By Guy Rickards
Havergal Brian’s opera “Faust” performed by English National Opera conducted by Martyn Brabbins. Brian’s fourth opera is a multi-layered setting of the First Part only of Goethe’s classic work, up to the point where the heavenly voice confirms Gretchen’s redemption and Mephistopheles’ defeat. For a composer who had never heard any of his operas at the time, Faust (1955-6) is an extraordinarily assured, fast-paced drama, magnificently recorded.
Ruth Gipps Orchestral Works Volume 2 Chandos Records’ second album recorded by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Rumon Gamba is a wonderfully balanced programme highlighting Gipps’ range as a composer. The primary work is her Third Symphony (1965), a triumph of limpid scoring and dynamic structure. Juliana Koch’s performance of the Oboe Concerto (Gipps was a professional orchestral oboist) is outstanding, and there are two delightful fillers as well.
Icarus and other chamber works by Elena Ruehr, on the Avie label: a follow-up album to their stupendous twofer of Ruehr’s first six quartets, a favourite album of mine from 2018. On this new disc, the Arneis, Borromeo, and Delgani Quartets share the performances, featuring Ruehr’s Seventh and Eighth Quartets, her piano quintet The Worlds Revolve (with Donald Berman) and Icarus, a gripping clarinet quintet inspired by the famous Greek myth (John Manasse is the fine soloist).
The Enescu Project is the record of a quite marvellous initiative, curated by violinist Nicolas Dautricourt, centred on the early Octet for strings, Op 7, by the Romanian master, George Enescu. Dautricourt believes it to be “one of the greatest masterpieces of the chamber music repertoire, or perhaps of music altogether”, and who am I to argue? It forms the finale of a programme opening with Enescu’s even earlier Aubade and setting a musical context for the Octet with pieces by Enescu’s contemporaries, teachers, and successors. The performances are beautifully and the Octet bears comparison with any rival.
Adrian Williams Symphony #1 and Ned Kelly The latest volume in American conductor Kenneth Woods’ 21st Century Symphonies project with British label Nimbus Alliance, and the marvellous English Symphony Orchestra. There is an Australian connection to both works by Adrian Williams (b1956), the searing slow movement of whose First Symphony (2018-21) was inspired in part by the reported devastation caused by wildfires there during the composition. The coupling is a bright and edgy chamber concerto based on Sidney Nolan’s portraits of Australia’s infamous bushwhacker, Ned Kelly. Superb music, scintillatingly performed and recorded.
Finally, a sneaky sixth choice, but not a recording: The War on Music by acclaimed conductor John Mauceri—a book that simply MUST be read by anyone interested in Classical music after 1900. Enjoy!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Guy Rickards contributes regularly to The Gramophone, International Piano, Musical Opinion, and the Norwegian-language website Klassisk Musikkmagasin. The author of two books in Phaidon Press’ “20th Century Composers” series, Hindemith, Hartmann, Henze (1995) and Jean Sibelius (1997), Rickards also contributed three chapters on the late John McCabe for Landscapes of the Mind (Ashgate; 2008). He is the musical executor for the Estate of the British composer Harold Truscott, and the Honorary Secretary of the Music Section of the UK Critics’ Circle. For the Circle, Rickards is been active as a mentor for aspiring critics in a project run in collaboration with English National Opera.