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The latest from Primephonic

    Schumann Symphony Cycle with MTT and the San Francisco Symphony

    Schumann’s four symphonies are in certain ways the orchestral equivalent of road-hogs. They steam along in their own world – sending everyone around them into crazy manoeuvres left and right. The arguments still rage. Are they poorly orchestrated? Probably not, but people think they are because they are often poorly played.

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    Topics: Schumann, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, The Four Symphonies

    Driving Multimelodic Orchestral Colour with Vladimir Ashkenazy and Nimrod Borenstein

    Composer Nimrod Borenstein, 48, was born in Tel Aviv and studied in France and Britain. He’s now a confirmed Londoner and the championship of no less a figure than Vladimir Ashkenazy has helped to raise his music’s profile considerably in recent years.

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    Topics: Vladimir Ashkenazy, Chandos, Irmina Trynkos

    Jean-Efflam Bavouzet's Haydn on Chandos

    Poised between CPE Bach and WA Mozart, the harpsichord and the developing piano, the Enlightenment and a prescience of romantic expressivness, the keyboard sonatas of Joseph Haydn occupy a special historic space. They are plentiful and often splendid examples of Haydn’s imaginative style, his innovative takes on structure and, not least, his unfailing intelligence, heart and wit. 

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    Topics: Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Chandos, Joseph Haydn

    Captured and Remastered: the Soviet Union in the 20th-century

    Here is a spot of time-travel for those who would like to visit, aurally, the mid 20th-century Soviet Union.

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    Topics: Soviet Union, Aram Khachaturian, Mikhail Dovenman

    Stravinsky and Mussorgsky, Played With Sumptuousness

    Stravinsky’s Petrushka tends, arguably, to be seen as a poor relation to his more frequently programmed ballets,The FirebirdandLe Sacre de printemps. Undeservedly so. It’s an endlessly fascinating score, as vividly pictorial as anything within its siblings. Stravinsky brings the full force of his dazzling imagination to bear upon the seething sounds, colours and characters of the fairground, the agonising claustrophobia of the puppet Petrushka circling his walls like a caged animal, and the snarky caricatures of the pretty ballerina he loves and the “blackamoor” she prefers.

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    Topics: Stravinsky, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Mariss Jansons

    Review: Concertgebouw Plays Sibelius Symphony No.2

    "In Jansons’ magical hands the progression seems more personal, perhaps of psychology rather than nationalism, Sibelius’s psyche rather than his land."  Jessica Duchen reviews Sibelius's Symphony No.2 in D major played by Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, under the baton of Mariss Jansons.

    The sound inside the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, is famous in itself before you even add the sonic richesse of its orchestra. It’s a two-way relationship: the acoustic lends its depth and mellow bloom to the orchestra, which often reveals when it plays elsewhere that a similar dusky warmth is embedded in its tone. The qualities mirror one another, perhaps a chicken and egg situation.

    Sibelius, though, is more celebrated for his often caustic and always inspirational mingling of fire and ice than for velvety lamplight. There is no shortage of that lighter, brighter sound in this performance, conducted by Mariss Jansons, of his Symphony No. 2 – yet perhaps the overlay of sonic bloom contributes to the unusually intimate impression of the work in this live home-label recording.

    This was the symphony in which Sibelius started to move away from the Tchaikovskian sphere of its predecessor and to lend a more distinctive and innovative structure to his already overwhelmingly personal language. Written in 1901-2 – much of it while the composer was in Italy, not Finland – it traverses great emotional spaces with utmost economy, its translucent orchestration etching rapid paths between the innocent, almost bucolic opening and the deeper stirrings of a dark and disruptive soul.

    Audiences at first might have associated the piece with Finnish nationalism, but there’s little in it to suggest it should be so – though its music undergoes its own processes of struggle, conflict, and ultimately triumph. In Jansons’ magical hands the progression seems more personal, perhaps of psychology rather than nationalism, Sibelius’s psyche rather than his land.

    He catches the balance of those elements, projecting the music’s architecture and philosophy without histrionics, yet with a depth of emotion that seems to probe right to its roots. If some of the tender and doubtful feeling has sounded rawer elsewhere, Jansons nevertheless makes the drama taut and chisels it powerfully, especially in the tense and enigmatic second movement. The transition from the scherzo to the finale’s soaring first theme seems confidently to suggest that the battle is over, only for Sibelius to undermine it with the inexorable rise of subterranean surges that increasingly encroach from the bass. The conclusion melds into acceptance, then blazingly transcends the lot.

    Jessica Duchen 

    Jessica Duchen writes about music for The Independent and is the author of a number of novels, biographies and plays. Current projects include an opera libretto for composer Roxanna Panufnik (for Garsington Opera 2017) and a new novel, Ghost Variations, which will be published later this year (Unbound). Her popular blog JDCMB has run since 2004.

    Performance: 4 stars
    Sound: 4 stars

    Sibelius: Symphony No.2 in D major
    Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Mariss Jansons (conductor)
    RCO Live 05005

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    Topics: Mariss Jansons, Sibelius, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra