Sunday, July 30, 2006

CDs for a summer Sunday

I got a bit hot under the collar over the business of my article in The Australian, so thought I'd calm down by recommending some nice CDs for you.

The youthful Pole Rafal Blechacz was the winner of the last Chopin Competition in Warsaw and this is his first CD: it's pretty stunning. Beautiful tone quality, plenty of variety and an individuality which feels like a genuine response to the music - for example, a marvellous grandeur about the A flat major Polonaise. The Szymanowski variations are fascinating. I think we'll be hearing more of this fellow; I certainly hope so.

This is Elektrafying: Semyon Bychkov and the WDR in Strauss's completely OTT masterpiece, starring a nuclear-powered trio of Deborah Polaski as Elektra, Anne Schwanewilms as Chrysothemis and Felicity Palmer as Klytemnestra. If an ideal of Greek drama was catharsis, I'd say this does it: after listening, I felt exhausted, exhilarated and, peculiarly, less stewed up than usual over daft things in the rest of my life. Watch this space in a few months' time for an explanation of why my new name for Maestro Bychkov is 'The Big Cheese'.

Korngold fans might like to discover Miklos Rozsa, another central European immigrant to the US, who wound up writing film music of a rather different kind. That dynamic duo of Philippe Graffin and Raphael Wallfisch, with the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Barry Wordsworth, have recorded Rosza's Sinfonia Concertante, coupled with the Cello Concerto: ascerbic, stirring, edgy stuff with a highly individual flavour - plenty of paprika. PG & RW will be performing it live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall next May, again with the BBCCO and Wordsworth - more of that soon, since the second half will be Korngold's scandalously underprogrammed Sinfonietta...

Last but not least, here's one of the latest and best from the LPO's own label: Vladimir Jurowski conducts Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony, live at the Royal Festival Hall. It's a glorious piece - I urge you to hear it if you don't know it - full of Byronic angst, high drama and marvellous melodies. Vladimir shapes and paces it with enormous intelligence and sensitivity. Marvellous despite the less than ideal acoustic (hopefully when the RFH reopens next year, that pigeon-hitting-wall deadness will be a thing of the past).