Classical CD Highlights: June

Classic Arts News   Classical CD Highlights: June
A Vivaldi opera makes its debut on disc and the London Symphony launches a Beethoven cycle.

Vivaldi: Motezuma (Archiv B0006490)
Sallinen: The King Goes Forth in France (Ondine 1066-2D)
Wagner: Die Walk‹re (Testament SBT4 1391)

Two operas composed centuries apart appear in world-premiere recordings while a classic performance of a third finally makes its way onto disc after more than 50 years. On Archiv, Alan Curtis leads the first-ever recording of the recently rediscovered Motezuma, one of Vivaldi's most colorful and exotic operas. The manuscript, found in 2002, was edited and reconstructed by Curtis. Aulis Sallinen's colorful 1984 opera The King Goes Forth in France makes its CD debut on Ondine. Okko Kamu leads a fine Finnish cast in this absurdist tale of power, war, and madness.

In 1955, Decca's engineers ventured to Bayreuth to capture the Ring, in stereo, with a cast featuring some of the era's preeminent Wagner singers under conductor Joseph Keilberth. For a variety of reasons, it took 50 years for the recordings to be released. Testament issued Siegfried earlier this year to rave reviews; it now continues the Keilberth Ring cycle with Die Walk‹re. The recording captures some of post-War Bayreuth's biggest stars at their peaks, including soprano Astrid Varnay, bass-baritone Hans Hotter, and tenor Ramon Vinay.

Bach: Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord, Vol. 2 (Analekta AN 2 9830)
Bach/Stokowski: Symphonic Transcriptions (Naxos 8.557883)
The Cries of London (Harmonia Mundi HMU 807214)

Two recent releases should delight Bach fans. Violinist James Ehnes' first disc of Bach sonatas offered brilliant playing. The Canadian virtuoso is equally spectacular in this follow-up, which completes the set and also includes a pair of handsome sonatas attributed to Bach that are more likely the work of his second wife, Anna Magdalena. Ehnes' partner is harpsichordist Luc Beausejour.

Long before the period-instrument movement dictated the "correct" way to play Baroque music, Leopold Stokowski brought the works of Bach into the concert hall through his own transcriptions for symphony orchestra. Stokowski, who as a young church organist played Bach often, brought a sense of drama and color to his transcriptions. Jos_ Serebrier captures these qualities in a new Naxos release with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Works on the CD include the famous "Little" Fugue and the "Air" from the Suite No. 3, plus bits of Handel and Purcell and Stokowski's arrangement of a couple of well-known liturgical melodies.

For early-music fans, Paul Hillier's Theatre of Voices and the viol consort Fretwork offer a varied collection of 16th century English music accompanied by the cries of street vendors, tradesmen, and town criers of the period. The result is supposed to evoke the raucous street life of London in the 1700s.

Henze: Violin Concertos 1 and 3 (Naxos 8.557738)
Mahler: Symphony No. 6; Henze: Sebastian im Traum (RCO Live RCO 06001)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7, Triple Concerto (LSO Live 0078)
Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 6 (LSO Live LSO 0082)
Prokofiev: The Symphonies (Philips B0006329)

Hans Werner Henze's three violin concertos span his entire career and cover a sweeping range of emotions. Last year, MDG issued a well-received disc containing all three concertos. If you want a low-priced introduction to these works, a new Naxos disc is worth checking out. The release contains Concerto No. 1 (1946) and No. 3 (1997) performed by Peter Sheppard Skaerved and the Saarbrucken Radio Symphony under Christopher Lyndon-Gee. The substantial fill-up is Henze's Five Night-Pieces for violin and piano, written for Skaerved and Aaron Shorr, the performers on this disc. Henze's Sebastian im Traum—based on a poem depicting nocturnal images of the Austrian countryside—is the appropriate coupling for a performance of Mahler's dark Sixth Symphony on the Concertgebouw Orchestra's own label. The release marks the Henze's world premiere on disc; it's also music director Mariss Jansons' first recording of a Mahler symphony with the Concertgebuow, an orchestra with a long tradition of performing Mahler.

Like the Concertgebouw, the London Symphony Orchestra releases discs on its own label. The newest project from the LSO is a Beethoven symphony cycle, with the esteemed Beethoven conductor Bernard Haitink. So far there are two discs in the set, recorded live last year as the LSO presented its first Beethoven cycle in 20 years. One CD features the Second and Sixth Symphonies; the other contains the Seventh and the Triple Concerto with soloists Gordon Nikolitch (violin), Tim Hugh (cello), and Lars Vogt (piano). Haitink, by the way, brings the LSO to New York in October for performances of all the Beethoven symphonies at Lincoln Center. The LSO can also be heard in a mid-price set of the seven Prokofiev symphonies with Valery Gergiev conducting. The four CDs, recorded in 2004, are being reissued to mark the Russian maestro's appointment as the LSO's principal conductor.

Chopin: Waltzes (Harmonia Mundi HMC 901927)
Dukas: Piano Sonata (Hyperion CDA 67513)
Mozart: Pianos Concertos 12 and 17 (Philips B0006594)
Mozart: Piano Sonatas 1-3 (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 84236)

Chopin's waltzes, usually performed these days as encores or fillers, take center stage in a fine new disc from Harmonia Mundi. Pianist Alexandre Tharaud performs all 19 waltzes (including the ones published posthumously) and even throws in a bonus: Federico Mompou's Valse-ê_vocation (Variations on a Theme of Chopin). Pianist Marc-Andr_ Hamelin has built a career out of reviving neglected Romantic gems. He scores again with a Hyperion disc featuring the epic and daunting Piano Sonata of Paul Dukas. Four turn-of-the-20th-century piano works by the little-known Abel Decaux round out the disc.

In celebration of pianist Alfred Brendel's 75th birthday and the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth, Philips presents a new installment of Brendel's Mozart concerto series. Charles Mackerras, like Brendel an acclaimed Mozartian, conducts. Still more Mozart comes to us in a DVD-CD combo from RCA via Deutsche Harmonia Mundi. The set features fortepianist Robert Levin playing the first three piano sonatas.

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