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The Critic's Chair series ended in March 2015.

Robert Johnson presents The Critic's Chair

Holy Week approaches, and this week Robert Johnson reviews a new recording of Gabriel Fauré's much-loved Requiem.  Pianist Michael Houstoun continues a trend of recent advocacy for Douglas Lilburn’s piano music, and Bernard Haitink sets the Bavarian Radio SO to work on Mahler’s powerful final symphony, the 9th.  Also, 2013 is Britten's Centenary, and Robert reviews a trio of new recordings of his Cello Symphony.

Faur Tenebrae LSO CDFAURÉ: Requiem; Bach: Partita in D minor; Chorales; Ciaconna
Gordan Nikolitch (vln), Grace Davidson (sop), William Gaunt (bar), Tenebrae, London SO/Nigel Short.
(LSO Live LSO728)

Recorded in St. Giles’, Cripplegate, London, this performance by chamber choir Tenebrae makes a particularly good case for John Rutter’s edition of the 1893 version of Fauré’s Requiem. The soprano soloist for the Pie Jesu, Grace Davidson, has a voice of remarkable purity. The unique coupling on this CD is Bach’s Partita in D minor for solo violin, its movements interspersed with Bach chorales sung by Tenebrae, transforming it into a veiled memorial to Bach’s first wife. The performances throughout are superb.

Lilburn Rattle RAT DLILBURN: Piano Music
Michael Houstoun (piano)
(Rattle RAT-D040)

This recital arose from Michael Houstoun’s exhaustive study of Lilburn’s piano music in preparation for the stage production Rita and Douglas. From large-scale works such as the 1949 Sonata to occasional pieces such as the Poco lento, this music shows how Lilburn could invest even the briefest of pieces with a psychological depth that goes far beyond the measure of their notes. This recital is a wonderful addition to the steadily growing Lilburn discography, bringing thoroughly considered interpretations of a broad cross-section of Lilburn’s music from our most revered pianist.

Mahler BR KlassikMAHLER: Symphony No.9
Bavarian Radio SO/Bernard Haitink
(BR Klassik 900113)

In some respects this performance is at the opposite pole from Abbado’s recording with the Berlin Philharmonic, which at times is almost unbearably intense. This isn’t Haitink’s way. From the detailed phrasing and dynamics you can tell he’s prepared the orchestra meticulously and knows exactly what he wants in every bar. But beyond that he seems to be trying not to get in the way of the music. This is certainly among the most satisfying readings of this work on record.

Hyperion CDABRITTEN: Cello Symphony; Cello Sonata; Cello Suites
Alban Gerhardt (cello), Steven Osborne (pno), BBC Scottish SO/Andrew Manze
(Hyperion CDA76941/2)




Orfeo C ABRITTEN: Cello Symphony; Prokofiev: Symphony-Concerto for cello and orchestra
Daniel Müller-Schott (cello), WDR SO Cologne/Jukka-Pekka Saraste
(Orfeo C 847 121 A)




H nssler Classic CDBRITTEN: Cello Symphony; Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No.1
Johannes Moser (cello), WDR SO Cologne/Pietari Inkinen
(Hänssler Classic CD 98.643)




Three recent recordings of Britten’s orchestral masterpiece, each with a German soloist. Despite excellent performances of the Cello Sonata and solo Suites, neither Gerhardt nor conductor Andrew Manze seem to come to grips with the deeper elements in the Cello Symphony. Both Johannes Moser and Daniel Müller-Schott give first-rate performances, however, and their couplings are equally recommendable