Classical CD Highlights: October

Classic Arts News   Classical CD Highlights: October
October brings an abundant harvest of noteworthy new releases and reissues, including a bumper crop of Bernstein.

Bernstein: Mass (Harmonia Mundi HMC 901840/1)
Leonard Bernstein: An American Life (Deutsche Grammophon B0003568)

Leonard Bernstein's Mass, a sometimes-awkward mix of classical, Broadway, and rock, provoked sharply mixed reviews after its 1971 premiere. The work‹commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to mark the opening of Washington's Kennedy Center‹was denounced by some critics as a self-indulgent and self-righteous product of Vietnam-era politics. Yet a number of prominent musicians championed it over the years, among them the American conductor Kent Nagano, a Bernstein student, who presented Mass to eager audiences in Berlin in 2003. You can judge the work for yourself in a new release of Nagano's performance, featuring the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester of Berlin, several choruses, electric and bass guitarist soloists, and tenor Jerry Hadley.

Want more Lenny? This month, classical radio stations around the country are airing an 11-part documentary titled Leonard Bernstein: An American Life. Produced by Chicago's WFMT-FM and narrated by actress Susan Sarandon, the series looks at Bernstein's career as a composer, conductor, and educator through his correspondence and interviews with people who knew him. Deutsche Grammophon, which has already offered several collections from its Bernstein archives this year, provides the companion album to the radio series. The two-disc set features Bernstein performing excerpts from his own works as well as movements by Beethoven, Mahler, Mozart, and others.

The Tenor's Passion: Marcelo Alvarez (Sony Classical SK 92937)
The parade of aria collections by the next generation of star tenors continues. Last month, Juan Diego Florez drew favorable reviews with a program on Decca featuring selections by Verdi, Donizetti, and others. This month, Marcelo Alvarez dives into the heart of the repertory with a disc of popular arias from La bohme, Turnadot, Carmen, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and more. The disc, due out just as Alvarez returns to the Metropolitan Opera this month to sing Rodolfo in La bohme, marks something of a departure for the young Argentine tenor, who up to now has focused mostly on lighter, lyric roles.

Messaien: Eclairs sur l'au-Dela (Illuminations of the Beyond) (EMI 7243 57788 2)
Torke: Four Proverbs; Book of Proverbs (Ecstatic Records 92202)

When he took over the Berlin Philharmonic in 2002, Simon Rattle pledged to broaden the venerable orchestra's repertory and modernize its sound. In a new EMI release recorded live in performances in June, Rattle and his rejuvenated Berliners delve into the unique sound world of the late 20th-century composer Olivier Messaien. Eclairs sur l'au-Dela, Messaien's last orchestral work, is a sprawling, lavishly scored valedictory in which the composer reaffirms his lifelong fascination with nature and his devotion to his Catholic faith.

Michael Torke's Four Proverbs and Book of Proverbs, two clever settings of verses from the Old Testament, offer a different take on spirituality. This disc marks the second release by the 43-year-old American composer's own label, Ecstatic Records. In the 1990s, Argo released a series of discs featuring Torke's exuberant music. Ecstatic acquired the rights to Argo's Torke catalogue last year and has been making those recordings available once again.

Beethoven: Triple Concerto; Choral Fantasy (Warner 60602)
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concertos; Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Hyperion CDA67501/2)
Duparc: Songs (Naxos 8.557219)

Plenty of Classical and Romantic works are featured in new recordings this month, including several intriguing discs of music for piano and orchestra. After building a reputation as a bold exponent of contemporary music, the French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard surprised his fans last year with a revealing three-disc traversal of Beethoven's five piano concertos, with Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Aimard and Harnoncourt return to Beethoven in a new release that contains the Triple Concerto, the Choral Fantasy, and a Rondo for Piano and Orchestra. In the concerto, Aimard is joined by violinist Thomas Zehetmair and cellist Clemens Hagen; the Arnold Schoenberg Choir drops in for the Fantasy.

Stephen Hough has made a career out of uncovering hidden gems of the Romantic piano repertory. In a new set from Hyperion, he aims for dead center, tackling Rachmaninoff's lush, expansive concertos plus the Paganini Rhapsody. Andrew Litton and the Dallas Symphony serve as the backup band. Critics are already comparing these recordings favorably to the composer's own.

For the budget-minded, Naxos' offerings this month include an interesting recital of melodies by the Frenchman Henri Duparc. Tenor Paul Groves teams with up pianist Roger Vignoles, an accomplished song accompanist, with soprano Emily Pulley joining in for one number.

Carlos Kleiber Conducts Schubert, Beethoven, and Wagner (Deutsche Grammophon B0003447)
Beethoven: Violin Sonatas (Vanguard 1585)
Bartok, Beethoven, Debussy: Sonatas (Vanguard 1583)

Among this month's reissues is a disc featuring Carlos Kleiber, the elusive conductor who died this summer. In a CD due out from Deutsche Grammophon, Kleiber, who limited himself largely to standard works, can be heard conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and the Dresden Staatskapelle in three staples: Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony, Brahms' Fourth, and an excerpt from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde featuring soprano Margaret Price.

Vanguard dips into its archives and delivers two releases showcasing Hungarian violin virtuoso Joseph Szigeti. Szigeti's famous set of Beethoven's ten sonatas for violin and piano, with the great Claudio Arrau at the keyboard, returns to the catalog in a four-disc set. Vanguard also offers a new pressing of Szigeti's historic April 13, 1940, recital at the Library of Congress ‹with B_la Bart‹k at the piano‹performing works by Beethoven, Debussy, and Bartok.

Recommended Reading: