Classical CD Highlights: April

Classic Arts News   Classical CD Highlights: April
Early music superstar Jordi Savall releases a new album on the eve of his U.S. tour; Rachel Portman's The Little Prince makes appearances on CD and DVD.

F. Couperin: Les Concerts Royaux (Alia Vox AV 9840)
It may sound like faint praise to call someone the world's foremost viola da gamba player, but the Catalan virtuoso Jordi Savall has done more than anyone to revive an instrument that has been all but ignored since the late 17th century. Along the way, he's built a devoted cadre of followers who eagerly snap up his CDs and concert tickets. Those fans, and others with an interest in early music, will no doubt be happy to hear about Savall's latest release, which coincides with a U.S. tour this month. In a new disc from Alia Vox, Savall performs and directs his ensemble, Les Concerts des Nations, in Fran‹ois Couperin's Les Concerts Royaux, a set of instrumental pieces written to be performed on Sundays in private quarters of King Louis XIV.

Les Concerts des Nations is one of the three ensembles Savall will tour with in a rather complicated schedule featuring three separate programs. Savall and Les Concerts des Nations will visit Richmond (April 9), Buffalo (April 12), and Chicago (April 15—the ensemble's Windy City debut) with a program titled "Les Gout Reunis." He will also perform with his groups Hesperion XXI and La Capella Reial de Cataunya in Ann Arbor, Michigan (April 14), and Kansas City (April 16). The program in those cities is called "Music of Love and War." Finally, Savall will present both those programs plus a night of "Passacaglias & Romanescas" during three appearances at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art on April 11, 13, and 18.

Portman: The Little Prince (Sony Classical CD: 5187492; DVD: 202674)
Oscar-winning composer Rachel Portman charmed audiences of all ages at the Houston Grand Opera in 2003 with her adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's children's classic The Little Prince. Now Sony is releasing the BBC film of the opera on DVD and the soundtrack of the film on CD. Directed by Francesca Zambello, the production stars 11-year-old treble Joseph McManners, who won the title role through an audition process that included thousands of children. Grown-up singers Lesley Garret, Willard White, Aled Jones, and Teddy Tahu Rhodes also appear. The CD and DVD release precede the opera's broadcast premiere, scheduled for PBS stations beginning April 6. McManners will also reprise the role in November in eight performances at the New York City Opera.

Rachmaninoff: Piano Sonata No. 2; Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 2 (Deutsche Grammophon B0004048)
Rachmaninoff: Piano Sonata No. 2; Balakirev: Islamey (Harmonia Mundi HMU 907399)
Shostakovich: String Quartets Nos. 1, 4, and 9 (Harminia Mundi HMC 901865)

New York-based French pianist H_lne Grimaud turns to darkly Romantic repertory for her second Deutsche Grammophon release. The second sonatas of Rachmaninoff and Chopin both deal with themes of death and sorrow (the Chopin includes one of the most famous funeral marches ever). In her newest disc for Harmonia Mundi, Olga Kern also performs the Rachmaninoff Second, paired with lighter (if still demanding) fare: Balakirev's Eastern-flavored showpiece Islamey and pieces by Taneyev and Liadov. On another Harmonia Mundi disc featuring Russian music, the dynamic young Jerusalem Quartet performs three Shostakovich masterpieces, the String Quartets Nos. 1, 4 and 9. Look for the Jerusalem Quartet on tour in late April and May in Philadelphia; Buffalo; Washington, D.C.; Miami; Winter Park, Florida; and Denver.

Donizetti: Complete Piano Music (Arts Music 47730)
Haydn, Hummel: Trumpet Concertos (Arte Nova ANO 584240)

Gaetano Donizetti is remembered today chiefly as an opera composer, but he also left behind a trove of instrumental music, including 17 string quartets and numerous works for keyboard, among them several variation sets, a number of waltzes and a few large-scale sinfonias. Pietro Spada performs all of this rarely heard music, including a piano version of the famous aria "Una furtiva lagrima" from L'Elisir d'Amore, in a new three-CD set. Speaking of rarities, Arte Nova dredges up a couple of trombone concertos to fill out a disc featuring the ever-popular Haydn and Hummel trumpet concertos. Michael Bertoncello is the trombonist in works by Wagenseil and Ferdinand David; Jeffrey Segal plays the trumpet in the Haydn and Hummel; David Zinman and the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra accompany them both.

Susan Graham: Pomes de l'Amour (Warner Classics 61938)
Emmanuel Pahud: The French Connection (EMI 5 57948 2)
Poulenc: Flute Sonata; works by Boulez, Messaien, Milhaud, Jolivet (Naxos 8.557328)
Dutilleux, Bart‹k, Stravinsky (Deustsche Grammophon B000404902)

Fans of 20th-century French music have several discs to choose from this month. Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham taps the rich vein of French love songs for a disc containing Ravel's Sh_h_razade, Debussy's five Pomes de Baudelaire, and Chausson's Pome de l'amour et de la mer. The brilliant Emmanuel Pahud adds to his already-extensive discography of French flute music with an EMI CD called The French Connection that includes works by Milhaud, Jolivet, Florent Schmitt, and Maurice Emmanuel, plus, for some reason, Shostakovich and Villa-Lobos. Pianist Eric Le Sage and clarinetist Paul Meyer also perform. Another fine French flutist, Patrick Gallois, plays sonatas and other works by Poulenc, Milhaud, Jolivet, Boulez, and Messaien on a Naxos release, with pianist Lydia Wong accompanying. Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter offers the world-premiere recording of Dutilleux's nocturne Sur le mê_ me accord, which was composed for her in 2002. The piece is coupled with reissues of Mutter's performances of concertos by Stravinsky and Bart‹k.

Reich: Drumming (Cantaloupe Music CA21026)
Brahms: Violin Sonatas (Ess.a.y CD 1085)
Mahler: Symphony No. 9 (SFS Media 821936-0007-2)

The acclaimed percussion quartet So Percussion takes on one of the masterpieces of minimalism, Steve Reich's Drumming, in a recording made with the composer's involvement. The CD is the latest in Cataloupe's series focusing on seminal minimalist works, which includes music by Terry Riley and Philip Glass, among others. Back in the classical mainstream, violinist Mela Tenenbaum and pianist Richard Kapp, who previously collaborated on a revealing recording of Bach's violin sonatas, reunite for performances of Brahms' three magnificent sonatas. And Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony offer up Mahler's Ninth, the latest installment in an ongoing cycle on the orchestra's own label.

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