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Signum February/March 2009

Torelli Concertos Op 6 [SIGCD 157; Strauss Ein Heldenleben & Till Eulenspiegel [SIGCD 148]; James:Rhodes debut [SIGCD 153]

Three CDs soon to be released raise interesting questions about marketing. Signum releases a small number of discs each month, generally well prepared and worth attention; they send all of them for consideration, accepting that not every one might be reviewed. Some other distributors have restricted review copies severely, e.g. by asking us to request no more than three per month out of several dozen new releases; choosing those presents great difficulty and deprives some worthy labels of coverage..

Signum releases are always interesting even though this is not a vintage batch. These three discs are so disparate that they prompt some general reflections. Least interesting proved to be the one I was most keen to hear, Torelli's Op 6 Concertos from Charivari Agréable, a group I have admired over the years, whose earlier recordings hold pride of place in our collection. They are marketed as The Original Brandenburg Concertos, because they were written for a different Margrave, he of Brandenburg-Ansbach...

We've listened to about half of the dozen and found them unremarkable and unmemorable, despite director K-M Ng's learned historical introduction and enthusiasm. Documentation is thorough, as always with these musicologist/performers, from which I noted that the personell (a large group) is amost entirely different from those of the earlier Charivari Agréable releases. The sound is a little rough and generalised and the music, finally, boring...

Richard Strauss's grandiose autobiographical Ein Heldenleben (he is quoted as finding himself 'quite as interesting as Napoleon or Alexander') is an orchestral tour-de-force which I enjoy hearing occasionally; about once a decade is enough is my thought today, after admiring Christoff von Dohnanyi's fine account with the Philharmonia Orchestra, live from the Royal Festival Hall in 2007. It is coupled with the most popular of the tone poems, half as long and many times as durable, Till Eulenspiegel and his merry pranks, half as long and imperishable; a work that never palls with repetition. This fine performance in 2001 at the same venue has had to wait long before finding its coupling on Signum's Philharmonia Live series.

Most interesting for a critic is a debut CD by a trendy new (to me) pianist James:Rhodes - why the colon?

He is "a man whose mental scars are as extravagant as his tattoos and the self-inflicted razor slashes on his upper arms. His CV is a total nightmare" (The Times). Partly self-taught, with heroes Sokolov, Kissin and Nigel Kennedy, he has latterly been "mentored" by Bryce Morrison, who endorses this disc extravagantly.

We enjoyed Rhodes' Bach, the French Suite in G, and Moskowski's Etincelles; less so Beethoven's sonata op 90, Chopin's 4th Ballade & the Bach/Busoni Chaconne - marred by a tendency to slow down excessively for expressive emphasis.

See him play "some fucking Bach" and Blumenfeld (splashy) on YouTube (a thousand viewers !) and catch him in live recital in London's QEH, February, or at the Roundhouse in May.

Peter Grahame Woolf