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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
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.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum