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and ARTS MUSIK with BBC Music Magazine

Following my review of Peter Maag's late Mozart symphonies, ARTS MUSIK has supplied for consideration " a Maag care-package" which has given us a great deal of pleasure in the run-up towards Christmas.

Peter Maag is a prolific recording conductor who has, to my best knowledge, not re-visited UK since conducting Figaro at Glyndebourne in 1959, during the period they were without a musical director. It was a performance which lodged in my memory for its lightness and elegance and I had wondered whether he might be a candidate to become Fritz Busch's successor.

So, first to Mozart and to opera. The Mozart C minor Mass has always seemed to me more worth spending time with than the Requiem, and Maag leads a satisfying account of it with one of his regular orchestras, the Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto, recorded live in concert (as most of them are) from the Pollini Hall at Padua. There is an operatic quality to this Mass and Lynda Russell is affecting in the Et Incarnatus est, which is an aria as demanding and important as any in the operas.

Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, with the Symphony Orchestra of Galicia and a Madrid chorus, comes to us in a performance at La Coruna in June 1998 which roused the audience to enthusiastic applause, especially for Ewa Podles, a true contralto, with as distinctive and unforgettable a voice as Ferrier or Baker. The long build up of Orpheus trying to bring his increasingly fractious and untrusting spouse back to life makes me certain that it is a poor service to the composer to extract the Che faro aria (and the Dance of the Blessed Spirits) out of context; the genius is in the structure of the scenes as a whole. This is a well-supported production, with full texts and translations, and all the CDs have full notes, though no information about the musicians themselves.

None of these recordings features world famous orchestras which go on summer festival tours, taking in London on their travels. Instead we have Italian and Spanish orchestras which acquit themselves excellently in the chosen repertoire. These recordings satisfy my Winnicottian criterion (he spoke up for 'good-enough' mothering, as opposed to 'perfection') of performances sufficiently excellent that, having them in my collection, I will not need to seek out better and 'best'.

For Schumann's complete works for piano and orchestra Maag turns to the radio orchestra of Italian Switzerland, based in Lugano. It is valuable to hear the Piano Concerto for once in context with the concertante works Introduction & Allegro appasionato (Op 92), Concert-Allegro with Introduction (Op 134) and - rarest of all - the now more often played Concertstuck for 4 Horns and Orchestra (Op 86, 1849) in its original version for Piano and Orchestra. Benedetto Lupo is an excellent pianist and this is a worthwhile acquisition for every Schumann admirer.

Most revelatory for me were Maag's recordings with the Madrid Symphony Orchestra of the five 'mature' symphonies of Mendelssohn (1809-47). The No 1, premiered in 1824, when he was about 15, was his first for full orchestra (preceded by twelve for strings). Derivative as it was bound to be, but fresh and with pointers to his blossoming individuality, it is coupled here with the Reformation (No 5, 1829-30) composed before No 2 and the popular Italian and Scottish symphonies. Mendelssohn was in no hurry to publish these youthful works and delayed their publication. The pre-echoes of Parsifal (Dresdner Amen) references to Luther's chorale and Gregorian Magnificat have militated against its ready acceptance, but in this dignified, unsentimentalised account I have enjoyed it more than ever before. Not so Mendelssohn's Lobgesang Op 52, a choral symphony published as No 2, but actually the last upon which he worked. It is on a massive scale, with half an hour of orchestral music before the voices enter. I found it less interesting than any of the others, and the (live) concert account not up to Maag's highest standards, especially his vocal soloists on this February 1997 occasion. My difficulty is particularly with this work, more than the performance. Avoid this one!

The Italian (1833) is everyone's favourite, and predictably this Mozart specialist gives it all the grace and tenderness one might hope for; if you don't have it in your collection, you need look no further. But the big surprise for me was the Scottish (No 3, but not completed until 1842) more convincingly a master work than I had previously rated it. A very desirable coupling under this conductor and under-rated Spanish orchestra.

ARTS MUSIK has a high profile in the current (January !) BBC Music Magazine, including co-production of the cover CD. This has a (for me) uneasy association between two early Haydn symphonies with a Giuliani guitar concerto sandwiched between them.

It will give wide pleasure and satisfaction but, for me, is vitiated by unrealistic far-too-forward spotlighting of the soloist Eduardo Catemario in the (trivial) Giuliani guitar concerto. Haydn's marvellous symphonies Nos 6 & 8 are given outstanding recorded performances in Vienna's Chapel of the Imperial Palace by Martin Haselbrock and the Wiener Akademie. The three symphonies 6-8, Morning, Noon & Evening, are his earliest for Esterhazy, designed to show off the orchestra, with substantial solos for everyone down to bassoon and double bass. Veritable concertos for orchestra. All three will be released in March on ARTS Music 47701-2 (presumably the same performances) and this is a sure recommendation for readers who don't get BBC Music Magazine.

Details of Arts Musik CDs from info@artsmusic.de (mostly mid-price) All CDs can be purchased at specialized shops as well as at amazon.de, amazon.co.uk, arkivmusic.com and the very good jpc.de

© Peter Grahame Woolf