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Classical Choices: Duruflé, Wagner & more

Our latest pick of outstanding new classical recordings, curated by Charlotte Gardner, includes a new reading of Duruflé’s Requiem from Stephen Layton and Cambridge’s Choir of Trinity College, a Vivaldi-inspired collaboration between cellist-composer Giovanni Sollima and period ensemble Il Pomo d’Oro, plus an exploration of works influenced by Wagner from violinist Svetlin Roussev and pianist Yeol Eum Son

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The release of this month’s Classical Choices playlist coincides with Easter Weekend – a moment that brings a wealth of musical riches in the form of seasonal performances. It also coincides with the release of a wonderful new recording of Poulenc’s Lenten Motets. 

Behold, therefore, a playlist that begins and ends in a thoroughly seasonal fashion. To open, we have Allegri’s Miserere mei (Have mercy upon me, o God) with its famous soaring soprano high Cs, composed around 1638 to be sung in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Amid an abundance of recorded options, the one I still reach for first – for its warmth, clarity and easy tempi – is the Choir of New College Oxford and Edward Higginbottom on their 1996 Agnus Dei album for Erato. Available to listen here.

We conclude with the aforementioned Poulenc motets, which appear on Stephen Layton and The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge’s new recording of Duruflé’s Requiem – a release which feels like a new benchmark for the Duruflé, in terms of both performance and capturing. Between those you’ll find a ravishing second duo album from violinist Svetlin Roussev and Yeol Eum Sol, partners in life as well as music, preceded by a fascinating programme crossing eras and continents from cellist-composer Giovanni Sollima, which sets Vivaldi in the context of his native Venice’s historical relationship with the eastern Mediterranean and Asia. Enjoy!


The Lost Concerto, Giovanni Sollima, Il Pomo D’oro, Federico Guglielmo


This collaboration between charismatic cellist-composer Giovanni Sollima and always-fizzing period ensemble Il Pomo d’Oro sets Vivaldi, born in Venice in 1678, in the context of his native city’s historical relationship with the eastern Mediterranean and Asia (Al-Bunduqiyya being the Arabic name for Venice). The result is a colourful rollercoaster ride across cultures and eras over which eastern, folky inflections and dance rhythms are showcased as the perfect partners to Vivaldi’s own punchy syncopations, and even to baroque performance style.

‘The Lost Concerto’ (Il Concerto Perduto) referred to in the title is a new work, composed by Sollima in 2021. His starting point was the single remaining piece of one of Vivaldi’s concertos for cello: the orchestral viola part, preserved at the Venice Conservatory. Sollima’s ingenious creation sticks to the Vivaldian form of three short movements, flitting between recognisably Vivaldian textures, harmonies and melodic cells, and more eastern-flecked and contemporary language. The two sometimes merge in ear-pricking fashion – for example, at the end of the first movement, when a clearly Vivaldian figure tails off with a decidedly contemporary-sounding slide (3’00”), or in the lyrical melodic line of the central Andante which, with its pizzicato accompaniment, plays out as a homage to the splashing raindrops of Winter’s central Largo in The Four Seasons. 

Also on the album are Vivaldi concertos played straight (if you can ever call what Sollima and Il Pomo d’Oro produce ‘straight’, it’s so vibrant and bravura-filled); a time-suspending cello and orchestra transcription by Sollima of the Violin Sonata No 12 in G major B.G2 by Vivaldi’s contemporary, Tartini; Sollima’s solo cello improvisations, and further arrangements of music from the Cypriot and Albanian traditions.

Each piece feels like the perfect sequel the last, whether as a stylistic contrast or a dovetail, and you’ll hear that natural flow over the three works which I’ve chosen for the playlist: Sollima’s arrangement of a Greek dance, then his own Moghul, before the aforementioned Il concerto perduto.

Love Music

Yeol Eum Son, Svetlin Roussev


The title of this release is not a schmaltzy conceptual title setting its cap at ‘smooth classics’ playlists. In fact, it comes from the name of the album’s curtain-raiser: a little-played paraphrase of the Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, penned in 1946 by Franz Waxman. The piece provided the starting point for this new duo album from violinist Svetlin Roussev and pianist Yeol Eum Son, after Roussev came across a rare handwritten copy. 

Their collaboration presents a programme of works composed under Wagner’s influence, encompassing a period of just over 50 years which represents the twilight of Germanic Romanticism (or perhaps post-Romanticism). Genre-wise, it’s exceptionally varied, taking in long and short-scale form from chamber music through to cinema and opera. Beyond Waxman, we have short works by Korngold and Kreisler, and Richard Strauss’s rapturous early Violin Sonata. There’s also a ‘Golden Age’ violinists sub-theme: in addition to the Alt-Wiener Tanzweizen Fritz Kreisler composed for himself, which features as an encore, the programme ends on his fellow virtuoso violinist Leopold Auer’s arrangement of Träume from Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, which also quotes quotes the Liebestod. Son and Roussev have cleverly transposed it down from A to A flat, the same key as Waxman’s Love Music, which means if you listen to the album on a loop, you might not even notice its transition from end to beginning. 

As for how it all sounds, the most apt description is glorious. There is lyricism everywhere, as well as an elegant, poised simplicity that allows the Korngold to hang in quietly tender, time-suspended sweetness without becoming excessively sentimental. (For an especially ravishing moment, listen out for the gossamer weight of Roussev’s trilling near the end, against the pearly-soft irridescence of the piano). The Strauss, meanwhile, is voiced with a weightless clarity which brings out all the intricacies of its textures. The duo are equally alive to their programme’s lighter, more whimsical moments too, notably Korngold’s Suite to Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. I’ve given you the Waxman/Wagner and the three Kreisler dances for our latest playlist.

Duruflé Requiem; Poulenc Lenten Motets

Trinity College Choir, Stephen Layton


Completed in 1947 with organ and large orchestra accompaniment, after which two further versions arrived in 1948 and 1961, Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem stands as one of the crowning glories of the 20th century. Its beloved for its sacred repertoire, synthesis of ancient plainsong melodies, church modes and its complex contemporary harmonic language, as well as its sheer majestic sense of reverence. It’s a fitting choice for one of Stephen Layton’s final projects as director of The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge – and the resultant recording feels like a crowning achievement of their time together.

This recording presents the 1948 version for choir and organ. Instead of recording on home ground, Layton and the choir headed to the Church of Saint-Eustache, Paris – a Gothic landmark with huge, cathedral-esque dimensions that provide a perfect fit for the warm fullness and floating etherealness of Duruflé’s score. It also features the largest pipe organ in France. The combination of this magnificent instrument under the intelligent fingers of Harrison Cole, plus the acoustics of the space, together with the clarity, expressivity, nuance and dynamic range of the actual readings, plus solo performances of equal class (Katherine Gregory’s Pie Jesu solo with cellist Myrtille Hetzel...) combine to deliver what feels like a new benchmark for mixed-voice recordings of this work – and in fact, recordings of it all together. This is even more so when you factor in the radiant performance of Poulenc’s unaccompanied Four Lenten Motets which follows.

 Given the Easter timing of this month’s selection, I’ve given you the Requiem’s concluding In paradisum (just listen to its supple soprano ease…) followed by the Poulenc.

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