Winter Daydreams: Romantic Orchestral Favourites

ABC 481 1112

Delving into the vaults, the ABC Classics team has compiled a lush array of music that should appeal to most listeners.  Featuring the best orchestras and ensembles, including the Symphony Orchestras of Queensland, Tasmania, Melbourne, and Sydney, along with Orchestra Victoria and the Australia Ensemble, the choices are indeed, well-honed favourites.

Winter Daydreams coverIncluded is Bizet’s Roma Symphony (Andante molto), Elgar’s Enigma Variations Op 36 (Var 8 & 13), Mascagni’s Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, Puccini’s Crisantemi, Richard Strauss’s Traumerei am Kamin, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker (Journey of Clara, and Prince Charming through the Snow), Schubert’s Rosamunde D797 (Andantino), Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 1, Op 13 (Andante) and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (Sinfonia).

Mostly nineteenth century orchestral music, the repertoire focuses heavily on strings. Even the Horn Quintet in E flat, KV 407 (Andante) by Mozart is set for string quartet.  The only soloistic work included in this folio, is Brahms’s Piano Concerto No 1 in D minor, Op 15 (Adagio) with Garrick Ohlsson (Piano), and it happens to be the longest track, coming in at close to 15 minutes.

As the majority of the tracks are short, slow movements or pieces, it makes one wonder if there is something more inherently “romantic” about slower music – the languid, longing look into a lover’s eyes, or is it more basic than that?

The easy consumption inherent in compilation discs such as this, albeit beautifully performed and recorded, makes for great audience pleasers.

Cello Romance

ABC 476 5162

Anthologies of famous cello music abound, but this latest 2CD release from ABC Classics deserves to be heard. It is a compilation of recordings made mostly by Australians, including Janis Laurs, Li-Wei Qin, Sally Maer, Louise King, Michael Goldschlager, Julian Thompson, Suzanne Wijsman, Noeleen Wright, Daniel Yeardon, Anthea Cottee, Fenella Gill and Jamie Hey.

Along with the usual and equally spendid performances of movements from Bach’s Cello Suites and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, as well as movements from the very famous concertos by Vivaldi, Dvorak and Elgar, and well known pieces by Tchaikovsky and Saint-Saens, there is much that will interest all kinds of listeners, from cello students and teachers right through to the man or woman in the street.

The apparent simplicity of the Adagio movement from Haydn’s Cello Concert in C is quite delightful with its lyrically shaped phrases. The pizzicato accompaniment to the legato melody in Villa-Lobos’s Cantilena from Bachianas Brasileiras No 5 adds to the Latin American flavour.

The tranquil mood of Spiegel im Spiegel (or “mirror in the mirror”) by Avro Part allows the listener into a rare space of solitude where an infinite number of images can collide. The playing here by Sally Maer and Sally Whitwell (on piano) is most moving.

As well as the standard cello repertoire, there are transcriptions of arias and songs (Handel’s Lascia ch’io pianga from Rinaldo, and Par che mi nasca in seno from Tamerlano, Sondheim’s Goodbye for Now, and the Ionian song, I Will Give My Love an Apple).

Large scale accompaniments are provided by various orchestras (Melbourne and Adelaide Symphony Orchestras, Sinfonia Australis, and Australian Brandenburg Orchestra) on some tracks, but also a diverse range of other accompaniment forms, including piano, harp, harpsichord and chamber settings, thus giving a range of tonal combinations.

Whilst there are sonata movements by de Boismortier and Saint-Saens, it is perhaps in the lesser known works (von Paradis and Zipoli, for example) or transcriptions where this disc actually offers something more.

As a compilation album, covering a smorgasbord of repertoire over a 400 year period, it is well worth having in one’s collection.

A Romantic Christmas

Stephanie McCallum (pianist)

ABC Classics 476 4689

This selection of piano music really can be heard at any time of the year, but pianist Stephanie McCallum has chosen a lovely anthology of music which is directly related to the Christmas theme, or would suit the festive season. Amongst the glitter and fake snow that comes with this special time of year, it is sometimes rare to be musically nourished (unless copious doses of fine English cathedral carol services suit you). For those who like instrumental works where words don’t clutter the aural experience, then this recording by one of Australia’s finest pianists will satisfy.

Egon Petri’s transcription of JS Bach’s Sheep May Safely Graze sets a reverential tone, whilst Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite capture the joy and sparkle of this all-time favourite ballet.

Grainger’s fascination with folk songs has  produced another lovely transcription on Sussex Mummers’ Christmas Carol. The Pastoral by Dohnanyi has a simplicity even with its many florid elevated lines.

Chordal textures predominant in a humble way with Tchaikovsky’s A l’eglise and the Schumann and Liszt versions of Weihnachtslieder, leading into to the 12 movement Weihnachtbaum (Christmas Tree), which is more complex and ambitious as it takes the listener on a journey through familiar carols such as O Holy Night, The Shephers at the Manger, O Come, All Ye Faithful and other motifs where we hear Evening Bells, Carillon and treatments of nativity ideas.

Julian Yu’s Jangled Bells is delightful in the twist he takes on this perennial favourite.

McCallum’s playing has clarity and real joie de vivre, making this CD a real pleasure to hear. In this collection she has assembled some lesser performed pieces as well as transcriptions which are little treasures for the pianist.

Johann Sebastian Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Pianist: Albert Landa, ABC Classics 476 4556

I never tire of listening to the “48” for they hold an incredible spiritual sense, deriving, I suspect, from Bach masterfully working in all 24 keys (12 major and 12 minor) with inspired polyphonic intricacy. Listening (and playing) these works can give an experience, not only to the soul and intellect, that is profound.

Australian pianist Albert Landa has, as he has described it, “climbed Mt Everest”.

“I’d learned a few of these pieces as a child”, he said, “but back then Bach was thought of as dry, dusty and scholarly, but with increasing maturity I came to realise just how alive and filled with creativity and humanity these works are. So I was attracted by the challenge of learning all 48 and this coincided with my withdrawal, Glenn-Gould-like, from performing in concerts, so I turned my attention to recording them instead.”

Collected in a 4 CD set, the over 4 hours of music was recorded on a Steinway Model B at a private Sydney home. As with any recordings of Bach by pianists, it is a highly personal statement, full of the performer’s own insight into the remarkable ourvre. Putting aside the acoustic qualities that are somewhat different to the clinical studio sound, the use of expressive devices, judicious use of pedal, this complete recorded set has much to offer any student, teacher or music lover. Landa brings to life what for some may still be dusty and scholarly works. He infuses character and searches his own soul for the right artistic response from this great Baroque master.

“Some of the pieces embody the sheer joy of the keyboard and the virtuosity of playing it, while others are so profound they could be taken straight from the St Matthew Passion. Like Mt Everest, this music is aloof, terrifying and you have to respect it, but it is also filled with glorious insight into the soul and spirit of existence,” said Landa.