FALLEN BETWEEN THE SHELVES

This new section of the blog deals with cds (or black discs, even cassettes for that matter) in your collection that are either lost and found or the victim of the ‘over-familiar gaze’, meaning, filed in practice rather than in the memory. You often forget about them – then suddenly notice … hey, I haven’t played (in this case) Philip Jordan’s 2016 Paris National Opera Orchestra recording of Ravel’s take on Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony (Erato 0190295877910) in a while. Let me remind myself of its virtues, or lack of them. And it was finding this disc – which had quite literally fallen between my shelves – that prompted me to start this column. I’d love you to respond with some of your own impromptu ‘rediscoveries’.

Jordan’s Mussorgsky/Ravel is masterfully balanced and paced. Take ‘The Old Castle’ where behind the saxophone the quietened orchestra – the strings especially – enhance the sullen mood. Or the tonal depth of ‘Bydlo’, the bright, mischievous cavorting of the unhatched chicks (such well articulated playing and superb sound) and ‘Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle’, wealth and poverty in contrast, Jordan drawing form his unison strings a huge sonority, though wealth and pity combine so that Schmuyle’s jittery entreaties are not entirely wasted. And what a relief that for once ‘Limoges’ doesn’t leap at ‘Catacombae’ like a badly managed tape edit. Here the quiet string playing is magical. Interesting that the booklet prints ‘Baba Yaga’ and the ‘Bogatyr Gates’ (ie, of Kiev) in Cyrillic as well as in English. Why? Well, a possible reason is that Jordan’s graphically etched readings convey the essence of Old Russia. In ‘Baba Yaga’ timpani and bass drum are spatially separated – and what impact! The final statement of the Great Gate is punctuated by ceremonial strikes from the bell and tam-tam.

As to the Prokofiev, Jordan tickles detail from every page, but without any hint of fetishistic overkill (detail for detail’s sake). The first movement is informed by an exceptionally wide range of dynamics, the second by a fastidious blend of top and subsidiary lines, whereas the third pokes fun at the ‘Classical’ connection with a light touch and the brilliantly played molto vivace finale really sparkles. It’s a superb disc – though you’ll need to contain your disappointment at a total timing that adds up to a mere 48 minutes. Still, it’s the music that’s the thing, and in that respect nothing disappoints.

8 thoughts on “FALLEN BETWEEN THE SHELVES

  1. Mark Walker

    Having only fairly recently bought a sparkling new Denon CD player and Wharfedale speakers (after a few years of getting by listening only via the computer) I’m taking a lot of delight in getting to know some proper CDs again. One example being the Chandos box of Parry’s Symphonies (LPO/Bamert) which our mutual friend AA introduced to me when it first came out in 1992. Yes I know Parry is no VW or Elgar, but his music is consistently lyrical and nourishing to the spirit and the Chandos recording surrounds it all in a lovely warm glow.

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    1. Thanks so much Mark. Great to hear from you. It’s precisely those ‘Yes I know [….] is no [….]’ situations that I especially relish, ie ‘Reger is no Brahms or Bruckner’, but (a very big but) …’. So much to relish in the more wooded corners of the repertoire. Best wishes. Rob.

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  2. And this CD literally fell into my hands from the shelves: a quick save on my part, otherwise it would have landed on the floor and the plastic case would have cracked. I had totally forgotten about Thomas Beecham’s mono Berlioz Symphony Fantastique. The stereo version may be more familiar, having been reissued many times on CD, but the mono version is better played and controlled and benefiting from faster tempi. Moreover, the distinctive, non-blended tonal characteristics of the O.R.T.F. orchestra come through wonderfully well, although not to the robust degree of the stereo version. The difference truly hits home in Scène aux champs, which is swifter, tighter, and more classically reserved in mono, yet more expansive and wandering in stereo. And the two 78-era “fillers” are excellent: the 1947 Le Roir Lear with the Royal Philharmonic from 1947, and the 1936 London Philharmonic Le Carnaval romain.

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    1. Yes Jed it’s always been more highly regarded than the stereo version, and rightly so in my view. I’d also like to mention three Decca sets featuring a superb pianist Claire-Marie Le Gury, Haydn/Mozart, Liszt and most remarkable of all, 20th century music, including a magical account of the solo piano version of Ravel’s complete Daphnis et Chloé ballet and what’s possibly the most imposing version of the Left Hand Concerto that I’ve ever heard (with the Liège PO/Langrée), certainly neck-and neck with François/Cluytens and a good deal better recorded. Also music by Dutilleux, Stravinsky, Schulhoff, Langlais, Saint-Saëns, Escrich, Franck, Guillou and Dupré (5 cds, 4812009). Why these discs aren’t better known than they are (they were recorded around 15-20 years ago) is anyone’s guess.

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      1. Amazingly, I’ve never hear ANY of Claire-Marie Le Guay’s recordings! I have a feeling that all of the Accord boxes are out of print. I’d love to hear them.

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      2. Tonight I revisited that complete Daphnis Jed – most remarkable is the piano version of the unaccompanied choral passage at the end of Part One into the War Dance at the start of Part Two – magical writing and playing. Must programme it. Best. Rob.

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  3. Andrew Ayton

    It’s often prompted by an ‘off the beaten track’ piece, heard in the radio. An extract from a new recording of Korngold’s Symphony, on Andrew McGregor’s programme the other day, reminded me that I somewhere had a CD of this piece (Previn, as it turned out) that I hadn’t played for years. The same thing happened when one of Dohnanyi’s symphonies was given a rare outing in Radio 3 the other afternoon. A few weeks before that, prompted in the same way, Michel Plasson’s wonderful Magnard box found itself seeing the light of day again. Then there was the occasion when a lovely late-night talk by Clemency Burton-Hill sent me off in search of the Enescu CDs that I knew I had somewhere.
    A bit different has been my recent rediscovery of a large stash of Antonin Reicha CDs, built up some years ago when I become obsessed with the composer (for a reason now that I can’t quite recall). This time it was promoted by Ivan Ilic’s recent piano music CDs: the first two releases were remarkable – I do hope the series continues in these difficult times,

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