Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Two fine English Cello Concertos


I've sometimes wondered why the 1986 Chandos recording of the Bax Cello Concerto with Raphael Wallfisch was the only one available on disc, and why indeed it took more than 50 years for a recording to appear (it wasn't released until 1995). There's finally another recording, a new Lyrita disc, licensed from Dutton, for whom it was recorded in August 2014.  There was absolutely nothing wrong with the former disc, from Chandos, which features a vital performance from the soloist and expert support from LPO under Bryden Thomson. Lest you wonder about the work itself, there's nothing at all wrong with it either. It doesn't quite fit the Elgar mold, being more energetic and less elegaic, but there's lots there for a cellist to get his teeth into, and its thematic material is strong, though more rhapsodic than symphonic to be sure. And cellist Lionel Handy, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and their conductor Martin Yates prove to be as effective advocates for the work as the London musicians. The new performance for the most part moves briskly ahead while the Chandos disc tends to slow just down a touch to show off the most beautiful bits. I like both recordings equally, and like the music more now that I've heard two facets exposed so beautifully.

It's a cliché to quote Jesus's words from Mark 6:4 when artists find success abroad but not so much at home. It's part of a very specific and slightly odd exchange which in the New International Version reads like this: "A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home." That's a very personal betrayal, and it's no wonder when foreign triumphs are tempered by the memories of hurtful memories from home. Villa-Lobos is one example of a composer who always felt he was appreciated more properly in France and in America than in Brazil. In the sad case of the English composer Stanley Bate his greatest successes were also in America, and once he returned home to England the lack of attention given his music may have contributed to his death (possibly a suicide) in 1959. Bate died, incidentally only a month before Villa-Lobos, though he was much younger. The two had met during Bate's first trip to Brazil, in 1945. Bate's Cello Concerto was first performed in Rochester, NY, in 1954.

From the evidence of this work, the only music by Bate that I've heard, the obscurity into which he's fallen is completely unjustified (something which actually doesn't happen all that often, in my opinion, though record companies will have you believe it's common enough). This is music of some charm but even more character. It's a worthy companion to the Bax on this splendid disc.

Postscript: It is definitely a good disc, and fairly well filled, running just under an hour. I guess there wasn't room on the disc for a premiere recording of Bax's Variations for Orchestra which were recorded for Dutton, according to this notice from the Sir Arnold Bax Website, at the same time as these two concertos. Or perhaps there will be another disc with the Variations and some further music by Bax (or Bate!) from another session.

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