Gramophone classical recommendations

Due to the utter shiteness of Tidal’s classical search and album favourite systems, I’m going to post some Gramophone award winners and recommendations that I want to listen to, together with details of the review and a link to it on Tidal. I figure that this is as good a place as anywhere - I can just click and it’ll play.

Feel free to add (classical) recommendations, using the same kind of format, and please keep noise to a minimum. If that’s at all possible…


2017 Orchestral award winner

‘Haydn 2032 – No 4, Il distratto’

Riccardo Novaro bar Il Giardino Armonico / Giovanni Antonini
Friedemann Engelbrecht producer Tobias Lehmann engineer

Giovanni Antonini and Il Giardino Armonico once again come up trumps in their seemingly haphazard selection of symphonies from during and after Haydn’s Sturm und Drang period. Only seemingly so: there’s a clear link between the anarchy of Cimarosa’s buffo scena Il maestro di cappella and the pantomime of Il distratto, a symphony assembled from the orchestral music for an Eszterháza comedy. This is the six-movement symphony that famously features the orchestra tuning up a few bars into the finale, not to mention itself becoming distracted, in the first movement, on an unresolving subdominant chord before suddenly realising why it had gone there in the first place. It would be easy to play this purely for laughs but Antonini and his players are suitably straight-faced, and the jokes come off all the better for it. Riccardo Novaro, too, is in fine voice as the stuck-up Kapellmeister who is sent up by his players.

There’s more in this vein. Symphony No 70 is another ‘entertainment’ symphony – at least until its finale, where Sturm und Drang breaks through once again in a fierce contrapuntal cock-fight in which a five-note knocking motif finds itself doing duty as tune, accompaniment and fugal tag. Thomas Fey’s Heidelberg recording played around with the timing and tempo of the tag, distorting the whole architecture of this remarkable movement. Antonini once again plays it straight and shows that the subversiveness is all in the music – you only have to trust it. Fey, it seems, doesn’t, and it falls flat; Antonini does and you find yourself hitting repeat to catch it all over again.

The earlier volume plays with ideas of isolation – Haydn himself was cut off from the outside world, he maintained, ‘and so I had to become original’. Thus the aria Solo e pensoso finds itself amplified through proximity with a pair of masterpieces – the inexplicably underrated Tempora mutantur and Symphony No 42, in which Haydn first manages to synthesise the terseness of Sturm und Drang with an expansiveness of form and expression – and one of the finest of the earliest symphonies, No 4, with its foreboding central Nachtmusik movement. There’s the overture to L’isola disabitata as well: as much a nascent tone poem as the prelude to an evening at the theatre.

As in the previous volumes, the orchestral performance is breathtaking in its accuracy – the sort of Haydn-playing you dream of. They’ve set themselves another 15 years to complete this cycle (fingers crossed), and if we’re all still around for the composer’s 2032 tercentenary, this may well become the period-instrument Haydn cycle by which all others are measured.

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2017 Choral winner

Mozart Mass in C minor, K427. Exsultate, jubilate, K165

Carolyn Sampson sop Olivia Vermeulen mez Makoto Sakurada ten Christian Immler bar Bach Collegium Japan / Masaaki Suzuki

Hans Kipfer producer Jens Braun engineer


Period-instrument C minor Masses get better and better. The bar was set in the mid 1980s by Gardiner and Hogwood, then raised in the new millennium by the likes of McCreesh, Krivine and Langrée. This new recording from Japan, which joins Suzuki’s scholarly and startling Requiem, is fully worthy to join them. Reviewing the Requiem (1/15), I was disappointed that the acoustic and engineering blurred the inner voices, obliterating Mozart’s (or Süssmayr’s, Eybler’s or Suzuki Jnr’s) counterpoint. Here that problem is largely avoided in a similarly grand acoustic: that, and the fact that the C minor Mass is a far more vocally orientated piece than the Requiem.

The choir are well drilled and the two female soloists are matched as well as any on disc (see my Collection on the work, 6/13). Carolyn Sampson takes the bulk of the soprano solos (the ‘Laudamus’ is taken by the second soprano, Olivia Vermeulen, as is traditional) and does so with the lithe coloratura, rich, silky tone and innate identification with this music familiar from her sacred Mozart collection with The King’s Consort (Hyperion, 5/06), and intertwines memorably with Olivia Vermeulen in the duet and trio of the Gloria. Suzuki is no speed merchant (a full minute slower than Langrée in the Kyrie, for example), and maintains the through line in more strenuous movements such as the ‘Qui tollis’ and the ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’ fugue that closes the Gloria. He takes his time especially in the ‘Et incarnatus est’, its beautiful pastoral scene spun out mesmerisingly by Sampson.

The edition used of this tantalisingly incomplete work is that by Franz Beyer, published in 1989. There is nothing here to discombobulate the general listener; however, those for whom such matters are important will wish to know that there are no (editorial) trumpets in the ‘Credo’ or horns in the ‘Incarnatus’, whose new string parts are perhaps more active than those in the more usual HC Robbins Landon completion. (Beyer also contrived an Agnus Dei from the music of the Kyrie but that is not recorded here.) As the only other recording of this edition is Harnoncourt’s, whose peculiar balance between voices and instruments is a sticking point, it is worthwhile to hear Beyer’s work on this disc.

Sampson is once again the soloist in the popular Exsultate, jubilate, the treat here being a parallel recording of the opening aria in the ‘Salzburg’ version, which boasts a different text and flutes instead of oboes. As a package, the disc as a whole is certainly a winner; the Mass easily ranks alongside the period-instrument benchmarks.

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2016 Early Music Winner

‘Western Wind’

Taverner Choir & Players / Andrew Parrott


Andrew Parrott’s past recordings of Taverner count among his finest achievements, and it is little short of scandalous that they have never been reissued (glad to have got that off my chest!). While we wait, this new offering suggests that the hiatus of 25 years has not dulled his affinity for the music of his ensemble’s namesake. And yet it is a very different sort of disc from those earlier, exclusively liturgical projects. Taking his cue from the secular cantus firmus of this recital’s centrepiece, Taverner’s Western Wynde Mass, Parrott turns his attention to the secular music of Taverner’s contemporaries, not least Henry VIII, whose setting of the ‘T’Andernaken’ tune is one of his most accomplished compositions.

As one might expect, the cast is almost entirely different, though Emily Van Evera and Charles Daniels guest in a few numbers, such as Cornysh’s wistful Yow and I and Amyas. From a discographic standpoint, the instrumental numbers are very valuable, and dispatched with real flair. I particularly enjoyed Cornysh’s Fa la sol, an extended untexted fantasia performed here on the mute cornetto, vielle and bray harp.

The Western Wynde Mass nicely contrasts with The Tallis Scholars’ recording, being incisive and brisk where Peter Phillips’s reading is smoother and more leisurely. Parrott is perhaps more persuasive in conveying its pacing, which runs through what seems on paper a forbiddingly severe formal plan; in the process he highlights Taverner’s virtuosity in overcoming his self-imposed challenge. But perhaps the disc’s most satisfying interpretations are the two responds for high and low voices respectively, Audivi vocem and Dum transisset sabbatum (I), which seem to me on a par with the Taverner Consort at their very best: the latter in particular combines that trademark incisiveness with superlative solo singing. Finally, the sound recording successively juggles a wide range of distributions, from harpsichord to choir, with no apparent discontinuity.

2016 Baroque Instrumental winner

Biber Rosary Sonatas

Rachel Podger vn with Jonathan Manson vc, va da gamba David Miller archlute Marcin Swiatkiewicz harps, org

(Channel Classics)

How heartening it is to see new recordings of Biber continuing to come through, even well after the double boost they got from the composer’s two anniversaries in 1994 and 2004! Of all his music, it is surely the Mystery (or Rosary) Sonatas – 15 sonatas for violin and continuo, each representing an episode from the lives of Jesus and Mary corresponding to the sacred devotional ‘mysteries’ of the Rosary, with a solo passacaglia to finish – that not only provide the most stimulating listening but also the most fascinating insights into his way of thinking. Indeed, one could go further and claim them as one of the most profound and coherent instrumental cycles of the entire Baroque period. Approaches among players differ on a scale from seeking out all the descriptive detail they can find to relying more on the subliminal effects of the music’s symbolic and rhetorical gestures and constant scordature (each of the sonatas requires a different tuning system for the violin). All the successful ones, however, draw power from their depth of personal response, which is surely as it should be. This, after all, is music by a composer for whom the violin was a natural means of expression, a part of his being.

Of the new recordings of the Rosaries, perhaps the most keenly anticipated will be that by Rachel Podger, ever a glorious example of someone who lives life through her violin. Yet although her booklet-note makes clear that she appreciates how the violin is made literally to ‘suffer’ through the dark retunings associated with Jesus’s death, she also states that she sees her own role as that of evangelist. This may, I suppose, be why her performances (in which she is joined by lutenist David Miller and keyboard player Marcin Swiatkiewicz) are less directly involving than might have been expected. Of course she can play with grace and beauty – at the opening of ‘The Carrying of the Cross’, for instance, in the smooth Canzona of ‘The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin’ and throughout the Passacaglia (not a new recording, by the way, but taken from her ‘Guardian Angel’ solo disc – 11/13). There are also many subtleties of articulation and timing, almost as if there are words and pauses lying behind the notes, though sometimes these develop into lingerings that stretch the boundaries of continuity. Those used to Podger’s habitual natural exuberance may well find this recording surprisingly inward, even cool.