sat 15/12/2018

Classical CDs Weekly: Rachmaninov, Terje Rypdal, Valentina Montoya Martínez | reviews, news & interviews

Classical CDs Weekly: Rachmaninov, Terje Rypdal, Valentina Montoya Martínez

Classical CDs Weekly: Rachmaninov, Terje Rypdal, Valentina Montoya Martínez

Russian romanticism, expansive Norwegian contemporary music and South American songs from Scotland

 

Rachmaninov: The Bells, Symphonic Dances Rundfunkchor Berlin, Berliner Philharmoniker/Sir Simon Rattle (Warner Classics)

The red spine on the jewel case and the typeface look familiar enough, though the top right hand corner of the CD cover shows Warner Classics’ logo. EMI Classics is no more. After more than 30 years, Sir Simon Rattle is no longer an EMI recording artist. His first release under the new regime has some sensational highspots – notably an exhilarating, colourful account of Rachmaninov’s choral symphony The Bells. Konstantin Balmont’s doomy Poe-inspired text proved an ideal match for Rachmaninov’s melancholy disposition and the choral singing here combines agility and heft – the third movement terrifies. Good soloists too – notably bass Mikhail Petrenko in the final section. Rattle’s characteristic ear for detail rarely derails the forward momentum; the important tutti writing for piano and celeste registers to brilliant effect. There’s a wondrous cor anglais solo at the start of the final movement, and the work’s heart-stopping coda may well be the most sublime two minutes of music you’ll encounter all year.

Rattle’s new Symphonic Dances take a while to work their magic. Maybe it’s the warmth and richness of the orchestral sound which jars, in a work which benefits from a leaner, more astringent approach. Rattle’s earthier, untidier CBSO recording still packs a punch. But you’re slowly won over. The final dance is terrific; Rattle’s closing pages are exciting and he allows the tamtam to ring out after the final chord. There’s a wonderful, elderly Soviet-era recording of both works conducted by Kyril Kondrashin which remains essential listening, but Rattle's modern versions shouldn't disappoint.

 

Terje Rypdal: Melodic Warrior Terje Rydpal (electric guitar), Hilliard Ensemble, Bruckner Orchester Linz/Dennis Russell Davies (ECM)

Start jotting down the influences which come to mind when first hearing Terje Rypdal’s Melodic Warrior and you soon run out of paper. Easiest to think of it as an unlikely meeting between Ennio Morricone and Arvo Pärt, with prog-rock electric guitar solos thrown in. Don’t search for too many hidden depths; best to turn up the volume and surrender. Rydpal’s disparate elements are marshalled with such flair and glee that the finished product is hard to resist. Best known in his native Norway as a jazz guitarist, Rydpal was classically trained and knows how to organise and orchestrate his ideas. Unlikely guest stars in Melodic Warrior are the Hilliard Ensemble, amplified to the hilt and audibly getting into the swing of things as the piece progresses, belting out texts drawn from Native American poetry. The final section is over-extended, but this is a fun listen, heard in a full-blooded live performance.

The coupling is Rydpal’s 2009 And The Sky Was Coloured With Waterfalls And Angels. This firework-inspired suite is less engaging, though musically more fluent. It's full of slow, craggy transitions and abrupt colour changes. Rydpal’s guitar occasionally soars above the string clusters, and the piece ends oddly, unexpectedly. Performances and recording are excellent, with Sebastien Perłowski’s Wrocław Philharmonic forces outstanding in the latter work.

La Pasionaria Valentina Montoya Martínez (vocals), Mr McFall’s Chamber (Delphian)

The best musical surprises often come from the most unexpected places. I’ve recently enjoyed an idiomatic Rachmaninov CD played by an orchestra from Singapore, and here’s a hugely engaging disc of South American song from a group based in Scotland. Chilean singer Valentina Montoya Martínez arrived in the UK as a child refugee from the Pinochet regime and began composing her own material in the late 1990s. Nine of her songs are heard alongside vocal and instrumental music by Astor Piazzolla, and they stand up brilliantly in comparism. Martínez’s lyrics are superb; these are songs of longing, nostalgia and regret. But they’re always projected via musical settings of incredible vitality and wit. The best have personal resonance – songs about long-forgotten friends, or the lives of Martínez’s own parents. And hers is such an expressive, compelling voice, especially so when she interrupts her cantilena to speak directly to the listener.

A sequence of numbers from Piazzolla’s tango opera Maria de Buenos Aires offer superficial light relief. Tocata rea is played with seismic zest and punch. Backings, by the versatile Edinburgh-based Mr McFall’s Chamber, are pungent and zesty, with extra impact provided by bandoneon virtuoso Victor Villena. A glorious, loveable disc.

 

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