The World of Compact Discs

By Paterson, Anthony | Contemporary Review, December 1996 | Go to article overview

The World of Compact Discs


Paterson, Anthony, Contemporary Review


With the two hundredth anniversary of Schubert's birth approaching in 1997 it is fitting that IMP CLASSICS has brought out a low-price set of his earliest six symphonies. On these recordings (30367 01272/01282/01292) Sir Charles Groves conducts the English Sinfonia. In addition to the symphonies we are given the delightful bonus of six overtures including the two famous 'Overtures in the Italian Style' in C and D Major. (One of these, historians are not sure which, was the first Schubert composition heard in public in 1818. He would later adapt the introduction and coda for his famous Overture to Rosamunde.) Schubert's first symphony was completed in 1813 when he was only fifteen and within five years he composed five more. It is hardly surprising that there are echoes of Haydn in the First or of Mozart (the 33rd) in the fifth where his orchestration is almost identical to that of Mozart's. This series was recorded in 1990 and 1991 not long before Sir Charles Groves died and Musical Opinion voted it the best recording. The lightness and vibrancy that marked these early symphonies, especially the woodwind playing, were captured by Sir Charles and the English Sinfonia and it is wonderful to have them available once again and in time for a perfect Christmas gift.

From HYPERION we have another tribute to Schubert with Nikolai Demidenko at the piano in a two CD release (CDA 67091/2) of his Impromptus, Wanderer Fantasy, Moments Musicaux and Drei Klavierstucke. Just as Beethoven influenced Schubert so Schubert influenced succeeding generations of composers: nowhere is this more noticeable than in the Wanderer with its Romantic exuberance. (It is very helpful that the notes include the verse by George Philipp Schmidt that inspired the music.) The six Moments Musicaux, composed in Schubert's last five years, are among his most popular pieces among amateur players. Nikolai Demidenko needs no introduction to readers of this column and his playing, recorded at Snape Maltings last year, reaches that soaring standard one has come to expect.

From HYPERION we have two composers of religious music. The first is Nicolas Gombert (CDA 66828). This is performed a capella by Henry's Eight, under the direction of Jonathan Brown. The recording was made, appropriately enough, in the ante-chapel of Trinity college, Cambridge as all eight are Trinity men. Gombert had an adventurous life; by the 1550s he had a court appointment under the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, but sadly fell from grace and was sentenced to the galleys for an indiscretion with a choirboy. He was rehabilitated, however, through the Emperor's favour, and returned to composing. Here we have eleven pieces, ranging from the stately Credo to the delicate Salve Regina. Having heard this recording one wishes long life to Henry's Eight.

Our second composer of religious music is William Byrd and HYPERION has brought out his Mass for Five Voices along with his music for the Feast of Corpus Christi. Both are performed by the Choir of Winchester Cathedral, conducted by David Hill, the Director of Music (CDA 66837). The quality of the unaccompanied voices in this recording is only enhanced by its being recorded in Winchester Cathedral. There have been many recordings of this increasingly popular work, but the HYPERION disc now surpasses the Hilliard Ensemble on EMI and can be recommended as the best available choice. The Catholic Byrd was able to carry on his composition in a Protestant England because of the protection of the Queen. The accompanying notes, which are excellent, suggest that he may have written the music for the choir of the Chapel Royal, knowing full well that it would not be able to sing the music. Byrd broke new ground in this Mass by allowing each part - the Kyries, for example, as opposed to the Gloria - to stand on its own and by altering the emphasis in the credo to the words, 'unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam'.

Far removed from the adventures of Nicolas Gombert or the bitter religious warfare of Elizabethan England is the joy of Boccherini. …

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