The Critic's Chair series ended in March 2015.
Robert Johnson hosts The Critic's Chair
Stéphane Denève conducts Debussy
DEBUSSY: Images; Jeux; Nocturnes; La Mer; Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune; Printemps; etc.
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Stéphane Denève.
(Chandos CHSA 5102)
In these outstanding recordings of five of Debussy’s major orchestral works and four comparative rarities, Stéphane Denève rejects the traditional hazily impressionistic view of Debussy, presenting the music as though bathed in sunlight. These interpretations are distinguished by vibrant energy and rhythmic precision, matched by an acute ear for details of orchestration and an equally discerning grasp of the music’s architecture.
MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition; BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op.13 Pathétique; BRAHMS: Two Rhapsodies, Op.79
Stephen De Pledge (pno)
(Champs Hill Records CHRCD030)
Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition often seems to be trying to break the restrictions of its medium. Stephen De Pledge brings to the work a strong technique and vivid musicianship, crowning his performance with a barn-storming rendition of The Great Gate of Kiev. Brahms’ Rhapsodies are performed with individuality and real insight, particularly the second, which is invested with an emotional weight that links it to the four wonderful sets of piano pieces composed thirteen years later.
SCHUMANN: Piano Quintet Op.44; Piano Quartet Op.47
Jerusalem Quartet, Alexander Melnikov (pno)
(Harmonia Mundi HMC 902122)
The piano parts for Schumann’s two great works for piano and strings were composed with his virtuoso wife, Clara, in mind, so it’s hardly suprising that the piano occasionally dominates the musical argument. This new recording by Alexander Melnikov and the Jerusalem Quartet is particularly careful to present both works as ensemble pieces, the performances bringing a perfectly judged balance between the piano and strings. The recording, too, is remarkable for its clarity and unobtrusiveness.
MAHLER: Symphony No.2 (“Resurrection”)
Adriana Kučerová (sop), Christianne Stotjin (mezzo), London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir/Vladimir Jurowski.
Few conductors deliver the goods in this work, but Jurowski’s vision of the symphony, taking full account of Mahler’s almost hysterical tempo and dynamic indications, has real integrity. Hard-driven in the first movement, occasionally unorthodox in its interpretative choices, this superb performance is one of the most impressive readings of Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony to appear in many years.