tue 21/05/2024

Classical CDs Weekly: Scriabin, Stockhausen, Choir of King's College Aberdeen, Radek Baborák | reviews, news & interviews

Classical CDs Weekly: Scriabin, Stockhausen, Choir of King's College Aberdeen, Radek Baborák

Classical CDs Weekly: Scriabin, Stockhausen, Choir of King's College Aberdeen, Radek Baborák

Spectacular pianism, Czech horn playing and a crack Scottish choir

Vanessa Benelli Mosell: not your average classical pianist

Scriabin and Stockhausen: Light Vanessa Benelli Mosell (Decca)

Scriabin and Stockhausen are both associated with excess, so it's pleasing to report that Vanessa Benelli Mosell's second Decca disc goes over the top in some areas: there's a bonkers sleeve image and some bizarre photos in the booklet. Due credit is given to Mosell's fashion designer and to Luxury Living magazine, and you suspect that neither composer would have objected. Mosell's set of Scriabin's Op. 11 Preludes is very fine indeed, largely because she's so good at nailing the character of each one. The fireworks present no challenges: Nos. 14, 18 and 24 are riveting, each lasting less than a minute. She also understands Scriabin's debt to Chopin; the more overtly romantic numbers are gorgeously coloured. The whole sequence doesn't often sound this youthful and impetuous. As a bonus we get the Op. 2 Three Pieces and one of the Op. 8 Etudes, again played with utter sincerity.

Lovely stuff... and then Mosell throws in Stockhausen's Klavierstück XII: three pieces extracted from the first instalment of the composer's seven-opera cycle Licht. They're irresistible in her hands; each one packed with incident. And enlivened by Mosell's intermittent clicks, kisses and exclamations, notated by Stockhausen on an extra stave. You can't imagine a more persuasive case being made for this exciting, entertaining music, Mosell's performance provoking both laughter and awe. A fabulous anthology, and beautifully recorded too.

O Sacrum Convivium: A Feast of Sacred Music Choir of King's College Aberdeen/David J Smith (dir. and organ) (Vox Regis)

The elite university choral circuit is dominated by crack Oxbridge choirs, but here’s one from Aberdeen. How choirs sound on disc can depend as much on recording venue and balance as much as performance, and this group acquit themselves very well. There’s never too much resonance in the chapel acoustic, the individual lines brilliantly confident and clear. One attraction of this disc is a number of works by members of what’s referred to as ‘The Aberdeen School of Choral Composition’, represented here by Philip Cooke, Paul Mealor, John F Hudson and Thomas LaVoy. Cooke’s motet O lux beata Trinitas opens this anthology, followed by a sublime, very relaxed Veni Sancte Spiritus and an austere setting of O Sacrum Convivium. Mealor’s mellow Locus Iste is grower, as is Hudson’s sonorous arrangement of a Ukrainian carol. We get the Ave maris stella by LaVoy to close.

These contemporary works are undeniably enjoyable, but there’s a sameness of tone which can pall after repeated listening, their limitations highlighted by the qualities of the other music on this disc. The choir’s director David J Smith intersperses proceedings with four short Bach organ pieces, their crisp counterpoint a bracing sonic tonic after an abundance of new-age wooziness. Works by Tallis, Weelkes and Purcell are given exemplary readings – the latter’s anthem Hear my prayer especially involving. There are offerings from Stanford and Stainer, and John Tavener’s The Lamb is the sole 20th century work. Attractive stuff, and profits from album sales go towards funding dementia research at Aberdeen University. More from this source, please.

DVD: Solo (Limbus)

Přemysl Havlík’s hour-long documentary feels like several different films spliced into a whole, though the disparate elements mesh together nicely. It’s a rambling account of the early history of the horn and its place in Czech history, told by musician and historian Tomáš Čechal. His enthusiasm is infectious, the scenes filmed in his cramped office almost overloaded information; Čechal constantly on his feet and reaching for antique instruments, prints and books. Of greater general interest is the ongoing story of horn player Radek Baborák and his spell as principal horn of the Berlin Philharmonic. One of the very greatest players, he’s an irresistible, larger-than-life character. We follow his illustrious early career until his successful Berlin audition, Baborák’s performance prompting Simon Rattle to confess that he’d never before heard playing quite like it.

What emerges very clearly is a sense of just how difficult orchestral life at the top end can be, especially for musicians who’ve enjoyed solo careers previously. Flautist Emmanuel Pahaud is an eloquent interviewee, as is the veteran Berlin hornist Gerd Seifert. We sense that Baborák’s personality was too big for the orchestra, and his dispute with Rattle is shown from both sides: Baborák disagreeing with the conductor’s more radical interpretive decisions, Rattle clearly struggling with a musician willing to stand up and argue with him. Baborák stepped down in 2011, returning to Prague to concentrate on solo playing, chamber music and conducting. He looks all the happier for having done so. Seiji Ozawa and Daniel Barenboim also contribute, but the most memorable sections are where we watch Baborák simply playing, tossing off chunks of Mozart and Strauss with smiling nonchalance. Great fun, and the bonuses include extended interviews with Barenboim, Rattle and Ozawa.

Overleaf: Watch the trailer for Solo

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