Thursday 2 February 2012

This Week’s Classical Music Round Up by The Arts Desk

The Arts Desk’s classical music writers this week take a look at some sterling CD releases and a Prokofiev concert at the Royal Festival Hall.

Graham Rickson’s first recommendation in his weekly classical CD round-up was a barnstorming recording of Handel’s early opera Agrippina, under the baton of René Jacobs. It’s an attempt to reconstruct the composer’s original intentions and the result is a roaring success. Despite the opera’s convoluted plot, this slightly trimmed-down version is thrillingly theatrical and energetically powered along by Jacobs. The entire cast give full-throttle yet believable performances, particularly Alexandrina Pendatchanska as Agrippina (whose acting chops outweigh the odd shrill note), Marcus Fink as Claudio and Neil Davies as Pallante, and the fun they are all having is both evident and infectious.

Next was Vasily Petrenko’s new Rachmaninov recording with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, which is typically superb according to Rickson. Petrenko chooses the oft-overlooked Symphony No 3, and unveils it as an underrated classic, with its energy and memorable tunes reminiscent of the great Symphonic Dances and its action-packed cinematic feel. He also leavens the darkness of the piece by adding his own modern touches of wit, gloss and affirmation where necessary. The sweet but not sickly Vocalise and the Caprice bohémien make superb additions to finish.

Andy Findon, photo by StudioTime Photographers
And finally Rickson recommends flautist Andy Findon’s new CD, Density 21.5: Unaccompanied Works for Flute, a seemingly effortless disc comprising contemporary works by Edgard Varèse, Michael Nyman, David Cullens, Geoff Eales and Dave Heath, with a Bach partita thrown in as well. Findon can produce a wonderful range of sounds on the instrument, from winsome to percussive, and adds alto flute, piccolo and baritone sax to add depth and variety. The results are never monotonous or tiresome, and always enjoyable.

Meanwhile Alexandra Coghlan headed to the Royal Festival Hall to partake of the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s current season, “Prokofiev: Man of the People?” which aims to explore the humanity behind the music’s glossy façade. In this concert, Prokofiev’s ballet music was under scrutiny, particularly the lavish, lurid and knowingly grotesque Chout and the more constrained, mainstream Cinderella. A highly controlled Vladimir Jurowski conducted an exquisitely precise orchestra that itself had an abundance of humanity, though pianist Leon Fleisher attacked the problematic Fourth Piano Concerto with slightly more aggression than it could withstand. There was certainly plenty of impressive showmanship on display here, but Prokofiev’s soul remained somewhat elusive.

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