CD Review

Signum: A thoroughly diverse label


© Chris Green, January 2020


For those of us who enjoy exploring less familiar music pathways, it is often the smaller independent labels that come up with solutions. One such label is the UK-based label, Signum Records which releases a small but well produced catalogue each year featuring artists who have the music at their finger-tips but who do not belong to the "international set" for whom another recording of a Beethoven Piano Concerto might produce impressive but less fresh results.

Having said that, one of the Signum releases I have turned to frequently deserves promotion Yuri Termikanov conducts the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra in the epic Symphony No 7 by Shostakovitch. Signum Records has already released other recordings form the same source and this one was recorded before an audience in the Victoria Hall, Geneva in 2008. Audience noise is minimal until the end and the hall's acoustics, much beloved, if I remember, by Ernest Ansermet, provide a spacious sound for this work.

Founded in 1882, the orchestra is one of Russia's oldest ensembles, and boasting a wide repertoire. Presenting Shostakovitch's Symphony No 7, dedicated as it was to the city of his birth, nevertheless yields a work which - like many of his compositions- is ambiguous in its intentions. The "war march" that occupies the lengthy first movement has so often been taken to mean the tread of the Nazi war machine as it overran Russia and yet, like Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky, it could also refer to the tyranny of the Stalinist regime.

I have always impressed upon my students that hearing music like this "live" in the concert hall is the best way, and somehow this performance underlines that because although Temirkanov manages the build up of the march sequence with skill, the impact on the listener sitting in the comfort of one's home lacks the punch that is so necessary. On the other hand, the recording captures the various orchestral strands well. Shostakovitch always wrote music with great economy and so we have a lone flute playing above suspended strings - the textures always crystal-clear in the Radio Suisse Romande recording (Signum SIGCD194).

This eclectic approach of Signum Records also provides us with a fine organ recital disc (Signum SIGCD5462) in which Joseph Nolan plays the instrument in St Bavo, Haarlem. Dating from 1738 the organ was an instrument upon which many eminent composers played including Handel, Mozart and Mendelssohn and so it is appropriate that this release focuses very much upon music from the late 18th century by Buxtehude and Bach and the 19th century with Mendelssohn and Reubke.

The choice of registration enables the various textures to be explored to great effect, notably in the Sonata on the 94 th Psalm by Julius Reubke. Joseph Nolan's choice of programme is one which must have excited the recording team of which veteran Mike Hatch was the engineer in this 2017 recording.