mon 15/04/2024

Classical CDs Weekly: Josquin, Mozart, Set in Stone | reviews, news & interviews

Classical CDs Weekly: Josquin, Mozart, Set in Stone

Classical CDs Weekly: Josquin, Mozart, Set in Stone

A pair of masses from the Renaissance, three iconic symphonies plus music inspired by landscapes - and perfumes

Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber OrchestraPaul Henderson-Kelly

Josquin: Masses The Tallis Scholars/Peter Philips (Gimmell)

Listeners hoping that Josquin might have deployed aleatoric, Cageian techniques in his Missa Di Dadi might feel short-changed here, though the musical virtues of this disc are never in question. The emoji-like dice graphics which Josquin placed at the head of the tenor part in several movements mostly function like musical performance directions, their score combinations giving the singers information about note and phrase lengths. Peter Phillips’s scholarly, entertaining sleeve essay makes a valiant attempt to explain the process, pointing out Josquin’s cheekiness at including gambling references in a sacred work. The Tallis Scholars sing flawlessly on this latest volume in an ongoing Josquin series. Impeccable intonation allows us to appreciate the composer’s harmonic boldness. Notably the moments where one voice remains fixed on a particular note whilst the other lines take us in unexpected directions.

The Missa Une mousse de Biscaye is another earlier work, partly based on a secular folk tune. Frustratingly we’re not told exactly where the melody appears, though there’s a folkish, improvisatory lilt to the first part of the “Kyrie”. The singing is deliciously accomplished, tenors and basses superb at the start of the “Credo”, the mass ending softly with a sublime “Agnus Dei”. A beautiful disc, the Merton College chapel acoustic adding a saintly glow to proceedings.

Mozart: Symphonies 39, 40 and 41 Australian Chamber Orchestra/Richard Tognetti (director and violin) (ABC Classics)

I’ll stick my neck out now and suggest that these two discs contain some of the best Mozart performances ever recorded. They are genuine performances too, taped live over a single evening in Sydney last October. Richard Tognetti’s direction is electrifying, accentuating each symphony’s distinct personality without ever disturbing the flow. Blink and you’ll miss the odd detail, but this means you’ve a valid excuse for repeated listening. That’s why we still buy CDs. Take the slow introduction to Symphony No.39, the jarring semitone clashes ideally piquant, Tognetti’s flowing tempo tightening the screws to alarming effect. The sense of relief when the allegro bursts into life is overwhelming. Marvel at the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s muscular, hyper-articulate strings, flawless in the last movement’s first theme. No.40’s mixture of defiance and sadness has rarely been expressed with such eloquence, the music’s desolate corners painted with some skill. And what an incendiary finale. Valveless horns acquit themselves handsomely. Bassoons are outstanding. Mozart’s equivocal coda is appropriately unsettling.

Symphony No.41 offers some light relief, Tognetti balancing grandeur with a life-affirming sense of fun. Sharp accents and swift speeds are never overplayed, Tognetti’s immaculate phrasing in the second movement a delight. Orchestral balance in the finale is perfect, every strand audible. Quite irresistible, and beautifully recorded to boot. If you only have one disc of Mozart symphonies in your collection, make it this one.

John Metcalfe & Simon Richmond: Set in Stone (ECC100 Records)

Let’s get the presentation out of the way first: this is among the most extravagantly packaged releases you’ll ever encounter. Set in Stone’s 12 movements are included on a bespoke, decorated USB stick, in lossless files. Though you really need to dust off the turntable and listen to the music on two immaculately pressed heavyweight LPs. Then admire the gatefold sleeve art and large format booklet. Older readers will remember a far-off time when most music was digested this way, but the label’s founder wants listeners “to stop, sit and listen to the music… just as the artists intended”. Enjoying vinyl records is a rare pleasure, and, to appropriate a buzzword, it’s very hygge. Sitting still in a warm room, hearing music through speakers. What could be better? Composers have taken inspiration from many sources, but Set in Stone’s creators John Metcalfe and Simon Richmond go further off-piste by having six sections inspired by smells – more specifically, scents created by Lush Cosmetics’ Mark Constantine (who also owns the record label). What a shame that scratch and sniff cards couldn’t be included. More importantly, the music was inspired by stone circles in south-west England, parts of it first performed al fresco in 2012.

At its best, Set in Stone is disarmingly unpretentious – a baggy suite combining natural sounds, electronics and acoustic instruments. Metcalfe and Richmond are at their best when their music is more ambient and loosely structured. “Burning Rosemary” opens with crackling fire sounds, rapidly subsumed into a delicate, Eno-esque soundscape. “Hell Stone”’s clicking pebbles evolve into something more punchily rhythmic. It’s background music of the best possible kind. The whole earth seems to pulsate in “Deep Soil”. “Down to Ringwoodite” alludes both to a vast subterranean lake and the Orpheus legend, and the final two sections take us back up into the light, at one point using taped birdsong. Several movements could do with a trim, but this is an agreeable way to pass 66 minutes. The USB stick includes the whole album set to video – an agreeably woozy viewing experience, though the visuals complement the music without adding anything significant.  

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