The Sixteen, bright stars of the Baroque, have plenty to say on 20th-century repertoire (witness their excellent Britten series on Collins). Underpin them with the BBC Philharmonic and it might seem a magic formula. Ives’s unearthly The Unanswered Question holds few problems for instrumental players weaned on Maxwell Davies – no more than do the brilliant wind roulades of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Deft BBC teamwork and a chamber articulation to woodwind and brass helps this Koussevitzky-commissioned masterpiece to shed its often hammy ‘big band’ sound, creeping closer to the subtle, leaner sonorities of his later choral works. It gains. The singing varies. Too many dynamic shifts sound prosaic or under-prepared; fortes are forced, with muddy results. The vocal blend (happier in lower voices) can seem haphazard and colours the Tippett, where the men’s roars – contrast the lovely, sensual soprano solo – seem crude. Get this disc, instead, for the rare, late Poulenc – his New York-commissioned Sept répons. It is a curiously under-recorded devotional work, bleeding with pathos yet pumping energy, its exoticism enhanced by slightly breathy, tender solos, and scintillatingly sung with just those crucial missing qualities of awe and freshness. A million times more refined than what goes before.
The Flight of the Condor: Ice, Wind and Fire is a documentary on The BBC World program, first aired in 1982. Directed and produced by Michael Andrews, who spent eighteen months in the Andes mountain range along with award-winning cameramen Martin Saunders, Hugh Miles and Rodger Jackman, the documentary shows wildlife as well as the particular Andean landscapes.
This new release from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales presents Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations and George Chadwick’s Symphonic Sketches. George Chadwick and Edward Elgar lived almost parallel lives on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Born in rural Massachusetts in 1854, Chadwick was Elgar’s senior by three years. Elgar, born in Worcester in 1857, was to become everything Chadwick aspired to be yet wasn’t. Successful and respected as an academic, Chadwick was appointed director of Boston’s New England Conservatory in 1897. Whilst he helped establish the NEC as a major international conservatory, it was recognition as a great composer that he sought most. Elgar, on the other hand, maintained a lifelong suspicion of academics and yet rose to become one of the most venerated composers of his era.