Classical CD Highlights: July

Classic Arts News   Classical CD Highlights: July
The record companies gear up for Shostakovich's 100th birthday centennial while Sony Classical pulls out some much-missed gems from its archives.

Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 1
and 14 (EMI 58077)
Shostakovich: Suite from
Lady Macbeth; Balda
(DG 477 611-2)
Shostakovich: String Quartets
Nos. 3, 7, 8 (DG 477 614-6)
Shostakovich, Schnittke: Cello Sonatas
(Hyperion CDA 67534)
Britten: War Requiem
(London Philharmonic Orchestra

The day of Shostakovich's centennial is coming up in September and record companies are celebrating with some notable new releases. EMI presents an all-star lineup — soprano Karita Mattila, bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff, conductor Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic — in a performance of Shostakovich's next-to-last symphony, the 14th. This is the BPO's first recording of the symphony, a dark and moving setting of 11 poems that was dedicated to Benjamin Britten. On this disc it is paired with the composer's brilliant First; both works were recorded in concert at the Philharmonie.

Shostakovich's opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District drew the wrath of Stalin shortly after its premiere but the work ultimately outlived both the dictator and the Soviet Union. Thomas Sanderling leads the Russian Philharmonic in a suite from the opera on a Deutsche Grammophon CD. The coupling is a rarely heard "comic book opera" called The Tale about a Priest and His Labourer Balda, Shostakovich's music for an obscure animated film. In another DG release, the Hagen Quartett performs three of Shotakovich's masterful string quartets, the Third, the Seventh, and the harrowing Eighth.

The Lady Macbeth debacle forced Shostakovich to adopt a more conservative style. One of the first of these post-Macbeth works is his Cello Sonata, Op. 40. Cellist Alban Gerhardt and pianist Stephen Osbourne perform it on a new disc from Hyperion. The disc also features shorter works by Shostakovich and several pieces by Alfred Schnittke, including his Cello Sonata.

Shostakovich's great friend Britten wrote his War Requiem as a grand pacifist statement. The London Philharmonic's own label offers a recording of the work captured during a live performance last year on the 60th anniversary of V-E Day. Kurt Masur conducts; the vocal soloists are Christine Brewer, Anthony Dean Griffey and Gerald Finley.

Harris: Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4 (Naxos 8.559227)
American Journey: Bernstein, Copland, Foss, Bennett
(Naxos 8.559235)
Primrose: Viola Transcriptions (Naxos 8.557391)
John Cerminaro: A Life in Music (NSS Music NSS3)

In time for America's birthday, Naxos presents two discs containing American music. In the years before World War II, Roy Harris's Symphony No. 3 was considered the greatest symphony yet written in this country. The compact, single-movement work remains the most original of Harris's 13 symphonies and it still packs a punch when played well. Leonard Bernstein recorded it twice with the New York Philharmonic; one of his prot_g_s, Marin Alsop, performs it here with the Colorado Symphony. The disc, the first in a Harris cycle, also includes the "Folk Song Symphony" (No. 4), an engaging though less original work that draws on folk music, marches and cowboy ditties.

Also from Naxos, American Journey features Arnold Steinhardt, who is best known as the first violinist of the Guarneri Sting quartet, playing some of his favorite 20th-century violin works, including pieces by Bernstein, Copland, Foss and Robert Russell Bennett. The great violist William Primrose, hoping to overcome some of the scorn traditionally heaped on his instrument, transcribed a number of showpieces for viola. Roberto D‹az, until recently the principal violist of the Philadelphia Orchestra (he's about to become head of the Curtis Institute of Music), performs some of them on an Amati viola that had been owned by Primrose. NSS Music, the label founded in 2005 by violinist Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg, offers an intriguing collection of works for horn and orchestra performed by John Cerminaro, the Seattle Symphony's principal horn. The disc includes live performances of concertos by Glire, Mozart, Richard Strauss and David Amram.

Trag_diennes: Arias by Lully, Campra, Rameau, Mondonville, Royer,
Leclair and Gluck (Virgin Classics 46762)
Invitation au voyage (Harmonia Mundi HMC 901875)
L'invitation au voyage (Hyperion CDA 67523)
Brahms: Missa Canonica (Hyperion CDA 67559)

Soprano V_ronique Gens offers on Virgin Classics a collection of arias from the French tragic operas of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Gens, an alumna of Les Arts Florissants, has previously recorded solo discs of French m_lodies by Faur_, Debussy and Poulenc as well as Berlioz's Nuits d'_t_. This new disc spans almost a century of French opera from Campra and Lully to Gluck. She is backed by Christophe Rousset and his early music ensemble Les Talens Lyriques.

No, that's not a mistake — two labels are releasing discs this month with nearly identical titles. Harmonia Mundi's Invitation au voyage features baritone Dietrich Henschel singing German, Italian, French and English songs on the theme of travel; his itinerary takes him through works by Mahler, Pizzetti, Duparc and Vaughan Williams. Pianist Fritz Schwimminghammer accompanies. On Hyperion, tenor John Mark Ainsley and pianist Graham Johnson perform 24 songs from the period just before World War I, including four settings of the Baudelaire poem that gave the disc its title. The release is part of the label's ongoing French Song Edition.

Also from Hyperion comes a Brahms rarity. The Missa Canonica, composed in 1856 but not performed until 1983, gets a reading by the Westminster Cathedral Choir under Martin Baker. Rheinberger's Mass in E-flat for double choir shares the disc.

Mahler: Symphony No. 10
(Sony Classical Great Performances 78742)
Bart‹k: Piano Sonatas
(Sony Classical Great Performances 78750)
Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov (excerpts); Pictures at an Exhibition
(Sony Classical Great Performances 78747)
Bach: Two- and Three-Part Inventions
(Sony Classical Great Performances 78766)

Finally, a trove of reissues. Sony Classical reintroduces the budget-priced Great Performances series with 10 titles. The collection includes a number of important recordings that have been out of print for years, among them Eugene Ormandy's rendition of Deryck Cooke's completion of Mahler's Tenth, Murray Perahia's performances of Bartok's piano sonatas, and George London singing excerpts from Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov coupled with the spectacular Ormandy-Philadelphia Pictures at an Exhibition. Several previously unreleased Glenn Gould Bach recordings from 1955 are also part of the series.

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