October 21, 2012 marks Sir Georg Soltis centenary and Decca is celebrating this with several important reissues.
Sir Georg was an exclusive Decca artist for 50 years. In 1947 he signed his first contract with Decca - as a pianist and that same year he made his first record as a conductor (with the Zurich Tonhalle in Beethovens Egmont Overture). His last public concerts took place just a few weeks before his death in 1997 and were with the Zurich Tonhalle.
An all-too-rare new recording from Polyphony and Stephen Layton presents highlights from the choral repertoire by four twentieth-century American giants: Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and Randall Thompson. Framed by Thompson’s understated favourites Alleluia and Fare Well, the programme includes Bernstein’s Missa brevis, Copland’s early set of four motets, and—of course—Barber’s inimitable Agnus Dei.
This recording of a live performance of MEISTERSINGER from Bayreuth 1957 definitely merits five stars. For those of you who don't already know this, Gustav Neidlinger (PeaceBeUponHim) was the undisputed master of Wagner's "howling-and-spitting" villain roles, Alberich and Klingsor, from the early 1950s until the mid 1970s. He sang with unmatched sulfur, cannon-ball density, huge volume, dark tone, and powerful dramatic interpretation. He sang more spontaneously and from-the-gut than most singers. He was the first of his generation to sing these roles with musical line and connected legato, rather than as a series of isolated shouts, grunts, and bellowings. He was typecast for these villainous roles as soon as he set foot on the stage, and almost never performed as a good-guy.
Steven Isserlis and Richard Egarr here assemble all the viola da gamba sonatas written by three composers born in the propitious year of 1685: one each by Handel and Domenico Scarlatti, and three by JS Bach. Isserlis plays them on the gamba’s modern cousin, the cello, and the microphone loves his playing, picking up all the nuances and scampering asides from his soft-spoken instrument which can sometimes get lost in big concert halls. Egarr on harpsichord matches Isserlis’s eloquence and rambunctious energy all the way. The dreamy, airy slow movement of Bach’s Sonata in G minor brings telling use of vibrato as Isserlis circles around Egarr, his playing at once idiomatic and soulful. An extra cellist reinforces the bass line in the Handel and Scarlatti, in which the composers give the harpsichordist only a framework; Egarr’s imaginative realisations ensure that even when Scarlatti is at his most repetitive, he is never dull.
Six years after forming the United Nations of Sound – a pseudo-group that lasted no more than a single record – Richard Ashcroft pushes himself back into the spotlight on These People, a 2016 album that finds the former Verve singer reuniting with Wil Malone, an orchestrator who worked on Urban Hymns and Northern Soul. Malone's presence suggests These People may achieve a certain symphonic heft, yet Ashcroft sidesteps the churning psychedelia and progressive majesty of the Verve's prime. In its place, the singer/songwriter taps into a certain insouciant sophistication, favoring insistent arena anthems and finely tailored Eurodisco.
Galliano is an outstanding accordion and bandoneon performer who plays with great passion and spirit. He is even more heightened in this setting with the I Solisti Dell'orchestra Della Toscana, a large string ensemble, pianist Stefano Bollani, harpist Cinzia Conte, and a pair of percussionists. Galliano or his hero Astor Piazzolla wrote this richly romantic music, based in classical, chamber, and tango traditions. The middle of the CD features four of Galliano's shorter pieces. "San Peyre" features typical lush, skyline vistas, Galliano's wistful musings, and "Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" flavorings.
The Australian Chamber Orchestra and its enterprising leader, violinist Richard Tognetti, wade with these popular Mozart works into a field with plenty of competition, and the results, as usual with this popular group, range from good to superb. The performances are generally oriented toward historical practice; the string players use gut strings, tuned slightly below modern concert pitch, and the oboes and horns are historically appropriate instruments. In general matters of attack and phrasing, the players do not diverge too far from modern practice, and Tognetti, in his own notes (in English, German, and French), points out that even if treatises of the period laid down certain procedures in regard to these matters, the notoriously capricious Mozart might well have done something completely different.