The Critic's Chair

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Critic's Chair: Ken Young on Anthony Ritchie

Kenneth Young reviews the Atoll recording of Anthony Ritchie's Fourth Symphony.

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Critic's Chair: Alison Balsom Paris

Alison Balsom Paris coverParis
Alison Balsom (tpt), Milos Karadaglic (guitar), Al Cherry (guitar), Grant Windsor (piano), Guy Barker Orchestra
(Warner 2564 632789)

Trumpet soloist Alison Balsom has released a CD called Paris - a varied collection of Parisian-inspired works, from Ravel to Reinhardt. Dave Bremner talks to Hannah Sassman about Alison Balsom's new direction, and discusses the merits of the variety on the recording. Hear excerpts from Satie's Gymnopédie No 3 arranged for solo trumpet, and Reinhardt's Nuages.

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Critic's Chair: Seattle Symphony

Dutilleux coverDUTILLEUX: Symphony No 1; Cello Concerto; The Shadows of Time
Seattle SO/Ludovic Morlot
Seattle Symphony Media SSM 1001

LUTHER ADAMS: Become Ocean
Seattle SO/Ludovic Morlot
Cantaloupe CA 21101

Become Ocean coverRobert Johnson reviews two recent recordings from the Seattle Symphony and their Music Director Ludovic Morlot. One is a disc of Dutilleux, including his Cello Concerto performed here by Xavier Phillips. The second recording is a work that recently won a Grammy and a Pulitzer Prize: John Luther Adams' Become Ocean. Find out if the award-winning composition lived up to the hype for Robert Johnson.

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Critic's Chair: Richard Strauss

Strauss Andris NelsonsSTRAUSS: Also Sprach Zarathustra Op 30; Don Juan Op 20; Til Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche Op 28
City of Birmingham SO/Andris Nelsons
(Orfeo C 878 141 A)

Robert Johnson reviews a new recording of Strauss tone poems, where Andris Nelsons conducts the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. He offers some examples of clever scoring in Don Juan, and explains how the performances on this disc are second to none.

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Critic's Chair: The Beethoven Journey

Beethoven JourneyThe Beethoven Journey
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No 5 in Eb Op 73; Choral Fantasia Op 80
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano/dir), Mahler CO
(Sony 88843 05886)

Robert Johnson reviews the final CD in The Beethoven Journey series, and gives some context for both the works on the disc. Solo pianist Leif Ove Andsnes also directs the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, and the set receives a strong recommendation from Robert Johnson.

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Critic's Chair: Janácek Orchestral Works Vol 1

Janacek VolJANACEK: Orchestral Works Vol 1 Sinfonietta; Capriccio; Suite from The Cunning Little Vixen
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (pno), Bergen Philharmonic Orch/Edward Gardner
(Chandos CHSA 5142)

This recording is the first in a new series of orchestral works by Czech composer Janácek. The Bergen Philharmonic are conducted by Edward Gardner. Robert Johnson gives us some background context on Janácek's Sinfonietta, and plays highlights from the other works on the disc.

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Critic's Chair: Doric String Quartet

Doric Haydn for webHAYDN: String Quartets Op 20
Doric String Quartet
(Chandos CHAN 10831/32)

Peter Mechen reviews the latest recording from the Doric String Quartet, who you may have seen during their New Zealand tour earlier this year. He tells Hannah Sassman about this 2-disc set of Haydn's Opus 20 String Quartets, and explains why out of the many works Haydn wrote for the instrumentation, these works will make you sit up and listen.

Tags:  musicHaydn

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Critic's Chair: Mozart's Instrumental Oratorium

Mozart Instrumental Oratorium HarnoncourtMOZART: Symphony No 39 in Eb K543; Symphony No 40 in G minor K550; Symphony No 41 in C K551, Jupiter
Concentus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
(Sony 88843 02635)

This recording features Mozart's final three symphonies, performed by the Concentus Musicus Wien. Conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt has chosen to interpret the three symphonies as a single work in three sections. Our reviewer Peter Mechen explains to Hannah Sassman why he would rather hear each work as a separate entity, and tells us what he thinks of the historic performance practice on this recording.

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Critic's Chair: Symphonie Fantastique

Berlioz Symphonie FantastiqueBERLIOZ: Symphonie Fantastique; VARÈSE: Ionisation
Bavarian Radio SO/Mariss Jansons
(BR Klassik 900 121)

David Bremner reviews this new recording of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique and Varèse's Ionisation. He talks about conductor Mariss Janson's tempo choices in the Berlioz, and plays some excerpts that feature the brass section.

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Critic's Chair: Alpine Symphony

Alpine SymphonySTRAUSS: Alpine Symphony
Saito Kinen Orch/Daniel Harding
(Decca 478 6422)

This new recording of Strauss' epic Alpine Symphony is from a live performance at the Saito Kinen Festival of 2012. Daniel Harding conducts the large orchestral forces needed for this work. In his review, Dave Bremner picks out his highlights of the wind and brass soloists, and reveals some of his favourite sections.

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Critic's Chair: Stefan Schulz Copenhagen Recital

Stefan Schultz Copenhagen RecitalCopenhagen Recital
Stefan Schulz (bass trombone), Saori Tomidokoro (piano)
(BIS 2144)

We feature this brand new recording from bass trombonist Stefan Schulz. It is from a live recital, and highlights a selection of transcriptions for bass trombone and piano. David Bremner, principal trombone of the NZSO, reviews the recording. He explains to our producer Hannah Sassman why listeners will enjoy the range of music on the CD, and what he looks for in an exceptional bass trombonist.

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Critic's Chair: Prokofiev Symphonies No 3 & 7

Prokofiev Kirill KarabitsPROKOFIEV: Symphony No 3 in C minor Op 44; Symphony No 7 in C# minor Op 131
Bournemouth SO/Kirill Karabits
(Onyx 4137)

We feature a new recording of Prokofiev's third and seventh symphonies. Robert Johnson talks to Hannah Sassman about this recording by the Bournemouth Symphony - conductor Kirill Karabits wins extra points from Robert for using the original slow ending of the Seventh Symphony, although he does include the alternate ending as an extra track on the disc.

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Critic's Chair: Solstice - Leonie Holmes

Solstice Leonie HolmesSolstice
Works by Leonie Holmes - Landscapes for Orchestra; Aquae Sulis; Elegy; Solstice
New Zealand SO/Marc Taddei
(Atoll ACD 819)

Peter Mechen reviews this recent recording on the Atoll label. It features orchestral music by New Zealand composer Leonie Holmes, and is played by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under Marc Taddei.

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Critic's Chair: Prokofiev Violin Sonatas & Five Melodies

Alina IbragimovaPROKOFIEV: Violin Sonatas & Five Melodies
Alina Ibragimova (violin), Steven Osborne (piano)
(Hyperion CDA 67514)

Robert Johnson reviews a recent release of Prokofiev works for violin and piano. Alina Ibragimova and Steven Osborne play Prokofiev's two Violin Sonatas - written for David Oistrakh - and his Five Melodies.


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Critic's Chair: Bruckner Symphony No 9

Bruckner AbbadoBRUCKNER: Symphony No 9 in D minor
Lucerne Festival Orch/Claudio Abbado
(DG 479 3441)

Robert Johnson reviews a recent release of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony, live from the Lucerne Festival 2013. It's the final recording of the late Claudio Abbado, who passed away in January of this year - a fitting tribute to one of the greatest conductors of the last century.

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Critic's Chair: Night and Day

Tim Willis The End
Night and Day
Tim Willis & The End

Nick Tipping introduces Hannah Sassman to a brand-new recording by the Melbourne-based jazz group The End. Their third album Night and Day takes the listener on a journey, with each track describing a time of day. Nick describes what he's heard as "minimalist jazz-rock fusion." When it's released, the album will be available on Tim Willis' website


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Critic's Chair: Bach Trio Sonatas for Organ

Bach: Trio Sonatas BWV525-53Robert Costin0
Robert Costin (org)
Stone Records

Indra Hughes reviews a new recording by organist Robert Costin, released just in time for Organ Week 2014. This recording, on Stone Records, features JS Bach's six Trio Sonatas for Organ BWV 525-530. Robert Costin's performing on the organ of Pembroke College Cambridge, a modern renovation of a 1708 organ.


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Critic's Chair: Landscape Preludes

Landscape PreludesLandscape Preludes: Contemporary solo piano music
Henry Wong Doe (piano)
(Rattle RATD 046 2014)

Peter Mechen sits in our Critic's Chair, and talks to Hannah Sassman about a recent release on the Rattle label called Landscape Preludes. It features twelve compositions by New Zealand composers, performed by pianist Henry Wong Doe. The set was originally commissioned by New Zealand pianist Stephen De Pledge in 2003.


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Critic's Chair: Um… yeahyeahabsolutelynoway!

Um yeahyeahabsolutelynoway

yeahyeahabsolutelynoway! – James Brown (gtr), Sam Cagney (gtr), Stephen Neville (drums)
(Rattle RAT-J-1021)

Nick Tipping talks to Hannah Sassman about a recent release on the Rattle label called Um... It's the latest album from Adelaide-based group yeahyeahabsolutelynoway, with two guitars and drums.

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The Critic's Chair: The Cut - Alexis French

Lex French The Cut CD cover image
The Cut

Alexis French (trumpet), David Bellemare (sax), Nicolas Ferron (guitar), Nicolas Bedard (bass), Mark Nelson (drums)
(Rattle RAT-J 1022)

Nick Tipping talks to Hannah Sassman about a recent release on the Rattle label, The Cut. It's the debut album by local trumpet player Lex French - he recorded it in Montreal last year.

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Critic's Chair: ELGAR: The Dream of Gerontius

Dream of Gerontius Edo de Waart
ELGAR: Symphony No 1 in Ab Op 55; The Dream of Gerontius
Peter Auty (ten), Michelle Breedt (mezzo), John Hancock (bar), Royal Flemish Philharmonic, Collegium Vocal Gent/Edo de Waart
(Pentatone PTC 5186 472)

The conductor on the disc, Edo de Waart, is in New Zealand this week working with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Robert Johnson reviews this recent release of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius and Symphony No 1, guiding us through the pros and cons of this recording.


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Critic's Chair: Lars-Erik Larsson Orchestral Works Vol. 1

Larsson: Helsingborg Symphony/Andrew Manze
LARSSON: Symphony No 1; Music for Orchestra; Lyric Fantasy; The Winter's Tale; Pastoral
Helsingborg SO/Andrew Manze
(CPO 777 671)

Robert Johnson reviews a recent release of orchestral music by Swedish composer Lars-Erik Larssen. Popular in Sweden, Robert tells our producer Hannah Sassman why Larssen's music is worthy of exposure here in New Zealand too.


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The Critic's Chair for 27 July 2014

This week Erica Challis reviews Mendelssohn in Birmingham, a new release by the City of Birmingham Symphony. She then features the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra live at the BBC Proms, and Israeli mandolin virtuoso Avi Avital's new recording Between Worlds. You'll also hear Massenet's orchestral music is in the skilled hands of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, conducted by Neeme Järvi.

Mendelssohn in BirminghamMendelssohn in Birmingham
City of Birmingham SO/Edward Gardner
(Chandos CHSA 5132)

The title of this disc is a bit misleading – Mendelssohn did conduct in Birmingham with great success, but the works on this disc were not the ones he performed there. The CBSO play with a well-blended, smooth sound. I don’t think they always capture the wilderness of The Hebrides landscape, though it’s a very beautiful performance. Throughout the recording, I like how the touches of colour show forth as little gleams.


Berlioz West Eastern Divan OrchestraBERLIOZ: Symphonie Fantastique; LISZT: Les Preludes
West-Eastern Divan Orch/Daniel Barenboim
(Decca 478 5350)

This recording is from the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra’s live performance at the 2009 BBC Proms. It’s an interesting listening experience, full of passion and commitment, along with some imperfections. The dynamics are strongly pointed, with big firmly shaped curves. Barenboim doesn’t take it at a breakneck pace, which means we can hear some of the fiddly details that are lost in other recordings.

Avi Avital Between WorldsBetween Worlds
Avi Avital (mandolin), Richard Galiano (accordion), Catrin Finch (harp), Giora Feidman (clarinet), Itamar Doari (percussion)
(DG 479 1069)

Grammy-award nominated Israeli mandolin player Avi Avital explores and re-imagines works from around the globe on this recording. Most tracks are short little appetisers, each a few minutes long. You can really hear Avital’s evocative and sensitive playing. If you’re a fan of the mandolin, or even if you’re not, this is a collection that gives you a sense of its capabilities.

Neeme Jarvi conducts MassenetNeeme Järvi conducts Massenet
Truls Mørk (cello), Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Neeme Järvi
(Chandos CHSA 5137)

The orchestral playing from the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande is very polished, with a light, clear sound overall. The dramatic brass chords are contained, and the massed strings have a gloved, velvety quality. Massenet has a gift for music with a sense of physical gesture, invaluable to a ballet composer. It’s charming music, played with sensitivity and control, with some luscious solos from individual players.


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The Critic's Chair for 20 July 2014

This week Cynthia Morahan is transported to France with tenor Juan Diego Florez's latest album L'amour. She also features piano works by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven that were all composed in 1789; and introduces us to the eight-cello ensemble Cellophony. She starts with a recent recording of Mendelssohn's Symphony No 2, Lobegesang played by the Bavarian Radio Symphony and Choir, conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado.

Mendelssohn Heras CasadoMENDELSSOHN: Symphony No 2, Lobgesang
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orch and Choir/Pablo Heras-Casado
(Harmonia Mundi 90 2151)

Conductor Pablo Heras-Casado is often referred to as “young” or “a young maverick” – he may be only 36, but he's a few years older than Mendelssohn was when he wrote the Hymn of Praise. Heras-Casado has put together a deeply moving interpretation of this work, and pulls inspired performances from orchestra, choir and soloist.

Vibrez CellophonyVibrez
(Edition Classics EDN 1047)

The eight cellists in Cellophony are graduates of the Guildhall School of Music, all around the age of 30.This album comfortably crosses many eras, and the arrangements by their co-director Richard Birchall captured my attention. At times I forgot I was listening solely to cellos – they can sound more like a traditional ensemble rather than one made up purely of the same instrument.

Sebastian KnauerVienna 1789
Sebastian Knauer (pno), Zurich CO/Roger Norrington
(Berlin Classics BC 030 0551)

This recording features works by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven that were all written in the year 1789. It shines a human face on these iconic composers: Haydn as a 58 year old man restrained by court requirements, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 27 the work of a 33 year old plagued by financial difficulties, and the Beethoven concerto the work of an idealistic genius about to unleash himself on an unsuspecting world.

Juan Diego Florez L AmourL’amour
Juan Diego Florez (tenor), Orch Teatro Comunale di Bologna/Roberto Abbado
(Decca 478 5948)

This collection of 19th Century French arias makes me wonder why a tenor as talented as Florez waited so long to exploit the showpieces these French arias can be. His voice is in perfect form – but I prefer him on solid Bellini territory. I love his distinctive tone, but perhaps most of all I admire his ability to conjure raw emotion. And there isn't a whole ot of room for that in some of these galloping French show ponies.

The Critics Chair - 13 July 2014

William Dart reviews a number of local releases in this programme. The Auckland Philharmonia play works by Ross Harris; and Jaz Coleman's Symphony No 2 The Island. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra have a new recording of overtures and entr'actes by Meyerbeer; and Gillian Bibby is the editor of Living Echoes: The First 150 Years of Piano Music from New Zealand - a collection of beginner piano music published by The Sunrise Music Trust.

Ross Harris APOHARRIS: Cello Concerto; Symphony No 4, To the memory of Mahinarangi Tocker
Li-wei Qin (cello), Auckland Philharmonia Orch/Garry Walker/Brett Dean
(Naxos 8.573044)

In Ross Harris’ Cello Concerto, Li-Wei Qin immerses himself in lyrical outbursts of song. Songwriter Mahinarangi Tocker enjoyed a significant working friendship with Harris, and his Fourth Symphony is a dedication to her – a powerfully emotional work. The APO plays with finesse, and we hear the composer’s skilled, cosmopolitan style, with a dash of Kurt Weill, the irony of Shostakovich and the urbanity of Stravinsky.

Jaz Coleman The IslandCOLEMAN: Symphony No 2, The Island
Hinewehi Mohi (sop), Viva Voce, Auckland Philharmonia Orch/Peter Scholes
(Killing Joke)

Jaz Coleman’s Symphony No 2, The Island is clearly the fruit of Coleman’s residency with the APO in 1996, a collaboration that did not bring about music of very much consequence. Almost two decades later here we have this CD, recorded in Auckland University’s Kenneth Myers Centre. I wonder if this is really a symphony. With nine movements tracking some sort of nebulous new-age narrative, it’s more of a suite.

NZSO MeyerbeerMEYERBEER: Overtures & Entr’actes
New Zealand SO/Darrell Ang
(Naxos 8.573195)

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is back on form with its latest release of Overtures and Entr’actes from the operas of Giacomo Meyerbeer. The various Entr’actes on this recording display his special compositional talents. One real bonus of this Naxos recording is the informed programme notes by the ultimate Meyebeer Scholar Robert Ignatius Letellier, who guides you through the various pieces, making you wish you could hear some of this music in operatic context.

Living Echoes Gillian BibbyLiving Echoes: The First 150 Years of Piano Music from New Zealand
Score and CD
Ludwig Treviranus (pno), Gillian Bibby (editor)
(Sunrise Music Trust)

Gilian Bibby, a composer of note, has for a long time devoted herself to the business of piano teaching. Her latest publication, Living Echoes, travels back over the last 150 Years of Piano Music from New Zealand composers, with CDs to match. These 54 pieces are a treasure house. There’s so much to play or listen to here. Even if you aren’t a pianist, it’s wonderful to have a musician of Ludwig Treviranus’ status and sensitivity artistry to do it for you.


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The Critic's Chair - 6 July 2014

Robert Johnson looks at the chamber music of Gabriel Pierné and Louis Vierne, performed by the Goldner Quartet and pianist Piers Lane. He also features an exciting recording of Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances and The Bells played by the Berlin Philharmonic. You’ll also hear Britten’s War Requiem from an all-star cast, under the direction of Antonio Pappano.

Rachmaninov Bells Symphonic DancesRACHMANINOV: The Bells; Symphonic Dances
Luba Orgonášová (soprano), Dmytro Popov (tenor), Mikhail Petrenko (bass), Berlin Radio Choir, Berlin Phil/Simon Rattle
(Warner Classics 9 84519)

This live concert recording of The Bells has the feeling of new discovery about it. There’s an enthusiasm and energy to the performance that hasn’t always been evident in Rattle’s recordings with the Berlin Phil, and it really pays off. The choir is on top form and all three soloists are perfectly cast. Performances of both works are among the best available, distinguished by superb orchestral playing and, in The Bells, by top-notch singing as well.

Respighi birdsRESPIGHI: The Birds; Three Botticelli Pictures; Suite in G major for strings and organ; Serenata
Kyler Brown (organ), Chamber Orchestra of New York/Salvatore Di Vittorio
(Naxos 8.573168)

There’s a lean and translucent quality to their sound that’s particularly successful in a work such as The Birds in which the scoring is so deft and agile. Trittico botticelliano is a masterpiece of ingenious orchestration on a small scale. Interpretations of both these works are wonderfully detailed, and the youthful orchestra plays well in a slightly unforgiving acoustic.

Vierne PiernePIERNÉ: Piano Quintet in E minor; VIERNE: String Quartet in D minor
Piers Lane (piano), Goldner String Quartet
(Hyperion CDA 68036)

Vierne’s String Quartet is no masterpiece but it does have charm, particularly the graceful and ephemeral Intermezzo. The Piano Quintet in E minor by Gabriel Pierné, however, proves to be quite a discovery – beautifully scored, with some wonderfully balanced writing. Performances of both works are exemplary and the recording is perfectly balanced. This is a wonderful CD that should be snapped up by anyone with an interest in finely crafted chamber music.

Britten War RequiemBRITTEN: War Requiem
Anna Netrebko (soprano), Ian Bostridge (tenor), Thomas Hampson (baritone), Chorus, Boys’ Choir and Orchestra of the National Academy of Saint Cecilia, Rome/Antonio Pappano
(Warner Classics 6 15448)

Tenor Ian Bostridge and baritone Thomas Hampson both take a dramatic approach to their roles, characterising each poem with the intelligence of great lieder interpreters and the theatrical instinct of opera singers. Not unexpectedly Anna Netrebko also takes a strikingly operatic approach to her part. The Italian choir sing Britten’s work as though they’ve known it all their lives and Sir Antonio Pappano conducts the work with red-blooded intensity. All in all, this is a recording of the War Requiem in which everything has come together to create an outstanding performance.

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The Critic's Chair for 29 June 2014

Robbie Ellis introduces four recent releases. There are new commissions for solo clarinet played by Matthias Schorn, and works for organ by Finnish composer Kalevi Aho. There's also a sumptuous new ECM production called Babylon-Suite with music for piano, toy piano, voice and drums, and two new guitar concertos with soloist Timo Korhonen.


Born to be SchornBorn to be Schorn: contemporary music for solo clarinet
Matthias Schorn (clarinet)
(Avi Music AVI 855 3297)

This is a satisfying album – no mean feat when every piece is for solo clarinet. Matthias Schorn has a wide and varied circle of composers he’s called on to fashion pieces for him, and this means there are plenty of approaches to music. I like the sound, I like the playing, I like the humour, I like the times away from the humour, and I like the balance. It’s worth checking out!


Aho Organ Ludus SolemnisAHO: Ludus solemnis: music for and with Organ
Jan Lehtola (organ), with Petri Komulainen (horn), Jussi Vuorinen (trombone), Kaija Saarikettu (violin), Anna-Kaisa Pippuri (oboe)
(BIS SACD 1966)
This album features Jan Lehtola playing three different organs in Finland and Sweden. It’s part of the BIS Label’s rather comprehensive output of Kalevi Aho’s music, so this disc has ended up being one of those thematically mixed bags that you get in a complete catalogue. But if you enjoy the composer, if you enjoy the organist, if you enjoy the organs, or if you simply enjoy first-rate sound, there’s plenty to recommend it.

Babylon SuiteBabylon-Suite
Vera Kappeler (piano, harmonium, toy piano, voice), Peter Conradin Zumthor (drums, toy piano, voice)
(ECM 2363)

This is one of those beautifully sumptuous ECM productions. Others might disagree with me, but I feel that Babylon-Suite jazz at heart – although jazz of a very mittel-European ECM variety. It’s spacious, mystical, with reverb lovingly sculpted by engineer Stefano Amerio and producer Manfred Eicher. In short, it’s a rather compelling musical progression, if you’re in the right frame of mind.

Guitar Concertos Timo KorhonenHAKOLA: Guitar Concerto; HOSOKAWA: Voyage IX, Awakening

Timo Korhonen (guitar), Oulu SO/Santtu-Matias Rouvali
(Ondine ODE 1219)

The guitar soloist here is Timo Korhonen. He’s part of the astonishing generation of Finnish musicians that includes Magnus Lindberg, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Kari Kriikku, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, and Sakari Oramo to name a few. He features the energetic concerto of Kimmo Hakola – also from Finland – and a soothing concerto by Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa.


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The Critic's Chair for 22 June 2014

Peter Walls looks at the final disc, Volume 55, in the Bach Collegium Japan's complete cantata series, begun nearly 20 years ago. The Academy of Ancient Music under Richard Egarr present a dramatically-tight version of Bach's St John Passion, and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra dazzle with a new release of the Brandenburg Concertos. He also reviews a refreshing disc of the Zefiro Baroque Orchestra, who remind us just how attractive Telemann can be.

Bach Collegium VolBACH: Gloria in Excelsis Deo BWV191; Lobe den herrn, meine seele BWV69; Freue dich, erloste schar BWV30
Bach Colleguim Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
(BIS SACD 2031)

The final volume in the Bach Collegium Japan’s epic complete cantata series. Mostly impeccably performed, this disc seems a little bit too much like a mop-up operation.

St John PassionBACH: St John Passion BWV245
Academy of Ancient Music, Choir of the AAM/Richard Egarr
(AAM Records AAM002)

A new St John Passion with James Gilchrist as a fine Evangelist. The Acadamy of Ancient Music under Richard Egarr present a dramatically-tight version of this masterpiece. The sections of the work that comment on the scriptural narrative might sometimes have benefited from a more expansive treatment.

Bach Brandenburg HMCBACH: Brandenburg Concertos
Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
(Harmonia Mundi HMC 90 2176.77)

A splendid set of Brandenburgs from one of the top European period-instrument ensembles. The myriad of solo instruments in the set are all played with real virtuosity and the originality of Bach’s conception comes through strongly.

Zefiro biggerTELEMANN: Overtures in D Major, Bb Major and D minor
Zefiro Baroque Orch/Alfredo Bernadini
Arcana A371

A refreshing CD that reminds us just how attractive Telemann can be. These Overture Suites show him injecting a strong theatrical character, humour, and ear-catching sonorities into a quite conventional form.


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The Critic's Chair for 15 June 2014

Robert Johnson looks at a new disc of orchestral works by Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik, who would have been 100 years old this year. He also reviews a stunning new recording of Shostakovich’s Symphony No 14 – the latest addition to the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic’s Shostakovich cycle under the skilled baton of Vasily Petrenko. You'll also hear the skilled Liège Philharmonic playing works by Respighi.

respighi impressions brasilianeRESPIGHI: Impressioni brasiliane; La Boutique fantasque
Liège Royal Philharmonic/John Neschling
(BIS 2050)

On the evidence of this recording the Liège Philharmonic is a very fine orchestra indeed. The energy and flair displayed in the Cancan and Tarantella from La Boutique fantasque, together with wonderfully clean and crisp ensemble, is matched by the delicacy of the various solos featured in the Nocturne. Although Brazilian Impressions isn’t one of the best known of Respighi’s works, it proves to be quite striking in a performance as fine as this. Listen to the sensual elegance of both the solos and the sectional playing in the opening movement, Tropical Night. This orchestra is a class act.

PanufnikPANUFNIK: Sinfonia di Sfere; Bassoon Concerto; Love Song; Landscape
Konzerthausorchester Berlin, Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Łukacs Borowicz
(CPO 777 686)

Panufnik’s “Symphony of Spheres” is for the most part a pensive work, broken occasionally by vigorous outbursts. It’s partly a matter of the clarity of the recording, but I think also that Borowicz’s pacing and his grasp of the structure of the work gives this performance a slight edge over previous recordings. The Bassoon Concerto was written soon after Panufnik had learned of the torture and death of the Catholic priest Father Jerzy Popiełuszko at the hands of the secret police.  This association led to one of the most sombre and dramatic works ever written for the instrument.

Shostakovich NaxosSHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No.14
Gal James (soprano), Alexander Vinogradov (baritone), Royal Liverpool Philharmoni/Vasily Petrenko
(Naxos 8.573132)

Shostakovich’s Fourteenth Symphony is a cycle of eleven songs for soprano and bass or baritone soloists with a chamber orchestra comprising just nineteen string instruments and three percussionists. The selection of the texts, and the sequence in which they appear in the symphony, expresses a message of defiance against those who cause the premature deaths of others. This strikes me as the best recording of this work since the iconic recording by Vishnevskaya, Reshetin and Rostropovich. If it falls slightly short of that performance in sheer intensity, it’s not by much. An outstanding performance by any standard.

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The Critic's Chair for 8 June 2014

Peter Mechen surveys some of the great Beethoven symphony cycles: from the intense and visionary accounts of Bruno Walter in 1949, to the formative 1962 Karajan recordings, and into the 21st century with rewarding period instrument performances by the likes of John Eliot Gardiner and Jos van Immerseel.

Beethoven Karajan squareClassic mid-20th century recordings

Peter Mechen introduces us to Beethoven’s striking individuality as a symphonist with two classic recordings from the 60s: Otto Klemperer with the Philharmonia and Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. We also get a taste of the grandeur and cosmic energy Bruno Walter was able to convey with the New York Philharmonic in a 1949 recording from the mono years.


beethsymchaillyHistorically-informed modern instrument orchestras

Then we take a quantum leap into the 21st century with Riccardo Chailly and Christian Thielemann conducting modern instrument orchestras, paying attention to details such as actual markings in the Peters Edition. “The results are in many places breath-taking, and totally exhilarating.”


beethsymimmerseelPeriod instrument performances

Finally, two rewarding cycles beautifully capturing the sound of period instruments and authentic performance practices: John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique recorded in 1994, and Jos van Immerseel conducting Anima Eterna in a 2008 traversal of the symphonies.



Philharmonia Orch / Otto Klemperer (EMI CDC 747-184)
Berlin Phil / Herbert von Karajan (DG 429-036)
New York Phil / Bruno Walter (Music and Arts CD1137)
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orch / Riccardo Chailly (Decca 478 349)
Vienna Phil /Christian Thielemann (Sony 88697 92717)
Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique / John Eliot Gardiner (Archiv 439 900)
Anima Eterna /  Jos van Immerseel (Zig Zag ZZT 080 402.6)


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The Critic's Chair for 1 June 2014

Kenneth Young sits in our Critic's Chair this week. He revels in a new recording of Gabrieli works performed by Berlin Brass, and explores three orchestral works by Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng. The Takács Quartet play Britten's three String Quartets, and you'll hear a very effective chamber version of Bruckner's Symphony No 2, arranged by British composer Anthony Payne.

gabrieli music brass organGIOVANNI GABRIELI: Works for Brass & Organ
Berlin Brass /Lucas Vis
(Pentatone PTC 5186 509)

Surround sound is ideal for reproducing the antiphonal textures of Gabrieli, and this album, made in a stunning acoustic, is the finest recorded example of Gabrieli’s music for brass I’ve heard. The performances on this disc are so beautifully and lovingly honed that I can tell this ensemble cares about this music as much as I do. Lucas Vis paces each work beautifully, carefully facilitating performances which had me replaying this disc over and over. I recommend it highly.

Bright ShengSHENG: The Song and Dance of Tears; Colors of Crimson; The Blazing Mirage
Hong Kong Philharmonic/Bright Sheng
(Naxos 8.570610)

Bright Sheng’s music assimilates the sonorities of classical western art music alongside the cultural tradition of his native China. Here, alongside the regular symphony orchestra he incorporates major solo roles for the Pipa (a popular, plucked Chinese stringed instrument) and the Sheng (a blown reed instrument).The performances by the Hong Kong Philharmonic on this disc are vibrant and accurate.

britten string quartetsString Quartets No 1-3
Takács Quartet
(Hyperion CDA 68004)

I’ve always found the Britten quartets somewhat elusive. They contain such contradictory elements which can make it difficult for ensembles to solve all the puzzles. For instance, in this recording, the Takács Quartet doesn’t quite capture the stillness at the heart of the ‘Song’ movement of the 3rd Quartet. This is a minor quibble as in general the set is a good guide to the music’s beauty and complexity, giving listeners most of what they need to come to their own conclusions.

Bruckner arrangementBRUCKNER arr PAYNE: Symphony No 2
Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble/Trevor Pinnock
(Linn CKD 442)

In this chamber arrangement there’s a lack of rich string sonority, and an obvious lack of impact from the reduced brass. But on the flip side, you’re able to get to the heart of a large orchestral work through the intimacy and flexibility of single instrument voices interacting. Personally, I’d rather listen to what the composer had in mind, but there’s a charm and eloquence to this rendition which I find strangely alluring. It’s certainly worth a listen.

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The Critics Chair for 25 May 2014

Robert Johnson reviews recent releases by New Zealand and Eastern European composers this week. The New Zealand Chamber Soloists have a new recording of John Psathas, and the compelling monodrama Alice by Gillian Whitehead is featured. You'll also hear a disc of chamber music by Russian/Polish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg, and the Tampere Philharmonic conducted by Hannu Lintu perform George Enescu's Third Symphony.

Psathas CorybasPSATHAS: Corybas; Quintet; Helix; Aegean; Island Songs
New Zealand Chamber Soloists
(Atoll ACD 542)

Two works for piano trio receive their world premiere recordings on this disc – the vibrant Corybas, which gives its name to the album as a whole, and Aegean, its tranquil companion. Aegean is like a Greek counterpart to one of those slow, smoky tangos by Piazzolla and I can imagine it becoming quite a hit. This recording of chamber music with piano by John Psathas is outstanding in every way. It’s a particularly strong and varied programme, all works are given passionately committed performances, and it’s very well recorded to boot.

Alice WhiteheadWHITEHEAD: Alice; Karohirohi; the impossible ordered dance
Helen Medlyn (mezzo), Carolyn Mills (harp), New Zealand SO/March Taddei
(Atoll ACD 613)

Helen Medlyn encompasses a wide range of expression throughout Whitehead’s monodrama Alice. This is a perfectly realised performance of one of Whitehead’s most riveting scores, beautifully recorded. In The improbable ordered dance, Whitehead captivates the listener with the originality and strength of her ideas, and with her extraordinary command of every aspect of orchestral writing. This is a marvellous disc, one of the most intriguing examples of contemporary New Zealand orchestral music to have been produced in recent years.

Weinberg chamberWEINBERG: Piano Trio; Violin Sonatina; Double Bass Sonata
Elisaveta Blumina (piano), Kolja Blacher (violin), Erez Ofer (violin), Johannes Moser (cello), Nabil Shehata (bass)
(CPO 777 804)

Weinberg’s inventiveness and craftsmanship are such that his music doesn’t suffer by comparison with that of his mentor, Shostakovich. There can hardly be a better demonstration of the capabilities of these musicians than the second movement of the Piano Trio, a fearsome Toccata in 5/16 time, while the grief-stricken third movement, “Poem”, brings a particularly intense performance. All three of these musicians have had a long association with the music of this composer, and it shows in the commitment and concentration of their performance.

Enescu Hannu LintuENESCU: Symphony No 3; Concert Overture on popular Romanian Themes
Tampere Philharmonic/Hannu Lintu
(Ondine ODE 1197)

Enescu’s Concert Overture could almost be a Third Romanian Rhapsody, though both style and content are rather more sophisticated. Composed in Romania in the midst of the First World War, his Third Symphony is in three large-scale movements and doesn’t follow a traditional sonata-form design, instead it has a continuous transformation of themes. In the slow finale with its wordless chorus, Enescu attempts to transcend the violence and turbulence of this movement by affirming a belief in higher values that can’t be destroyed by war. This is undoubtedly the finest performance of this work currently available, and the recording is both opulent and well-defined.

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The Critic's Chair for 18 May 2014

David Bremner sits in our Critic's Chair this week. You'll hear the first and last symphonies of Shostakovich in a brand new recording from the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic. Gustavo Dudamel conducts the LA Philharmonic through Mahler's Symphony No 9 in D, and we bring you a recording of Stravinsky and Stokowski from the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Stravinsky StokowskiSTRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring; BACH/STOKOWSKI: Toccata & Fugue in D minor BWV565; Fugue in G minor BWV578 ‘Little;’ Passacaglia & Fugue in C minor BWV582
Philadelphia Orch/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
(DG 479 1074)

After their much-publicised financial troubles, it sounds like this historic American orchestra are back on their feet. The strings make a rich and vibrant sound, with the other sections providing very tidy playing. Nézet-Séguin transports us to the concert hall in this recording – I found myself wanting to clap at the end, as if in a concert.

Shostakovich WigglesworthSHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No 1 in F minor Op 10; Symphony No 15 in A Op 141
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic/Mark Wigglesworth
(BIS SACD 1643)

I was intrigued by the programming on this disc: an operatic conductor, with a Dutch orchestra, playing Shostakovich. The result is some incredibly delicate and powerful playing.  I like the way the piano’s at the forefront of the sound in this recording, not hidden at the back, but really driving the orchestra. Wigglesworth keeps the music active, and all the solo lines are delivered with style and care – it’s a joy to listen to.

Mahler DudamelMAHLER: Symphony No 9 in D
Los Angeles Philharmonic/Gustavo Dudamel
(DG 479 0924)

Mahler has always had a special place in my musical makeup, from back in my student days when I used to sit around listening to Mahler symphonies between classes. On first listening, I was struck by the horn playing of Andrew Bain – rich in colours and vibrancy; he sits on top of the orchestra with ease. The emotion of this work always shows through under Dudamel’s direction, and I have to pay tribute to the exquisite brass playing on this disc.

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The Critic's Chair for 11 May 2014

Nick Tipping sits in the Critic's Chair this week, with a New Zealand Music Month special. He casts the spotlight on five recent jazz releases on the local Rattle label, featuring the Phil Broadhurst Quartet, The Jac, and Samsom Nacey Haines. Dog features four Auckland-based musicians, and Jonathan Crayford's brand new album is reviewed.

Flaubert s Dance RattleFlaubert’s Dance
Phil Broadhurst Quartet: Phil Broadhurst (piano), Roger Manins (tenor sax), Olivier Holland (bass) Cameron Sangster (drums)
(Rattle RAT-J-1015)

These musicians have thought hard about their approach to each tune, and the result is an album that is precise and concise, but also hugely expressive, with real emotional depth. Things don’t ever get really cranking, but that’s not the point; there’s an intensity here which doesn’t depend on overt energy levels.

Cross now rattleCross Now
Samsom Nacey Haines: Ron Samsom (drums), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Kevin Haines (bass)
(Rattle RAT-J-1016)

A lot of the tunes have two distinct contrasting sections in the head, which opens up the directions that the solos can take. I’d love to hear some of the tracks in live performance – I’ve got a feeling they could be completely different to the recorded versions. I’ve listened to it from beginning to end several times, it’s just a really satisfying listen.

Dog RattleDog
Kevin Field (piano), Roger Manins (sax), Olivier Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums)
(Rattle RAT-J-1019)

These four have played together a lot in the Auckland scene, but this is their first recording. It’s another varied album – it has the feel of a band reaching out in all sorts of directions to see what works. And there’s very little that doesn’t! Each successive tune opens a new door – and what’s behind it is both tightly crafted and full of possibility.

The Jac RattleNerve
The Jac: Jake Baxendale (alto sax), Alexis French (trumpet), Richard Thai (tenor sax), Matthew Allison (trombone), Callum Allardice (guitar), Daniel Millward (piano), Nick Tipping (bass), Shaun Anderson (drums)
(Rattle RAT-J-1018)

The Jac is an octet, four horns and four rhythm section players, from around the Wellington scene. This album has only five tracks, but they’re intensely composed and arranged. If there’s a common thread running through, it’s a sense of exploration.

Dark light biggerDark Light
Jonathan Crayford (piano), Ben Street (bass), Dan Weiss (drums)
(Rattle RAT-J-1020)

This brand new album features NZ pianist Jonathan Crayford, and two of New York’s most exciting musicians. It’s a gorgeous album. The title, Dark Light, immediately conjures up a kind of brooding mystique, and it carries on for the entire album. It’s reminiscent of the best of the ECM label – that mixture of a pristine, beautiful sound, and an almost chamber-music type vibe. To me, this is a world class CD.

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The Critic's Chair for 4 May 2014

This week Robert Johnson presents a programme in celebration of New Zealand Music Month. Hear Douglas Lilburn’s chamber music played by Justine Cormack and Michael Houstoun, and the NZSO on a new recording of Jack Body’s works. Naga is a disc of Gamelan music by NZ composers, and Landscapes of the Soul includes Lyell Cresswell’s new Piano Concerto with soloist Stephen De Pledge.

Lilburn AtollLILBURN: Duos for Violin & Piano
Justine Cormack (violin), Michael Houstoun (piano)
(Atoll ACD 913)

The experience of both Justine Cormack and Michael Houstoun in the performance of chamber music, and Houstoun’s intimate engagement with Lilburn’s music over a period of three decades, pays dividends in all the works on this disc. The Sonata in C is nothing short of a revelation. Each of the sonata’s four movements is idiomatically written for both instruments, and the music is thoroughly attractive and memorable. This is the third recording of the 1950 Sonata to appear on CD, but I think it’s the best yet. These four duos for violin and piano are all fabulous works that belong in the repertoire of musicians throughout the world.

Body Poems of Love and WarBODY: Poems of Love and War
David Greco (baritone & counter-tenor), Budi Surasa Putra (Javanese vocalist), Amitai Pati (tenor), Martin Riseley (violin), Robert Easting (narrator), New Zealand SO/ Kenneth Young
(Naxos 8.573198)

Body’s passion for Asia is reflected in four of the five works on this new disc, engaging in turn with the music and culture of China, Cambodia, Indonesia and Japan. These works also reflect two of Body’s other preoccupations – the nature of beauty, and his deep compassion for human suffering. None of the five works on this CD is quite like the others, making it a disc of extraordinary variety, united by the preoccupations of the composer. This is the best single disc compilation I’ve heard of the music of Jack Body. Performances throughout are very impressive, as is the engineering.

Naga Music for GamelanNaga: New Music for Gamelan
Gamelan Padhang Moncar & Gamelan Taniwha Jaya
(Rattle RATD045)

Two quite different gamelans based at the New Zealand School of Music have come together for a unique recording of music for gamelan by New Zealand composers, showcasing the music with which these performers toured six Indonesian cities in July last year. These pieces incorporate traditional gamelan performance practice with a few Western instruments such as violin, musical saw and accordion, and in some cases Western musical styles are reinterpreted through the medium of the gamelan. It’s a fascinating and unique sound world, hypnotic and surreal.

Cresswell landscapes of the soulCRESSWELL: Landscapes of the Soul (I Paesaggi dell’anima); Piano Concerto; Concerto for Orchestra and String Quartet
Stephen De Pledge (piano), New Zealand String Quartet, New Zealand Symphony Orch/ Hamish McKeich
(Naxos 8.573199)

Cresswell has lived in Scotland since 1980, but still regards himself as intrinsically a New Zealand composer. For Landscapes of the Soul, Cresswell teamed up with Italian painter Maurizio Bottarelli, and the result is a fascinating exploration of colour, texture and form in music. None of the music on this disc could be described as “easy listening”, but if you have a taste for contemporary orchestral music, Cresswell offers some distinctive sound worlds. The performances by all concerned are most impressive, and I particularly enjoyed the Concerto for Orchestra and String Quartet.

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The Critic's Chair for 27 April 2014

This week Cynthia Morahan reviews four recent recordings. The Puertas Quartet have a new release on the Atoll label, and pianist Hélène Grimaud has recorded the two Brahms concerti. You'll also hear the versatile soprano Christine Schafer singing Bach, and highlights from Rachel Podger's award-winning disc of solo violin works called Guardian Angel.

helene grimaud brahms piano concertosBRAHMS: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2
Hélène Grimaud (pno), Barvarian Radio SO, Vienna Phil/Andris Nelsons
(DG 479 1058)

A longtime champion of the music of Brahms, Grimaud has accepted the ultimate challenge in recording these two concertos together. The First Concerto has very weighty playing from the orchestra, perhaps explained by the fact that it’s a live recording. Hélène Grimaud’s playing is rich and full in a way that allows the work to become even more romantic. One reviewer has called this recording ‘Brahms in 3D.’ I’m calling it 'Brahms in High Definition.'

Bach Canatas Christine ShaferBACH: Cantatas BWV  82, 199 & 84; Dorian Fugue BWV 538; Ricercare a Sei from A Musical Offering BWV 1079
Christine Shafer (sop), Berlin Baroque Soloists, RIAS Chamber Choir
(Sony 88765 44478)

An avid admirer of Bach, Christine Shafer believes his music will never lose its actuality and always have something to say to us as human beings. As a Bach lover myself, I couldn’t agree more. I’m a great fan of Shafer’s recordings – she’s an energetic full-bodied soprano - but as a Bach interpreter, she doesn’t transport me anywhere I haven’t already been.

Guardian Angel Rachel PodgerGuardian Angel: Solo Violin Works by Biber, Bach, Tartini & Pisendel
Rachel Podger (vln)
(Channel Classics CS SA 35513)

I was intrigued to see how I would react to this; an entire album of solo Baroque violin. With a running time of 78 minutes and 30 seconds, it’s a long time to listen exclusively to Baroque violin. But the choice of repertoire creates an end result that is impressive and enjoyable. Biber’s Guardian Angel Sonata is mesmerizing – it was the work that made me want to listen to the album again. There’s no questioning Podger’s immense abilities as a virtuoso.

Puertas QuartetRAVEL: String Quartet in F; TCHAIKOVSKY: String Quartet No 1 in D; RACHMANINOV: Romance from String Quartet No 1
Puertas Quartet
(Atoll ACD 214)

This recording involves four people, three instrument types, two marriages and one long-distance relationship. It features Julia and Andrew Joyce, principals of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, and two of their string colleagues from the UK. It was recorded in the UK, but released on the NZ label Atoll. The real gem is the Romance by Rachmaninov, written when he was only 16.

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The Critic's Chair for 20 April 2014

Dianne James explores three recent recordings this week. The Bartolozzi Trio have released their fourth volume of Haydn Piano Trios, and harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani has grouped together CPE Bach's six keyboard sonatas dedicated to the Duke of Württemberg. Also, The Sixteen under the direction of Harry Christophers have issued their first volume of Bach's Lutheran Mass cycle.

Haydn: Piano Trios Vol 4Haydn Piano Trios Bartolozzi
Bartolozzi Trio
(Naxos 8.573128)

There’s some lovely playing of some exceptionally fine music on this new disc of Haydn Piano Trios, and those of you with an appetite for exploring unjustly neglected repertoire will find plenty of interest here. The recording quality is excellent, and the price is right too. Both string players have considerable experience in period performance and this yields dividends in the performances preserved on this new Naxos disc.

There’s a lovely clarity in the string sound cultivated by these two players that suits this repertoire very well. I also appreciated the sparing use of vibrato. The two players listen carefully to one another too, and as a result they achieve an admirable match in their sound and vibrato.

CPE BACH: WWurttembergürttemberg Sonatas
Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord)
(Hyperion CDA 67995)

Mahan Esfahani’s stylishly virtuosic playing has caught the attention of an audience wider than the usual early music devotees. Several things stood out for me the more I listened to Esfahani’s performances. The first is the way he’s able to follow and make sense of the constantly changing moods expressed within individual movements.  I also appreciated the way he’s able to grasp quickly the underlying Affekt or character of a movement.

His powerfully assured playing underscores the value and worth of this music, and this strong advocacy in turn, quickly captured my attention, and kept me interested throughout the 70 minutes or so of music on the disc. It’s worth setting aside some time to explore this music – Esfahani is an excellent guide.

BACH: Lutheran Masses VoBach Lutheran Masses Sixteenl 1
The Sixteen Choir and Orch/Harry Christophers
(CORO 16115)

The distinctive feature of The Sixteen’s new recordings of these Lutheran Masses is the decision to include the Cantata which Bach has used as the source of much of the musical material in these masses. This enables listeners to hear the original versions of some of these movements, and then to trace the way these are used in the Masses.

I first got to know these works from Phillipe Herreweghe’s recordings on Virgin of the early 1990s,and as much as I like the first of these new recordings of the Lutheran Masses by The Sixteen, I won’t be doing away with Herreweghe’s ones quite yet. I’ve really enjoyed acquainting myself with the first volume of The Sixteen’s Lutheran Mass cycle though and will be looking out for the second volume as it becomes available here.

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The Critic's Chair for Sunday 13 April 2014

Robert Johnson reviews works by composers from four countries this week. The Helsinki Philharmonic performs music by Finnish composer Leevi Madetoja, and accomplished soloists Isabelle Faust, Jean-Guihen Queyras, and Alexander Melnikov play Beethoven. Swiss composer Frank Martin’s Cinderella ballet features, and JoAnn Falletta conducts the Buffalo Philharmonic in a first-class release of Glière’s monumental Third Symphony.

MIGLIÉRE: Symphony No 3 in D; Symphony No 4 in C minor, Tragic;
Symphony No 5 in Bb

Buffalo Philharmonic Orch/JoAnn Falletta
(Naxos 8.573161)

The competition in this work includes recordings by the Royal Philharmonic, the BBC Philharmonic and the London Symphony. This is better than any of them, and it’s largely due to the inspired direction by JoAnn Falletta. The Buffalo Philharmonic are right up there with the best, and engineering that strikes a perfect balance between clarity and sonic punch. It’s a remarkable achievement for all concerned, and this recording now stands as the yardstick for this work.


robbins beethoven triosBEETHOVEN: Piano Trios Op 70 No 2 & Op 97 “Archduke”
Alexander Melnikov (fpno), Isabelle Faust (vln), Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello)
(Harmonia Mundi HMC 90 2125)

In this recording Melnikov plays a fortepiano made by the Viennese piano maker Alois Graff not long after Beethoven’s death. Compared with a modern grand piano this instrument has a more restricted dynamic range and less resonance, and the tone of the piano varies in different registers. These musicians are as fine as any who’ve ever recorded these works, and unless you’re completely opposed to the sound of the fortepiano, I highly recommend this recording as an opportunity to hear the sound of both these trios as the composer would have envisioned it.


pkP QfWnL SL AAMARTIN: Le conte de Cendrillon
Clémence Tilquin (sop), Varduhi Khahatryan (mezzo), David Hernandez Anfruns (ten), Geneva University Orch/Gábor Takács-Nagy
(Claves 50-1202)

Frank Martin composed his ballet on the story of Cinderella in the early 1940s, and it’s a witty score influenced by the European jazz of the period. The instrumentalists are a student orchestra from Geneva University, but under the direction of Gábor Takács-Nagy they give an excellent performance. This score is certainly off the beaten track, but it’s an inventive one and well worth investigating.


c cfb e b dde a d c a eeMADETOJA: Symphonies Nos 1 & 3; Okon Fuoko Suite
Helsinki Philharmonic Orch
/John Storgårds
(Ondine ODE 1211)

Madetoja’s First Symphony is a concise, tightly argued work in three movements. The Third is a work of great subtlety that doesn’t fully reveal its artistry at a first or even a second hearing, but persevere with it and you’ll find it gets under your skin. There have been several fine recordings of these works in recent years, but these new versions from the Helsinki Philharmonic take the palm. Every section of the orchestra plays with an adroit blend of virtuosity and character, and the conductor’s tempi are perfectly judged throughout.


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The Critic's Chair for 6 April 2014

Erica Challis sits in The Critic's Chair with four recent recordings of symphonies. The Swedish Chamber Orchestra play Schubert, and the Bamberg Symphony present a very fine recording of Mahler's Sixth Symphony. Valery Gergiev conducts Shostakovich's Symphony No 8 with intensity, and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela gives us some lively Beethoven under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel.

Schubert DausgaardSCHUBERT: Symphony No 3 in D; Symphony No 4 in C minor, Tragic; Symphony No 5 in Bb
Swedish CO/Thomas Dausgaard
(BIS SACD 1786)

The Swedish Chamber Orchestra are not a large group, but one capable of great warmth. These recordings are filled with innocence and well-being, and Thomas Dausgaard combines a forward drive with a kindness and gentleness. There are so many moments of unhurried pleasure in this recording, and the minuets bring out a sense of fun and humour.

Shostakovich GergievSHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No 8 in C minor Op 65
Mariinsky Orch/Valery Gergiev
(Mariinsky MAR 0525)

People have come to believe that this Eighth Symphony was really one of Shostakovich’s responses to the horrors of Stalinist Russia. In this recording, the Mariinsky cellos and basses are a big weighty machine, central to the work. Gergiev is masterful in keeping the long slow phrases of the Adagio alive. They’re not the most polished orchestra at times, but always full of depth and character.
Mahler Bamberg NottMAHLER: Symphony No 6 in A minor, Tragic
Bamberg SO/Jonathan Nott
(Tudor 7191)

While the Bamberg Symphony are not one of the big league orchestras, they give this symphony a very credible account. Nott brings some magical sounds out of the orchestra. The scherzo could be interpreted as a tumultuous courtship, and the calm third movement the result. It’s recorded in good detail, giving sufficient clarity to the complex polyphonic lines while maintaining a warm, round sound. It has an almost airborne energy, and certainly kept my attention engaged.
Beethoven DudamelBEETHOVEN: Symphony No 3 in Eb, Eroica; Overtures
Simón Bolívar SO of Venezuela/Gustavo Dudamel
(DG 479 0250)

This orchestra sounds massive in places, but the size doesn’t come at the cost of rhythmic clarity. Fast repeated notes in the strings can sometimes be dismissed by orchestras as chugging or scrubbing – here, they’re given a distinction and alertness that drive the rhythm. There’s always something interesting to hear with the little countermelodies, and we can hear the energy and enjoyment this orchestra puts into their music making.

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The Critic's Chair for 30 March 2014

Roger Wilson highlights four finalists from this year's BBC Music Magazine Awards, from the vocal, choral and operatic categories. He delights in the Hyperion release Handel's Finest Arias for Base Voice with soloist Christopher Purves, and Romantische Arien with baritone Christian Gerhaher. The songs of Hanns Eisler are featured, along with a recording of Arvo Pärt choral works called Adam's Lament.

Handel’s FineHandels finest arias for base voicest Arias for Base Voice
Christopher Purves (bass), Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen
(Hyperion CDA 67842)

The writing of  the bass voice in Handelian operas is sometimes thought to be formulaic. This is far from true, as the arias selected on this CD illustrate. Some surprising subtleties emerge. Christopher Purves has the timbre of a light baritone, and he whizzes through the most elaborate runs with almost nonchalant accuracy. He also has astonishing low notes. The baroque orchestra Arcangelo under ebullient conductor Jonathan Cohen matches him in fiery exuberance.
Romantiscromantische arienhe Arien
Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Barvarian Radio SO/Daniel Harding
(Sony 88725 42295)

This is an interesting release, which sheds light on the neglected German operatic repertoire between 1820 and 1848, which led up to the incomparable genius of Wagner. Christian Gerhaher sings wonderfully well, unfailingly beautiful of tone, with the kind of exquisite declamation that makes nonsense of the claim that German is a harsh and unvocal language. It’s hard to imagine a more delicately sung version of Wagner’s famous Hymn to the Evening Star.

Hanns EislerHANNS EISLER: Ernste Gesänge & Piano Sonata Op. 1

Matthias Goerne (baritone), Ensemble Resonanz, Thomas Larcher (piano)
(Harmonia Mundi HMC 90 2134)

The only Eisler songs I was familiar with before this CD were some doctrinaire Marxist ballads to Bertolt Brecht poems. Hearing this disc, there’s no doubting the vigour of Eisler’s music. The Ernste Gesänge for baritone and instrumental ensemble were quite an eye-opener for me, establishing Eisler in the forefront of 20th Century composers of lieder. This music could not have a more persuasive advocate than baritone Matthias Goerne.

Adam s Lament coverPÄRT: Adam’s Lament
Tui Hirv (soprano), Rainer Vilu (baritone), Estonian Phil Chamber Choir, Tallinn CO/Tonu Kalujuste
(ECM 2225)

This splendid CD has some of Arvo Pärt’s sacred choral works, as well as some secular gems like the charming Estonian Lullaby. There’s  a very strong choral tradition in the Baltic countries, and the three choirs on this recording are first class. The recordings were made in the perfect acoustic of the Niguliste Church in Tallinn, with the composer in attendance.

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The Critic's Chair for 23 March 2014

Robert Johnson takes us on a jaunt through the Hungarian countryside in this programme, with the Dante Quartet’s new recording of the Kodály String Quartets. He also features cellist Steven Isserlis playing the works of Bohuslav Martinů, and highly recommends Volodos Plays Mompou.  Also in the programme is Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s new release of the five formidable Prokofiev piano concertos; a recording that ticks all the boxes.

MartinuMARTINU: Cello Sonatas Nos 1-3; MUSTONEN: Cello Sonata; SIBELIUS: Malinconia
Steven Isserlis (cello), Olli Mustonen (piano)
(BIS SACD 2042)

An excellent recital, particularly for the three sonatas by Martinů at its heart. This is repertoire that Isserlis, in particular, knows well; his own sleeve note for this recording is informed and penetrating. Mustonen’s rhythmic precision drives the music along, and Steven Isserlis himself has obviously given much thought to these works since his earlier recording for Hyperion, marvellous though that was.

KodalyKODÁLY: String Quartets Nos.1 & 2; Intermezzo; Gavotte
Dante Quartet
(Hyperion CDA 67999)

Amid the Debussyan texture of Kodály’s First String Quartet you can also hear the inflections of Hungarian folk song. The Second Quartet is a highly distinctive work that deserves to be heard far more often. The Dante Quartet play with energy, superb technique and musicianship. Above all, they bring an obvious commitment to this repertoire that should bring it to the attention of other ensembles.

Volodos plays mompouVolodos plays Mompou
Arcadi Volodos (piano)
(Sony Classical 88765433262)

This is an outstanding and unexpected album from Volodos. The music of Mompou is confined to intimate piano miniatures and songs, with a couple of works for chorus. But if his range is restricted, the results are nevertheless compellingly individual and as haunting as many a work by better-known composers. His piano music looks relatively simple on the page, but it’s evident from the personal note with this album by Volodos that he has a sincere and intimate relationship with this ethereal music.

Prokofiev BavouzetPROKFIEV: Piano Concertos Nos1 to 5
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano), BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda
(Chandos CHAN 10802)

In Prokofiev’s piano concertos, I generally stick to particular recordings of individual concertos rather than complete sets. For the first time, this is an integral set that, for my taste, ticks all the boxes. The popular Third Concerto here comes remarkably close to my benchmark, Martha Argerich. Of the complete surveys of Prokofiev’s concertos, this now takes pride of place. Soloist, orchestra, conductor and recording engineers have all excelled, and the result is something quite special.

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The Critic's Chair for 16 March 2014

Kenneth Young reviews four recent orchestral releases on The Critic's Chair. Vasily Petrenko conducts the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in Shostakovich's large-scale fourth symphony, and Delius in Norway gives us an introduction to the orchestral works of Frederick Delius. The Melbourne Symphony shine in their recording of Bartók, and Yannick Nezet-Séguin conducts Tchaikovsky's final symphony, the Pathétique.

bartok gardnerBARTÓK: Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin Op 19; Music for Strings, Percussion & Celeste; Four Orchestral Pieces Op 12
Melbourne SO/Edward Gardner
(Chandos CHSA 5130)

Conductor Edward Gardner leads the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra impeccably through an extremely energetic and accurate performance of one of Bartok’s true masterpieces: The Miraculous Mandarin. It’s one of the most terrifying pieces of music I can think of. The recording is impressive; cobbled together from four live performances in Hamer Hall at the Melbourne Arts Centre. I’ve rarely heard better playing from this orchestra.

delius in norwayDelius in Norway
Ann-Helen Moen (soprano), Bergen Philharmonic Orch/Andrew Davis
(Chandos CHSA 5131)

Delius polarises opinion like very few other composers, but I’m a firm and committed member of his fan club. He had a life-long love affair with Norway, and this disc celebrates that relationship. There are works from his apprentice years, and works from later in his career, inspired by the country. The recording itself is of excellent quality, and I also enjoyed the fine voice of Norwegian soprano Ann-Helen Moen.

Tchaikovsky YannickTCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No 6 in B minor Op 74, Pathétique; Romances Op 6 & Op 73 for Violin & Piano
Lisa Batiashvili (violin), Rotterdam Philharmonic Orch/Yannick Nézet-Séguin (violin)
(DG 479 0835)

Tchaiovsky’s sixth and final symphony was the first work that young French-Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin ever heard live, and he conducts it on this disc with the Rotterdam Philharmonic. Textural clarity and balance of sections isn’t always achieved on this recording however. Of real interest to the avid Tchaikovsky enthusiast will be the Romance arrangements for violin and piano – Lisa Batiashvili is accompanied by the conductor himself at the piano.

shost petrenkoSHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No 4 in C minor Op 43
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orch/Vasily Petrenko
(Naxos 8.573188)

Shostakovich’s fourth symphony was written at a time of great unrest in Russia, and despite the rehearsal for the premiere starting in 1936, the work wasn’t performed until 1961. For me it’s the most monumental score Shostakovich ever penned, with an epic scale that juxtaposes intense emotion with parody and irony. This disc is part of the series of symphonies being released by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic under Vasily Pentrenko, and they’re the real deal.

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The Critic's Chair for 9 March 2014

Peter Mechen presents a tribute to one of the great conductors of our time Claudio Abbado (1933-2014), who passed away in January of this year. We get an overview of Abbado's key recordings from throughout his career.

Music Details:

PROKOFIEV: Piano Concerto No 3 in C Op 26Beethoven Berg
Martha Argerich (pno), Berlin Phil/Claudio Abbado
DG 477 438

MOZART: Piano Concerto No 25 in C K503
Martha Argerich (pno), Orchestra Mozart/Claudio Abbado
DG 479 1033

MENDELSSOHN: Symphony No 3 in A minor Op 56, Scottish
London SO/Claudio Abbado
DG 415 973

Mendelssohn AbbadoJANACEK: Sinfonietta Op 60; The Diary of One Who Disappeared
Brigitte Balleys (mezzo), Philip Langridge (tenor), Women of the RIAS Chorus, Berlin Phil/Claudio Abbado
DG 427 313

NONO: Como una ola de fuerza y luz
Slavka Taskova (soprano), Maurizio Pollini (piano), Bavarian Radio SO/Claudio Abbado
DG 423 248

BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Op 61; BERG: Violin Concerto,
To the memory of an angel
Isabelle Faust (violin), Orchestra Mozart/Claudio AbbadoAbbado Argerich
Harmonia Mundi HMC 90 2105

MAHLER: Symphony No 2, Resurrection
Eteri Gvazava (sop), Orfeon Donastiarra Chorus, Lucerne Festival Orch/Claudio Abbado
DG 477 5082

ROSSINI: Il Viaggio a Reims
Prauge Philharmonic Chorus, Chamber Orch of Europe/Claudio Abbado
DG 415 498

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The Critic's Chair - 2 March 2014

Robert Johnson reviews violinst Anne-Sophie Mutter’s new Dvorák disc, and New Zealand musicians Donald Maurice and Richard Mapp playing music of national identity, including Douglas Lilburn. Marc-André Hamelin features in a 3-CD set of Busoni piano works, and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic offer Nielsen’s fourth and fifth symphonies.

Anne Sophie MutterDVORÁK: Violin Concerto in A minor Op 53; Romance in F minor Op 11; Mazurek in E minor Op 49; Humoresque in G flat Major Op 101/7
Anne-Sophie Mutter (vln), Berlin Phil / Manfred Honeck
(DG 479 1060)

Mutter opens commandingly, plays the subsequent lyrical phrase with melting tone, then ends with an utterly fearless performance of each of those punishing curlicues. She certainly impresses with her glorious tone and sensitive phrasing in the lyrical sections of the work, but she’s no shrinking violet when it comes to the pyrotechnics in the finale.

home is wherehome is where…Music of National Identity
LILBURN: Salutes to Seven Poets; ENESCU: Sonata in the Romanian Folk  Character; PIGOVAT: Sonata for Viola and Piano
Donald Maurice (vla), Richard Mapp (pno)
(Atoll ACD 413)

A unique recital of three contrasting works for viola and piano, united by the theme of cultural identity and the sense of belonging to a particular land. Two of the works were transcribed for viola by Donald Maurice himself. Pigovat’s Sonata was composed quite recently and is dedicated to him.  For me the disc is particularly valuable for its alto renditions of the Lilburn and Enescu works.

BusoniBUSONI: Late Piano Music
Marc-André Hamelin (pno)
(Hyperion CDA67951/3)

This three-CD survey covers music composed over the last seventeen years of Busoni’s life. Few composers have explored the potential of the modern grand piano as thoroughly or as imaginatively as Busoni. Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin is unsurpassed in the blend of technique, intellect and musicianship that he brings to this repertoire. This is one of the most wonderful sets of piano music that I’ve heard in some time, and among Busoni recordings it’s unparalleled.

Nielsen sys BISSACDNIELSEN: Symphony No 4 Op 29, The Inextinguishable; Symphony No 5 Op 50
Royal Stockholm Phil/Sakari Oramo
(BIS SACD 2028)

Nielsen’s symphonies seem finally to be getting the attention they deserve from record companies. The Royal Stockholm Philharmonic plays very well indeed, and Oramo’s control of the ebb and flow of tension suggests long familiarity with the scores. These are generally first-rate performances, if perhaps a little restrained. The recording is well-balanced and powerfully projected.

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The Critic's Chair for 15 December 2013

Dianne James looks at a recent release of the complete Brahms Symphonies, performed by the Gewandhaus Orchestra under Riccardo Chailly. Dianne was recently in Leipzig, and went to two concerts of Chailly conducting the Gewandhaus in performances of these Brahms symphonies. She shares her highlights from those concerts, gives an insightful review of the recording, and tells us why she's hoping to find this box-set in her Christmas stocking.

The Critic's Chair for 8 December 2013

In the second part of our Settling the Score special, David Morriss shares his favourite commercial recordings of the top five works this year as voted by you, our listeners. He gives us a sneak peek into his CD collection with historic recordings from as early as 1925, and an excerpt from the 1950 world première of our top voted work for 2013: Strauss' Four Last Songs.

The Critic's Chair for 1 December 2013

In a Settling the Score Live special, Robert Johnson - Music Librarian for the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra - discusses his favourite commercial recordings of the top orchestral works in this year's listeners' poll. He starts the countdown from number ten, sharing his most-loved recordings of these popular works for orchestra.

The Critic's Chair for 24 November 2013

William Dart gives a taste of the treats on Piers Lane Goes to Town; a selection of the pianist’s favourite pieces. He also highlights Anne Sofie von Otter’s new recording Douce France, a 2-CD set ranging from classic mélodies to cabaret songs. You’ll hear the Nash Ensemble performing the works of Frank Bridge, and Michelangelo in Song, featuring bass John Tomlinson.

The Critic's Chair for 17 November 2013

In this week’s The Critic’s Chair, Erica Challis reviews Gustavo Dudamel’s latest, conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in a disc of Richard Strauss tone poems, and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra’s period instrument performances of early Schubert symphonies under Pablo Heras-Casado. There’s a live recording of Szymanowski’s first two symphonies by the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra perform of some of Jánaček’s mature works including the famous Sinfonietta.

The Critic's Chair for 10 November 2013

This week on The Critic's Chair, Robert Johnson reviews violinist Janine Jansen's new recording of Schubert and Schoenberg. He gives us his take on Britten's music for string ensemble, and the Detroit Symphony's latest offering of Copland. You'll also hear Szymanowski's setting of the iconic Stabat Mater text, performed by the BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra.

The Critic's Chair for 3 November 2013

Roger Wilson features recent releases by solo singers this week on The Critic's Chair. Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak has a new recording of Rossini arias, and young soprano Anna Prohaska offers a disc of early music called Enchanted Forest. The rich coloratura contralto of Marie-Nicole Lemieux gives a real display in La Passion Lemieux, a compilation of her recordings from the last eight years. Two English tenors also feature - Ian Bostridge with an all-Britten album, and Mark Padmore with three quintessential British song-cycles.

The Critic's Chair for 27 October 2013

Cynthia Morahan takes us on a summer journey to Switzerland this week, to the Martha Argerich Project at the Lugano Festival. She delves into the box-set of highlights from last year's festival, recently released on the EMI label. Martha Argerich performs with an all-star cast of chamber musicians from around the world. Highlights include the rarely heard Piano Quintet in C by Nikolai Medtner, and Debussy's La Mer arranged for three pianos.

The Critic's Chair for 20 October 2013

This week on The Critic's Chair Robert Johnson shares his thoughts on the valedictory release by the Tokyo String Quartet, and the London Philharmonic’s recording of Mahler’s Symphony No 1 in D under their dynamic Music Director Vladimir Jurowski. Michael Collins features as clarinet soloist and conductor on a new disc of Mozart and Copland, and violinist Chloë Hanslip performs sonatas by Nikolai Medtner.

The Critic's Chair for 13 October 2013

A swag of contemporary music releases are reviewed on The Critic's Chair this week with Robbie Ellis. He looks at Baroque Conversations, featuring Israeli pianist David Greilsammer, who boldly places early music back to back with new compositions. Robbie also takes to Cyclorama with music by British composer Jonathan Goldstein, and casts his critical ear on Kevin Puts’ latest offering with Conspirare and the Baltimore Symphony under Marin Alsop.

The Critic's Chair for 6 October 2013

This week on The Critic's Chair, Peter Mechen takes us to Florence with the Emerson String Quartet's new recording Journeys, and indulges in a recording of Beethoven's late piano sonatas, featuring the young pianist Igor Levit. We also hear the song cycles of Mahler performed by baritone Christian Gerhaher, and a recent New Zealand recording Tui, featuring the Auckland-based piano quartet Estrella.

The Critic's Chair for 29 September 2013

This week on The Critic's Chair, Robert Johnson reviews pianist Angela Hewitt's latest offering, Fauré Piano Music, as well as the premiere recording of Finnish composer-conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen's Violin Concerto. You'll also get a taste of Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony conducted by Vasily Petrenko, and the Stenhammar Quartet performing music by their namesake, Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar.

The Critic's Chair for 22 September 2013

This week on The Critic's Chair, Peter Walls follows the great 18th-century mezzo-soprano Faustina Bordoni's travels around Naples, and reviews Bach's violin concerti performed by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. He also explores the much-neglected Seven Last Words of Christ by Pergolesi, and the sacred choral music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier.

The Critic's Chair for 15 September 2013

This week on The Critic's Chair, Erica Challis looks at the fourth volume of the BBC Symphony's Lutoslawski series, and changes pace with Mitsuko Uchida performing Mozart Piano Concertos Nos 9 & 21 with the Cleveland Orchestra. She also uncovers two young wind players currently in principal seats of leading orchestras: flutist Katherine Bryan, and clarinettist Andreas Ottensamer.

The Critic's Chair for Sunday 8 September 2013

The Critic’s Chair this week explores a new recording of Dvorák’s Symphony No. 9 ‘From the New World’, which Robert Johnson labels “second to none”.  You’ll also hear Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires and her latest disc of Schubert sonatas, and a potpourri of flute works by the phenomenal Sharon Bezaly. And if you love Sibelius, you might also love the Helsinki Phil’s latest recording of Madetoja’s 2nd Symphony.

The Critic's Chair for 1 September 2013

Kenneth Young reviews four very contrasting recordings this week on The Critic's Chair: the much anticipated new release of Bartok violin concerti by Isabelle Faust with the Swedish Radio Symphony and conductor Daniel Harding, and a disc of renaissance music by the Stockholm Chamber Brass. Also, two new piano discs: Pierre-Laurent Aimard's interpretation of Debussy's Preludes, and the young pianist-composer Conrad Tao with his varied Voyages.

The Critic's Chair for 25 August 2013

Roger Wilson reviews three great operas this week on The Critic's Chair. Rising star conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra begin a recorded cycle of Mozart's seven mature operas with Don Giovanni on Deutsche Grammophon. Cecilia Bartoli gives Bellini's Norma a fresh perspective and historically-informed performance with the Orchestra La Scintilla, and New Zealanders Simon O'Neill and Martin Snell star in the London Symphony Orchestra's concert performance of Weber's Der Freischutz, conducted by the late Sir Colin Davis.

The Critic's Chair for Sunday 18 August 2013

This week on The Critic's Chair, Robert Johnson reviews Steven Osborne's performance of Stravinsky's music for piano and orchestra in its entirety,  Gustavo Dudamel's treatment of Mahler's Ninth with the LA Phil, plus an innovative collection of Grieg's Sonatas for violin and piano reworked into concerti featuring Henning Kraggerud.

The Critic's Chair for 11 August 2013

This week on The Critic’s Chair, Dianne James delves into 17th-century English Royal funeral music, sung by Vox Luminis. Also, Danny Driver’s second volume of CPE Bach keyboard sonatas is reviewed, along with the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra’s latest invigorating instalment of Schubert symphonies with conductor David Zinman.

The Critic's Chair for 4 August 2013

This week on The Critic's Chair, Peter Mechen reviews a new recording of Hexameron - rarely-heard piano variations featuring six pianists. He also explores transcriptions of Wagner for two-pianos, and Rachmaninov's 1st Piano Concerto with soloist Yevgeny Sudbin. Also, the most recent recording by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, and pianist Nelson Friere's delightful disc of Brazilian music.

The Critic's Chair for 28 July 2013

This week on The Critic's Chair, Robert Johnson reviews the BBC Symphony Orchestra's latest in their Polish series with the works of Szymanowski, and the French Radio Philharmonic showcase the works of Dutilleux. Also, the Doric String Quartet explore chamber music by Chausson, and Vivaldi's violin concertos are brought to life by Giuliano Carmignola and Accademia Bizantina.

The Critic's Chair for 21 July 2013

This week on The Critic's Chair, Erica Challis reviews just two discs, both of them Requiems: Berlioz' Grande Messe des Morts recorded by Sir Colin Davis with the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, and a disc called Mozart Requiem Realisations with King's College Choir Cambridge and the Academy of Ancient Music directed by Stephen Cleobury.

The Critic's Chair for 14 July 2013

Cynthia Morahan formerly of RTÉ's Lyric FM drops in this week for The Critic's Chair, and reviews discs that revitalise traditions from the old and new worlds. Soprano Petricia Petibon's Nouveau Monde mixes Greensleeves with Peruvian folksongs, and British pianist James Rhodes tries to break down classical walls with expletive-laced observations and piano favourites. Also Avi Avital makes a case for Bach concertos on the mandolin, and Marc-André Hamelin teams up with Les Violons du Roy and Bernard Labadie in important new performances of Haydn keyboard concertos.

The Critic's Chair for 7 July 2013

The Russians are coming on The Critic's Chair this week. Robert Johnson reviews an advance copy of violinist Natalia Lomeiko's disc of Prokofiev Sonatas on the New Zealand-based Atoll label. Also, a new recording from the LA Phil of Shostakovich's 4th Symphony with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting, as well as the complete Kabalevsky Piano Concertos with pianist Michael Korstick accompanied by the Hannover NDR Radio Philharmonic under the baton of Alun Francis.

The Critic's Chair for 30 June 2013

Kenneth Young sits in for The Critic's Chair with a collection of sweeping orchestral works, from Rachmaninov's Symphony No 2 to Debussy's La Mer. Vasily Petrenko leads the Royal Liverpool Phil in the favourite Rachmaninov Symphony, and Daniel Gatti directs the French National Orchestra in Debussy. Cellist Sol Gabetta combines Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1 with Rachmaninov's Cello Sonata. And Sony releases a 27 year project by Esa Pekka Salonen and the LA Phil to record the complete Lutoslawski Symphonies.

The Critic's Chair for 23 June 2013

This week in The Critic's Chair, Dianne James reviews Joshua Bell's first instalment of Beethoven Symphonies with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. You'll also hear a beautiful new recording of Rachmaninov's All-Night Vigil. But first, Dianne opens with a disc she'd been itching to get her hands featuring the remarkable young pianist, Jan Lisiecki playing Chopin's two collections of Etudes.

The Critic's Chair for 16 June 2013

This week on The Critic's Chair, Robert Johnson reviews famous orchestral interludes by Richard Wagner played the Budapest Festival Orchestra conducted by Iván Fischer, and the latest release of violin virtuoso James Ehnes in the music of Britten and Shostakovich with the Bournemouth SO. Finally, Robert presents the powerful music of Jewish composers imprisoned at the Theresienstadt concentration camp during the Second World War by the Nash Ensemble.

The Critic's Chair for 9 June 2013

This week on The Critic's Chair, Robbie Ellis reviews recent discs from New Zealand labels Rattle and Atoll that bring together local and international composers and performers. 

The Critic's Chair for 2 June 2013

This week on The Critic's Chair - David Houston reviews new recordings that create a deeper connection with the music through stories about the artists and the composers. YouTube sensation Valentina Lisitsa's self-financed recordings of the complete Rachmaninov Concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra are now out on Decca. The Quatuor Ebene of France reveal the close relationship between Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn and their music with three quartets by the siblings, including Felix's Requiem for Fanny. Finally Kiwi Elise Bradley shows us what she's been up to for the last six years with the Toronto Children's Chorus in Canada with choral music by composers of both nations.

The Critic's Chair - Rite of Spring

Robert Johnson reviews a new interpretation of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Simon Rattle.

The Critic's Chair for Sunday 26 May 2013

Robert Johnson reviews three discs that include a rare performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto under Daniel Barenboim with American cello sensation Alisa Weilerstein, a single-disc collection of orchestral works by Rachmaninov and the Berlin Philharmonic’s performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring – synonymous with their conductor, Sir Simon Rattle, in recognition of the works’ centenary.

The Critic's Chair for 19 May 2013

This week on The Critic's Chair, Peter Mechen reviews a blend of recordings of different genres, beginning with an Italian song recital from New Zealand soprano Anna Leese and her pianist countryman Stephen de Pledge. The latest disc from Naxos of Ferdinand Ries's piano concertos has pianist Christopher Hinterhuber supported by the NZSO and Uwe Grodd. Vincent D'Indy's familiar Symphony on a French Mountain Air is presented with a group of his lesser-known orchestral works by Rumon Gamba and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra that premiered two of Richard Strauss's most popular works now records them over a hundred years later, and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and Thomas Dausgaard blow some fresh Nordic air through some of Wagner's most well-known orchestral pieces, besides accompanying the wonderful Nina Stemme in the Wesendonck Lieder.

The Critic's Chair for 12 May 2013

This week on The Critic's Chair, Peter Walls reviews the Avison Ensemble playing violin sonatas by Corelli, Vivaldi's 'Pisendel' Violin concerti with Il Pomo d'Oro, and Ensemble Caprice's Vivaldi disc, 'The Return of Angels'. The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra perform Bach Cantatas and Concerti reconstructions, and Philippe Herreweghe conducts Bach motets with the Collegium Vocale Ghent.

The Critic's Chair for 5 May 2013

British pianist Martin Roscoe plays of Dohnányi's solo piano music, and the Rome Symphony Orchestra gives world premiere performances of works by Italian composer Petyrassi. German violinist Julia Fischer's performs Dvorak and Bruch concertos with the Tonhalle Orchestra conducted by David Zinman, and tenor Jonas Kaufmann sings Wagner arias.

The Critic's Chair for 28 April 2013

This week on The Critic's Chair, Erica Challis reviews the refined playing of trumpeter Alison Balsom with Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert. Thomas Dausgaard and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra give Brahms' first symphony a wonderful warmth and positive energy, and Tchaikovsky's lesser known Symphony No. 3 gets a dance-inspired performance by the Russian National Orchestra conducted by Michael Pletnev. Finally, the São Paulo SO performs Villa-Lobos symphonies inspired by the First World War.

The Critic's Chair for 21 April 2013

Kenneth Young reviews The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's latest recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 1 conducted by Marin Alsop, a live concert with violinist Frank Peter Zimmerman, the New York Philharmonic and Alan Gilbert in music by Beethoven, Stravinsky and Ravel, Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique by l'Orchestre National de Lyon and Leonard Slatkin, and pays tribute to Colin Davis with Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3 and violinst Arthur Grumiaux.

The Critics Chair for 14 April 2013

Robert Johnson reviews new releases.

The Critic's Chair for 7 April 2013

with Dianne James.

The Critic's Chair for 31 March 2013

with Erica Challis.

The Critic's Chair for 24 March 2013

With Robert Johnson.

The Critic's Chair for 17 March 2013

Presented by Peter Mechen.

The Critic's Chair for 10 March 2013

With Dianne James.

The Critic's Chair for 3 March 2013

With Robert Johnson.

The Critic's Chair for 15 December

Finishing The Critic's Chair for 2013, Dianne James takes a good look at Riccardo Chailly's new Decca release of Brahms' Symphonies with the Gewandhaus Orchestra. The three discs are on Decca478 5344.

The Critic's Chair for 11 November 2012

With Robert Johnson.

The Critic's Chair for 4 November 2012

Dianne James is in The Critic's Chair.

The Critic's Chair for 28 October 2012

Murray Khouri compares great recordings of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring on The Critic’s Chair. Murray’s Choice: from a generally excellent crop of recordings Valery Gergiev and Simon Rattle vie for top place. Both get to the core of this masterpiece giving performances that you’ll want to hear time and time again. Best Budget Buy is Mackerras with the London Phil. It’s finely played and recorded with a few novelties as fill-ups. Collector’s Choice has to be Stravinsky conducting the Columbia Symphony; a bench mark recording that should have a place in any collection.

The Critic's Chair for 30 December 2012

BEETHOVEN: Complete Symphonies; 8 Concert Overtures Leipzig Gewandhaus Orch/Riccardo Chailly (Decca 478 2721). Dianne James explores symphonies 6 through 9 of this exciting cycle of Beethoven symphonies.

The Critic's Chair for 23 December 2012

BEETHOVEN: Complete Symphonies; 8 Concert Overtures Leipzig Gewandhaus Orch/Riccardo Chailly (Decca 478 2721). Dianne James explores the first five symphonies in this exciting cycle of Beethoven symphonies.

The Critic's Chair for 6 May 2012

With Robert Johnson.