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Signum Releases October 2009

Haydn, Mozart & Beethoven - London Chamber Orchestra

Haydn: Symphony No. 85 in B flat major 'La Reine'
Rosemary Furniss (director)
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major, K414
Melvyn Tan (piano/director)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93
Christopher Warren-Green

Signum - SIGCD175; LCO 1

Their limited schedule at St John's Smith Square suggests that this resident chamber orchestra is gathered from London free-lance players; and the performances, that they are very good ones.

Furniss leads fastidious Haydn playing from the violin; a gripping account of a symphony which is closely associated with Marie Antoinette. The acoustic of St John's is a definite plus and the performances, all recorded live, were clearly special experiences for those there.

Melvyn Tan appears to have had the St John's Steinway prepared for his unusually delicate articulation and colouring (by Nigel Polmear of Steinways); indeed, I did not take it for a Steinway at first and the whole surely draws on this pianist's long association with fortepiano.

There is great spontaneity and rapport with the orchestra, which he directs from the keyboard. The Beethoven (recorded a year earlier) was not quite in the same class in what is one of the most recorded and competitive of canonic masterpieces.

Future releases on the LCO Live label, in partnership with Signum Classics, promise more 'standards' and, less well known, a Mendelssohn piano concerto with Melvyn Tan.


Rachmaninov & Grieg - Cello Sonatas

Jamie Walton (cello) & Daniel Grimwood (piano)

Signum - SIGCD172

Jamie Walton is a prolific studio recording cellist; he tours widely in concert, but I have not chanced to hear him live. I had been disappointed, particularly by the balance, in his recording of the Elgar concerto, but like this one far better.

Walton had previously recorded the Rachmaninov with one of my favourite pianists, Charles Owen, earning special plaudits in the Daily Telegraph [Somm, 2002] - I have not heard it.

The present account, with his regular duo partner Daniel Grimwood, is fluent and thoroughly satisfactory, but I felt greater engagement in the Grieg coupling, a very satisfying performance, with the two players equals and well engineered at Wyastone, February 2009. Recommended.

Fox, Jackson, Pitts & Saxton

Christopher Fox : A Spousal Verse & 20 Ways To improve Your Life
Robert Saxton: Five Motets
Gabriel Jackson: The Armed Man etc

The Clerks, Edward Wickham (director)

Signum - SIGCD174

For Musical Pointers readers and admirers of The Clerks, this CD, representing a decade of commissions, may be the record of the month.

Whilst the most arresting are Fox's miniature 21st C "Cries of London", taken from the freebie newpaper London Lite, small ads, spam e/mails and billboard slogans, there are weightier items too; contrafacta (new texts to old songs) and simultaneous bi-textual settings in the manner of medieval motets. All given with the expertise The Clerks usually lavish on old and very old music.

Schoenberg: Gurrelieder

Stig Andersen (Waldemar), Andreas Conrad (Klaus-Narr), Soile Isokoski (Tove),
Monica Groop (Waldtaube),
Ralf Lukas (Bauer) & Barbara Sukowa (Sprecher)
Philharmonia Voices, City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus & The Philharmonia Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen

Signum - SIGCD173
(SACD - 2 discs)

Invading one's own home with decibels to shake the walls, Gurrelieder is a monstrosity, its disparate parts so incongruous that many another composer might have withdrawn such a youthful folly. I suppose one ought to hear it every decade or so, but for me this was the last time. I cannot get on with the "love story", as vague and incorporeal as Wagner's for Tristan and Isolde, and I was keen for Part 1 to be over.

Part 2 has quite a lot going for it from the developing composer; I liked best the song about the Eel etc, well put over by Andreas Conrad as Klaus the Jester; and the Melodrama is worth hearing as a precursor to Pierrot Lunaire, though the impressively convincing recorded balance between soloists and orchestra seems vitiated here by the Speaker's microphone; surely anachronistic (premiered 1913) - but without it I guess she couldn't have been heard much at The Barbican.

I accept the plaudits for the heroic singing of Stig Andersen, supported by Soile Isokoski and Monica Group; for the chorus and orchestra and for Salonen's melding of all the disparate parts, but despite Julian Johnson's explanation how the "romantic and modern are two sides of the same coin - - - ", I cannot recommend its introduction to smaller homes that are not insulated from the neighbours.

All these discs are supplied by Signum with clear, large black-on-white texts and notes and their presentation is to be applauded; so too the variety of choice in one month.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Image: Gurrelieder at Koblenz - Foto: Thomas Frey