Friday, October 7, 2011

Catching up with new and recent releases

I’m very fortunate because when the daily mail arrives it’s usually filled with recordings. Lots of them. Despite the mutterings of doomsayers, the classical music recording industry is very much alive and continues to knock out new releases, reissues and DVDs in every conceivable genre.

It can be a little frustrating because on occasion it seems like every label is trying to introduce a flashy young pianist or violinist in the same week. The publicity photos usually feature earnest young people with edgy clothing and quirky haircuts hovering over their Steinways or holding their bow in mid-air like so many budding Chopins or Paganinis. But I’m very thankful there are young people for whom the name Chopin means something more than a brand of vodka.

It would be impossible to write about every new release I receive so rather than leave some especially interesting things to fall between the cracks, I thought I’d get you all up to date with some noteworthy new releases. 

When Johannes Moser makes a new record it's always cause for rejoicing. He's the featured soloist on this album featuring three of the 20th century's best cello concertos not by Shostakovich. No knock on the two Shostakovich concertos, but let's broaden our horizons folks. While we are at it, how about a new recording of Mieczyslaw Weinberg's concerto? But I digress. Moser plays these concertos by Martinu, Hindemith and Honegger magnificently and Christoph Poppen gets excellent performances from the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Sarbrucken Kaiserlautern. If you love the accessible 20th century music, you are going to love this one.

Don't fear Bruckner. Sure, those 80+ minute symphonies can be daunting, but these gorgeous motets are all under ten minutes and glow with a melodic perfection that's irresistible. I've been a fan of the Choir of St. Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh since the first time I heard them on Ascension, an amazing sleeper of an album of music for the Feast of the Ascension. On this album, the choir is augmented by brass on some motets and the effect is mesmerizing. Sample the famous Locus iste and you will be become a Bruckner convert, or at least converted to his sacred music.

Yes, this package of Mozart Violin Concertos qualifies as warhorse repertoire. But Richard Tognetti and his small modern instrument ensemble bring a historically informed performance sensibility to them. Everything is lively and lithe, so those rondo finales really hop along. I'm not ready to toss my Arthur Grumiaux recordings away, but there's room for Tognetti and company on my shelves.

Unless you are an early music fan, you might not be familiar with the name Johann Rosenmüller. He was a 17th century German composer who after an indiscretion with a choir boy was run out of town and eventually made his way to Venice. He worked at San Marco and his music has a decidedly Italian flavor. The solo motets and string  sonatas on this recording are performed by countertenor Alex Potter and the fine ensemble Chelycus. If you are a fan of concerted choral music, you should check out Rosenmüller's Vespro della beata Virgine where he channels his inner Monteverdi. It's spectacular and might turn you into a dedicated Rosenmüllerite.

Is Valery Gergiev the hardest-working man in classical music? He's the principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and artistic and general director of the Mariinsky Theatre. He's also a frequent guest conductor with orchestras world-wide. A Russian conductor leading a bel canto opera might raise eyebrows, but Gergiev's Lucia di Lammermoor works. It helps that he has the electrifying Natalie Dessay singing the title role and tenor Piotr Beczala who sings a suprisingly Italianate Edgardo. 

Reissues rule

EMI Classics has been a frontrunner in reissuing and repackaging recordings from their deep archives. One of their better reissue lines is the 20th Century Classics series. These two-for-the-price-of-one albums have featured seminal works by key 20th century composers. In addition to Bartok, there are albums featuring music by Korngold, Kodály, Honegger, Milhaud, Delius, Hartmann and Ibert. These are top of the line performances with such great conductors as Beecham, Ormandy, Bernstein, Munch and Martinon

--Craig Zeichner

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