This week we highlight three additions to the classical CD collection that bounce from a cornerstone of the Baroque vocal music tradition, the cantata, to 20th century treatments of grand orchestral works, the symphony and the concerto for violin.
Cantata: Yet can I hear…. Performed by Bejun Mehta.
“A selection of solo cantatas, both secular and sacred, from the Italian, German, and English traditions. Including works by Handel, Vivaldi, and Bach in settings large and small, with obligato instruments ranging from oboe to chimes, the magnificent cantatas on this album create a portrait of this intimately transcendent repertoire” (cover).
Symphony No. 5, Symphony No. 6, Vaughan Williams. Performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.
“Andrew Manze’s interpretations of Vaughan Williams’ symphonies have met with acclaim from audiences and critics alike. This third album in the series contains two masterpieces. The 5th Symphony of 1943, displaying a ‘greatness of soul’, as one commentator at the time wrote, draws on material for The Pilgrim’s Progress from 1906. The 6th Symphony of 1948 stunned the audience at its premiere… The composer, shocked by the nuclear wasteland talk, commented, ‘we can get in words nearest to the substance of my last movement in “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep” from The Tempest’.” (cover).
Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2, Bartók. Performed by Renaud Capuçon and the London Symphony Orchestra.
“Renaud Capuçon expands his wide-ranging concerto discography with Bartók’s two violin concertos. Composed almost three Decades apart, they are highly contrasted, inhabiting very different emotional and musical worlds. Partnering Capuçon is the London Symphony Orchestra under its Principal Guest Conductor, François-Xavier Roth.” (amazon.co.uk).
We’ve added to our chamber music (marked with a yellow dot) CD collection recently with some interesting small ensemble combinations; here we spotlight a couple of Dvořák works. Also noteworthy are a new Jóhann Jóhannsson album, and the debut album of rising star Pretty Yende.
String Quintet, op. 97, String Sextet, op. 48, Antonin Dvořák. Performed by the Jerusalem Quartet.
“The Jerusalem Quartet explores two aspects of Dvořák’s chamber music: one of the first big successes in the genre of a Bohemian composer who now enjoyed a well-established reputation in Europe (op. 48), and one of the masterpieces from the years of American exile which brought him worldwide fame (op. 97). A chance to discover two places, two periods, but always the same depth of expression in this indefatigable composer endowed with remarkable creative faculties.” (back cover)
Englabörn & Variations, Jóhann Jóhannsson. Various performers.
First released in 2002, Englabörn – a remastered version here – appears with variations and reworkings of many of its pieces, one on each of two discs. His untimely death in February this year makes this a somewhat melancholic addition to the collection. If you enjoy the music of Max Richter or Olafur Arnalds, or if you enjoyed the film Arrival for its soundtrack, then perhaps listen to this.
A Journey. Performed by Pretty Yende.
“Born in the small town of Piet Retief, South African soprano Pretty Yende has risen to the top of the opera world with unparalleled speed. Yende’s début album celebrates the milestones of her sublime musical journey; starting at the age of 16, when she first discovered opera by hearing Delibes’s ‘Flower Duet’ on a television advertisement, to her début at La Scala and her international breakthrough at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.” (back cover)
This week in classical music we have three new CDs featuring a wealth of well-loved composers, from Tchaikovsky through Rameau to Schumann, and Piazzolla and Scott Joplin for good measure.
Intuition. Performed by Gautier Capuçon.
“Intuition, a captivating album of short pieces for solo cello with piano or orchestra, has been conceived by Gautier Capuçon to ‘reflect the story of my life and follow the various stages in my emotional development’. It brings together much-loved numbers by composers such as Saint-Saëns, Fauré, Massenet, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Elgar with newer music by Astor Piazzolla, the Italian cellist Giovanni Sollima and the pianist Jérôme Ducros, who also appears on the album. As Gautier Capuçon says: ‘In music,in life, communication is the essence of everything and of anything … You share something.'” (amazon.co.uk).
Quartets Nos. 2 & 3, Schumann. Performed by the Elias Quartet.
“‘We have always had a special affection for Robert Schumann’s Third Quartet. It’s one of the first works we played together. Since then we have often come back to it, as if to a splendid and familiar region that we think we know thoroughly, but which yields up new secrets with each visit. The Second Quartet, on the other hand, was a much later and more complicated discovery for us. The writing is so personal, so unidiomatic for the instruments, so full of nuances, that to begin with we found it hard to come up with a unanimous voice for this work. The enthusiasm of the first movement can easily turn into anxiety if you push it a bit too far. In the slow movement, the texture is sometimes so bare that to convey its tenderness you have to sustain it with great fervour. The capricious Scherzo is bristling with rhythmic pitfalls and requires a diabolical mastery of the instruments,while the Finale is an endless explosion of joy!'” (Elias Quartet via amazon.co.uk)
Enfers: Famous Opera Scenes & Pygmalion, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Christoph Willibald von Gluck, Raphaël Pichon. Performed by Stéphane Degout.
“Raphaël Pichon has invited Stéphane Degout to make his recording debut for Harmonia Mundi in a multifaceted exploration of the underworld. The French baritone reincarnates the figure of Henri Larrivée, the famous tragedian of Rameau and Gluck. Around a reconstruction of an imaginary Mass of the Dead, sacred and secular merge, revealing some of the most extraordinary pieces from the operatic repertory of the enlightenment. Music of death and mourning on an epic scale that inspires Pygmalion to overwhelming heights of pathos.” (cover).
There is a pleasing cultural diversity to our new classical music additions for March: here’s a selection!
Inspiration. Performed by Sheku Kanneh-Mason.
“When Sheku Kanneh-Mason won the BBC Young Musician competition in 2016, aged seventeen, his playing entranced innumerable music-lovers around the UK. So did his story: not only is he the first black winner in the competition’s history, but he is also one of seven exceptionally gifted musical siblings” (programme notes). In Inspiration, Sheku Kanneh-Mason performs an eclectic repertoire, ranging from Saint-Saëns to Leonard Cohen.
Dreams. Performed by Pretty Yende.
“Through the eyes of young opera heroines, Pretty Yende slips into the world of dreams with arias from the bel canto and Romantic repertoires. With this album, she also refers to her very own fairytale, which continues to this day. From a girl in a remote town in South Africa she turned into one of today’s most sought-after sopranos, living her dream on the world’s opera stages” (cover).
The Verdi Album. Performed by Sonya Yoncheva.
“One might say that Verdi’s works contributed to the success of the very paradigms of operatic art that he had set out to revolutionize. Born of Sonya Yoncheva’s musical curiosity, this project combines earlier gems such as Stiffelio, Luisa Miller, and Attila with eternally beloved masterpieces such as Il trocatore or Otello to show us a composer in perpetual quest of the innovation and transformation of his art” (programme notes).
This week, on receiving the album The Cello in Wartime, we were very interested to read about trench cellos (and pianos, and other such) – instruments stored and played by soldiers in the trenches – and sometimes fashioned by them from found materials. You can hear and see an example here. In other new selections, we have Classical and post-Romantic heavyweights to enjoy.
The Cello in Wartime. Performed by Steven Isserlis and Connie Shih.
Performed on the ‘Marquis de Corberon’ Stradivarius, and a trench cello, W.E. Hill and Sons, c. 1900. “War has an infinite, and frequently polarised, variety of effects on composers. Some feel impelled to depict its horrors in their music; some, on the contrary, escape into an idyllic world in order to block out the events surrounding them… No surprise, then, that the pieces on this disc explore and inhabit such a breadth of emotions, languages and atmospheres” (insert).
Piano Concertos 25 & 27, Mozart. Performed by Piotr Anderszewski with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
“…Mozart is the composer of ambiguity par excellence – the most luminous moments can be interwoven with such darkness. Where is the light, where is the shadow? Sometimes, I don’t really know. And yet this is music of such evident limpidity. It is a miracle” (Piotr Anderszewski, cover).
Chant Funèbre, Le Sacre du Printemps, Stravinsky. Performed by the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.
A compilation of early Stravinsky works (opus numbers in single digits), plus the Rite of Spring. This is the world premiere recording of the previously lost Chant Funèbre. “A dazzling programme of Stravinsky. A new era has well and truly begun for the Lucerne Festival Orchestra” (The Times, reproduced on the back cover).
This week’s theme: black album covers! (Which is no indication of the mood of the music, we promise.)
Piano Concertos 2 & 3, Rachmaninov. Performed by Yevgeny Sudbin.
Two of Rachmaninov’s most famous and oft-recorded works, Piano Concertos 2 and 3. “Rach 3” is also known as “The Shine one”, after the film Shine, starring Geoffrey Rush as pianist David Helfgott, which catapulted the piece’s popularity to a whole new level. Here pianist Yevgeny Sudbin returns to his examination of Rachmaninov’s piano works, together with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Sonatas for Violin & Harpsichord, J. S. Bach. Performed by Isabelle Faust and Kristian Bezuidenhout.
“Trio writing enabled Baroque composers to test their ability to synthesise counterpoint, melody and harmony – a compositional ideal never so perfectly achieved as by Bach in these rare sonatas for violin and obbligato harpsichord, which he constantly revised throughout his life” (cover).
24 Caprices, Paganini. Performed by Augustin Hadelich.
“‘Nicolo Paganini was the world’s first rock star. Wherever he went, outlandish rumours were already spreading about him, the wilder the better. Men and women wept and fainted at his concerts, not only because of his virtuosic feats, but also because of his beautiful Italian bel canto melodies. Each caprice is beautiful, witty and original, with its own quirky personality… Over the many years of working on them, I fell in love with this music. I hope you enjoy them'” (Augustin Hadelich, on cover).
Our new additions to the classical music collection this week have a British flavour (well, two of them anyway!).
Cantata Memoria: For the Children, Karl Jenkins. Performed by Terfel, Thomas, Sinfonia Cymru and conducted by Karl Jenkins.
“On 21 October 1966, tragedy hit the Welsh village of Aberfan: when a colliery spoil tip above the village collapsed, 40,000 cubic metres of mining debris went downhill in a landslide, burying Pantglas Junior School and killing 116 children and 28 adults. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster, Karl Jenkins wrote his Cantata Memoria for large vocal and orchestral forces, here performed with a star-studded cast headed by bass-baritone Bryn Terfel and soprano Elin Manahan Thomas” (cover).
Homage. Performed by Vilde Frang.
“‘For me these virtuoso miniatures are true gems,’ says… Vilde Frang. ‘Part of a tradition that goes back generations – one that needs to be kept alive – and an important aspect of the violin’s legacy. With this selection of pieces, I would like to pay tribute to the early 20th century’s great violinists. They left their mark on the violin repertoire, not only with their virtuosity but also through their own significant transcriptions and compositions, and brought the Art of the Encore into a golden era.'” (cover).
Symphonies 1 & 2, Sir Michael Tippett. Performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
“Tippett’s first two published symphonies are mature and confident works dating from the middle of the last century. These coruscating accounts from Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra are sure to win new friends for this marvellous music” (amazon.com review)
This week we focus on some compilations featuring transcriptions and arrangements, and throw in some Strauss tone poems for good measure.
#celloreimagined (Cello Reimagined). Performed by Daniel Müller-Schott.
“An artistic game of interrelationships and transference: thanks to brilliant technique, Daniel Müller-Schott reveals two new cello concertos from the (early)-Classical triumvirate of composer” (cover). Works include concertos be CPE Bach, Mozart, Haydn and also Johann Sebastian Bach.
Bezaly, Ashkenazy, works by Franck, Faure and Prokofiev. Performed by Sharon Bezaly and Vladimir Ashkenazy.
Three sonatas composed (and arranged) for flute and piano. “The two sonatas by César Franck and Gabriel Fauré were composed with the violin in mind, and even though Prokofiev’s sonata was originally intended for the flute it is often heard in the composer’s own version for violin and piano. But joined by the legendary pianist and conductor Vladimir Askenazy, Sharon Bezaly now claims (and reclaims) the three works for her own instrument, in eloquent performances that make the best possible case for the flute” (amazon.com).
Let Beauty Awake. Performed by Ellen Nisbeth and Bengt Forsberg.
English viola music. This is a full and varied examination of English compositions, some transcribed for solo viola by Ellen Nisbeth herself. The line up features Vaughan Williams, Britten (both original works, and reworkings of previous material, one piece based on a John Dowland song) and a viola sonata written in 1919 by Rebecca Clarke.
Ein Heldenleben, Tod und Verklärung, Richard Strauss. Performed by the Göteborgs Symfoniker.
Kent Nagano conducts two big symphonic poems by Richard Strauss. This is the second recording in an expected trilogy of a selection of Strauss’s works performed by Sweden’s national orchestra, which has a close association with the composer dating back to the early 20th century.
This week our classical recent additions focus on French/Belgian and French-inspired performances and compositions, courtesy of Alpha Classics and Erato music labels.
Dixit Dominus, Handel & Magnificat, Bach. Performed by Vox Luminis.
A finalist for Presto Classical recording of the year, this album is beautifully produced by Belgian group Vox Luminis, directed by Lionel Meunier. “Bach and Handel are often presented as antipodes, whose musical output has little in common. … Even though their later careers could hardly be more different, it must be acknowledged that… both men were rooted in the musical culture of central Germany with its uniquely rich tradition” (booklet).
L’Homme de Génie, Haydn. Performed by the Kammerorchester Basel.
Volume 5 of the Haydn 2032 project, which aims to produce a complete set of recordings of Haydn’s symphonies before the 300th anniversary of his birth. Played on period instruments, this recording also includes the C minor Symphony by lesser-known Classical composer Joseph Martin Kraus.
Mirages. Performed by Sabine Devieilhe.
“Since the nineteenth century the coloratura soprano voice has been associated with female characters as alluring as they are exotic. This album focuses on French composers’ love affair with this exceptional voice, by means of which they draw the listener far from the real world” (back cover).
Quatuors Parisiens, Telemann. Performed by “Nevermind”.
The quartet of Anna Besson (flute), Lous Creac’h (violin), Robin Pharo (viola da gamba) and Jean Rondeau (harpsichord) combine to produce this recording of Telemann’s Nouveaux Quatuors Parisiens.
Classical music is perfect listening on long, hot summer evenings. Here’s a small selection of recent additions to our classical CD collection.
Best of The Hilliard Ensemble.
“When four British gentlemen went on tour together for the last time in 2014, that tour marked the end of a 40-year-long musical career. Four exquisite unaccompanied male voices, their strains uniting into pure concord and inimitably shaping the vocal music of past and present centuries for a delighted audience from Gregorian chant to Arvo Pärt” (CD cover).
The Epic of Gilgamesh, Martinu. Performed by the Prague Philharmonic Choir, Czech Philharmonic with soloists, and Simon Callow narrating.
This is the world premiere recording of the English version of Martinu’s oratorio. The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient Mesopotamian poem, believed to be the oldest surviving piece of literature. Reginald Campbell Thompson translated the work in 1928, and it is this translation Martinu used in his initial composition (his preference would have been Czech). However, the work was premiered in German in 1958 in Basel; hence this world-premiere recording.
Violin Concertos, Britten & Hindemith. Performed by Arabella Steinbacher.
“Breathtaking virtuosity flows seamlessly with expansive lyrical passages and fiendish passagework in this commanding performance by Arabella Steinbacher of the restless and technically demanding violin concertos of Britten and Hindemith in this new release… with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin conducted by Vladimir Jurowski” (amazon.com).