DISCS / In pursuit of the creative moment

DVORAK: Symphony No 8. Symphonic Variations London Philharmonic / Sir Charles Mackerras (EMI Eminence 5 65026 2)

THE REAL thing, a Dvorak disc which has it all: geniality, grandeur, frolic, fire, the russety earth-tones, the spirit of song and dance. And atmosphere. No other recording of the symphony is so rich in it.

Mackerras instinctively gives Dvorak his space. Together they lend real enchantment to the arrival of solo flute on the threshold of the first movement. And in a moment of breathtaking stillness towards the close of the second, anxiety stirs deep in the lower strings like the ghostly echo of a troubled past in the stones of some ancient castle or church.

Perhaps the trumpets might have rejoiced more in the return of the opening cello theme at the climax of the first movement; the horns more than compensate with their rollicking trills in the finale. If you know the symphony well you will surely double-take at a subtly different version of the finale's main theme just after the central climax. No doubt Mackerras has unearthed some intriguing authentication for that. But then everything here sounds like it's recapturing that precious moment of creative urge - not least the Symphonic Variations, which seem to evolve in the playing of them.

At mid-price this isn't just a bargain, it's a steal. ES

PERHAPS I shouldn't have read the notes first. In most respects this is an outstanding Dvorak Eight. As you'd expect, Mackerras takes nothing for granted. Everything from the minutest details to the grand design feels as though it has been heard afresh. But Mackerras doesn't go for sensational new perspectives either - unless you count one tiny textual re-reading in the finale.

This is mature music-making, with plenty of affection. The light-shade contrasts in the Adagio, the lilt of the Scherzo (truly grazioso), the growth of the first movement towards the introductory theme's climactic return, brass glowing through driving string figures - it's all beautifully done, and beautifully recorded too.

Compare it with the Ozawa recording reviewed in Double Play earlier this year and there's no question that Mackerras wins in matters of taste, and yet there's an edge and excitement in the Ozawa that I do slightly miss. Intelligent insight or the reek of slivovits? I wish I didn't have to make the choice. Still, I can't remember a more convincing Symphonic Variations, the tiny movements fused expertly like links in a living chain. SJ

LIGETI: Cello Concerto.

Piano Concerto. Chamber

Concerto

Ensemble Modern

(Sony SK 58945)

GYORGY LIGETI is a puzzle that you can't put down. His music is full of secrets and surprises and conundrums, a sound world of illusion, of indeterminate spaces and shifting perspectives. He is both mystic and cartoonist, often at one and the same time. He tweaks the imagination in amazing ways.

A single tone changing colour and shape almost imperceptibly draws you into the twilight zone that is his Cello Concerto. In this musical no- man's-land, a single consonant chord can have a cathartic effect, transforming the soundscape, turning the listener's ear in new directions. Then there are the 'spook house' effects, parodies of musical tics from an erstwhile avant-garde: like the scarifying exclamation marks in the fourth movement of the Piano Concerto, which could be terrifying if they weren't so comical.

This is a terrific piece, changing personality and physiognomy as swiftly and mystifyingly as does the composer. And the virtuosity of the performers is startling. Everybody gets to be a star in the Chamber Concerto: Paul Klee's amazing 'twittering machine' has nothing on this. Dump the computer games: Ligeti has soul as well as intrigue. ES

MODERNIST or post-modernist, tonal or atonal, traditional Western or 'World'- embracing - none of these tags quite sticks to the music of Gyorgy Ligeti. Of all the great musical arrivals of the Sixties and Seventies he now seems the one most likely to survive, but not as the emblem of his times, more as one of this century's great originals, answerable only to his own laws and inner demands.

Echoes of modernist fashion flit through the Cello Concerto (1966), and yet its whispered, seductive, impressionistic sound world is essentially like nothing else. The Chamber Concerto explores this dream territory further, sometimes alarming, sometimes wickedly funny, often quietly voluptuous. Then comes the wonderful mid-Eighties Piano Concerto, with its wild African-Hungarian dance rhythms, anguished slow lyricism and desperate clowning - Shostakovich would have loved the police whistle and toy siren at the slow movement's climax.

Ensemble Modern play all three works with real understanding - the language doesn't sound new to them, but it isn't over-familiar either. Miklos Perenyi is a suitably subtle soloist in the Cello Concerto. Ueli Wiget's playing in the Piano Concerto doesn't quite have the relentless Mephistophelian energy I'd hoped for, but it is a strong, well thought-out performance that leaps the hurdles of the last three last movements with impressive agility. Good, atmospheric recordings. SJ

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
books
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'