Classical CD Highlights: March

Classic Arts News   Classical CD Highlights: March
A young pianist records his first concertos, Schumann gets a pair of noteworthy reappraisals, and a classic Ring reaches its twilight.

Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1;
Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1
(Deutsche Grammophon
477 6402)
Beethoven: Piano Concertos
Nos. 1 and 2
(Arte Nova ANO 825870)
Rameau: Keyboard Suites
(Hyperion CDA 67597)

Deutsche Grammophon releases Yundi Li's much-anticipated first concerto recording. The young Chinese pianist, who at 18 (in 2000) become the youngest-ever winner of the Chopin Competition, plays the first concertos of Chopin and Liszt, two composers who feature heavily in his solo repertory. Andrew Davis and the Philharmonia Orchestra accompany him. (Li performs the Liszt concerto on his tour of the United States this year with the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig and Riccardo Chailly.)

Yefim Bronfman finishes up his cycle of the Beethoven piano concertos on the low-priced Arte Nova label. The final installment offers Concertos 1 and 2 with the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra led by David Zinman.

Pianist Angela Hewitt, who recently has been recording 19th-century works, returns to the Baroque with a disc of suites by Jean-Phillippe Rameau.

Schumann: Violin Sonatas
(Cedille 90000 095)
Schumann: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 4
(Decca 289 4758 3523)
Brahms: Klavierst‹cke
(Virgin Classics 79302)
Brahms: The Four Symphonies
(Testament SBT 3167)
Mahler: Symphony No. 9
(Warner Classics 2564-64316)

Artists and labels are continuing to demonstrate interest in Robert Schumann, whose music has been featured on several new releases in the last few months.

The latest album of music by the tragic genius of Leipzig comes from the Chicago-based Cedille label and features violinist Jennifer Koh with pianist Reiko Uchida. The duo performs all three of Schumann's violin sonatas, late works that are relatively unfamiliar to many music lovers. For Koh, known as a performer of contemporary works, Schumann is something of a departure, although she has been venturing into the mainstream more often lately; last summer she performed the Tchaikovsky concerto with the New York Philharmonic.

Schumann's hometown orchestra, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, plays his Second and Fourth Symphonies under the baton of Riccardo Chailly on a disc recorded during concert performances. Chailly uses Mahler's editions of the scores, created to overcome some of the problems with balance and sonority that allegedly plague Schumann's orchestral writing. The overture to Schumann's only opera, Genoveva, is also included. Speaking of Mahler, Daniel Barenboim leads the powerful Ninth Symphony on a new Warner Classics CD. The Berlin Staatskapelle does the playing.

Meanwhile, Schumann's great prot_g_ and friend, Brahms, is also represented on some interesting new discs. On Virgin Classics, the American-born, Paris-trained pianist Nicholas Angelich performs the autumnal keyboard works of Op. 116-119, a follow-up to his acclaimed all-Brahms recital disc from last year. The Testament label, marking the 50th anniversary of Arturo Toscanini's death, offers Brahms's four symphonies with the legendary conductor leading the Philharmonia Orchestra in performances dating from 1952. The three-disc set also includes the Haydn Variations and the Tragic Overture.

Handel: Fernando, r di Castiglia (Virgin Classics 65483)
Wagner: G‹tterd‹mmerung (Testament SBT4 1393)
Weber: Der Freisch‹tz (Opera D'Oro OPD 7038)

The recent crop of opera releases includes a Baroque rarity. Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco perform Fernando, r di Castiglia the sixth work in their ongoing survey of Handel's operas for Virgin Classics. Fernando itself is not well known, but almost all of the music was reworked as the opera Sosarme. The cast for this recording includes Lawrence Zazzo, Veronica Cang_mi, Marianna Pizzolato, Max Emmanuel Cencic, Filippo Adami, Antonio Abete, and Neal Banerjee.

Testament's critically lauded reissue of the Joseph Keilberth-led Ring cycle from the early '50s concludes with G‹tterd‹mmerung. Astrid Varnay and Wolfgang Windgassen lead a stellar cast.

Weber's Freisch‹tz was the seminal German Romantic opera — and a huge influence on Wagner, who was nine when he saw the composer conduct the work. The budget Opera D'Oro series offers a live 1955 recording with Erich Kleiber leading the Cologne Radio Symphony and Chorus and a cast that featured Elisabeth Gr‹mmer, Rita Streich, Hans Hopf and others.

Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire, Chamber Symphony No. 1,
Herzgew‹chse (Naxos 8.557523)
Arnold: String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 (Naxos 8.557762)
Jolivet: Violin Concerto; Chausson: Pome, Op. 25
(Harmonia Mundi HMC 901925)
Glass: Music With Changing Parts (Orange Mountain Music OMM0035)

It's hard to believe that Schoenberg's Expressionist masterpiece, Pierrot Lunaire, is almost 100 years old (it premiered in 1909). On a new disc from Naxos, Anja Silja speak-sings the eerie vocal line while Robert Craft wields the baton. The CD also includes the original version of the Op. 9 Chamber Symphony, several orchestral songs and the cantata Herzgew‹chse.

The same label also offers a CD of chamber music by Malcolm Arnold, the prolific British composer who died last September. The Maggini Quartet, specialists in British music, play the String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 and a pair of shorter works.

There's more interesting 20th-century music on several other recent releases. Andr_ Jolivet's Violin Concerto, from 1973, is performed by Isabelle Faust on Harmonia Mundi; Chausson's lush Pome fills out the disc. Orange Mountain Music, the label that has been releasing Philip Glass's extensive oeuvre, offers Music With Changing Parts, performed by Icebreaker, one of England's top young new-music ensemble. The 1970 score is considered harbinger of the works that would soon make Glass famous, such as Einstein on the Beach.

Bart‹k: The 6 String Quartets
(Deutsche Grammophon 289 477 6322)
"Britten Conducts Britten", Vol. 4 (Decca 289 4756 0517)

Finally, a few truly great recordings are back as reissues. Deutsche Grammophon's new mid-price series called "Grand Prix" includes the Emerson Quartet's acclaimed 1988 Bart‹k String Quartet cycle. Benjamin Britten's own interpretations of his orchestral works and song cycles with orchestra reappear in a seven-disc box from Decca. Among the works in the set are the Violin Concerto, the Piano Concerto, the Cello Symphony, and the sublime Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings.

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