sat 13/04/2024

Classical CDs Weekly: Beethoven, Scarlatti, Stradihumpa | reviews, news & interviews

Classical CDs Weekly: Beethoven, Scarlatti, Stradihumpa

Classical CDs Weekly: Beethoven, Scarlatti, Stradihumpa

Downsized symphonies, crystalline keyboard sonatas and a musical marriage between high and low voices

Benjamin Schmid and Andreas Martin Hofmeir: an unlikely pairingWolfgang Lienbacher


Beethoven pocket-sizedBeethoven Revisited: Symphonies 1-9 Taschenphilharmonie/Peter Stangel (Sony)

The most enjoyable recent Beethoven symphony cycle I've heard is Yury Martynov’s set of the Liszt piano arrangements. Closely followed by this one. It’s also a left-fielder, arranged and conducted by Peter Stangel and performed by his versatile chamber-sized "pocket philharmonic orchestra". In his words, “all instruments play one-on-a-part, winds are reduced and some instruments are omitted completely, as if Beethoven had written for a large chamber ensemble.” As with this team's bewilderingly brilliant take on Mahler 7, the playing and interpretations are so effective that you soon fail to notice that anything’s out of the ordinary – plus, using modern instruments means that the sonorities aren't far off those you would get from a smallish chamber orchestra. These readings are bright, witty and brimming with intelligence. "Big" moments like the Eroica’s funeral march don’t feel undersized at all: the taut, febrile intensity overwhelms. And No. 5’s fiery, punchy opening sounds fine by me.

Symphony No. 7’s outer movements dance as you've rarely heard them dance, and its successor is a blast from start to finish. Things become a bit more conventional with No. 9. I was half hoping for just four singers, but Stangel opts for a well-drilled 20-piece choir along with the four soloists, plus a dozen extra players. It flies by, the last movement’s excesses reined in to create an unaffected, unpompous expression of joy. Recommended without hesitation: shop around, and you can pay less for this set than a round of drinks.

Colli's ScarlattiDomenico Scarlatti: Sonatas Vol. 1 Federico Colli (piano) (Chandos)

We don’t know much about Domenico Scarlatti. No manuscripts survive, and there's just one extant letter in his handwriting. His music can't easily be categorised as baroque or classical, and he was as much Portuguese and Spanish as he was Italian. First-hand accounts of what he was like as a person don’t exist. On the basis of this disc, Scarlatti is someone you'd have liked to have met: this collection of his compact, single-movement keyboard sonatas is a treat. Pianist Federico Colli’s conceit is to arrange 16 of them in four thematic groups, subtitled The Power of Illusion, Live Happily!, The Return to Order and Enchantment and Prayer. It's a discursive metaphysical and musical journey, leading to an affirmation of beauty and truth. Colli even thanks an Italian professor “for his help on the philosophical questions”. If that, plus the appealing sleeve art, doesn't win you over, there's no hope.

Metaphysics aside, Colli's sequence works beautifully as a 67-minute recital. The colours he extracts from the Potton Hall Steinway are ravishing; he can be thunderous and delicate by turns. You're left awestruck by the lightness and dexterity of numbers like the KK39 Sonata in A, and reduced to tears by the more introspective numbers: sample KK208, a slowly unfolding adagio. Colli doesn't just produce flurries of brilliant sparks: we can always feel the long, lyrical lines underneath. A gorgeous collection. Scarlatti wrote 555 sonatas – let's hope that this series runs and runs.

StradihumpaBenjamin Schmid & Andreas Martin Hofmeir: Stradihumpa (ACT)

Unusual instrumental combinations don’t come much more extreme than the pairing of violin and tuba presented here. You'd expect the result to be a kind of sonic abyss, a musical sandwich with a missing filling. The disparate sounds actually blend incredibly well and you're never aware that there's anything lacking. Andreas Martin Hofmeir’s tuba playing has an agility and athleticism which defies credibility. He's got an astonishingly beautiful upper register, enabling him at certain points to soar above Benjamin Schmid on violin. There's some seriously entertaining music on this disc. Me, I was giggling throughout Jörg Duda’s little Duetto. And also during one Christof Dienz’s Concertino vom Lande, a pastoral romp taking in tractor driving and the sporadic tedium of country life, relieved by a potpourri of Austrian TV themes and advertising jingles.

1+1=3: The Abstraction of Beauty by Florian Willeitner opens with a sequence of otherwordly tuba chords, matchlessly played (and sung) by Hofmeir. There's a Wieniawski etude, hauntingly reimagined as an idiomatic violin/tuba duet, a Handel-inspired passacaglia and a foot-tapping ,jazzy Latin number. The furious pace of Antonio Bazzini’s La ronde des lutins will have you scratching your head in wonder. Guaranteed to lift the spirits: copies of Stradihumpa should be dished out by pharmacists.

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