So, how’s everyone enjoying the lockdown? Nope, me neither. In fact never has recorded music felt so important, so this month’s playlist is very much about lifting the spirits. Consequently for my classic recording I’ve chosen Wolfgang Schneiderhan’s radiant 1962 reading for DG of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No 5 with the Berlin Philharmonic under Eugen Jochum. This is swooningly lovely, taking what’s already a life-affirming slice of Classical-era heaven and raising it to the classiest, sweetest and most luminously lucid heights. Turn up the volume and let it fill your four walls with its graceful joy.
The world is not exactly short of great solo cello Bach recordings, but Alisa Weilerstein’s addition will be sitting up with the best of them for some time to come. A period-aware reading on modern metal strings, this album is described by Weilerstein as her most project yet. And while that’s not necessarily a surprise in the context of the number of cellists who nurture lifelong obsessions with these works (Pieter Wispelwey has recorded the complete set no less than three times, for instance), these are immensely satisfying readings: ravishingly rich, rounded and glowing of tone; a strong sense of architecture on both the grand and small scale; a constantly shifting palette of colours and shadings; and striking a great rhythm and metre balance between creating the impression of unfolding improvisatory thought, and honouring the dance roots of their various forms. Plus, while Weilerstein couldn’t have known this when she recorded it, it’s also been perfect repertoire with which to take to the internet as live performance temporarily shuts down. So for those wishing to know more of her personal thoughts on interpretation, and indeed hear how they sound under her fingertips when outside of a professional studio, look up her #36DaysOfBach project, for which she’s been playing and discussing a different movement of the suites each day via her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds.
Beethoven Piano Trios – Renaud Capuçon, Gautier Capuçon and Frank Braley on Erato
If there was one Beethoven 250 recording I was looking forward to as much as Quatuor Ébène’s complete Beethoven quartets, it was this offering of Piano Trios Nos 5 and 7 from violinist and cellist brothers Renaud and Gautier Capuçon, and pianist Frank Braley. This is the first time they’ve all recorded together since their critically acclaimed 2001 album of Ravel chamber music, and there’s every bit as much symbiotic magic and heartfelt playing here. I’ve given you the “Ghost” trio, named after its second movement which Beethoven’s famous piano student Carl Czerny (who in turn became Franz Liszt’s teacher) claimed reminded him of the ghost of Shakespeare’s Hamlet’s father; and in fact Beethoven’s notes on the manuscript suggest that he may indeed have had Shakespearean original intentions for it, albeit not with Hamlet – the Witches’ scene in a proposed operatic production of Macbeth. The superglued-together ebullient vim with which the Capuçons and Braley launch into the trio’s racing and rhythmic opening gambit is electrifying stuff, and the movement’s ensuing succession of sharp dynamic contrasts are met with the same virtuosic degree of togetherness and blending, coupled with bag-loads of clean-toned tender warmth and vigorous life. The “Ghost” movement brings fresh pleasures with its taut, sombre stillness, and likewise the final Presto’s combination of sunny grace and high drama. Add some equally warm, polished and immediate engineering, and it’s a nonstop joyride.
Bach: St Matthew Passion, Choir of King’s College Cambridge/Cleobury
Yes, more Bach. However it’s Eastertide, and this Bach St John Passion from the Choir of King’s College Cambridge is a special one – an exquisite final musical parting from its director of 37 years, Sir Stephen Cleobury, recorded last April in King’s College Chapel shortly before he retired, and just seven months before his November 2019 passing away due to cancer. They’re joined by the mixed voices of The Choir of King’s College School, the Academy of Ancient Music and a stellar line-up of soloists in the form of James Gilchrist, Matthew Rose, Sophie Bevan, David Allsopp, Mark le Brocq and William Gaunt. Crisply articulated and fluidly flowing, light of physical tread while deep of thought and understanding, it’s beautiful stuff. To give you a spread of textures and styles, I’ve begun with the lilting, full-forces opening chorale, Kommt, ihr Tochter, helft mir klagen, then for a chance to appreciate the AAM’s chamber awareness (and it’s softly perky flutes) I’ve also plucked out the alto aria “Buss und reu” and its preceding recitative, sung by countertenor David Allsopp.
One final thing. If you’re in need of further classical entertainment during this period of evenings spent within your own four walls, you’ll find on the Gramophone website (gramophone.co.uk) a comprehensive and regularly-updated list of the various video streaming options being offered in response to the crisis – often for free – by the world’s top orchestras, concert halls and video streaming platforms. I’ll also point you in the direction of my March column for Takt1, given that it was equally aimed to give everyone something else to think about: The Show Must Go On
Playlist available on