Classical album reviews: Paavo Jarvi, The Juilliard String Quartet, Carolyn Sampson
Paavo Jarvi Jorg Widmann: Armonica (Pan Classics)
Paavo Järvi is one of the busiest contemporary conductors, working here with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra on a programme combining three pieces by Jorg Widmann with complementary works by Mauricio Kagel, Beat Furrer and Peter Ruzicka. The latter’s “Clouds” is an accumulation of sonic droplets and mist into a torrential downpour, while Kagel’s Etude No 3 offers a Stravinskian cacophony of horns. But it’s Widmann’s title track that stands out: inspired by Mozart’s interest in the glass harmonica, it features a blend of strings, accordion and tuned percussion emulating that instrument’s long, keening tones, everything shaped “lightly and vitreously... like a musical suspension of gravity”, as Widmann describes it.
Download: Armonica; Antiphon; Etude No. 3; Clouds
The Juilliard String Quartet Elliott Carter: The Five String Quartets (Sony Classical)
With the addition of the fifth and final string quartet completing the cycle recorded in the early Nineties, the Juilliard String Quartet here demonstrates the value of its close relationship with Elliott Carter in negotiating the difficulties of this most challenging of composers. Take the fiendishly testing String Quartet No 3, in which the quartet is split into duos playing completely separate works. The precise, prickly texture of the pizzicato passages speaks of exhausting rehearsal, as does the more playful String Quartet No 2, built around what Carter considered the “characters” of the instruments. The Juilliard handles these problems, and the complex “metric modulation” of String Quartet No 1, with a grace and dexterity that surely belies the industry involved.
Download: String Quartet No 3; String Quartet No 2; String Quartet No 1; String Quartet No 5
Carolyn Sampson, Daniel Reuss, Cappella Amsterdam, Estonian National Symphony Orchestra Poulenc: Stabat Mater (Harmonia Mundi)
Written in 1949 to commemorate his friend, the painter Christian Bérard, Poulenc’s setting of the Stabat Mater was intended as a “Requiem without despair”, more focused on hope than mourning. Accordingly, the choir imposes an angelic balm, bordering in places on the frivolous: the seventh section is effectively a dance, while the ninth finds glory in contemplation. It’s paired here with his later setting of the Sept Répons des Ténèbres, commissioned by Leonard Bernstein for the New York Philharmonic, in which Poulenc uses Christ’s tragedy as an allegory for the existential dread of the individual in an unjust world.
Download: Stabat Mater; Sept Répons des Ténèbres
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