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).
We have been busily processing new classical purchases (much more to come over the next few weeks!). Here are a few highlights:
Symphony No. 6, Pathétique, Tchaikovsky. Performed by MusicAeterna.
“Teodor Currentzis feels a very strong attachment to the music of Tchaikovsky… Naturally Currentzis has gravitated to the mighty sixth symphony undoubtedly Tchaikovsky’s greatest and most poignant symphony. The composer entitled the work ‘The Passionate Symphony’, employing a Russian word (Pateticheskaya), meaning ‘passionate’ or ’emotional’, that was then mistranslated into French as pathetique, ‘evoking pity’, yet the mistranslation survived subsequent productions in every country but Russia.” (amazon.com)
Wagner. Performed by Michael Volle with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin.
A selection of arias for ‘heroic baritone’ from Wagner’s great operas, including Die Meistersinger, Das Rheingold and Die Walküre. “The multifaceted magic of Wagner’s great baritone roles has an even more profound resonance in a post-heroic era – impressively embodied by Michael Volle” (back cover).
Tapiola, En Saga, 8 Songs, Sibelius. Performed by Anne Sofie von Otter with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Sibelius, performed by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, with Finnish conductor Hannu Lintu – sounds quite fitting (not to forget Anne Sofie von Otter of course)! The album consists of two tone poems, and a collection of eight songs, settings of poems by Finnish poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg, sung in Swedish and orchestrated by Aulis Sallinen.
For this selection of new classical music CDs we spotlight some vocal works: some Baroque Italian music (sacred and secular), and a post-Romantic opera.
Pelléas et Mélisande, Debussy. Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and soloists.
“Debussy’s only completed opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, is widely considered to be one of the 20th century’s greatest. His setting of Maurice Maeterlinck’s love triangle between Mélisande, Golaud, and his younger half-brother Pelléas, creates a distinctive and tense atmosphere – a world of ambiguity, darkness and light, life, death and love; all underpinned by Debussy’s complex and subtle harmonies, and expressive use of orchestral colour” (back cover).
Catharsis. Performed by Xavier Sabata.
Startling cover. “Around the year 1600, a group of Florentine aristocrats, inspired by ancient Greek drama, gave birth to opera. They set out to glorify human passions in such a strong way that the spectator’s soul would be cleansed. This was a process that Aristotle called catharsis. In a fascinating program featuring works by works by Orlandini, Conti, Torri, Vivaldi, Handel, Hasse, Caldara, Sarro and Ariosti, countertenor Xavier Sabata, accompanied by George Petrou and Armonia Atenea, captures these moments at the heart of legendary heroes of Baroque opera” (amazon.com).
Vespers 1610, Monteverdi. Performed by the Dunedin Consort.
Fully titled: Vespro della Beata Vergine. Recorded at the Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh, this performance – corralled by John Butt – concentrates its focus on some super vocal soloists, and features the wonderful His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts. Butt and the Dunedin Consort pay particular attention to getting the details of pitch and instrumentation spot-on, and as historically accurate as possible.
Here are three CDs we slipped into the classical music collection recently!
Quartets Op. 13, 44 No. 2, 4 Pieces, Frage Op. 9, Mendelssohn. Performed by Quatuor Arod.
“The Arod Quartet, founded just four years ago in Paris, makes its debut on Erato with an album of Mendelssohn, tracing his life through his works for string quartet. The composer has been important for the ensemble, not least by helping it win two major competitions. The members of the Arod have been mentored by both the Ebène and Artemis Quartet, and they collaborate here with a further Erato artist, the mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa, in a performance of the song ‘Ist es wahr?'” (amazon.com).
Piano Concerto No. 2, Études-tableaux, Op. 33, Rachmaninov. Performed by Boris Giltburg and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
“Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 is one of the most passionate and beloved concertos in the repertoire, its lyricism and virtuosity charting a trajectory from darkness through idyll to dazzling triumph. The Études-tableaux, Op. 33 are richly characterised musical evocations, expressive and often explosive, that reflect a more angular, modern aspect” (cover).
An Ode on the Death of Mr Henry Purcell, John Blow. Performed by Arcangelo + soloists.
“Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo present an ideal album of music for connoisseurs of the English Baroque – and extraordinary singing. This wonderful recital of music by John Blow features a wide range of both vocal and instrumental music. Arcangelo once again demonstrate their versatility in repertoire that will be a real discovery for many” (amazon.com).
Coming very soon: Mahler 2 performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Monteverdi’s Vespers 1610.
This week’s classical selection is brought to you by the keyboard (at a bit of a stretch): a Saint-Saëns CD featuring both the organ and two pianos, a symphony composed by a virtuoso pianist, and a compilation of works performed on the tangent piano (a bit of a rarity).
Carnival of the Animals, Organ Symphony, Saint-Saëns. Performed by the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Antonio Pappano.
“Saint-Saëns briefly paused work on his Third Symphony for a holiday in Austria, during which the whimsy of his Carnival of the Animals was born. Yet these two works – from the very same year in the composer’s life – could not be more different, and make a dramatic coupling showing two sides of a singular genius. Martha Argerich and Antonio Pappano celebrate an enduring friendship with this tribute, grand and tongue-in-cheek, to Saint-Saëns” (back cover).
Symphony No. 1, Rachmaninov. Performed live by the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy.
A live recording of Rachmaninov’s first symphony (composed when he was 22) performed last year at the Royal Festival Hall in London, this work is receiving rave reviews. Vladimir Ashkenazy, pianist and conductor extraordinaire, was recently interviewed by Presto Classical about the recording, and his thoughts on Rachmaninov and the Philharmonia Orchestra here.
Tangere, C.P.E. Bach. Performed by Alexei Lubimov.
“Russian pianist Alexei Lubimov is the rare artist who has been a trailblazer in two directions, both a champion of new music (from Cage to Silvestrov) and a dedicated interpreter of Baroque music with a passion for period instruments. In this remarkable reading of music by CPE Bach, Lubimov responds to the inventiveness of the composer’s fantasies, sonatas and rondos by making full creative use of the sonorities of the tangent piano. Briefly popular in the early 18th century, the tangent piano (whose strings are struck from beneath by wood or metal tangents and allowed to vibrate) offered greater expressiveness and intensity than the harpsichord” (amazon.com).
This week we highlight three similarly-themed titles, and a collection of Bach cantatas for solo voice (with a concerto for oboe d’amore guest-starring in the middle).
Sibelius. Performed by Leif Ove Andsnes.
Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes puts together a repertoire of not-often-heard Sibelius solo piano music. “‘Everyone was astonished that there could be a major composer out there with such beautiful, accessible music that people don’t know. These are intriguing works with the wonderful Sibelius qualities we know. I really believe in this music and I want people to hear it.’ Leif Ove Andsnes” (back cover).
Beethoven. Performed by Evgeny Kissin.
Presto Classical’s disc of the week for August the 25th. Recorded live over ten years between 2006 and 2016, this double-CD album presents some of Beethoven’s most well-known piano music – the Moonlight, Appassionata, and Les Adieux sonatas, plus the challenging no. 32. This is Kissin’s first solo recording in over a decade.
Ibert. Performed by the Orchestre de al Suisse Romande and Neeme Järvi.
“This fourth album from Neeme Jarvi and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande explores the music of Jacques Ibert. Although Iberts work is starkly contrasting from piece to piece, all of his compositions show his deftness with their strong melodic lines and vigorous ostinato patterns. These recordings were taken in Genevas Victoria Hall, and the outstanding acoustics are easily heard on this recording” (Amazon.com).
Cantatas for Bass, Johann Sebastian Bach. Performed by Matthias Goerne.
“In composing his cantatas for solo voice, Johann Sebastian Bach magisterially combined two elements that might seem irreconcilable: strict devotion within the framework of weekly Lutheran worship and vocal virtuosity, served by skilful highlighting of the voice. The result is a style in which the expression of the sacred Word is raised to a peak of intensity – notably when a voice like Matthias Goerne’s tackles these two famous cantatas for bass, giving them all the lustre of rare pearls!” (back cover).
This week we highlight an interesting selection of recent classical releases including some Baroque solo music performed on period instruments, Strauss Lieder, and a collection of works for violin and piano by Stravinsky, which is interesting in that Stravinsky claimed he wasn’t fond of the combination of strings and piano (according to Presto Classical).
Twelve Fantasias for Solo Flute, Telemann. Performed by Ashley Solomon.
“This recording offers the listener a rare opportunity to hear two unique baroque flutes, both made in 1760 alongside my favourite modern copy. In combining all three on this recording I hope it opens a new sound world for the listener and breathes fresh life into these well-known works by Telemann” (Ashley Solomon, on CD cover).
Piano Concertos Nos. 25 & 26, Mozart. Performed by Francesco Piemontesi and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
“Described as a ‘stellar Mozartian’ Francesco Piemontesi finds a perfect partner in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra whose impeccable credentials are widely acknowledge. Piemontesi has performed Mozart exclusively recently, including a critically acclaimed 2015 BBC Prom, a Mozart cycle at London’s Wigmore Hall which commenced in January, 2016 and continues in 2017 and Mozart concertos with the SCO. The Swiss pianist enjoys a particular insight into Mozart gaining a useful ‘love of detail’ from his teacher Alfred Brendel, who was himself renowned for his masterly interpretations of Mozart. This recording couples consecutive yet contrasting works from Mozart’s Vienna period: K.503 represents the longest and most substantial of his concert masterpieces and K.537 provides the soloist with an audience-pleasing cadenza. Conductor Andrew Manze, well-known as a HIP pioneer, shares Piemontesi’s approach to creating an authentic performance, making this somewhat of a Mozart dream team” (amazon.com).
Music for Violin, Volume 1, Stravinsky. Performed by Ilya Gringolts and Peter Laul.
This compilation is in large part a collection of works Stravinsky wrote for his violinist friend Samuel Dushkin, the idea being that Stravinsky and Dushkin would perform them together in recitals. Other works that feature are arrangements of some of pieces taken from some of Stravinsky’s more famous efforts, The Firebird, Petrushka for example. The CD rounds out with a Stravinsky arrangement of La Marseillaise written for solo violin.
Through Life and Love, Richard Strauss. Performed by Louise Alder.
“Hailed as ‘one of the brightest lyric-sopranos of the younger generation’… Louise has been held in high critical acclaim during her early career, and has recently been declared Young Singer of the Year at the 2017 International Opera Awards. She is also no stranger to Lieder, and has worked with pianist Joseph Middleton previously at the Leeds Lieder Festival. Joseph is considered a specialist in the art of song accompaniment… Through Life and Love sees Louise and Joseph perform some of the most beautiful Lieder in the repertoire, including Strauss’ ‘Die nacht, Standchen’ and ‘Rote Rosen’… (amazon.com).
This week in new classical music we highlight a big German post-romantic symphony, a piece of minimalist piano music presided over by a virtuoso pianist, and a compilation of works by a less-well-known German composer of songs.
Symphony No. 5, Mahler. Performed by the Minnesota Orchestra with Osmo Vänskä.
“Composed in 1902, [this] purely instrumental work followed upon three symphonies that had all included vocal parts. This and the opening trumpet motif, an allusion to the rhythm that begins Beethoven’s Fifth have been interpreted as Mahler’s return to a more conventional idea of the symphonic genre. Other features are less traditional, however a sometimes bewildering mixture of musical idioms reminds us of the melting-pot that Vienna was at the time, with allusions to Austrian, Bohemian and Hungarian styles. To an unsuspecting audience, the famous Adagietto for strings and harp probably the best-known of all of Mahler’s music must also have been surprising, appearing at the heart of a work which is otherwise lavishly scored and orchestrated.” (amazon.com)
For Bunita Marcus, Morton Feldman. Performed by Marc-André Hamelin.
“‘I have no problem with notes… none at all’, was Feldman’s cryptic comment on For Bunita Marcus. Throughout the seventy-two-minute duration of this extraordinary work, notes coalesce into wisps of melody which drift softly in and out of an immense silence. You are indeed, as pianist Marc-André Hamelin writes in the booklet notes, ‘about to enter a world unlike any other.'” (amazon.com)
Songs, by Robert Franz. Performed by Robin Tritschler.
“Highly regarded by such contemporaries as Mendelssohn, Schumann and Liszt, Robert Franz wrote 279 songs over the course of a long life. For this recital, Graham Johnson and tenor Robin Tritschler perform a selection of 47 of their favorites.” (amazon.com)
Our spotlight on new classical music additions is an eclectic bunch: a little-known 18th century Italian work featuring period instruments, an exciting performance of Mahler song cycles, and two contemporary trumpet concertos.
Mahler Song Cycles. Performed by Alice Coote and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra.
This compilation includes performances of Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Rückert-Lieder and Kindertotenlieder. The acclaimed mezzo-soprano Alice Coote gives a performance many are praising for its freshness (and idiosyncrasy) and she is well-matched by the orchestra, in the safe hands of Marc Albrecht.
Sonate da Camera Nos 1-6, Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli. Performed by The Illyria Consort.
“In certain respects, Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli does not quite fit the eighteenth-century mould. For a neo-Corellian, he is unusually fond of complexity, both technical and compositional, and also unusually open to other contemporary influences, such as those of Handel and Vivaldi. But the quality of his music speaks for itself – virtuosic and joyously melodic…” (cover).
Håkan Hardenberger plays Dean and Francesconi. Performed with the Gothenburg Symphony.
Two demanding contemporary works for trumpet, performed by a master soloist. Dean’s work, Dramatis Personae, is much praised for its theatricality. Interestingly, one of Francesconi’s inspirations is legendary jazz figure Miles Davis, and with this in mind the ear will listen out for any references!
This week we introduce an interesting compilation of works by, and inspired by, Schubert, a recital of intimidating Russian pieces performed by a 20 year old prodigy, and a couple of 20th century cello concertos.
In Schubert’s Company. Performed by Maxim Rysanov and Riga Sinfonietta.
“In Schubert’s Company presents violist Maxim Rysanov as a soloist, conductor, arranger and commissioner of new music. Alongside works including Schubert’s Symphony No.5, Violin Sonata No.3 and Polonaise for violin & orchestra are pieces from three contemporary composers who have drawn on Schubert as the source for their works. Winterreise, Erlkönig and his late Fantasy for violin & piano are among the inspirations behind this powerful recital that explores how the haunting beauty of Schubert’s music continues to influence on today’s performers, composers and music lovers alike.” (amazon.com)
À la Russe. Performed by Alexandre Kantorow.
“Not yet 20 years old, the French pianist and son of violinist and conductor Jean-Jacques Kantorow […] explores his Russian roots, in a recital that opens with Rachmaninov’s weighty First Piano Sonata, inspired by Goethe’s play Faust, and its three main characters, the scholar Faust, his beloved Gretchen and Mephistopheles, the Devil’s emissary. The nostalgic intimacy of Méditation and Passé Iointain, from Tchaikovsky’s Op. 72 collection, offers respite from the drama, but tension returns with Guido Agosti’s virtuosic piano arrangement of three extracts from Stravinsky’s Firebird. Kantorow closes his Russian recital with Mily Balakirev’s ‘oriental fantasy’ Islamey, one of the iconic works of the piano literature.” (amazon.com)
Cello Concertos, Shostakovich & Martinů. Performed by Christian Poltéra, Gilbert Varga and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin.
“The two cello concertos by Dmitri Shostakovich were both written for his friend Mstislav Rostropovich but whereas the first is rhythmic and virtuosic, the second is subdued and introverted. Composed in 1966, it is often regarded as a watershed work, heralding Shostakovich’s final stylistic period marked by a certain sombreness and a trend towards more transparent scoring. The op. 126 concerto has become somewhat overshadowed by its older, more accessible sibling, something which also applies to the second work on this disc, for completely different reasons. Having completed his Cello Concerto No. 2 in 1945, Bohuslav Martinu was unsuccessful in his attempts to interest a leading cellist in promoting it [… and the work] didn’t receive its first performance until 1965, six years after Martinu’s death.” (amazon.ca)