EMI: Double Forte

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: EMI

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EMI’s Double Forte series mostly sticks to one composer per set, though there are two exceptions in the latest batch.

Janet Baker sings BACH and HANDEL (CZS 5 74284 2), and even though the style of Baroque performance from the Sixties and Seventies may theoretically be outmoded, it’s impossible not to warm to her sincerity in Ich habe genug, or the drama of Armida abbandonata.

The wonderful partnership of Oleg Kagan and Sviatoslav Richter suffers from dry recording in sonatas by MOZART, but things improve in BEETHOVEN (Opp. 23 and 24), where their artless lyricism and sensibility come through with total freshness (CZS 5 74293 2).

Quite how musicians in Vienna stay fresh when they come to STRAUSS waltzes for the umpteenth time is a mystery – maybe the presence of Willi Boskovsky explains it (CZS 5 74311 2). All the favourites are here, together with the less obvious, and the style is impeccable.

Dance music of a different sort – highlights from the three TCHAIKOVSKY ballets – comes from Efrem Kurtz and the Philharmonia in its heyday in the late Fifties (CZS 5 74308 2).

The orchestral playing is superb, and who would now bother to book a violinist of the stature of Menuhin to play the solos? Moving into the 20th century, Blomstedt’s Danish versions of NIELSEN’s last two symphonies don’t measure up to his later San Francisco recordings, but the coupling of Hymnus amoris and Sleep, under the expert direction of Mogens Wöldike, makes this desirable (CZS 5 74299 2).

Riccardo Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra are vividly virtuosic in STRAVINSKY’s The Rite of Spring and Petrushka, but strangely cold (CZS 5 74305 2), and Marriner’s Pulcinella, with some good British singers, isn’t enough to make this a ‘must have’.

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If you’re after PENDERECKI in his earlier, Polish avant-garde dress, a good cross-section is conducted by the composer (CZS 5 74302 2) containing his most famous piece, the Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, and one of his best, the First Symphony.