Classical CD Highlights: February

Classic Arts News   Classical CD Highlights: February
The new month brings piano music galore and bargain-priced sets sure to appeal to Haydn lovers and Maria Callas fanatics.

Evgeny Kissin Plays Chopin —
The Verbier Festival Recital
(RCA Victor 68668)
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2
(Harmonia Mundi HMC 901903)
Stephen Hough's Spanish Album
(Hyperion CDA 67565)
Schumann: Arabeske,
Fantasie, Kreisleriana

(EMI Classics 65391)

This month's new releases include several discs that showcase important pianists playing a variety of music. A live album recorded at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland in 2004 features the 35-year-old virtuoso Evgeny Kissin in a recital of Chopin Impromptus and Polonaises, among them the famous C-sharp minor Fantaisie-Impromptu and the so-called "Heroic" Polonaise in A-flat. The British pianist Paul Lewis offers the second installment of his odyssey trough the 32 Beethoven sonatas. This three-CD set includes such keyboard monuments as the "Path_tique," "Waldstein," Op. 101 and "Hammerklavier," plus a number of early and middle sonatas. British virtuoso Stephen Hough, known for championing esoteric repertory, takes a swing through Spain on his latest album, which features works by Soler, Mompou, Debussy, Ravel, Alb_niz, Granados, Longas, Niemann, Scharwenka, and the pianist himself. Up-and-comer Jonathan Biss plays three Schumann's keyboard masterpieces on a new EMI release.

Schumann: Album for the Young
(Naxos 8.557076)
Schumann: Piano Works
(Koch International Classics

There's more Schumann on two other new discs. Naxos issues Volume 3 of its complete Schumann song edition. The disc contains the complete Album of Songs for the Young and the Lieder und Ges‹nge, Op. 27. Israeli-American pianist Yael Weiss plays a mix of early and late piano pieces, some of them appearing on CD for the first time, on a Koch release. The works include the Op. 20 Humoreske and Schumann's last completed piece, the "Ghost" Variations.

Saint-SaêŠns: Symphony No. 3;
Poulenc; Barber
(Ondine ODE SC 1094)
Mozart: Piano Concertos
Nos. 9 and 25
(Onyx Classics ONYX 4013)
Brahms: Symphony No. 4;
Schoenberg: Variations
(Harmonia Mundi HMC 901884)

A different kind of keyboard artistry is on display in an Ondine release. Christoph Eschenbach leads the Philadelphia Orchestra in three major works for organ and orchestra recorded last year at the concerts that inaugurated the new pipe organ at the Kimmel Center. Olivier Latry, the titular organist of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, is the soloist in Saint-SaêŠns's "Organ" Symphony, Poulenc's Organ Concerto and Barber's Toccata Festiva.

From the orchestral realm, Onyx Classics gives us Pascal Rog_ in a rare foray beyond the French music for which he is generally known. In his first Mozart recording, Rog_ plays Piano Concertos Nos. 9 and 25, backed by the Indianapolis Symphony under Raymond Leppard. On Harmonia Mundi, Kent Nagano leads the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin in Brahms's last symphony and Schoenberg's first 12-tone work, the Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31.

Schubert: Complete String Quartets, Volume 7 (Naxos 8.557126)
Schubert: Complete Works for Violin and Piano
(Newport Classics 60174/2)
Bach: Violin Sonatas, BWV 1014-1019 (Ambroisie AM109)

New chamber music releases include the final disc in Naxos's survey of the complete Schubert Quartets, featuring the Quartet No. 5 and several shorter works. The Kodšly Quartet performs. Two longtime collaborators, violinist Arnold Steinhardt and pianist Seymour Lipkin, team up again for a two-CD set containing all of Schubert's tuneful works for violin and piano on Newport Classics. Baroque specialist Christophe Rousset mans the harpsichord and Stefano Montanari plays the violin in a two-disc album of Bach sonatas.

Adams: Complete Piano Music (Naxos 8.559285)
Shostakovich: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (NaÇve V5025))
Nielsen: Orchestral Music (Da Capo 6220518)
Prokofiev: Pedro y El Lobo (PentaTone Classics PTC5186014)

Turning to the 20th century — and beyond — pianist Ralph van Raat plays the complete piano music of John Adams for Naxos. The music ranges from minimalist-influenced works from the late 1970s to 2001's American Berserk, a piece described by the composer as a "short, manic, bipolar scherzo." The 21-year-old Armenian violinist Sergey Khachatryan — who tours the U.S. this winter and spring — plays both Shostakovich concertos on a new release from NaÇve; Kurt Masur and the Orchestre national de France accompany. Carl Nielsen's countrymen from the Danish National Symphony Orchestra play some of his overtures, preludes and shorter orchestra works on a new Da Capo CD. The disc includes overtures to the composer's two big operas, Maskarade and Saul and David, plus the well-known "nature scene" Pan and Syrinx. And here's an oddity: Peter and the Wolf en espaê±ol. Antonio Banderas is the narrator; Kent Nagano conducts the Russian National Orchestra. The disc also includes an English version narrated by Sophia Loren and a piece called Wolf Tracks by Jean-Pascal Beintus.

Best Callas 100 (EMI 65612)
Natalie Dessay — The Miracle of the Voice (Virgin Classics 3633322)
Monteverdi: Il Combattimento
di Tancredi e Clorinda
(Virgin Classics 3633502)
Stile Antico — Music for Compline (Harmonia Mundi HMU 907419)

Almost 30 years after her death, Maria Callas remains an object of devotion for legions of fans — and a difficult-to-acquire taste for many others. The controversial diva can be heard again on a new bargain-basement set from EMI. Best Callas 100 contains 100 tracks from the label's Callas Archive on six discs offered for the price of one. The eighth release in the label's Best 100 series, the Callas set features one disc each of arias by Bellini, Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini, as well as theme CDs of French operatic arias and dramatic heroines. Callas, by the way, is due to receive a posthumous lifetime achievement Grammy Award on February 11.

Natalie Dessay is also the subject of a retrospective collection, from Virgin Classics. The two-CD set presents Dessay in selections ranging from Handel to Stravinsky to Bernstein. A companion DVD contains 13 video clips of the soprano.

Another release from Virgin features the star tenor Rolando Villaz‹n in his first early music outing, Monteverdi's "war madrigal" Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. The cast also includes soprano Patrizia Ciofi and Topi Lehtipuu; Emmanuelle HaÇm conducts her early music band, Le Concert d'Astr_e.

Early music fans may also want to check out Music for Compline, the debut recording from the young British vocal ensemble Stile Antico. The CD presents liturgical music from Tudor England — all written for Compline, the "bedtime service" — by Tallis, Byrd, John Sheppard, and others.

Haydn: "Name Symphonies" (Brilliant Classics BRL-CD-93105)
Haydn: The Complete Mass Edition (Chandos Chaconne CHN CD 0734)

Finally, a couple of bargains for admirers of Haydn. Brilliant classics compiles an 11-disc set offering all the "named" symphonies. The 38 selections range from No. 6 ("Le Matin") through No. 104 ("London"). All the performances are drawn from the highly regarded Nimbus set of the complete symphonies performed by the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra under Adam Fischer. Chandos's early music imprint, Chaconne, reissues all of Haydn's late masses on eight discs in period-instrument performances by the Collegium Musicum 90, conducted by Richard Hickox. The recordings, widely praised when they were first released, feature as soloists, among others, Janice Watson, Susan Gritton, Pamela Helen Stephen and Mark Padmore.

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