First recordings of two powerful works from the pen of one of our major composers, John McCabe, who is celebrating his sixtieth birthday this year. Of Time and the River (the title is taken from Thomas Wolfe's novel) is actually the published title of McCabe's Fourth Symphony, written in 1993/4 to a commission by the BBC. The Flute Concerto was written for James Galway in 1989/90 and he gave the first performance of it in 1990 with Michael Tilson Thomas and the London Symphony Orchestra who commissioned the work. Here it is played by the outstanding young flautist Emily Beynon in her first recording for Hyperion.
Album performed by pianist, composer, arranger and conductor Solomon Schwartz (London, 1913-2002), aka 'Stanley Black', leading the London Festival Orchestra and Chorus. Black was one of the most famous, prolific and eclectic conductors during postwar at Britain. He went through several orchestras and bands, worked with British and American jazz musicians, conducted the orchestra of the RAF during the Second World War, he became director of the BBC Orchestra, was highly acclaimed in radio and television and later went on to record for Decca label full time. Stanley Black made an outstanding contribution to film music, he composed scores for over 200 films and music in general rushing almost all musical genres.
Respighi’s colourful music could have been written with the clear, full-bodied Chandos sound in mind. Following on from where Geoffrey Simon began for the label in the Eighties, Edward Downes is now exploring the more symphonic side of Respighi’s output, showing there is more to him than the Roman trilogy (if not that much, qualitatively). The present disc includes two of his four concertante works for piano and orchestra, the extended Toccata (according to Tozer’s booklet note, the longest such work in existence) and the quirky Slavonic Rhapsody, with its humorous sideswipe at Dvorák. More characteristic of Respighi is the concert overture derived from his opera Belfagor, about the exploits of a Till Eulenspiegel/Don Juan figure, portrayed with suitably colourful sound-painting. All these, together with the Bachian Three Chorales, are played with marvellous verve and commitment – the BBC PO under Downes has a way with this out-of-the-way repertoire that few can equal. The sound quality on this disc is nothing short of stunning.
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.
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.