Classical CD Highlights: October

Classic Arts News   Classical CD Highlights: October
Several top musicians share their favorite short pieces and a British label returns to the Unites States with a seminal recording by the late Malcolm Arnold.

Joshua Bell — Voice of the Violin
(Sony Classical SK97779)

Leif Ove Andsnes — Horizons
(EMI: 3416822)

Leon Fleisher — The Journey
(Vanguard Classics ATMCD1796)

On these releases, several major artists offer compilations of their favorite short pieces.

Joshua Bell's Voice of the Violin entered the Billboard classical chart at no. 1. The disc, a follow-up to Bell's bestselling Romance of the Violin, contains transcriptions of famous melodies and arias by Mozart, Bizet, Tchaikovsky, Donizetti, Rachmaninoff and others. Soprano Anna Netrebko joins Bell for a performance of the Richard Strauss song "Morgen."

Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes performs almost two dozen short, intimate works on his new CD, including some that he played as a youngster, several that he performs a tribute to his teachers and a number of pieces that he discovered at important times in his life. Among the composers represented are Chopin, Grieg, Sibelius, Ibert, Antheil, and Shostakovich.

The great Leon Fleisher won universal praise for Two Hands, the album that celebrated his return from debilitating focal dystonia in his right hand. Now the pianist offers The Journey, a disc featuring some works that helped launch his career, others that he had planned to record before his right hand was crippled and some that he simply felt like playing. The program includes large and small works by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Stravinsky. A companion disc that is part of the set features XM Satellite Radio's Bob Edwards interviewing Fleisher.

H_lne Grimaud — Reflection
(Deutsche Grammophon 477 589)

James Galway — My Magic Flute
(Deutsche Grammophon 477 623)

Alison Balsom — Caprice
(EMI Classics 53255)

Pianist H_lne Grimaud also gets into the concept album game with Reflections, an exploration of the complex relationship among Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms. The CD is made up of solo piano, chamber, and orchestral works, performed with conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Staatskapelle Dresden, mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter and cellist Truls Mêªrk. The biggest work on the disc is Robert Schumann's Piano Concerto. It was recorded in Dresden, where pianist Clara Schumann premiered the piece in 1845, on what would have been the Schumanns' 165th wedding anniversary.

James Galway's contribution to the Mozart 250th birthday extravaganza is a disc featuring a new recording of the Concerto for Flute and Harp, K. 299 and a three-movement piece called The Magic Flutes by David Overton, based on melodies from Mozart's Die Zauberfl‹te. Galway is joined on the disc by harpist Catrin Finch and his wife, flutist Jeanne Galway.

Trumpet phenomenon Alison Balsom, who was voted Young British Classical Performer of the Year at the 2006 Classical Brit awards, follows up her critically acclaimed debut album of Bach with Caprice, a novel and demanding collection of specially arranged works by Mozart, Piazzolla, Lindberg, Paganini, de Falla, Bach, Debussy and others.

Buxtehude: Complete Harpsichord Works I
(Challenge Classics CHR 72240)

Ton Koopman begins a complete survey of Dietrich Buxtehude's harpsichord music with a two-disc set on Channel Classics. This first volume in the series contains 12 Suites and several other works. Buxtehude is primarily remembered for his influence on other Baroque composers and for his organ playing — Bach once walked 200 miles to hear him perform. But musicians are increasingly discovering the merits of his music in its own right.

Handel and Hasse: Opera Arias and Cantatas (Virgin Classics 45737)
Waxman: Joshua (Deutsche Grammophon 477 57245)
Gershwin: Porgy and Bess (Decca 475 78772)

Several interesting releases should appeal to fans of vocal music. Mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux, triumphant this month in her New York City Opera debut in Handel's Semele, sings more Handel plus music by Johann Adolph Hasse on a new album of opera arias and cantatas. Genaux is joined by Bernard Labadie and his Quebec-based orchestra Les Violons du Roy for a program that includes arias from Hasse's Arminio and La Scusa and Handel's Alcina and Orlando, plus Handel's cantata Splenda l'alba in oriente.

Maximilian Schell is the narrator in the world-premiere recording of Joshua, the final work by Franz Waxman, the Academy Award-winning film composer. Waxman, who was born in December 1906, wrote the scores of such Hollywood classics as Sunset Boulevard and A Place in the Sun. He composed this work, based on the biblical figure, after the death of his wife.

A new Decca release brings us the first recording of the complete, original version of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. Gershwin made extensive cuts and revisions to his opera after it was published; this version, taped in a Nashville studio, is the first recording of the production version that the composer staged in 1935, and it contains new music and some scenes that do not appear in the familiar score. John Mauceri conducts; the title roles are sung by Alvy Powell and Marquita Lister.

Rorem: Songs (Other Minds OTM 1009)
Arnold: Orchestral Dances (Lyrita LYR 201)

Back in 1964, Ned Rorem sat down at the keyboard to record a wide selection of his songs with some of the top lieder singers of the day. That album, released on Columbia Records, helped establish his reputation as perhaps America's greatest classical songwriter. For the first time, that song collection is available on CD: the disc, on the Other Minds label, contains nearly three dozen songs, including one of his finest and best-known, "The Lordly Hudson." The soloists are tenor Charles Bressler, sopranos Phyllis Curtin and Gianna d'Angelo, mezzo Regina Safarty and bass Donald Gramm.

The English label Lyrita, which specializes in British music, returns to the United States with several releases featuring British composers conducting their own music. Among them are Malcolm Arnold's own outstanding performances of his delightful English, Irish, Scottish and Cornish dances. Arnold, who got his start as a top-notch trumpeter, died in September at age 84.

Declarations: Music Between the Wars (Cedille 90000 092)
Philip GlassAnalog (Orange Mountain Music OMM 0029)
Glass Reflections (Orange Mountain Music OMM0032)
Glass: Aguas da Amazêänia (Orange Mountain Music OMM0026)
Jewish Music of the Dance (Naxos 8.559439)
Sacred Services from Israel (Naxos 8.559452)

There are plenty more 20th-century gems this month.

The talented Pacifica Quartet performs three works composed in the 1920s and '30s in a new release on the Chicago-based Cedille label. The program presents an opportunity to compare three very different quartets: Janšcek's passionate String Quartet No. 2, "Intimate Letters," the modernist String Quartet by Ruth Crawford Seeger (folksinger Pete's stepmom), and Hindemith's erudite String Quartet No. 4.

Orange Mountain Music, a label devoted to archiving the recordings Philip Glass has made over the past 30 years and releasing many of them on CD, offers several new releases this month. Analog compiles some of the minimalist composer's early music, including a film work that predates his famous score for Koyaanisqatsi, the previously unreleased incidental music for Dressed Like an Egg and Mad Rush for organ. The other releases include Glass Reflections, a collection of the composer's own transcriptions of his music for the cello ensemble Conjunto Iberico, and Aguas da Amazêänia, a foray into world music.

The Milken Archive of American Jewish Music is still going strong, nearing the last of its originally planned 50 CDs. The latest releases include a dance disc featuring world premiere recordings of ballets on diverse Jewish themes by Stefan Wolpe, Darius Milhaud and other 20th-century composers, and Sacred Services from Israel, excerpts from three settings of synagogue liturgies by the Israeli composers Paul Ben-Haim, Marc Lavry and Yehezkel Braun.

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