper and violist David Adams, give definitive performances that are unlikely to be bettered for a long while.    

MOZART-HUMMEL Symphonies Nos.38-40
UWE GRODD, Flute et al
Naxos 8.570783 / ****1/2

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) was an 8-year-old child when he joined the Mozart household in Vienna as a student, lodger and sort of adopted son. There he learnt from the master Wolfgang Amadeus himself up close before leaving to pursue his own career as a virtuoso pianist and composer. In 1823-24, he was asked to produce chamber versions of Mozart’s symphonies for performance and enjoyment of amateur musicians (albeit highly skilled ones) in the comfort of home. Hummel was faithful to the letter, although these editions scored for flute, violin, cello and piano have been adapted to make them sound fuller and more symphonic.

The Prague Symphony, No.38 in D major (K.504) was dedicated to no less than Johann Wolfgang von Goethe himself who was on the privy council of the Weimar ducal court where Hummel was Kapellmeister. It was the grand Symphony No.39 in E flat major (K.504) that benefitted most from the augmentations by Hummel. The popular Symphony No.40 in G minor (K.550) is in a version that includes 10 extra bars in the slow movement, which makes for an interesting alternative version. The German quartet of flautist Ewe Grodd, violinist Friedemann Eichorn, cellist Martin Rummel and pianist Roland Krüger are no dilettantes, giving committed and highly enjoyable performances that are true to the spirit of Mozart’s originals.   

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