Classical CD Highlights: December

Classic Arts News   Classical CD Highlights: December
 
Christmas is just around the corner and as always, that means a (yule)tide of holiday releases. Plus, two young violinists offer their takes on warhorses, Angelika Kirchschlager sings Handel and Jon Nakamatsu has a little Liszt.


A Mediterranean Christmas
(Warner Classics 2564 62560)
Medieval Christmas
(Harmonia Mundi HMU 907418)
Berlioz: L'Enfance du Christ
(Harmonia Mundi HMX 2971632)
Corelli: Christmas Concertos
(Harmonia Mundi HMX 2971407)
Christmas Vespers
(Hyperion CDA 67522)
Handel: Messiah
(Harmonia Mundi HMC 801928)

A quick spin through some of this year's holiday-themed releases reveals a number of interesting discs. Joel Cohen leads the Boston Camerata and the Sharq Arabic Music Ensemble in A Mediterranean Christmas: Songs of Celebration from Spain, Provence, Italy, & The Middle East, 1200-1900. The Orlando Consort goes medieval with a disc of music from the 10th to the 16th centuries by Dufay, Clemens non Papa, Loyset Compre, Arnold de Lantins, Antoine Busnois, Antoine Brumel, and that most prolific of composers, Anonymous.

Harmonia Mundi's new Christmas Edition features 10 mid-price reissues, among them Philippe Herreweghe's performance of Berlioz's L'Enfance du Christ and Corelli's Christmas Concertos with the Ensemble 415 led by Chiara Banchini. On Hyperion, the Westminster Cathedral Choir under Martin Baker presents an ornamented version of the Vespers service, augmented by motets and canticles by Tallis, Sch‹tz and others. For the audiophile on your gift list, Ren_ Jacobs's acclaimed Messiah is now available on super-audio CD.


Handel: Arias
(Sony Classical SK 88952)
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf 1915-2006
(EMI 80273)

Although it's not a Christmas disc, there is more Handel from mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager, who sings arias from Ariodante, Giulio Cesare in Egitto, and Arianna in Creta on a new Sony CD. The disc comes as Kirchschlager begins adding more Handel to her repertory: She sang in Cesare this year at Glyndebourne and plans to perform the title role in Ariodante in Paris in 2007.

The late Elisabeth Schwarzkopf can be heard once more in a reissue of a five-disc EMI set recorded for the legendary soprano's 75th birthday. The program includes songs, opera arias and encores.


Tutto Mozart!
(Deutsche Grammophon 289 4775 8860)
Mozart: Arias (DG Archiv 289 4776 2720)
Mozart: Wind Serenades (Onyx Classics ONYX 4012)
Shostakovich: Orchestral Songs and Waltzes
(Deutsche Grammophon 289 477 6111)
Shostakovich: The Golden Age (Naxos 8.570217-18)

December is also the last month of the Mozart and Shostakovich centennial years, which have brought a string of new releases and reissues. The latest crop includes Tutto Mozart! , a CD that features star bass-baritone Bryn Terfel singing his favorite Mozart opera arias with the Scottish National Orchestra and Charles Mackerras, and another disc that showcases Magdalena Kozenš performing her favorites in her first all-Mozart album (with Simon Rattle and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment). Mozart's sublime and delightful Wind Serenades K. 361 and K. 388 are performed by the London Winds, led by clarinet virtuoso Michael Collins, on Onyx Classics.

On the Shostakovich side of the ledger, the Russian baritone Sergei Leiferkus sings a program of satirical songs, some of which were newly orchestrated for this recording. Thomas Sanderling and the Russian Philharmonic accompany Leiferkus and stick around for Shostakovich's Suite of Eight Waltzes. The 1930 ballet The Golden Age, a Stalin-approved tale of the decadence and corruption encountered by a Russian football squad that visits the West, is performed by Jos_ Serebrier and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra on Naxos. Several numbers from the ballet are fairly well-known thanks to a suite compiled by the composer, but this is the first recording of the complete ballet.


Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto (PentaTone PTC5186095)
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto
(Deutsche Grammophon 289 4763 1590)

On another pair of discs, two rising-star violinists strut their stuff in touchstone concertos. Julia Fischer, recently anointed one of "tomorrow's classical superstars" by Gramophone magazine, plays the Tchaikovsky concerto and several shorter works on a CD from the Dutch label PentaTone. The 23-year-old virtuosa is joined by Yakov Kreizberg and the Russian National Orchestra. On Deutsche Grammophon, Nicola Benedetti, the 2004 BBC Young Musician of the Year, plays the Mendelssohn E minor Concerto, arrangements of several brief works by Mozart and Schubert, and a new piece — From Ayrshire — by her fellow Scot, James MacMillan.


Beethoven: Violin Sonatas Nos. 4 and 7
(Harmonia Mundi HMC 901919)
Schubert: String Quartets Nos. 13 and 14 (Hyperion CDA 67585)
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Nos. 4, 7 and 23 (Hyperion CDA 67518)
Liszt: "Dante Sonata" (Harmonia Mundi HMU 907409)

Speaking of violins, an instrument fashioned for Beethoven himself in 1800 can be heard in a new recording of Beethoven's Violin Sonatas Nos. 4 and 7. The fiddle, part of a full quartet of hand-made string instruments given to Beethoven as a gift, resurfaced in 1995. Daniel Sepec plays it; Andreas Staier accompanies him on fortepiano. There's more chamber music on a new release from the Takšcs Quartet, which migrates to the Hyperion label after 17 years of acclaimed recordings for Decca. The ensemble plays two Schubert quartets — No. 13 and No. 14, the well-known "Death and the Maiden."

Keyboard fans, meanwhile, might want to check out a pair of new discs. On one, Angela Hewitt, widely known for her Bach and Couperin recordings, expands her range once again, following up her recent foray into Chopin with Beethoven's stormy "Appassionata" Sonata. (She also plays two earlier Beethoven sonatas.) American pianist Jon Nakamatsu, a Cliburn Competition winner, plays the formidable "Dante" Sonata and other works drawn from the second book of Liszt's Ann_es de plerinage.


Strange Imaginary Animals (Cedille CDR 90000094)
Menotti: Missa "O Pulchritudo"; Vierne: Messe Solennelle
(Cedille FOUNDation 7001)

Cedille Records, an enterprising non-profit label based in Chicago, has a few interesting new releases. On one disc, titled Strange Imaginary Animals, the electrifying new-music sextet eighth blackbird performs a selection of world premieres, each of which calls for the musicians to use unorthodox techniques such as slapping the side of a clarinet or drastically detuning a violin string. The group, which takes a lighthearted approach that makes its concerts fun and accessible, plays works by Jennifer Higdon, Gordon Fitzell, David M. Gordon, Dennis DeSantis, and Steven Mackey.

Cedille's new mid-priced imprint, Cedille FOUNDation, offers a performance of Gian Carlo Menotti's Missa "O Pulchritudo" paired with the Messe Solennelle of Louis Vierne. The Menotti was recorded live in 1982 with the composer present; he is said to have been moved to tears by the performance, but it was never released.


Hersch: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 (Naxos 8.559281)
Bernstein: Fancy Free; Dybbuk (Naxos 8.559280)

There's lots of American music out on Naxos. Among the many interesting releases are a recording of Michael Hersch's symphonies and a disc of two complete Bernstein ballets: Fancy Free, the composer's first major success; and Dybbuk, written to commemorate Israel's 25th anniversary. Hersch, born in 1971, has been championed by conductors Marin Alsop and Mariss Jansons, among others, since he was in his 20s. Alsop leads the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in this performance. The Bernstein is played by the Nashville Symphony with Andrew Mogrelia conducting.


Brahms: The Four Symphonies (Decca 475 7942 7)
R. Strauss: Orchestral Works
(Deutsche Grammophon 289 477 6453)

Back in the heart of the repertory, Riccardo Chailly's fine set of Brahms symphonies with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is back in print for the first time in years. On DG, the New York Philharmonic's first major-label CD release in some time finds Lorin Maazel leading Richard Strauss's Don Juan, Death and Transfiguration, the "Dance of the Seven Veils" from Salome, and the suite from Der Rosenkavalier. The disc is the first traditional CD to be issued through the DG Concerts series, which makes concert programs available for download.


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