Classical CD Highlights: November

Classic Arts News   Classical CD Highlights: November
A Vivaldi opera and a Soviet-era symphony make their debuts on disc; Monteverdi's Vespers and Pergolesi's Stabat Mater get major new recordings; two conductors continue Beethoven symphony cycles.

Vivaldi: Griselda
(NaÇve/Opus 111 OP30419)
Pergolesi: Stabat Mater
(Virgin Classics 3633402)
Monteverdi: Vespers
(DG Archiv 289 477 6147)
Praetorius: Christmas Vespers
(Koch Int'l Classics 7673)
Mozart: Mass in C minor, K. 427
(EMI Classics 59309)

Some fascinating vocal performances of music from the Baroque era take center stage this month. NaÇve issues the world premiere recording of Vivaldi's opera Griselda, the story of a shepherdess who marries a king but faces the people's scorn because of her common origins. The three-disc set is the 25th release in the label's continuing Vivaldi Edition, which aims to record 450 of the Red Priest's works.

Virgin Classics presents a star-studded recording of Pergolesi's haunting Stabat Mater. The work, originally scored for (presumably neutered) male soprano and male alto, is sung here by a male contralto, David Daniels, and a female soprano, Dorothea R‹schmann. They are joined by Fabio Biondi and his energetic early music band, Europa Galante. The disc also includes two Pergolesi settings of the Salve Regina — one in F minor for alto and one in A minor for soprano.

On DG Archiv, Paul McCreesh and his Gabrieli Consort & Players present Monteverdi's Vespro della beata vergine, the famous collection of music for the Vespers service published in 1610. The group's concert performances of this early Baroque masterpiece have drawn considerable acclaim over the years. McCreesh adds Gregorian chant and a couple of instrumental works to provide the context of a Vespers liturgy.

Another Vespers recording comes from the Cleveland-based Baroque orchestra Apollo's Fire, which builds a Christmas service around sacred music by the 17th-century German composer Michael Praetorius. Many of the works included are colorful fantasias on Christmas tunes still recognized and sung today.

Moving ahead to the Classical period, Mozart's magnificent C minor Mass appears on a new recording from Louis Langr_e, the music director of New York's Mostly Mozart Festival. On this release, he leads his own completion of the work; among his soloists are the radiant sopranos Natalie Dessay and V_ronique Gens.

Bliss: Quintet for Oboe
and String Quartet;
Britten: String Quartet No. 3
(Cedille 90000 093)
String Quartets Nos. 3, 14, 15;
Piano Quintet
(Sony Classical 79018)
Shostakovich (arr. Bashmet):
Violin Sonata, Viola Sonata
(Deutsche Grammophon
289 477 61969)
Weinberg: Symphonies
Nos. 14 and 16
(Chandos CHN CD 10334)
Galina Vishnevskaya:
80th Birthday Tribute
(EMI Classics 65008)

Two distinguished string quartets can be heard in important new releases. The Vermeer Quartet, currently in the midst of its farewell tour after a run of nearly 40 years, presents a valedictory CD of music by Bliss and Britten. The disc, on the Cedille label, is the Vermeer's first recording of British music and its first with oboe. With former Chicago Symphony principal oboist Alex Klein, the Vermeer plays Britten's early "Phantasy" Quartet and Bliss's Quintet for Oboe and String Quartet. Without oboe, the quartet performs Britten's Third String Quartet, his last major work. The Vermeer's final tour includes performances of the Britten work in Washington in late November and New York in April.

The great Juilliard Quartet celebrates its 60th anniversary with a new recording of three Shostakovich quartets — Nos. 3, 14 and 15. The performances are part of a two-disc set that also includes the Juilliard's excellent 1999 recording of the Shostakovich Piano Quintet with Yefim Bronfman.

Another Shostakovich release in this, his centennial year, comes from violinist Gidon Kremer and violist Yuri Bashmet. The pair teams up to perform Bashmet's arrangements — for soloist, string orchestra, and percussion — of Shostakovich's Violin Sonata and Viola Sonata.

Chandos continues its survey of the music of Shostakovich's neglected contemporary, Mieczyslaw Weinberg, an inventive and prolific composer whose Romantic-flavored works are only beginning to emerge from the historical cloak of Communism and Soviet anti-Semitism. This disc includes the first recording of the 16th Symphony.

Speaking of Russian music, the distinctive soprano voice of Galina Vishnevskaya can be heard in a three-CD tribute released by EMI to mark her 80th birthday (October 25). The budget-priced set, originally recorded in the 1970s, features Russian songs and arias that the singer performed with her husband, the legendary cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, at the piano. The set includes music by Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky.

Ives: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4 (Hyperion CDA 67540)
Ives: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3 (Hyperion CDA 67525)
Ives: String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 (Naxos 8.559178)
Copland: Orchestral Works (Naxos 8.559240)
Reich: Different Trains, Piano Phase (Black Box BBM 1097)

American music takes is featured in several interesting new releases. Andrew Litton and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra tackle the ornery Charles Ives's four symphonies on a pair of Hyperion releases that are garnering excellent reviews. The discs, recorded live in concert, also include more of Ives's idiosyncratic music — Central Park in the Dark and General William Booth Enters Into Heaven with baritone Donnie Ray Albert. More Ives: On a new Naxos disc, the Blair Quartet plays the two string quartets.

Also on Naxos, JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic tackle several Copland works inspired by the wide-open spaces of the heartland, among them Rodeo and the Suite from the score to the film The Red Pony.

In honor of the 70th birthday of Steve Reich, Black Box offers two works by the seminal minimalist: Different Trains, which pairs live musicians and a backing track of pre-recorded speech samples, train sounds and music, and Piano Phase, an earlier work in which two pianists play repetitive loops that gradually move in and out of sync. The CD also includes the String Quartet No. 2 by Reich's prot_g_, Marc Mellits.

Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps
(Deutsche Grammophon 289 477 61983)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (BIS SACD-1616)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (LSO Live 0092)
Mahler: Symphony No. 5 (SFSO 60012)
Mahler: Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection"
(Channel Classics CCS SA 23506)

This month also sees some major releases of several orchestral landmarks. Esa-Pekka Salonen's first live recording from Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles features Stravinsky's sonic powerhouse, The Rite of Spring. Salonen conducted this same work in 2003 in the Los Angeles Philharmonic's inaugural concert in its new hall. The disc also includes two other showpieces: Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain and Bart‹k's Miraculous Mandarin Suite.

Two Beethoven cycles continue with recordings of the mighty Ninth. Osmo V‹nsk‹ and the Minnesota Orchestra present the third release in their widely-praised Beethoven series; this Ninth, recorded in concert in January, features soprano Helena Juntunen, mezzo Katarina Karn_us, tenor Daniel Norman and bass-baritone Neal Davies. Meanwhile, the LSO Live label offers the fourth release in the London Symphony Orchestra's Beethoven cycle with Bernard Haitink; his soloists are Twyla Robinson (soprano), Karen Cargill (mezzo), John MacMaster (tenor) and Gerald Finley (bass).

Two other conductors continue their acclaimed Mahler cycles. Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Franscisco Symphony perform the Fifth on the orchestra's own label, and Ivên Fischer leads the Budapest Festival Orchestra, along with soprano Lisa Milne and alto Birgit Remmert, in the "Resurrection" Symphony (No. 2).

Paganini, Spohr: Violin Concertos
(Deutsche Grammophon 289 477 62324)
C.P.E. Bach: Symphonies Nos. 1-4, Cello Concerto
(Harmonia Mundi HMU 907403)

Finally, some music that's not heard so frequently. Violinist Hilary Hahn solos in a pair of 19th-century concertos that have fallen out of the repertoire in recent years, Paganini's Violin Concerto No. 1 and Spohr's Violin Concerto No. 8. She is backed by Eiji Oue and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Andrew Manze and the English Concert offer a quartet of engaging and often witty symphonies by Bach's most illustrious son, Carl Philipp Emanuel. The disc also includes C.P.E. Bach's Cello Concerto, with soloist Alison McGillivray.

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