Classical CD Highlights: April

Classic Arts News   Classical CD Highlights: April
Maurizio Pollini returns to Chopin and an acclaimed young violinist's debut album reaches American shores.

Chopin: Complete Nocturnes (Deutsche Grammophon B0005804)
Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 (Harmonia Mundi HMU 807402)
Mahler: Symphony No. 8 (Naxos 8.550533-4)

Maurizio Pollini has long been considered one of the world's premiere Chopin interpreters. Now, he has recorded Chopin's 19 Nocturnes for a new two-CD set from Deutsche Grammophon. Pollini, a winner of the prestigious Chopin Competition back in 1960, hints that the disc may be part of an effort to record all the Chopin music that he has not yet committed to disc. Although Chopin is a major part of his repertory, this is his first Chopin recording since 1999. Beginning in late April, he will perform Chopin (and Liszt) in a recital tour that will take him to Boston, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Olga Kern also tackles Chopin, offering a performance of the E-minor Piano Concerto that was recorded during her 2004 United States tour with Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic. The disc also includes several other Chopin works. Wit, meanwhile, appears on a major new release from Naxos. The conductor, one of two maestros employed by Naxos for its Mahler symphony cycle, leads the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Warsaw and a massive cast of singers in Mahler's earth-shaking Eighth, the "Symphony of a Thousand."

Szymanowski: Violin Concerto No. 1 (Deutsche Grammophon B000615402)
The BBC's Young Musician of the Year for 2004, violinist Nicola Benedetti, plays Szymanowski's First Concerto, Saint-SaêŠns' Havanaise, Chausson's Pome, and several other violin showpieces in her debut album. The disc, which reaches the U.S. this month, was named a Gramophone Editor's Choice when it was released in Europe in 2005. Benedetti is accompanied by Daniel Harding and the London Symphony Orchestra. The release coincides with Benedetti's visit to the U.S. this spring for a recital at Chicago's Ravinia Rising Stars series and a performance at the Kravis Center in Florida.

A Tribute to Zubin Mehta (Decca B0006234)
Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos. 1-6 (Decca B0006235)
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 (Ondine ODE 1076)

Zubin Mehta turns 70 this year and Decca, his long-time record label, celebrates with a set featuring a wide variety of music. The compilation includes showpieces such as Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra and Holst's Planets, several major works, a few popular opera overtures and rarities such as Gottfried von Einem's Philadelphia Symphony. The same label is also offering a reduced-price reissue of Mehta's Tchaikovsky symphony cycle with Los Angeles Philharmonic.

A brand-new recording of Tchaikovsky's Fifth is available from Ondine, with Christoph Eschenbach leading the Philadelphia Orchestra. The disc also includes Eschenbach playing selections from Tchaikovsky's The Seasons; it's Eschenbach's first solo piano recording in 30 years.

Tchaikovsky: Mazeppa (Deutsche Grammophon B0006170)
Weber: Oberon (Deutsche Grammophon B0006169)
Or sai chi l'onore: Birgit Nilsson (Deutsche Grammophon B0006383)

There is still more Tchaikovsky among the new releases in DG's "Opera House" series of budget opera re-releases. Sergei Lieferkus heads up the cast in the historic epic Mazeppa, with Neeme J‹rvi conducting. The same series also offers Weber's seminal German Romantic opera Oberon, with Rafael Kubelik conducting and a star-laden cast that includes Plšcido Domingo and the late Birgit Nilsson. The brilliant Nilsson, who died last Christmas, is also represented in a disc of arias by Mozart, Beethoven, Weber, Wagner, and Strauss.

Mozart: Violin Concertos Nos. 1-3 (EMI 09463 44706)
Purcell: Dido and Aeneas (Harmonia Mundi HMX 2991683)
Prokofiev: Alexander Nevsky, Lt. Kije Suite (Naxos 8.557725)
Persichetti: Divertimento, other works (Naxos 8.570123)
Mackey: Redline Tango; etc. (Naxos 8.570074)
Ginastera: Variacones Concertantes, Piano Concerto No. 1 (Arte Nova ANO 592180)

Violinist and conductor Fabio Biondi, known for energetic performances with his early music group Europa Galante, jumps on the Mozart anniversary-year bandwagon with performances of three of the composer's five violin concertos. Another early music star, conductor Ren_ Jacobs, leads a budget-priced Harmonia Mundi reissue of Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas. The recording, which was widely praised when it was first released in the early '90s, features sopranos Lynne Dawson and Rosemary Joshua and bass Gerald Finley. Another Harmonia Mundi recording makes its way back into the catalog, but on Naxos. The budget label reissues Prokofiev's dramatic and majestic Alexander Nevsky with the fine Polish mezzo Ewa Podles and conductor Jean-Claude Casadesus. The disc also includes the popular Lt. Kije Suite. Naxos also continues to seek out neglected repertoire. This month, it launches a new series of classics for wind band with two releases: a disc of works by Vincent Persichetti, the dean of wind band composers; and a recording of recent American works by John Mackey, Carter Pann, and Mike Mower plus an arrangement of a movement from Ives' "Concord" Sonata. Another budget label, Arte Nova, offers a worthwhile, low-cost introduction to the music of Argentina's greatest composer, Alberto Ginastera.

Beethoven/Liszt: Symphonies Nos. 1-9 (Teldec 60865)
Finally, an intriguing reissue from Teldec. The label brings back Cyprien Katsaris's landmark cycle of Lizst's transcriptions of the nine Beethoven Symphonies. Liszt's arrangements are pianistically brilliant yet faithful to the orchestral originals. It makes for fascinating listening, especially in this incarnation as a low-priced, six-CD set.

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