Classical CD Highlights: June

Classic Arts News   Classical CD Highlights: June
A magnificent recital by Lorraine Hunt Lieberson is back in print, Lang Lang plays Beethoven, and American composers shine in a variety of new releases.

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and
Roger Vignoles at Wigmore Hall

(Wigmore Hall Live WHLive 0013)
Nicole Cabell, Soprano
(Decca 289 4757 6617)

The beloved American mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, whose untimely death was a heavy blow to the music world, can be heard again on a new CD containing her acclaimed 1998 Wigmore Hall recital. She sings works by Mahler, Handel and Brahms as well as a traditional spiritual and two songs by her husband, Peter Lieberson. Roger Vignoles is the pianist. The concert recording, originally released by the BBC, has been remastered by Wigmore Hall Live, the London concert venue's own label, with detailed booklet notes added.

A relative newcomer, 28-year-old soprano Nicole Cabell, gets her first solo album, a disc that features old favorites (Musetta's Waltz, "O mio babbino caro") and some rarities, such as a selection from Tippett's oratorio A Child of Our Time. Cabell, the winner of the 2005 Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, won acclaim earlier this year as a last-minute substitute for Angela Gheorghiu.

Tower: Made in America, Concerto for Orchestra (Naxos 8.559328)
Hanson: Merry Mount (Naxos 8.669012/13)
Corigliano: String Quartet; Friedman: String Quartet No. 2
(Naxos 8.559180)
Sierra: New Music with a Caribbean Accent (Naxos 8.559263)
Gershwin: Piano Concerto in F, Rhapsody in Blue, Cuban Overture
(Harmonia Mundi HMU 807441)
Golijov: Oceana, Tenebrae, Three Songs
(Deutsche Grammophon 477 6426)

With the Fourth of July just around the corner, it's a great time to stock up on American music, and Naxos's American Classics series has a few releases worth investigating.

Joan Tower's Made in America began as an effort by 65 small orchestras around the U.S. to pool their resources to commission a work from a major American composer. The piece — a colorful fantasy on "America the Beautiful" — premiered in Glens Falls, New York in 2005 and has been played more than 80 times since then in all 50 states. Leonard Slatkin leads the Nashville Symphony Orchestra in the work's first recording. The disc also includes Tower's Concerto for Orchestra and Tambor.

Howard Hanson's opera Merry Mount got 50 curtain calls at its Metropolitan Opera premiere in 1934 but has rarely been performed since. The Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Gerard Schwarz revived the work in 1996 with a pair of concert performances; this two-CD set, billed as the opera's first complete recording, is culled from those concerts. The opera, based on a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, concerns a conflict between traders and settlers in colonial Massachusetts. The cast includes Lauren Flanigan, Walter MacNeil, Richard Zeller and Charles Robert Austin.

John Corigliano pays tribute to his father, the longtime concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, in a haunting and lyrical work called Snapshot: Circa 1909, which opens a disc of American music for string quartet. The CD also includes Corigliano's 1995 Quartet and the Second Quartet of young Jefferson Friedman (born 1974), a pupil of Corigliano.

Afro-Caribbean chant, Latin pop, Caribbean folk tunes and the distinctive sounds of Puerto Rico's native tree frogs helped shape the music of Roberto Sierra. The contemporary music ensemble Continuum performs a selection of his works from the 1980s and early '90s.

California native Jon Nakamatsu, the 1997 Van Cliburn Competition winner, is the soloist on a new Harmonia Mundi release featuring three evergreen works by Gershwin, including Rhapsody in Blue, which Nakamtsu peformed at the White House for President and Mrs. Clinton. Jeff Tyzik conducts the Rochester Philharmonic.

Argentine-American composer Osvaldo Golijov presents his third album of new works for the Deutsche Grammophon label. Soprano Dawn Upshaw, a favorite of Golijov's, is back to sing the Straussian Three Songs. The major work on the disc, the jazz- and Latin-tinged Oceana, features orchestra, three guitars, harp and voice; it is played by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra under Robert Spano, with Brazilian jazz singer Luciana Souza.

Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 4
(Deutsche Grammophon 477 6719)
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 6 (H‹nssler Classic HNS 98206)
Brahms: Complete String Quartets
(Deutsche Grammophon 477 6458)
Brahms: Complete Works for Violin and Piano
(Arte Nova ANO 592250)
String Quartets of Middle Europe (Arte Nova ANO 340360)

Turning to the mainstream classics, Beethoven gets a workout from two pianists. Young Chinese sensation Lang Lang, in his first Beethoven disc, offers the Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 4; Christoph Eschenbach and the Orchestre de Paris back him up. Volume 6 of Gerhard Oppitz's well-regarded cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas features a trio of big middle-period works: Sonata No. 11; Sonata No. 21 (the "Waldstein") and Sonata No. 23, the mighty "Appasionata."

The Emerson String Quartet recently marked its 30th anniversary with a two-disc traversal of all three Brahms quartets; the set also includes a performance of the F minor Piano Quintet with Leon Fleisher. From the budget Arte Nova label comes another Brahms set, this one featuring all three violin sonatas, the scherzo from the FAE Sonata, and transcriptions for violin and piano of the two clarinet sonatas. Ulf Wallin is the violinist and Roland P‹ntinen is the pianist.

The San Francisco-based Alexander Quartet recorded an impressive Beethoven cycle for Arte Nova several years ago. Now the ensemble is back with a CD featuring three diverse Central European works: Smetana's Quartet No. 1, "From My Life"; Janšcek's First Quartet, "The Kreutzer Sonata"; and Schubert's brief Quartettsatz.

American Virtuosa: Tribute to Maud Powell (Cedille CDR 90000 097)
Schumann: Lieder Transcriptions by Clara Schumann
(Arte Nova ANO 797580)

Two new discs celebrate extraordinary women. Violinist Rachel Barton Pine pays tribute to Maude Powell (1867-1920), a popular violinist in her day and a champion of American music. With pianist Matthew Hagle, Pine plays short pieces dedicated to or arranged by Powell, including works by well-known composers like Chopin, Dvoršk, and Sibelius and by less-famous names such as Bauer and Burleigh. On the budget-priced Arte Nova label, pianist Cord Gerben plays 28 Schumann songs as transcribed for solo piano by the composer's wife, the gifted pianist and composer Clara Schumann.

Stephan: Die ersten Menschen (NaÇve V5028)
Martin: Le Vin herb_ (Harmonia Mundi HMC 90135)
Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (Opera D'Oro OPD 7039)

From the opera world, a couple of rarities. German composer Rudi Stephan was just 28 when he was killed in combat in World War I. His only opera, Die ersten Menschen (The First Men), can be heard on a new NaÇve release that captures a Radio France concert performance from 2004. The two-act opera, premiered five years after the composer died, is based on an "erotic mystery" by Otto Borngr‹ber and concerns four characters lifted from Genesis. The recording features soprano Nancy Gustafson, bass Franz Hawlata, tenor Wolfgang Millgramm and baritone Donnie Ray Albert. Frank Martin's Le Vin herb_, a modern adaptation of the Tristan legend, was the work that won the Swiss composer overdue international recognition. This performance features the Australian tenor Steve Davislim, who is scheduled to make his Metropolitan Opera debut in Die Entf‹hrung aus dem Serail next spring, and sopranos Sandrine Piau and Jutta B‹hnert. Daniel Reuss conducts.

Finally, speaking of Tristan, Opera D'Oro has a mid-price release of a 1974 Bayreuth production of the Wagner opera. The cast includes Kurt Moll and Yvonne Minton; the great Carlos Kleiber conducts.

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