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Three from SOMM

Beecham in Berners, D'Indy and Moeran [Somm-Beecham 24]

Janacek Male Choruses and Nursery Rhymes (Rikadla) [SommCD 201]

Lutoslawski at the Guildhall [SOMMCD 219]

A new Beecham release prompted me to begin to explore this British based label which had practically passed by Musical Pointers (just one disc reviewed, pianist Mark Bebbington in 1904). What one receives for review is a lottery; some labels send their every release; some don't like websites...

Berners, D'Indy and Moeran caught my eye; not typical Beecham fare! In his latter years I used to attend all his London concerts; with his speeches and "lollipop" encores he had a way to make each one an occasion. He trusted his musicians and would often show this by stopping conducting during their solo passages. None of these three composers would I count amongst my favourites; unexpectedly Moeran's Sinfonietta came up the brightest. A warning; it is wise to check recordings on different apparatuses - this disc sounded "dead' on my hi-fi, but good on the computer whilst I am typing this report...

Janacek's concise Nursery Rhymes (19 of them in less than a quarter hour) for chamber choir and an eccentric group of instruments was something of a pendant to his Vixen opera and used to be a particular favourite, but performances seem to have disappeared. These digital re-releases from Supraphon originals are splendid, with all the quirky texts and translations of the "verbal nonsense patter".

The main work though is three-quarters of an hour of Male Choruses sung idiomatically by the Moravian Teachers' Choir (British performances by choirs with cathedral and college backgrounds proved totally unsuited to the expression of this music [Graham Melville-Mason]). Here enjoyment tends to pall because Czech texts are not provided & "for reasons of space" only a few translations. If the words are not subject to copyright, perhaps Somm might put them onto their website?

Most exciting was the celebration of Lutoslawsi's close association with London's Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Around that time he was my favourite living composer, featured by the London Sinfonietta and the BBC, his music as it developed and changed well represented in British concert giving. Tremendously vital accounts of some of his later works, by student forces under the composer (1989) with Louise Hopkins in the cello concerto, and of the Novelette and 2nd Symphony conducted leading Polish conductor Wojciech Michniewski (1997) make this a "must have" disc for Lutoslawski devotees. Every performance of the symphony is different because of the composer's introduction of "controlled chance". It builds to some collosal climaxes and the palpable excitement of the student players makes this an important record of a live occasion, vividly recorded, and well produced with good notes by Andrew Clements.

Somm's standards of presentation are high, with expert commentaries printing in clear black on white; no trendy fussiness by arts editors ! If you share my belief that every new CD should be in some way unique, Somm's main catalogue has a great deal to explore.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Lutoslawski with Guildhall Symphony Orchestra 1992: Photo Laurence Burns