Classical CD Highlights: April

Classic Arts News   Classical CD Highlights: April
New Mahler and Beethoven cycles get underway this month, a trio of major Brahms releases appears, and Deutsche Grammophon honors Mstislav Rostropovich's 80th birthday with a wide-ranging survey.

Mahler: Symphony No. 1 (RCA Red Seal 87156)
Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 3
(Deutsche Grammophon 289 4776 4151)
Schubert: Piano Sonata, D. 958 (EMI Classics 94638432128)
Shostakovich: String Quartets Nos. 6, 8, and 11
(Harmonia Mundi HMC 901953)

Two major cycles begin with releases this month. David Zinman and the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra launch a complete Mahler symphony project, appropriately enough, with Symphony No. 1. The disc, recorded live, includes the symphony's original second movement, titled "Blumine," which Mahler dropped before the work's premiere. The next release in the series, the Second Symphony, is due out in May. Meanwhile, Mikhail Pletnev serves as both pianist and conductor in a survey of all the Beethoven symphonies and piano concertos. The series, recorded with the Russian National Orchestra, begins with a CD of Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 3, recorded live during the 2006 Beethoven Festival in Bonn. The cycle will continue with the release this fall of the Second and Fourth Concertos plus all nine symphonies in a boxed multi-disc set.

Meanwhile, another cycle comes to an end. EMI offers the final installment in Leif Ove Andsnes and Ian Bostridge's Schubert project. The disc, like the others in the series, presents a piano sonata alongside a selection of lieder; this release includes the sonata D. 958. The young musicians of the Jerusalem Quartet, who tour the United States April 10-17, continue their Shostakovich cycle with a disc containing Quartets No.s 6, 8, and 11.

Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem
(EMI Classics 0094636539324)
Brahms: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2
(Sony Classical 703510)
Brahms: Lieder
(Harmonia Mundi HMC 901926)

Brahms is represented on three interesting releases. Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic perform the German Requiem, with soloists Dorothea R‹schmann and Thomas Quasthoff and the Berlin Radio Choir. The performance was taped in concert at Berlin's Philharmonie last fall.

Thanks to the Sony-BMG merger, Emanuel Ax's recordings of the two Brahms piano concertos are now part of the same library — and Sony Classical has reissued them in a mid-priced, two-disc set. Ax plays Concerto No. 1 with James Levine and the Chicago Symphony and Concerto No. 2 with the Boston Symphony under Bernard Haitink. The release also includes a number of Brahms's solo piano works, plus new booklet notes written by Ax for this set.

Mezzo Bernarda Fink sings a selection of Brahms's songs on a Harmonia Mundi release, with Roger Vignoles on piano. (One critic we know says that with this disc, Fink moves from sainthood to godhood.)

Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No. 1;
Janšcek: Violin Concerto (Sony Classical 731462)
Tchaikovsky: Rococo Variations;
Saint-SaêŠns: Cello Concerto No. 1 (RCA Red Seal 759512)

A couple of young performers can be heard on new concerto discs. The Latvian violinist Baiba Skride, named Best Young Artist of the Year last year at Germany's Echo Klassik Awards, plays Janšcek's Violin Concerto and the Shostakovich Concerto No. 1 Marek Janowski leads the Berlin Radio Symphony. Argentina-born cellist Sol Gabetta plays Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations and other works, along with the Saint-SaêŠns Concerto No. 1 and the Pampeana No. 2 of Alberto Ginastera. Ari Rasilainen conducts the Munich Radio Symphony.

"The Glory of Rostropovich"
(Deutsche Grammophon 289 4776 5790)

Speaking of cellists, March 27 marked the 80th birthday of perhaps the greatest of them all, Mstislav Rostropovich. Deutsche Grammophon celebrates the occasion with an eight-disc box that contains all of the cellist-conductor's concerto recordings for the label, as well as symphonic and ballet music and selected chamber recordings with artists such as Martha Argerich, Rudolf Serkin, and the Emerson String Quartet.

Haydn: Piano Sonatas (NaÇve V 5070)
Debussy: Piano Works, Vol. 2 (Onyx Classics ONYX 4018)
Bach: Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin
(H‹nssler Classic HNS 98250)

Several of this month's solo releases are worth investigating. After successful releases of music by Mozart and Beethoven, Fazil Say completes the Classical triumvirate with a disc containing five piano sonatas by Haydn. Pascal Rog_, known for his interpretations of French works, plays Debussy on the second installment of his complete cycle on Onyx Classics. The disc, a follow-up to his recording of the Preludes, contains the Children's Corner suite, Estampes, and the Suite bergamasque. On H‹nssler Classic, violin virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff plays Bach's formidable Sonatas and Partitas.

Dowland: The Collected Works (Decca 289 4525 6320)
Handel: Il duello amoroso (Harmonia Mundi HMC 901957)
Mozart: Symphonies No. 38 and 41 (Harmonia Mundi HMC 901958)

The huge success of Sting's album of songs by John Dowland has sparked a revival of interest in this Tudor-era English composer. In response, Decca is reissuing a 12-CD set featuring everything written (or allegedly written) by the famously melancholy Dowland. Lutenist Anthony Rooley leads the Consort of Musicke (with Emma Kirkby heading the roster of singers) in the four Bookes of Songes, the song collection A Musicall Banquet, and various keyboard transcriptions, lute pieces and music for various consorts.

Acclaimed countertenor Andreas Scholl returns to the Harmonia Mundi label with a collection of cantatas by Handel, written in Italy when the composer was in his early 20s. Scholl is joined in this "lovers' duel" by soprano H_lne Guilmette and is backed by the Accademia Bizantia under Ottavio Dantone.

Moving into the Classical era. Ren_ Jacobs conducts the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra in energetic accounts of Mozart's ever-popular "Prague" and "Jupiter" symphonies.

Serebrier: Symphony No. 2 (Naxos 8.559303)
Strauss: Metmorphosen (Hyperion CDA 67574)
Bloch: Baal Shem;
Ben-Haim: Sonata for Solo Violin (Hyperion CDA 67571)
Zemlinsky: Cello Sonata (Nimbus NIM 5806)

Moving into 20th-century music, Naxos offers Jos_ Serebrier conducting a selection of his own colorful and accomplished music. The disc features the Symphony No. 2, completed in 1958 when Serebrier was just 19, and an even earlier work, the Violin Sonata, written when the composer was just 9. Two other works, the Fantasia from 1960 and 1999's Winterreise, round out the collection.

Hyperion presents two discs of chamber music. A release from the Nash Ensemble features Richard Strauss's valedictory Metamorphosen plus his early Piano Quartet and the sextet from the opera Capriccio. On another disc, violinist Hagai Shaham and pianist Arnon Erez offer Bloch's Baal Shem, a suite inspired by Chasidic melodies, and his Suite h_braÇque. The two Bloch works are coupled with the Sonata in for Solo Violin of the Israeli composer Paul Ben-HaÇm.

Finally, from Nimbus comes the world premiere recording of the Cello Sonata by Alexander von Zemlinsky, a work written when the composer was 23 and presumed lost for decades. Raphael Wallfisch performs with pianist John York. The disc also includes music by Goldmark and Korngold.

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