RECORDS / Double Play: Journeying into unknown regions: Robert Cowan and Edward Seckerson on new discs of Grieg and Vaughan Williams - Music - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

RECORDS / Double Play: Journeying into unknown regions: Robert Cowan and Edward Seckerson on new discs of Grieg and Vaughan Williams

Grieg - Songs: Anne Sofie von Otter, Bengt Forsberg (DG 437 521-2)

PROBABLY the vocal record of the year - and it's only May. If you caught Anne Sofie von Otter's recent recital at the Wigmore Hall, you'll know that this gifted singer is now at the peak of her considerable powers. Gone is any hint of circumspection: she always could do any and everything with her voice - now she does. She's the kind of singer whose penetrating way with inflection, colouring, phrasing - just the sound of the words - transcends the language barrier. You know the full emotional story before even a glimpse at the translation.

So here she is dreaming the dreams of the lonely young herdgirl in Grieg's Haugtussa songs - feisty in the rustic vernacular; questing, reposeful in the nature songs, peeling away layer upon layer of subtext with each stanza of 'At Gjaetle Brook'. Then there is the ecstasy of the dream becoming reality in Ein Traum, where the length and breadth of the voice is given full rein, or the mysterious inner-light of the Ibsen setting 'A Swan' - so spare, so still (and so beautifully accompanied). And, of course, the loftiest of all Grieg melodies 'Spring', virtually reborn. ES

GRIEG was a more worldly artist than his popular reputation would suggest: 170-odd songs testify to a poetic awareness that travels far beyond the local charms of his homeland. The present collection has the distinct advantage of featuring a Scandinavian singer whose command of Norwegian, Old Norwegian, Danish and German allows us access to the texts that Grieg actually set, rather than having us make do with clumsy translations.

Von Otter liberates the candid eroticism in Haugtussa ('The Mountain Maid'), a 25- minute song-cycle about two lovers who (in the fourth song) 'throw their young arms around one another and in a daze give one another their mouths'. The artistic partnership between Von Otter and the pianist Bengt Forsberg is co-operative virtually to the point of symbiosis, while the programme itself is both satisfying and enormously varied.

Taken as a whole, this is the first CD - at least in my experience - to present Grieg as a serious contender among such Lieder masters as Schubert, Schumann (an undoubted influence), Brahms and Wolf. There will be other notable commemorative issues this year, but none more satisfying. RC

Vaughan Williams - Symphonies Nos 8 and 9: Philharmonia Orchestra / Leonard Slatkin (RCA 09026 61196 2)

A QUICK Flourish for Glorious John (Barbirolli, that is), then it's off towards unknown regions for Vaughan Williams' strangest and most adventuresome symphonic essays. The Eighth was written expressly for Sir John and ultimately makes a joyful noise, out-gamelaning even Turandot with its gleaming Toccata of tuned percussion. This new Slatkin production will light up your living room, if not your life. But it's the introspection of the opening on trumpets and vibraphone that really stays with me - a kind of cosmic musical box, carrying us back into VW's past, to jaunty wind-band music and a Cavatina for strings where we glimpse once more that lark ascendant. Eloquent bowing here from the Philharmonia.

The Ninth - dark and primordial, with its strange, mystic trio of saxophones - is harder to fathom. It's a quest, a search for answers that I'm not sure Slatkin or anyone else has yet found. But the journey - stressful, hostile (with the ultimate in grotesque VW scherzos) - is an eventful one, traversed in music of real power and profundity. ES

DOWN beyond the garden gate, where the distant city looms, lies the mysterious world of Vaughan Williams' Ninth. Defiant and wise to the end, it acknowledges the metropolis in a way that his previous symphonies do not: sleazy saxophones loiter among the harps and strings, dance-band ghosts that parallel Mahler's cynically lilting Landler, while the broad outer movements' climaxes lurch skywards with significant import.

To weigh down the Ninth with extra-musical associations, or brand it as a definitive 'last testament', would be misleading. It is, however, a vastly underrated piece, its richness and restlessness giving the lie to the 'Dan Archer of English Music' myth. The Eighth is less searching, though equally inventive, its Cavatina a thoughtful study for strings, its closing Toccata a joyful epithalamium. The brief Flourish for Barbirolli is a tasty aperitif.

Slatkin takes on both big works with enthusiasm and understanding, and his engineers have a ball with VW's innovative orchestration. The only rivals are now old: Previn for the Ninth, and Barbirolli for the Eighth. But Slatkin knows what VW is about; his advocacy of the Ninth in particular should do much to make people think and, I hope, change their minds. RC

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
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.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week