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Rare Naxos releases for October 2009 - Ysaÿe, Milhaud, Messiaen & Hindemith

Ysaÿe string trio, duo & cello sonata

Ysaÿe String Trio "Le Chimay" / Sonata for 2 Violins / Cello Sonata

Henning Kraggerud, Bård Monsen, Lars Anders Tomter, Ole-Eirik Ree

Naxos 8.57097

The Belgian violinist/composer Eugène Ysaÿe (1858–1931) is best known now for his solo violin sonatas, for which I've long had a soft spot. This release confirms my suspicion that, innovation apart, he is a better composer than his famous predecessor Paganini.

My attention to this splendid disc was drawn by the name of that excellent and enterprising violinist Henning Kraggerud (R),remembered for a fine CD of Grieg sonatas and, more recently, for an exceptional Vivaldi The Seasons at the City of London Festival.

Each of these works, only one published in his lifetime, is a discovery; not a substandard or boring movement amongst them. Norway was important in Ysaÿe's performing career. The two-violin sonata is on a large scale, lasting half an hour. The string trio of c.1927 has six sections, played continuously.

The notes are by the performers and the whole is clearly a labour of love. They are easier to read on line and go into minutiae about editions and manuscript differences.

You can hear (and dimly see; the lighting is not good) its first part performed by the Belgian Goeyvaerts String Trio, playing by heart at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSmz62JjbW0 and that will be enough to persuade string players and enthusiasts to make the small investment in the Naxos disc, in which the performances are more vivid and their recording at the Oslo Academy of Music exemplary.

The CD is, I would urge, a "must buy" for string chamber music collectors and should lead to a fuller exploration of Ysaÿe's oeuvre in UK.

It could be a programme "on a plate" for Peter Sheppard Skarvaed and his Kreutzer Quartet, for a seminar/concert at the Royal Academy of Music in London and/or one of his introduced-concerts at Wilton's Music Hall where the Kreutzers have built up a loyal audience which will trust them into the byways.

MILHAUD Alissa / L'Amour Chante / Poemes Juifs

Carole Farley with John Constable

Naxos 8.572298 [TT: 72 mins]

This selection of songs by one of the most prolific of all 20th C composers is a welcome step in a thorough revaluation which Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) richly deserves; rather as his contemporary, Martinu, has been receiving through musicians who are determined that their recordings should not just duplicate canonic favourites.

Carole Farley (a famous Lulu in her younger days) is known to me through her dedication to the vocal music of Ned Rorem (see our review of her 2005 Wigmore Hall recital, also with John Constable).

I have a vivid memory of the ageing Milhaud at the Royal College of Music, conducting student quartets in his String Octet after they had played separately the two quartets which comprise it... That tour de force can be heard both ways in the desirable intégrale of Milhaud's string quartets, which we reviewed.

Here are three song cycles from across Milhaud's long life. They are strongly contrasted. Alissa, Op. 9 (1913/31) tells of a love between cousins, which became a short Gide novel. Alissa(1964), Op. 409 (1964) is a subtle setting of love poems by different poets, all with metaphysical content. These are all introduced, with great learning, by the indefatigable Robert Matthew Walker (who has recently taken on the editorship of Musical Opinion and The Organ). He provides not only full commentaries, but also his own translations from the French of Alissa and L'amour chante. Copyright obstacles prevented Naxos from giving the texts of Poemes juifs, Op. 34, but help is readily at hand in Emily Ezust's cornucopia of Art Songs Texts, with the original French and English translations to easily print out (q.v...R) Those Jewish words set by a Jewish composer are integral to the understanding and appreciation of these fine songs, especially given their relevance to the history of the 20th and 21st centuries...

These recordings of 1992 (previously marketed by ASV) are more than serviceable. Carole Farley may be a little shrill occasionally* to some tastes, but this is a valuable product of her partnership with John Constable, better known perhaps to Londoners as the imperturbable pianist of London Sinfonietta.

Recommended as an essential purchase to all collectors of French song.

P.S.* re "Carole Farley may be a little shrill occasionally - - " - one has to be careful with such comments about recording quality. That was indeed so via my "hi-fi" (bought from a reputable specialist) but she sounds fine via iTunes/iPod headphones... Sound quality is heavily dependent upon listening circumstances and equiment. PGW

Messiaen - Poèmes pour Mi

Les Offrandes oubliées (1930)
Un Sourire (1989)
Poèmes pour Mi, books 1 & 2 (complete - Version for soprano and orchestra

Anne Schwanewilms (soprano)
Orchestre National de Lyon/Jun Märkl

Naxos 8572174

A warning about the main work on this disc.

Whereas two orchestral works, Messiaen's first and one of his last (A smile for the Mozart bicentenary 1991) are given excellent performances, well recorded, the main work, which I anticipated eagerly, is presented without texts in French, let alone translations.

Neither are these to be found on Naxos's website nor on Emily Ezust's so generous website. The counter-productive tyranny of some copyright holders has a destructive influence on the wider dissemination of important recordings of which, I opine, this (with a favourite singer of ours) is one. But I cannot recommend its purchase to our readers.

I have personally been bedevilled by apparently insurmountable copyright problems in efforts to seek re-release on CD of some fine LPs with which I was associated...

Hindemith - Chamber Music

Quartet for Clarinet, Violin, Violoncello and Piano
Sonata for Clarinet & Piano in B flat major
Drei leichte Stücke für Cello und Klavier
Clarinet Quintet, Op. 30

Spectrum Concerts Berlin

Naxos - 8572213

A workmanlike compilation of Hindemith's workmanlike gebrauchmuzik, mostly from the late '30s.

The clarinet quartet (with piano) felt overlong at 28 mins. Most interesting is the latest here, the clarinet quintet of 1955, which has fantasy and unpredictability, worth concert airings. The others, I shan't be returning to.

Reliable performances from Spectrum Concerts Berlin, but surprised to find Hindemith now less interesting than, say, Ysaÿe.

Peter Grahame Woolf