Classical CD Highlights: June

Classic Arts News   Classical CD Highlights: June
A new 10-disc set displays the artistry of the late violinist and conductor Iona Brown; budget-priced opera releases feature Renata Scotto, Barbara Bonney, Roberto Alagna, Galina Vishnevskaya, and other stars.

Iona Brown: The Collection (Hanssler Classic 98.490)
Mention the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and most people think of Neville Marriner, but few musicians were more important to the popular and widely recorded chamber orchestra than violinist Iona Brown. Brown joined the Academy in 1964 and rose through the ranks, performing as a soloist and conductor on many of the ensemble's finest recordings. Her death last year of cancer at the relatively young age of 63 robbed the world of a talented and elegant musician. Hanssler Classic is releasing a 10-CD testament to Brown's career. It showcases Brown as soloist and conductor in many of the Academy's best recorded performances, including works by Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Purcell, and Vivaldi.

Riley, Scodanibbio: Diamond Fiddle Language (Wergo WER 6675)
American Terry Riley, the composer of the seminal Minimalist work In C, turns 70 on June 25. Just in time, Wergo pairs Riley, as composer-keyboardist, with the innovative Italian double bassist and composer Stefano Scodanibbio. Both musicians are known for exploring new instrumental techniques, tuning systems, and harmonies. This release, recorded over the span of 18 months during performances at three separate locations, should offer some fascinating sounds.

Puccini: Tosca (DG B0004584)
Verdi: Aida (DG B0004582)
Verdi: Rigoletto (DG B0004583)
Donizetti: L'elisir d'amore (DG B0004580)
Mozart: Die Entf‹hrung aus dem Serail (DG Archiv B0004581)
Verdi: La traviata (Decca 440-0743090-3)
Donizetti: L'elisir d'amore (Decca 440-0743091-0)
Beethoven: Fidelio (Chandos CHAN 3123)

The Universal Classics labels present a number of bargains for opera lovers this month. Deutsche Grammophon offers a new series of budget-priced complete-opera reissues called "Opera House," each of which retails for about the price of a single CD. The series kicks off with five releases: Puccini's Tosca starring Galina Vishnevskaya, in a performance that appears on CD for the first time; Verdi's Aida with a star-studded cast that includes Plšcido Domingo, Katia Ricciarelli, Ruggero Raimondi, and Nicolai Ghiaurov; Verdi's Rigoletto with Carlo Bergonzi, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and Renata Scotto; a recording of Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, starring Barbara Bonney, that has never been released in the United States; and a period-instrument reading of Mozart's Die Entf‹hrung aus dem Serail under the direction of John Eliot Gardiner.

Decca introduces two CD-plus-DVD collections, each of which offers a complete opera on video along with a disc of audio highlights. One set contains Verdi's La traviata with Georg Solti conducting and Angela Gheorghiu as Violetta; it was this performance at Covent Garden that helped turn Gheorghiu into an international star. The other set features Gheorghiu again, this time with her husband, Roberto Alagna, in a L'elsisir taped at the Lyon National Opera.

Meanwhile, the independent Chandos label continues its long-running Opera in English series with Beethoven's Fidelio. This opera should come off well in translation since so much of the action is conveyed through spoken dialogue. Soprano Christine Brewer sings the role of Leonore and David Parry leads the Philharmonia Orchestra.

R. Strauss: Complete Songs, Vol. 1 (Hyperion CDA 67488)
Mendelssohn: String Quartets, Vol. 3 (Harmonia Mundi HMU 907288)

Brewer also can be heard on Volume 1 of Hyperion's new series devoted to the complete songs of Richard Strauss. Pianist Roger Vignoles accompanies her in a program that offers a mix of the familiar ("Wiegenlied," "Zueignung") and the obscure. Hyperion, the label behind highly regarded mega-series devoted to the songs of Schubert and Schumann, plans eight more releases in its Strauss project. While the Strauss series begins, the Eroica Quartet brings its Mendelssohn cycle to a close. The Eroica, one of Britain's leading period instrument groups, offers two heavyweights—the E-flat Quartet, Op. 44, No. 3 and the F-minor Quartet, Op. 80—along with the Four Pieces for String Quartet, Op. 81.

Stravinsky: Apollo, Agon, Orpheus (Naxos 8.55702)
Shostakovich: Quartet No. 3; Stravinsky: Concerto in D (Hanssler Classic 98.488)
Bart‹k: Complete String Quartets (Naxos 8.557543/4)

Robert Craft's interpretations of Stravinsky's music are considered authoritative, thanks to his long professional association with the composer. In a new release from Naxos that is already earning excellent reviews, Craft takes on three Greek-themed ballet scores by Stravinsky: Agon, Apollo (the revised 1947 version), and Orpheus. The London Symphony Orchestra and New York's Orchestra of St. Luke's perform.

Stravinsky figures in another interesting release this month. Violinist and conductor Dmitri Sitkovetsky leads his own string-orchestra arrangements of Shostakovich's Third String Quartet and Two Pieces for String Octet, as well as Stravinsky's Chanson russe for Violin and Piano. The disc also includes Stravinsky's Concerto in D, which was originally scored for string orchestra. Sitkovetsky leads his New European Strings, an orchestra he founded after returning to Russia in 1990 during the Glasnost period.

Speaking of 20th-century strings, Naxos offers Bart‹k's six brilliant string quartets in a budget-priced two-CD set with the accomplished Vermeer Quartet performing.

Dvoršk: Violin Concerto, Piano Concerto (CHAN 10309)
Dvoršk: Violin Concerto; Bart‹k: Rhapsodies (EMI CDR 86624)

Dvoršk's Violin Concerto hasn't quite achieved the warhorse status of the Beethoven, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky concertos, but it's an exciting and delightful work nonetheless. This month, it's featured in two releases. The Canadian virtuoso James Ehnes, a star on the rise, performs the piece on a Chandos disc that also includes Rustem Hayroudinoff playing the same composer's infrequently heard Piano Concerto; Gianandrea Noseda conducts the BBC Philharmonic. On an EMI reissue, Kyung-Wha Chung offers a poetic reading of the Violin Concerto, accompanied by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Riccardo Muti. The disc also includes Dvoršk's F-minor Romance and Bart‹k's two Rhapsodies for violin and orchestra.

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