Classical CD Highlights: August

Classic Arts News   Classical CD Highlights: August
Ian Bostridge begins a Baroque journey, two noted sopranos record Handel's Nine German Arias, Bernarda Fink sings landmarks of French song, and Naxos pays homage to Stravinsky on his 125th birthday.

Great Handel (EMI 0094638224327)
Handel: Neun deutsche Arien
(Hyperion: CDA67627)
Flaming Rose - Handel: German Arias
(Chaconne CHAN0743)

The English tenor Ian Bostridge makes another foray into the Baroque repertory with a release titled Great Handel. The disc — which, according to EMI, marks the start of a long-term exploration of the composer by Bostridge — includes arias from operas and oratorios in English and Italian, including such well-known numbers as "Ev'ry valley" from Messiah, "Love in her eyes sits playing" from Acis and Galatea and "Where'er you walk" from Semele. The program also includes three arias (two from Ariodante and one from Serse) that were originally written for castrato; Bostridge transposes them down into his range. Young British soprano Kate Royal joins in for two duets. Harry Bicket and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment provide the backup.

While Handel wrote vocal music mostly in Italian and English (with a few works in Latin), he didn't entirely forego texts in his native language. Two new versions of his Nine German Arias for soprano and chamber ensemble appear this summer. On Hyperion, Carolyn Sampson (whom Gramophone magazine has anointed one of 20 "Classical Superstars of the Future") performs the set with the London-based ensemble The King's Consort. On Chandos Records' Chaconne label, Julianne Baird, America's doyenne of early song, joins Philadelphia's own Tempesta di Mare.

Desmarest: V_nus & Adonis
(Ambroisie AM 127)
Bach: Lute Works, Vol. 1
(Harmonia Mundi HMU 907438)
Syrens, Enchanters and Fairies
(Dorian DOR 93251)

Harpsichordist and conductor Christophe Rousset and his ensemble Les Talens Lyriques continue to explore forgotten Baroque operas. Their latest venture is French composer Henry Desmarest's "lyric tragedy" V_nus & Adonis, which receives its world premiere recording on the Ambroisie label. The story, which concerns thwarted love, mirrors events in the composer's own life: he fled Paris shortly after the work's completion after he was accused of seducing the young daughter of a government official. The performance, with mezzo-soprano Karine Deshayes and tenor S_bastien Droy in the title roles, was recorded live in concert in April and May 2006 at the Op_ra de Nancy in France.

Bach loved the sound of the lute so much that he developed a gut-string harpsichord called a Lautenwerck designed to imitate it. As a result, a lot of his "lute" music is virtually unplayable on an actual lute. Paul O'Dette, one of today's top virtuosos on the instrument, does an admirable job of rendering Bach's works on his modern copy of a Baroque lute. O'Dette performs his own arrangements of various works, some of which are well-known in other guises.

The resurrected Dorian label offers Syrens, Enchanters and Fairies, a collection of 18th-century overtures (some of which are appearing on CD for the first time) written by various composers for the London stage. The Capella Savaria Baroque Orchestra of Budapest performs under the direction of Mary T_rey-Smith.

Stravinsky: 125th Anniversary Album (Naxos 8.557508)
Debussy: Preludes, Books I & II (Cedille CDR 90000 098)
Berlioz: Les Nuits d'_t_; Ravel: Sch_h_razade
(Harmonia Mundi HMC 901932)

Igor Stravinsky would have been 125 in June. Naxos, apparently deciding that there's no point in waiting for an anniversary that ends in zero to honor him, has put together a 125th anniversary album with new performances of two large works plus performances of several other pieces drawn from its archive of recordings conducted by Robert Craft, the composer's friend and amanuensis. The big works are the Violin Concerto, with Jennifer Frautschi as soloist, and The Rite of Spring, heard here in a performance based on the 1967 edition of the score. The CD also includes the Symphonies of Wind Instruments and Zvezdolikiy, a cantata for orchestra and male chorus dedicated to Debussy and containing passages that imitate the French composer's style.

There's actual Debussy on a new release from Cedille. On a two-disc set (sold for the price of one CD), pianist Jorge Federico Osorio plays the two books of Preludes. The set also includes excerpts from Liszt's Ann_es des plerinage, among them the three Petrarch Sonnets.

Mezzo Bernarda Fink performs two pillars of the French song repertory on a new Harmonia Mundi release, accompanied by the Deutsches-Symphonie Orchester Berlin under Kent Nagano. Nothing can equal the late R_gine Crespin's radiant account of Berlioz's Les Nuits d'_t_, but Fink is already getting strong reviews for her rendition. The CD also includes Ravel's Sch_h_razade and other songs.

Vladimir Ashkenazy: A Personal Collection (Decca 289 4758 5923)
Shostakovich: The Symphonies (Decca 289 4758 7484)

One round-numbered birthday this year belongs to pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy, who turns 70. Decca, which first recorded him in 1963, honors the artist with a seven-disc set compiled with his input. It includes Ashkenazy performing solo works and concertos by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Prokofiev, Ravel, Scriabin and Rachmaninoff. The set also includes Ashkenazy conducting works by Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Sibelius. A bonus disc contains an 80-minute interview with the maestro, conducted in January.

Conductor Ashkenazy's Shostakovich cycle, released between 1987 and this year, has long been considered one of the better ones. The entire 15-symphony set is now available in a 12-CD box, which includes a new reading of the Fourth.

Bart‹k: The Miraculous Mandarin (arr. Bart‹k)
(H‹nssler Classic HNS 93194)
Mozart: Don Giovanni (arr. Traubensee) (Arte Nova ANO 391180)

A couple of familiar works show up in unfamiliar guises this month. Bart‹k's own two-piano arrangement of his orchestral ballet The Miraculous Mandarin is played by Akos Hernšdi and Kšroly Mocsšri on a new disc from H‹nssler. The keyboardists also perform the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion.

Music for wind band was hugely popular in late 18th- and early 19th-century Europe, especially Vienna. Numerous works were arranged for small wind ensembles, including a number of Mozart operas. A new release on the budget Arte Nova label contains Joseph Triebensee's transcription of Don Giovanni.

Mahler: Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection" (RCA Red Seal 87157)
Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde (RCA Living Stereo 708281)
Mahler: Das klagende Lied (SFS Media 821936-0017)

David Zinman and the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra continue their Mahler cycle (which began earlier this year with a recording of the Symphony No. 1) with the "Resurrection" Symphony; Juliane Banse and Anna Larsson are the vocal soloists.

The same label offers a new remastering of Fritz Reiner's account of Das Lied von der Erde with the Chicago Symphony. The recording, which was one of the first stereo versions of the work, features Maureen Forrester and Richard Lewis as soloists.

And finally, looking ahead to September, the San Francisco Symphony's own label plans to reissue the orchestra's 1996 recording of Das klagende Lied, making it disc number nine in the SFSO's ongoing Mahler cycle. The recording features soprano Marina Shaguch, mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung, tenor Thomas Moser, baritone Sergei Leiferkus and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus; Michael Tilson Thomas conducts.

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