Classical CD Highlights: May

Classic Arts News   Classical CD Highlights: May
Decca looks back at the recording career of violinist Joshua Bell; new collections pay tribute to two divas who turned 70 this year.

Bruch, Mendelssohn, Mozart: Violin Concertos (Decca B0004203)
Tchaikovsky, Wieniawski, Brahms, Schumann: Violin Concertos (Decca B0004204)
Violin Favorites and Showpieces (Decca B0004205)

Joshua Bell is only 37 (and he looks even younger), but the ex-child prodigy has been recording for Decca for 10 years. For Bell's anniversary, the label is re-releasing many of the violinist's recordings in a series of specially priced two-disc sets (two CDs for the price of one). Already available are collections of concertos by Mendelssohn, Bruch, and Mozart and Tchaikovsky, Wieniawski, Brahms, and Schumann, as well as a set featuring violin showpieces and encores. Due out soon are albums of French chamber works, concertos by Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and works by Saint-Saens, Lalo, and Chausson.

Barber, Shostakovich: Violin Concertos (EMI 72434768042)
Beethoven, Brahms, Ravel, Messiaen, Salonen, Grey (Warner 61948)

Two other violin prodigies who went on to have major careers also release new CDs this month. Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg performs Barber's only Violin Concerto and Shostakovich's First with the London Symphony Orchestra on an EMI release; conductor Maxim Shostakovich adds an air of authority to the performance of his father's work. Leila Josefowicz offers a diverse program of music for violin and piano by Beethoven, Brahms, Ravel, Messaien, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Mark Grey.

Akademie f‹r Alte Musik Berlin : Ouvert‹ren: Music for the Hamburg Opera (Harmonia Mundi HMC 901805.07)
In time for its first North American tour, one of Europe's more unusual period instrument bands offers a new disc of off-the-beaten-track Baroque repertory. The Akademie f‹r Alte Musik Berlin, founded by young East German musicians in 1982, performs without a conductor, instead using a democratic approach to music-making that helped earn it a following across the Continent. On its latest CD, Ouvert‹ren: Music for the Hamburg Opera, the ensemble plays overtures and orchestral suites by Handel and such less-known composers as Keiser, Erlebach, and Schurmann. All of the music was written for the renowned Hamburg Opera in the first decades after the company's founding in 1678. The Akademie kicks off its U.S. debut tour with a appearances May 6 at Mandel Hall in Chicago and May 8 at Zankel Hall in New York. The group will then visit Schenectady, New York; Washington; Boston; and Berkeley, Napa, and Los Angeles, California.

Mirella Freni: A Celebration (Decca B0004244)
Brava Berganza! A Birthday Tribute (Deutsche Grammophon B000426602)
Jonathan Lemalu: Opera Arias (EMI 7243 5 57605 2 4)

The legendary soprano Mirella Freni, beloved for her pure, focused tone, celebrates 50 years on the operatic stage this year and Decca is marking the occasion with a two-CD tribute featuring scenes and arias from some of her finest recordings. Freni, who turned 70 in February and continues to perform (she sang the title role in Tchaikovsky's Maid of Orleans in Washington this spring), will be feted at a gala at the Metropolitan Opera on May 15 to mark the 40th anniversary of her debut with that company. Another beloved singer, the versatile mezzo-soprano Teresa Berganza, also turned 70 this year. Deutsche Grammophon's Brava Berganza! A Birthday Tribute, celebrates this milestone with a program featuring arias by Mozart, Puccini, and others as well as a selection of Spanish songs.

A much younger singer, New Zealand-born bass baritone Jonathan Lemalu, sings Mozart, Rossini, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, and more on a new EMI disc. Lemalu is accompanied, appropriately enough, by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, led by James Judd. The release marks Lemalu's graduation to the main EMI label after previously appearing in its Debut series, devoted to undiscovered artists.

The Chamber Music of Aaron Copland (Arabesque Z6794)
Music From Copland House is the resident ensemble at Aaron's Copland's picturesque former retreat in New York State's Hudson Valley. The group, made up of accomplished musicians, has just released a two-disc set on Arabesque devoted to the music of—who else?—Copland. The set, which pulls together for the first time all of Copland's published works for up to six players, should be an eye-opener for those who know this quintessentially American composer solely through his popular ballet scores. Among the items presented is the tart Vitebsk for Piano Trio, the engaging Violin Sonata, and several rarely performed works from the 1960s and '70s.

Mendelssohn: Complete Symphonies (RCA Victor 67885)
Vivaldi: Complete Cello Concertos (RCA Victor 67886)
Brahms: Complete Piano Music (RCA Victor 67887)

For bargain hunters, RCA provides several new sets in its Complete Collections series of cut-price reissues. Claus Peter Flor leads the Bamberg Symphony in performances of the symphonies, concertos and overtures of Mendelssohn. Cellist Ofra Harnoy does most of the heavy lifting in a set of Vivaldi concertos, but other soloists, including Igor Oistrakh, join in. Gerard Oppitz is the soloist in a five-disc set containing all of Brahms' piano music.

Britten: The Three String Quartets (EMI 5 57968 2)
Britten: Piano Concerto, Johnson Over Jordan (Naxos 8.557197)

One of Europe's hottest young chamber ensembles, the Belcea Quartet, performs Britten's three masterful string quartets, along with his Three Divertimenti, in a new two-CD set. The group drew rave reviews last fall for its performance of the composer's Third Quartet in New York. Meanwhile, a reissue from Naxos returns Joanna MacGregor's excellent account of Britten's Piano Concerto to the catalog. The performance, originally released on the now-defunct Collins label, is coupled with a couple of rarities: the concerto's original third movement, which was discarded in favor of a flashier finale, and the suite Johnson Over Jordan.

Spohr: Clarinet Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (Hyperion CDA67509)
Spohr: String Quartets (Marco Polo 8.225307)

Louis Spohr has long been overshadowed by the giants of the 19th century, but this prolific composer's melodious, well-crafted music merits an occasional hearing. Two discs offer new opportunities to sample some Spohr: On Hyperion, Michael Collins and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra perform the composer's two clarinet concertos under the direction of Robin O'Neill; the Marco Polo label reaches Volume 11 in its series of the complete Spohr string quartets.

Alfano: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 (CPO 777080)
Five Centuries of German Music in Transylvania (Electrecord 0168)

Finally, a pair of releases for those seeking the unusual. A recent CPO disc presents two symphonies by Franco Alfano, the composer mostly remembered today as the man who completed Turandot (rather unsatisfactorily) after Puccini's death; Israel Yinon conducts the Brandenburg State Orchestra of Frankfurt. Electrecord presents Five Centuries of German Music in Transylvania, a disc containing two pieces by Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf and about 75 minutes of obscurities.

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