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Lindberg, Maxwell-Davies, Ives & Szymanowski (Naxos releases September 2008)

A batch of interesting Naxos CDs received, most of them fully competitive with any of the "full price" labels; short notes to try to cope with the influx for reviewing...

Magnus Lindberg's complete piano music may perhaps be a daunting prospect, but it is encouraging to have it in the safe pair of hands of Ralph van Raat, whose performances (in Amsterdam and at the Proms) have given us pleasure, as do his series for Naxos [Adams intégrale, Rzewski].

No pains have been spared for this production, a demonstration quality recording of an until now relatively unknown oeuvre of captivating piano music by a composer better known for his large scale orchestral scores (the latest in a Prom last week).

The earlier works of the late 70s are firmly serial-based; Twine (1988) is based on harmonic sequences, with the third pedal sustaining the main harmonies. The later Jubilees and Etudes (2000-2004) bring back elements of 19 C & 20 C pianist composers from Liszt to Messiaen, making for very approachable music with irridescent colouring of the keyboard sound quality. Van Raat's control of touch and timbre is super-sensitive, backed by impressive engineering.

Ralph van Raat is musicologist as well as pianist and the notes are fully informative, if printed small on two double columned pages, repeated in German.

Recommended as essential purchase for followers of contemporary piano music.

The Maxwell Davies Naxos Quartets commission has been completed with No.10, finishing with a rather quirky piece instead of a "grand finale"; to deliberately leave the door open for more - -.

I usually enjoy them better than the programme notes lead me to expect; No 9 for mathemetician Dame Ollerenshawall carries the composer's hopes that his 'exacting and elaborate magic square workings' will have brought some order into the composition... How many listeners can really take all that on board?

The last one has some enticing movement titles, Broken Reel, Hornpipe unfinished etc, and I am enjoying it as I write; it is impenetrable stuff really, though intriguing from time to time; it ends abruptly after just a few bars of that hornpipe... Max completed his commission and says he hasn't given us his last word on the string quartet.

The Magginis, however, haven't quite lasted the course intact! It is not clear from the Naxos information whether Laurence Jackson, founder leader, has retired, as seems likely. What we do know is that two different violinists lead Nos 9 and 10 on this disc, and that "Gina McCormack has joined them as first violin following Lorraine McAslan's recent departure for family reasons".

Vocal offerings include another of Ives Songs with various artists (Naxos American Classics 8.559272 Vol.4), which collectors of the earlier volumes will want to acquire, and can be warmly recommended.

The project intends to cover all 200 of Ives' songs (he published 114 privately in 1922) and the involvement of many professional singers taking turns, and the "alphabetic approach" to organising the discs, make for what comes across as quite informal sequences, perhaps the sort of thing that might have happened at the Schubertiade evenings... [Texts should be available on the Naxos website, but don't seem to be online yet.]

A new near duplicate of choral & vocal work by Szymanowski from Warsaw (Naxos 8.570724) includes the fairly familiar Stabat Mater, but the coupling with rarer exotica (Litany, Demeter and Penthesilea) does not really claim precedence over Rattle's for EMI Classics with the Third Symphony (now only £6 from AmazonUK) - I have not heard the earlier Naxos Polish State Philharmonic Orchestra/Karol Stryja version of similar repertoire, and wonder if this is thought to supercede it, and whether financial support for recordings (Ministry of Culture, Warsaw for this one) is always well directed?

A Schubert disc of settings of poems by Schubert's Friends [8.557567] has Rainer Trost sounding surprisingly strained in the earlier tracks; this is highly competitive territory, and I was not captivated enough to continue listening.


Peter Grahame Woolf