This week’s selection of new classical CDs is brought to you by the lute and the mandolin.
Bach Reimagines Bach: Lute Works, BWV 1001, 1006a & 995. Performed by William Carter.
“William Carter’s exemplary musicianship is showcased to its fullest on this new recording of Bach’s own transcriptions for the lute. Almost unplayable in parts, many musicians take certain liberties with the music so that it glows more naturally but William Carter’s determined approach to authenticity sees the lutenist achieve the near impossible: playing the music as it was originally written. The final piece undergoes the most extensive reimaginging as Bach expertly transforms the Fifth Cello Suite into a ‘new’ lute work: so successful is it that Carter considers it to be, in terms of understanding the essential nature and expressive qualities of the lute, ‘the most perfect piece of lute music in existence’.” (amazon.com)
Bach Trios. Performed by Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer.
A trio of mandolin, cello and double bass sounds intriguing! The Observer suggests it takes a bit of getting used to but you will soon find yourself well-rewarded. The trio has arranged a variety of Bach works, from pieces from the Well-Tempered Clavier, through preludes, fugues and partitas, to a Sonata for viola da gamba. Worth a listen!
Heroines of Love and Loss. Performed by Ruby Hughes with Mime Yamahiro Brinkmann and Jonas Nordberg.
The lute is back in this collaboration which spotlights women in music. The women feature as subjects (for example Dido, Desdemona, the Virgin Mary) but also as composers; Barbara Strozzi, Francesca Caccini, Lucrezia Vissana. A rather neat raison d’être for a compilation!
In this week’s new classical CD additions we highlight a musical evocation of “homeland”, some large-scale Elgar, and two great pianists bumping elbows at the keyboard (a fortepiano, in fact).
Heimat. Performed by Benjamin Appl and James Baillieu.
“This is a song cycle for the twenty-first century, crafted out of works by the greatest composers of the nineteenth and twentieth. It is at one level an anthology of German Lieder and English songs, at another an intensely personal narrative. Like many song cycles, it tells the story of a young man, whom we follow from home and childhood in Germany, on his journey to new lands and – far more important – to new emotions” (Neil MacGregor, liner notes).
Symphony No. 1, Introduction and Allegro, Elgar. Performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Edward Gardner, with the Doric String Quartet.
“This new Elgar recording brings together some of Chandos’ finest exclusive British artists for the first time. The Doric String Quartet – highly praised for its series of Haydn and Schubert quartets – joins the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Edward Gardner in the ‘Introduction and Allegro’, one of Elgar’s masterpieces. Gardner here captures the subtle contrast between the solo quartet and the string ensemble, while also reconciling a wide variety of musical ideas and tempo fluctuations, not least the ever-popular ‘Welsh’ solo viola melody. The full Orchestra then appears in a passionate account of the majestic Symphony No. 1, a much-loved work ever since its premiere in 1906” (amazon.com).
Fantasie in F Minor and Other Piano Duets, Schubert. Performed by Andreas Staier and Alexander Melnikov.
“‘In Upper Austria, I find my compositions everywhere, especially in the monasteries of Sankt Florian and Kremsmünster, where with the help of a decent pianist I performed my four-hand variations and marches with great success.’ So wrote Franz Schubert in 1825, evoking the popular nineteenth-century genre that publishers were always pestering him to write. But the Viennese composer went much further than the traditional German dances and sets of variations, as is shown by the overwhelming Fantasie in F minor, one of the tragic masterpieces of his last year” (cover).
We have recently received some interesting new classical albums, and here’s a small selection of additions (more on the way!):
Elgar & Tchaikovsky. Performed by Johannes Moser.
“The profoundly moving, elegiac lyricism of Elgar and the wistful charm and brilliance of Tchaikovsky are on full display in this irresistible new release from Pentatone played with consummate virtuosity by the German-Canadian cellist Johannes Moser with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande under Andrew Manze. Composed at the end of the First World War, Elgar’s powerful Cello Concerto in E minor is one of his best-loved and most deeply-felt works…” (amazon.com). Tchaikovsky contributes four works for cello and orchestra to this compilation: Variations on a Rococo Theme; Nocturne; Andante Cantabile; and Pezzo Capriccioso.
Das Lied von der Erde, Mahler. Performed by Jonas Kaufmann.
“Gustav Mahler’s masterpiece Das Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth) has always been subtitled as a Symphony for Tenor and Alto (or Baritone) and traditionally two voices have sung the six movements of the work. However Jonas Kaufmann felt differently about this and decided to sing both parts himself. This is the first time that one voice has sung both parts for a recording of this piece. Last June, in the tradition-steeped Great Hall of the Vienna Musikverein, where a number of outstanding Mahler performances have taken place, Kaufmann joined the Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of Jonathan Nott for this historic recording. According to the Kurier newspaper after the performance, ‘this experiment went far beyond the risky test phase and, in the end, became a complete work of art in itself. What would normally be considered pretentious is absolutely logical in the case of Kaufmann, who is able to showcase the splendor of his baritone as well as the radiant upper reaches of his range.'” (amazon.com)
Music for the 100 Years’ War. Performed by the Binchois Consort.
“This recording features music of predominantly royal association spanning the reign of Henry V, the Battle of Agincourt and its aftermath, and the coronations in England and France of the boy king Henry VI. The Binchois Consort under Andrew Kirkman bring this music vividly to life, while the copiously illustrated booklet is a pleasure in itself.” (amazon.com)
Coming soon: Heimat, performed by Benjamin Appl; Elgar, Symphony No. 1, performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Doric String Quartet.
This week we throw the spotlight on some new Bach arrivals, some astonishing pieces of great Baroque music.
Goldberg Variations, J. S. Bach. Performed by Beatrice Rana.
“In the wake of unanimous critical acclaim for her recording debut in concertos by Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky, Beatrice Rana responds with a courageous solo outing, exploring Bach’s masterwork in the variation form with a rewarding, personal journey through the composer’s incredible contrapuntal writing and the range of the emotional worlds distilled in each of the Aria’s 30 permutations” (cover).
St Matthew Passion, J. S. Bach. Performed by Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists together with various soloists, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner.
“It strikes me that Bach made a quite extraordinary imaginative leap when he conceived this dazzling, multi-dimensional piece of music theatre. In avoiding the typically saccharine, maudlin approach his contemporaries sometimes adopted in their Lutheran oratorio-Passions, Bach’s whole focus is on justifying Luther’s great claim for music, that its notes should ‘make the text come alive'” (John Eliot Gardiner, p14 of liner notes).
Organ Works, volume 2, J. S. Bach. Performed by Masaaki Suzuki.
“For [this volume], Suzuki returned to more familiar ground – the chapel of the Kobe Shoin Women’s University where the great majority of his recordings with Bach Collegium Japan have taken place. The chapel houses a French classical organ built in 1983 by Marc Garnier, and on it Suzuki performs a highly symmetrical programme with the large-scale chorale partita BWV 768 at its centre. The work is known as ‘Sei gegrüßet, Jesu gütig’, although the chorale text that it is structured upon most probably is that of ‘O Jesu, du edle Gabe’. On either side the partita is flanked by an arrangement by Bach of concertos by Vivaldi, and a chorale prelude on ‘Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier’. The album opens and closes with a Prelude and Fugue, in G major and C major respectively” (amazon.com).
This week we spotlight some new and interesting chamber compilations: an early Baroque exploration of the seasons on viola da gamba, Rachmaninov piano trios, and an arrangement of two Philip Glass études for piano and string quartet.
Preghiera: Rachmaninov Piano Trios. Performed by Gidon Kremer, Giedré Dirvanauskaitè, Daniil Trifonov.
“Legendary Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer celebrates his 70th birthday with an all-Rachmaninov recital in partnership with brilliant young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov and Lithuanian cellist Giedré Dirvanauskaitè. The two Trios élégiaques are prefaced by Fritz Kreisler’s haunting arrangement of themes from the Piano Concerto No. 2″ (cover).
Piano Works, Philip Glass. Performed by Víkingur Ólafsson.
“Visionary Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson celebrates Philip Glass’s 80th birthday with his personal selection of pieces from the minimalist master’s two books of solo piano Études – works in which, Ólafsson says, ‘Glass seems to be exploring the very essence of his ideas’ – together with brand-new reworkings for piano and string quartet of two of the Études plus the hypnotic ‘Opening’ from Glass’s classic 1982 album Glassworks…” (cover).
New Era, Stamitz, Danzi, Mozart. Performed by Andreas Ottensamer.
“Andreas Ottensamer’s third solo album is dedicated to the Mannheim School: the 18th century melting pot of revolutionary musical experimentation. Attracting the best musicians from all over Europe, Mannheim became the birthplace of the modern orchestra and the source for the first great clarinet concertos. Featuring duets with his outstanding Berliner Philharmoniker colleagues Albrecht Mayer and Emmanuel Pahud, Andreas celebrates this new era of explosive, colourful and virtuosic music” (cover).
The Four Seasons, Christopher Simpson. Performed by Sirius Viols.
“Antonio Vivaldi was not the only composer of the Baroque who used the idea of the seasons to write his most popular work, they also inspired Christopher Simpson, the best viola da gamba virtuoso of the early English Baroque to use the theme for composition. Now Hille Perl and her ensemble, Sirius Viols, have recorded this colourful piece, a work abounding in dynamism, virtuosity and experimental verve. They guide the listener on a musical tour of icy winter, burgeoning spring and sultry summer all the way to multi-coloured autumn” (cover).
This week among the new additions we found these interesting gems.
Rafał Blechacz, Johann Sebastian Bach.
“Rafał Blechacz, ‘a superlative pianist’ (BBC Music Magazine), further demonstrates his versatility in his first album devoted to Bach. Among the highlights of his wide-ranging programme are the Italian Concerto, one of Blechacz’s signature pieces (‘His reading was, above all, a model of textural transparency’ – Portland Press Herald), and the Partita No. 1 (‘It was immediately clear from the first sweet, liquid notes that Blechacz is a musician in service to the music, searching its depths, exploring its meaning and probing its possibilities’ – Washington Post)” (cover).
Flute Quartets, Mozart. Performed by the Brodsky Quartet and Lisa Friend.
“Members of the Brodsky Quartet meet the internationally famous flautist Lisa Friend in an album of key works of the flute repertoire: Mozart’s flute quartets. Highly praised for previous recordings, her own compositions, solo recitals in Europe, the US, and Asia, as well as appearances with prestigious orchestras, Lisa Friend devotes her very first recording on Chandos to witty, colorful interpretations or Mozart. The flute quartets of Mozart are central to the classical flute repertoire – and deservedly so: the composer’s characteristic charm, wit, beauty, and elegance are in evidence throughout” (amazon.com).
Voyages: Orgue de la Philharmonie de Paris. Performed by Olivier Latry.
Organ compilations are unique in that they are a recording of a specific instrument installed in a specific space. Olivier Latry says, “A space within a space, bonded for all time with the environment in which it is housed, the inherent rapport between the organ which we are about to hear and its surroundings means that it is without a shadow of doubt the soul of the Philharmonie. May the listener relax and be transported to rediscover universal music illuminated by an instrument with so many attributes” (cover).
Piano Trios Op. 65 & 90, Dvořák. Performed by Trio Wanderer.
“The Trio Wanderer pays tribute to Dvořák and his last two trios, including the rarely played no. 3 in F minor, heartfelt and sombre. The famous Dumky Trio… opens this new recording. Passionate and melancholy by turns, it is also the most innovative and the freest of Dvořák’s trios…” (cover).
This week we feature three discs fresh off the courier:
Missa Defunctorum, Scarlatti. Performed by Odhecaton.
“This recording is a discovery of Alessandro Scarlatti’s heretofore unknown sacred music, where Renaissance tradition meets Baroque sensibility. At its core is the Missa defunctorum for four voices and basso continuo… The Miserere for nine voices… follows Allegri’s model only outwardly, as Scarlatti moves steadily away from it through his harmonic originality, formal richness, and expressivity. Finally, the Magnificat displays a unique synthesis of the Palestrinian model and the expressive language of the eighteenth century for a unique and compelling recording” (Cover).
Cantatas 52, 54, 82, 170, Johann Sebastian Bach. Performed by Iestyn Davies, with Arcangelo.
“Bach’s Ich habe genug is a timeless, transcendental masterpiece. This profound expression of Christian faith at the very end of life demands artistry of a special order. British countertenor Iestyn Davies, accompanied by Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo, now joins the likes of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson in the work’s distinguished discography. The couplings are equally ravishing performances of two other great solo cantatas, and two refreshingly familiar orchestral sinfonias” (amazon.com).
Rostropovich Encores. Performed by Alban Gerhardt and Markus Becker.
“For the young Alban Gerhardt, Rostropovich was ‘a reason to become passionate about the cello.’ In the liner notes he recalls being ‘blown away’ on first hearing Slava play live in Berlin. This splendid follow-up to his program of Casals Encores sees Gerhardt paying homage to his great predecessor with an eclectic program of shorter works, including two by Rostropovich himself” (amazon.com).
Coming soon: the Brodsky Quartet performing Mozart flute quartets with Lisa Friend; Vivaldi’s concertos for two violins performed by Giuliano Carmignola and Amandine Beyer with Gli incogniti; and some organ music courtesy of Olivier Latry and the organ of the Paris Philharmonie.
In a veritable influx of classical CDs this week we found these four Romantic, late-Romantic and 20th century orchestral gems.
Symphonies 2 & 4, Schumann. Performed by Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.
“This is the first recording of Antonio Pappano conducting two of Schumann’s most popular symphonies, No. 2 in C major and No. 4 in D minor. Pappano brings his customary energy to the ensemble, while drawing out the magnificent beauty of the string section and the delicacies of the woodwind. His careful approach to detail makes this a commanding interpretation.” (amazon.com)
Symphonies 4, 5, 6, Tchaikovsky. Performed by the Arctic Philharmonic.
The final three of Tchaikovsky’s variously-flavoured symphonies together on a 2 CD set, performed by the Arctic Philharmonic, who are indeed based within the Arctic circle (and are in fact the world’s northernmost orchestra).
Violin Concertos 1 & 2, Shostakovich. Performed by Frank Peter Simmermann and the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester.
Live performances of Shostakovich’s violin concertos, performed by well-regarded violinist Zimmermann together with the previously-titled NDR Sinfonieorchester.
The Piano Concertos, Brahms. Performed by Rudolf Buchbinder and the Wiener Philharmoniker.
Brahms’ two piano concertos (D minor and B flat major) performed live at the Musikverein in Vienna in 2015. “‘With Brahms’ [writes Buchbinder], ‘most people are struck only by the idea that his music is incredibly difficult and complex. But sometimes it requires a whole lifetime to become intimate with Brahms’ sound-world and achieve the maturity that gives you a new freedom as a performer and ensures that your relationship with the music becomes the most natural thing in the world for you'” (programme notes).
This week is an entirely serendipitous spotlight on recent Deutsche Grammophon arrivals, with a Romantic lean.
Piano Concerto No. 1, Ballades, Chopin. Performed by Seong-Jin Cho.
“In 2015, aged just 21, Seong-Jin Cho won first prize at the 17th International Chopin Piano Competition, one of the most prestigious titles in all classical music. Now, in his first studio recording, Cho combines Chopin’s immensely popular Piano Concerto No. 1 with his almost equally beloved Ballades, revealing once again, as in his bestselling live debut CD, that he not only has brilliant fingers but is a master of characterization too” (Cover).
Pictures at an Exhibition, Mussorgsky. Performed by Wiener Philharmoniker.
“For our current recording project, a wonderful programme of Russian delights, the Vienna Philharmonic and I have joined with children from Vienna’s El-Sistema-inspired Superar organisation, offering young people of diverse backgrounds the opportunity to engage with themes from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. The sense of collective engagement through music – of individuals learning, listening, and creating together – resonates in the living tradition of the Vienna Philharmonic, inspires our artistic collaboration, and fules our desire to share music’s transformative power with future generations” (Gustavo Dudamel, cover).
Revive. Performed by Elina Garanča.
“Gifted with a ‘one-in-a-million’ voice (The Independent) and ‘the unteachable ability to send shivers down the spine’ (Gramophone), Elina Garanča channels her musical experience, insight and emotional empathy into a personal celebration of the indomitable nature of the feminine spirit. Drawn from the masterworks of the Italian and French Romantic repertoire, Garanča’s gallery of great female characters couples captivating rarities with dazzling showstoppers” (Cover).
For our last spotlight for 2016 we highlight some contemplative church music, gender-bending arias, and some “evocative” 21st century instrumental music.
Kanon Pokajanen, Arvo Pärt. Performed by Cappella Amsterdam.
“The Kanon Pokajanen (Canon of Repentance), premiered in March 1998, is Arvo Pärt’s most monumental composition. Its prolonged genesis, a meticulous process of assimilation of the text in Church Slavonic, the austerity and subtlety of its style embody the same sincerity, the same spiritual and contemplative radiance as icon painting. A dialogue with the sacred in which time stands still.” (Cover)
Oh, Boy!. Performed by Marianne Crebassa.
“‘One of the most important voices of our time,’ is how the young French mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa is described by Marc Minkowski, the distinguished conductor for her debut album, Oh, Boy! Comprising arias for young male characters who are sung by a woman – the so-called ‘trouser roles’ – it offers an alluring programme of Mozart, Chabrier, Gluck, Gounod, Hahn, Massenet, Meyerbeer, Offenbach and Thomas. Crebassa – praised by Le Monde for her ‘incredibly beautiful timbre and transcendent presence’ – shows why she has already made an impact at the Paris Opéra, La Scala, Milan, the Berlin Staatsoper and the Salzburg Festival…” (amazon.com)
Orphée, Jóhann Jóhannsson.
The first new studio album in a while from experimental/orchestral composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. “Jóhannsson’s genre-blending score represents all facets of his previous works from intimate string quartet pieces, to large string orchestra works, featuring electronics, drones, organ, piano, choir, as well as enigmatic shortwave broadcasts to create an evocative & immersive sound.” (amazon.com)