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)
A little piano music this week, featuring the greats Daniel Barenboim and Murray Perahia!
The French Suites, J. S. Bach. Performed by Murray Perahia.
“One of the world’s best-loved artists, and a longtime proponent of Bach on the modern piano, Murray Perahia has been hailed as one of the composer’s ‘most rewarding interpreters both live and on disc’ and as a musician who ‘invariably strikes an ideal balance, playing with a beautiful sound, crystalline articulation, judicious use of pedal and an essential buoyant pulse’ (New York Times). For his debut recording on Deutsche Grammophon, Perahia turns to the six French Suites – works that are at once delicate, profound, tender and joyful, and all suffused with the rhythmic vitality of the dance.” (Cover)
On My New Piano. Performed by Daniel Barenboim.
“Daniel Barenboim’s first solo recording on the remarkable new concert grand he developed in collaboration with instrument maker Chris Maene. Barenboim has selected works by keyboard masters from different periods to display its special colours, transparency and tonal possibilities: ‘I’ve fallen in love with my new piano,’ he exclaims, ‘and want to spend as much time with it as possible.'” (Cover)
Béla Bartok. Performed by Cédric Tigerghien.
“This second album in Cédric Tiberghien’s highly praised survey reveals the radicalism of Bartók’s piano-writing to be just as evident in the early Bagatelles as it is in the lexicon of style and technique which is the fifth book of Mikrokosmos.” (amazon.com)
This time, a mini-cornucopia (if there is such a thing) of varied treasures, from 1567 to 2016.
Missa Papae Marcelli, Motets, Palestrina. Performed by the Sistine Chapel Choir.
“This new recording by the Vatican’s resident choir, made under studio conditions in the Sistine Chapel, is devoted to Palestrina. It features three world premiere recordings, including the original (and long inaccessible) 1567 edition of Palestrina’s most famous work, the ‘Pope Marcellus’ mass. Hearing his works sung in the hallowed venue for which he composed them makes clear why Palestrina was called the ‘Saviour of Church Music’.” (cover)
The Tchaikovsky Project. Volume 1: Pathétique, Romeo & Juliet. Performed by the Czech Philharmonic.
“With this album, pre-eminent Russian conductor Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic launch their extensive Tchaikovsky Project – a multi-year journey to shed new light on the great master’s symphonies and major orchestral works. Benefitting from extensive preparation time, the best possible recording conditions and the conductor’s lifelong dedication to Tchaikovsky’s music, the interpretations of Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic are bound to set a new standard.” (cover)
Danse Macabre. Performed by Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal.
“The supernatural meets technical wizardry in this spectacularly recorded program of rare and familiar music to celebrate Halloween. Kent Nagano conducts some of the best-loved classics of the macabre alongside rarities such as Balakirev’s tone poem Tamara and Charles Ives’s Hallowe’en.” (cover)
Island Songs, Olafur Arnalds.
New to the World rather than the Classical collection (on account of being a bit hard to pigeon-hole!), but a lovely post-classical album by BAFTA-winning composer (for the soundtrack to Broadchurch) Olafur Arnalds. A 7-week recording project in which the composer travelled around his home country of Iceland, performing with an array of musicians and other performers, ranging from poet Einar Georg Einarsson, through the South Iceland Chamber Choir to Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir, singer from Of Monsters and Men. The result is spectacularly beautiful, as always.
This week we highlight three new recordings of symphonies, two from the newly-established Münchner Philharmoniker label.
Symphony No. 6, Tchaikovsky, and Polovtsian Dances, Borodin. Performed by the Budapest Festival Orchestra.
“On this SACD release from Channel Classics, [Ivan Fischer and Budapest Festival Orchestra] perform Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.6, which was premiered just nine days before the composer’s death. The truly Russian mood that we associate with Tchaikovsky is also felt in the music of Borodin. His opera Prince Igor remained incomplete when he died, however the well-known Polovtsian Dances, recorded here, became a standard of the orchestral repertoire.” (amazon.com).
Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”, Mahler. Performed by the Münchner Philharmoniker.
“Although he rarely offered direct insight into any specific meaning behind his music, Mahler’s symphonies are characterised by the sense of a composer openly expressing his emotions regarding the great struggle of ‘life’. His epic Second Symphony, often referred to as the ‘Resurrection’ Symphony, culminates in a spectacular final movement, complete with chorus, as the music passes though darkness to a place of redemption and elation.” (Cover).
Symphony No. 4 “Romantic”, Bruckner. Performed by the Münchner Philharmoniker.
“The Fourth Symphony is the only one of his symphonies to which Anton Bruckner assigned a title. By the use of the term ‘Romantic’, he was referring to a medieval world, similar to the settings of many of Wagner’s operas. He pictures nature, forests, flowing water in rivers and birdsong, with chivalrous knights on horseback.” (Cover).