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Classical - Released May 6, 2014 | Chandos

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Gramophone Record of the Month
This release offers a pair of top-notch William Walton compositions in technically sharp performances adorned by absolutely superb recorded sound that makes the central feature of Walton's orchestration, the transparency of winds and brass even in loud, dense passages, completely apparent. Violinist Tasmin Little turns in an unimpeachable performance in the technically punishing Violin Concerto, composed in 1939 for Jascha Heifetz and heard here in a revised version of 1943. But the album is really the work of conductor Edward Gardner, who has excelled in performances of opera and of large late Romantic and early 20th-century works from other countries. He seems to have drilled the BBC Symphony Orchestra within an inch of its life, and the result shows in the angular outer movements of the Symphony No. 1, where the brass work is crisp indeed. Some might find recordings where the contrast between tension and noble lyricism is more affectingly drawn (André Previn's classic reading comes to mind), or a violin concerto with a more commanding solo presence (the old Zino Francescatti is a favorite), but you're not going to get it all rendered in Chandos Super Audio sound, and the bottom line is that this is a good choice for a basic collection of music by a composer whose star is on the way up. © TiVo
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Classical - Released May 17, 2019 | Wergo

Distinctions 5 Sterne Fono Forum Klassik
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Choral Music (Choirs) - Released February 2, 2018 | Chandos

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason
The new Coventry Cathedral was built as an act of reconciliation after the destruction of its mediaeval original during World War II. For its consecration in 1962, a celebratory arts festival was organised, which included the commission of major works from Britten, Tippett, and Arthur Bliss (1891-1975). Of these, Britten’s War Requiem and Bliss’s The Beatitudes were intended for performance in the cathedral. In the event, only Britten’s work was performed in the setting for which it had been conceived. In April 1961 the festival events were outlined in The Times ; Bliss’s The Beatitudes is mentioned as the major new work to be performed in the cathedral. However, « owing to logistical circumstances », the opening concert would be moved to the Belgrade Theatre, of which Bliss was unaware until a few weeks before the premiere. There is no question that Bliss from the outset expected The Beatitudes to be performed in the cathedral, for the instrumentation included a part conceived for the newly installed organ. Doubtless, as Master of the Queen’s Music, Bliss could have dug his heels in and insisted that his work take precedence over Britten’s; but that would have gone against the grain of his values. Without a second thought, Bliss gave way to his younger colleague; moreover, he greatly admired Britten’s genius. Unfortunately the premiere was fraught with difficulties. In his autobiography, As I Remember, Bliss noted that critics hoped that a performance would be given in the Cathedral, its rightful place, on ‘the earliest possible occasion’. It took half a century for this to occur, as part of the cathedral’s Golden Jubilee, in 2012. In The Beatitudes, the texts comprise the nine Beatitudes, an Old Testament passage, poems by three seventeenth-century metaphysical authors, and one poem from the 20th Century. Although he seemed poised on the brink of a brilliant career in Britain, in 1923 Bliss moved to the USA for an unspecified period, accompanying his father who, having lived in England for over thirty years, wished to return to his homeland. Many in Bliss’s position would have hesitated interrupting their career at such a critical juncture; however, so close was the bond between father and son that personal ambition was irrelevant; besides, his half-American ancestry made Bliss curious to see the country the heritage of which he shared. His two-year American sojourn was also significant for his future : with the sounds of the excellent American orchestras ringing in his ears, Bliss composed the Introduction and Allegro in 1926. He dedicated it to Stokowski, who gave the American premiere, with the Philadelphia Orchestra, in 1928. With the Introduction and Allegro, the music of Bliss moves a stride forward to his mature voice, away from the febrile character of his postwar works. Considering that Bliss was appointed Master of the Queen’s Music in 1953, it is surprising that sixteen years elapsed before he produced an arrangement for chorus and orchestra of the National Anthem. Regal fanfares and ceremonial orchestral links between the stanzas give this version all the flair that made the tenure of Bliss as Master of the Queen’s Music distinctive and successful. It is for Royal Choral Society’s USA tour in 1969 that Bliss made his version of ‘God Save the Queen’, setting the first three stanzas. © SM/Qobuz
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Classical - Released February 5, 2016 | Naxos

Booklet Distinctions 4 étoiles Classica
Although Francis Chagrin was highly active in France and the U.K. as a film and television composer, today he is represented by only a handful of recordings and few performances of his concert works. This 2016 Naxos release by Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra presents world premiere recordings of the Symphony No. 1 (1946-1959, revised 1965) and the Symphony No. 2 (1965-1971), two serious essays by Chagrin that reflect British symphonic writing of the 1950s and '60s. The emphasis on straightforward dissonant counterpoint and somber orchestration gives the Symphony No. 1 an austere quality that is highlighted in this severe interpretation. Brabbins and the orchestra play with clarity and rhythmic sharpness, but the music allows little opportunity for warmth or color. The Symphony No. 2 is similarly angular and edgy, though it offers greater contrasts of moods and sonorities, and its orchestration, which is reminiscent of Chagrin's film music, is vivid and appealing. This CD may not spur a full revival of Chagrin's work, but it takes an important step in bringing this neglected composer into the repertoire. © TiVo
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Classical - Released June 29, 2018 | Nonesuch

Booklet Distinctions Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik
Audiences have their own favorites among the operas of John Adams, but Doctor Atomic (2005) has the advantage of being inarguably suited in its subject matter to the dimensions of grand opera: it takes for its topic the detonation of the first atomic bomb, with its first act occurring a month before the event and the second just before the successful test in New Mexico. The libretto by Peter Sellars, largely based on declassified documents, has been criticized as too choppy, but to these ears its shifts are what makes the work: it called forth an extraordinarily varied score from Adams. The music includes settings of poetry by Baudelaire, Donne, and Muriel Rukeyser, as well as the Hindu Bhagavad Gita and a traditional Tewa Native American song. Adams responded with a score that encompasses all these and never interrupts the sense of gathering doom the listener feels. Female characters -- scientist Robert Oppenheimer's wife, Kitty, and Pasqualita, a Tewa maid -- are introduced, and they only increase the variety. The work has been recorded, but this version conducted by Adams may be regarded as definitive. It is drawn mostly on a live concert performance in London that clearly made a strong connection with the audience. Gerald Finley is a gripping Oppenheimer, and all the singers put the text across immediately. You might think that British singers would be an impediment in text that often talks about American national aspirations, but it's not so: what has been called the transatlantic theatrical accent is close to the one singers of both nationalities tend to use, and after a brief suspension of disbelief you won't even think about it. Adams gets from the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Singers an intense, overwrought, kaleidoscopic performance that is just what the music ordered, and Nonesuch patches together the several performances here expertly. Bravo. © TiVo
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Symphonic Music - Released September 4, 2012 | ICA Classics

Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason
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Classical - Released February 5, 2016 | Lyrita

Distinctions 4 étoiles Classica
The English composer Arnold Cooke was a student of Paul Hindemith in the 1920s and emerged as perhaps his top British follower after World War II. His music is little heard these days outside of Britain, which is a shame inasmuch as he does not fall neatly on either side of the conservative-avant garde divide in force during the third quarter of the 20th century. Both these works are in four traditional movements, with fully standard structures, but they are compact and brisk, without a hint of academic dullness. From his teacher Cooke absorbed a tendency toward the distinctive treatment of solo instruments within fixed larger frameworks, and the variety of ways in which the rest of the orchestra is made to play off the fanfare-like brasses here is delightful. Sample the "Poco lento" slow movement of the Symphony No. 4 in E flat major (track 2) and note the subtle wind writing; it's English in mood despite its Germanic inspiration. These recordings, made from radio broadcasts in 1975 and 1981, are part of a series of albums captured from the radio by Lyrita founder Richard Itter, who after several years of experimentation had by this time achieved reasonable results; the sound is clear, and the performances by the BBC Symphony Orchestra (Symphony No. 4) and BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra (Symphony No. 5) are straightforward. Recommended for anyone interested in unearthing the music lost to the long modernist diktat. © TiVo
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Classical - Released January 1, 1982 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

A true chameleon capable of changing colours and styles according to the works he directs, Leonard Bernstein recorded this album in London in 1982 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, which he directed for the first and last time on this occasion. All during troubled times with Margaret Thatcher’s military response against Argentina following the events in the Falkland Islands. In this context, Bernstein, who hadn’t often come back to Great Britain since 1948, conducted the most patriotic music of all: the work of Sir Edward Elgar, first in concert, then for this recording released by Deutsche Grammophon. The collaboration with the BBC Symphony Orchestra didn’t start off so well… After arriving late because he had underestimated his travel time, Bernstein started the repetition with no apologies whatsoever, imposing on disgruntled musicians excessively slow or fast tempos, although always in connection with Elgar’s indications. Today the most striking aspect of this recording is the finesse of interpretation, which takes into account Elgar’s numerous German and French influences that appear through extreme nuances and subtle sound layers. The famous variation Nimrod, approached very gently with a slowness that renders it almost unrecognisable, all of a sudden takes on a metaphysical dimension. For good measure, Bernstein added two of the famous marches from Pomp and Circumstance, the first one being more or less a secondary British national anthem. © François Hudry/Qobuz
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Classical - Released October 16, 2020 | Avie Records

Booklet
Composer Anna Clyne has gained considerable popularity both in her native Britain and in the U.S., where she was composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Her large, motoric scores owe something to John Adams, but the vivid colors in her works do much to tell the story and owe something to her background in electro-acoustic music, although all the music here is for traditional instruments. The pieces here cover a ten-year period; the oldest, rewind, is from 2005 and may require some explanation for younger listeners who have never seen a VCR: it evokes the feeling of a videotape being rewound, with hiccups and stops and starts along the way. One of the attractive features of Clyne's music is that it may take up lighter or more serious themes and may use a variety of tonal procedures without losing its essential brightness. Consider The Seamstress (2014), for violin and orchestra (featuring contemporary music specialist Jennifer Koh on violin), which features elements of both folk fiddling and 12-tone organization. The performances here are all by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under various conductors, including Sakari Oramo, and were recorded under different producers and engineers, yet here, too, Clyne's personality remains consistent. Expect to be hearing a lot more of this composer on concert programs in the future, and get in on the ground floor now. © TiVo
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Classical - Released March 31, 2015 | Chandos

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The works on this album come from the later part of William Walton's career, in the 1950s and 1960s. At the time, with modernist absolutism in full swing, they were negatively reviewed, but now, with a neo-Romantic language mixed with hints of jazz, at least in the Symphony No. 2, they sound pretty prescient and worthy of revival. They get strong performances here. Rarest of all are the Improvisations on an Impromptu of Benjamin Britten, composed in 1969, and an intriguing example of a tribute by an older composer to a younger one. The work is a short passacaglia-like treatment of the substitute Impromptu movement theme of Britten's Piano Concerto, putting it through changes that transform it from Britten into Walton. The Cello Concerto, the only one of the three works that fits the stereotype of Walton's later work as relaxed and autumnal, receives a warm and engaging performance from Emerson Quartet cellist Paul Watkins. The jazz elements in the Symphony No. 2 are actually deemphasized by conductor Edward Gardner, leading the BBC Symphony Orchestra, but his rather dry blocks of sound also work well and bring out the many small touches of orchestration in this work. An attractive release that's well worth the time of Walton fans and those of British music in general. © TiVo
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Classical - Released March 2, 2018 | Chandos

Hi-Res Booklet
Florent Schmitt made his name in his mid-thirties with such rich, resplendent scores as La Tragédie de Salomé and Psalm 47. Their brilliance, however, should not have overwhelmed so much the rest of his output, for he lived another half century, and, as his Second Symphony demonstrates, retained his creative energy to the end. The initial occasion for the two Suites from Antoine et Cléopâtre recorded on this album was one of the extravaganzas put on in Paris by Ida Rubinstein, a woman whose sheer cold beauty gained an extra lustre from the vast wealth she inherited, and who was ready to display both – the looks and the lucre – majestically in the theatre. Having arrived in the French capital with Diaghilev’s company, she soon went independent. In June 1920 she took over the Paris Opéra for five gala performances of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, with herself as Cleopatra opposite the flamboyant Édouard De Max in a new translation which she had commissioned from André Gide. The titles of the six movements that Schmitt extracted in his two suites generally tell us where to place them within the action. In December 1957, 37 years later, Schmitt completed his Second Symphony, his last major work, at the age of eighty-seven. As lavish as his earlier music and as rhythmically sophisticated, emphatically bounding in fast passages and supple in slow, the symphony has nothing valedictory about it. Happily, the composer was there in Strasbourg in June 1958 for the first performance, conducted by Charles Munch. He died two months later. This was Schmitt’s only symphony in the strict sense, and it is not clear why he called it “No.2”. Of the two possible candidates for the “No.1” spot – his Symphonie concertante for piano and orchestra of 1931 and Janiana, a symphony for strings a decade later – neither is altogether convincing. Maybe the numbering was just an old man’s whim. © SM/Qobuz
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Classical - Released June 1, 2018 | Chandos

Hi-Res Booklet
Although the 1911 Second Symphony is without a doubt – alongside the slightly later Cello Concerto – the greatest work by the mature Elgar, the Serenade for Strings, finished in 1892 but based on even older material, is clearly the masterpiece of his youth. The Symphony, the last one that the composer finished (a Third was left under construction), is not short of typically English pomp, but the most salient feature of the work is definitely the vast contrast from one movement to the next, or indeed within a given movement, where spontaneous outbursts of feeling mix with regal bursts and doleful chants that speak of a kind of underlying mourning. The Serenade speaks happily of the pleasant English countryside, a kind of song without words: a profoundly British sort of Mendelssohnian inheritance. the BBC Symphony Orchestra swims like a fish in the water of this ineffable, fine music that's bursting with hidden meanings. © SM/Qobuz
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Classical - Released February 1, 2003 | BIS

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Classical - Released September 25, 2020 | NMC Recordings

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Here, for the first time together, are four of Nicola LeFanu’s remarkable orchestral landscapes, written over a 45 year period. They are hidden and revelatory, imagined and remembered, liminal and arcadian, raw and sophisticated. Of all the works in her prolific output (including operas, music theatre, chamber works, songs) it is perhaps in these large-scale orchestral pieces that LeFanu’s exploratory spirit stands out the most, translating the language of each landscape she traverses into a unique sonic topography. "LeFanu is renowned for works of imaginative beauty, often drawing on diverse extra-musical prompts" (BBC Music Magazine). The Hidden Landscape was commissioned by the BBC and first performed at the BBC Proms, 7 August 1973. It is this live recording (digitally remastered) that opens the album. Listening to this piece, and the work that follows (Columbia Falls) is rather like looking at the overall shape and contour of a landscape towards a distant horizon. LeFanu is, in life as well as art, a traveller and never happier than when she is outdoors. ‘I am not an urban person’ she says, ‘I need to be outside, using ears and eyes’. The short orchestral piece Threnody was inspired by Brendan Kennelly’s The Trojan Women (his version of Euripides’ tragedy) which was to become the catalyst for LeFanu's much larger work, The Crimson Bird. The text is from the poem Siege by John Fuller and examines the bond between mother and son as it is tested within an environment of war and terror. LeFanu says : "It's an exploration of love, fear and death. Siege has a universal scope that speaks to human experience throughout time. Coverage from conflict zones under siege fill our TV screens every day". © NMC Recordings
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Classical - Released February 16, 2018 | Warner Classics

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Classical - Released April 1, 2012 | NMC Recordings

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Classical - Released February 2, 2018 | Chandos

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Opera - Released April 1, 2012 | NMC Recordings

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Classical - Released November 6, 2012 | NMC Recordings

Booklet
In a career spanning decades, Oliver Knussen has become internationally famous as a conductor, though he is considerably less familiar to audiences as a composer, which was his first musical occupation. Yet despite composing steadily since childhood, Knussen has produced a comparatively small body of work, apparently because he is constrained by his meticulous craftsmanship and self-critical ear, as well as by a hectic conducting schedule. As a result of his small output and selectivity, and in no small part because of the changing instrumentation, this NMC album has the feeling of an ad hoc compilation, recorded by various artists in different settings and times. Knussen himself conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra in three of the essential performances, the Choral (1970-1972), the Violin Concerto (2002), and Requiem -- Songs for Sue (2005-2006), and also provided the informative liner notes, so that helps hold the package together. Even so, the interspersing of keyboard music, chamber pieces, and songs gives the album a loose presentation, and listeners who are just getting acquainted with Knussen might find it a little scattered. The key to appreciating this CD and Knussen's music as a whole is to listen for his inventive sonorities and timbres, for much of his music is quite atmospheric and lovely, despite the use of dense textures and dissonances. Knussen's years at the podium have taught him how to make instruments sound extraordinary, and his handling of tone colors makes him one of the easiest of modernists to approach. © TiVo