The Compact Collection

The week's Best CD Releases

Rob Cowan
Friday 03 August 2001 00:00
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Moments of musical truth tend to burn brightest whenever God is on the agenda. With Verdi, a mature Requiem unleashed unprecedented levels of orchestral drama, whereas Puccini's youthful "Messa di Gloria" takes Verdi as an obvious starting point. The "Gloria"'s opening springs to its feet with the breeziness of Dvorak and while Roberto Alagna sings thanks for God's glory a bassoon chuckles on the sidelines – a nice touch.

EMI's new recording delivers handsomely on all fronts. Alagna and baritone Thomas Hampson are both in good voice, and the London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra under Antonio Pappanogive the Puccini their best shot. The Mass is flanked by attractive early orchestral works, a nine-minute Symphonic Prelude that breathes a heady aroma that Elgar would surely have recognised and a seductive all-strings bouquet of Chrysanthemums. Both are beautifully played.

What most impresses me about John Woolrich's Viola Concerto (1993) – aside from the dramatic pull of its musical language – is its subtle colouring. The scoring veers towards mellowness, so the soloist, Lars Anders Tomter, functions within a sympathetic tonal environment. References to Beethoven's Les Adieux piano sonata (re-scored for horns) and Tristan und Isolde's third act are just two references among many that help focus the concerto's reflective nature. The Oboe Concerto (1996), a more expansive work than the Viola Concerto, is also well written. The solo playing, featuring oboist Nicholas Daniel, is highly accomplished.

This fastidiously engineered NMC disc opens with The Barber's Timepiece (1986), music that echoes a theme from one of Italo Calvino's revisited fairy tales, chiming forcefully on a whole array of percussion while setting (to quote Dermot Clinch's annotation) "reason against intuition, organised rhythm against sensuous melody." The troubled Ghost in the Machine (1990) blasts in on six horns and fulfils its composer's promise of a "15-minute accelerando for large orchestra". The orchestra on this occasion is the BBC Symphony under Martyn Brabbins. They busy themselves among the pages of Woolrich's music like avid gardeners intent on uncovering every last piece of foliage. The effort certainly pays off.

Puccini 'Messa di Gloria' Roberto Alagna, Thomas Hampson, LSO, LSO Chorus/Antonio Pappano EMI CDC5 57159 2

Woolrich 'The Barber's Timepiece' Oboe Concerto; 'The Ghost in the Machine'; Viola Concerto Nicholas Daniel, Lars Anders Tomter, BBC SO/Martyn Brabbins NMC D071

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