sat 24/02/2024

Classical CDs Weekly: Mozart, Vivancos, Rufus Wainwright | reviews, news & interviews

Classical CDs Weekly: Mozart, Vivancos, Rufus Wainwright

Classical CDs Weekly: Mozart, Vivancos, Rufus Wainwright

Wind serenades, a modern Requiem and a flamboyant disc of Shakespeare settings

Bernat Vivancos

Mozart: Serenade in B flat major, 'Gran Partita', Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble/Trevor Pinnock (Linn)

Mozart's Gran Partita is a multi-movement work longer than many romantic symphonies, hardly what we'd expect from a serenade. It's miraculous stuff, of course, a sublime blend of earthy charm and sensuality. The best performances know when to keep their feet securely on the ground, and this one is among them. Many readings employ a double bassist, but Trevor Pinnock uses a contrabassoon, arguing that Mozart would have preferred one had 18th-century contrabassonists been up to the job.

This is a student ensemble, but you'd never guess; the sound has a delicious weight and richness. The instrumental colours are nicely blended but well delineated – basset horns audibly distinct from clarinets, the oboes' intonation immaculate. The opening seconds of the fifth movement “Romance” demonstrate exactly how these players get it right: a euphonious bath of wind sound, warm enough to set one's spine tingling. Pinnock keeps the great “Adagio” flowing, the offbeat accompaniment perfectly balanced before the oboe entry. Mozart's last movement bounces along, the closing chords feeling as if they've arrived too soon. You're compelled to listen to the whole thing again.

There's a generous bonus in the form of Haydn's Notturno No.8 in G. The original scoring included a pair of lire organizzate. These hybrid instruments, a cross between an organ and a hurdy gurdy, proved impossible to find during one of Haydn's trips to London, so the lire and a pair of clarinets were replaced with flute, oboe and two violins. What may have sounded appealingly shady becomes bright, breezy and not very notturno-like at all, though Haydn's central “Adagio” has a symphonic weight. A 6/8 hunting finale provides a rousing close. Effortless playing – a really enjoyable disc.

Bernat Vivancos: Requiem Latvian Radio Choir/Sigvards Klava (Neu Records)

No surprise that Arvo Pärt's name crops up in the sleeve notes to this extraordinary Requiem. Jordi Savall writes movingly about encountering the Catalan composer Bernat Vivancos's music in a concert organised in homage to Pärt. This is a huge work, its eight movements stretching over 98 minutes. Most of it is scored for unaccompanied chorus, the stately tempi presumably making it terrifyingly difficult to perform well. Sigvards Klava's Latvian Radio Choir cope magnificently – chords are voiced with supernatural confidence and their control, even in the longest sustained passages. There's sporadic accompaniment from solo accordion, cello quartet and percussion, but the bulk of the piece is spare, uncluttered and harmonically direct. This isn't a conventional Requiem setting, Vivancos's texts mostly a selection of Biblical excerpts, terse proverbs and philosophical quotes. “Lasciatemi morire” is prefaced in the booklet by a graphic description of bodily decay, the unsettling accompaniment for cellos briefly taking us into a more dissonant, troubling world.

The consolatory final movements pack a huge punch, and the work's slow coda, a parade of slow tolling bells and sustained accordion notes, is a stunner. Make time for this slow burner of a work, and it will provide endless rewards. Handsomely recorded in St John's Church, Riga, the production values are exceptionally good. It sounds superb in antideluvian stereo, and a code is included allowing a high definition download. The packaging is seductive, and you can even print off a 332-page study score from the label's website.

Rufus Wainwright: Take All My Loves – 9 Shakespeare Sonnets (DG)

This disc has an improbable cast list; you don't expect to find the BBC Symphony Orchestra sharing a bill with William Shatner. Shatner's breathy spoken delivery of Shakespeare's “Sonnet 129” is pretty fine, leading into Rufus Wainwright's restless orchestral setting, beautifully sung here by soprano Anna Prohaska. The big numbers on this disc are consistently impressive, and their audible debt to the likes of Berlioz, Strauss and Puccini is no bad thing. Ear-tickling key changes haunt “When Most I Wink”, and “A Woman's Face” is a decadent treat sung by Prohaska – Wainwright's own account, appealing though it is, can't quite compete. Quite why “Sonnet 87” is recited in a German translation before Prohaska's sung version is puzzling, though the orchestral setting closes the disc on a high.

The non-orchestral sonnets are a mixed bag. Marcus de Vries's dense, ornate production nearly overwhelms Wainwright's vocals on “Take All My Loves”: much better is “Unperfect Actor”, the text initially intoned by an American-accented Helena Bonham Carter. An unexpected highlight is Florence Welsh's understated “When in Disgrace with Fortune and Men's Eyes”, its tune up there with the very best of Wainwright's poppier output. “Sonnet 66”, again in German, becomes a Weill-esque cabaret number. An entertaining collection, Wainwright’s chutzpah bold enough to make the whole thing hang together.

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