Classical CD Highlights: February

Classic Arts News   Classical CD Highlights: February
Pierre Boulez's record label salutes his 80th birthday while a popular early music ensemble releases its valedictory recording.

Mahler: Orchestral Song Cycles (Deutsche Gramophon B0003894)
Bart‹k: Pianos Concertos (Deutsche Gramophon B0003885)
Boulez: Piano Sonatas (Deutsche Grammophon B0003964)
Boulez: Explosante-fixe (Deutsche Grammophon B0003898)
He may no longer be a rebel, but one-time avante-garde bad boy Pierre Boulez shows no signs of slowing down, even though he turns 80 on March 26. As part of the run-up to composer and conductor's milestone birthday, Deutsche Grammophon‹Boulez's label since the 1970s‹is releasing four new Boulez discs. Two feature Boulez conducting works by composers he considers central to his repertory, Mahler and Bart‹k, while the others contain Boulez's own works. In the Mahler disc, Boulez leads the Vienna Philharmonic and vocal soloists Anne Sophie von Otter, Thomas Quasthoff, and Violeta Urmana in three of the composer's orchestral song cycles. The Bart‹k disc showcases three different soloists and three orchestras in the composer's piano concertos: Krystian Zimerman and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Concerto No. 1; Leif Ove Andsnes and the Berlin Philharmonic in No. 2; and H_lne Grimaud and the London Symphony Orchestra in No. 3. In its contemporary music series, 20/21, DG offers Boulez's three Piano Sonatas performed by Paavali Jumppanen and a collection of orchestral and instrumental works, including Explosante-fixe... and the 12 Notations for Orchestra.

The Origin of Fire: Music of Hildegard von Bingen (Harmonia Mundi HMU 907327)
This month, Anonymous 4, the groundbreaking vocal ensemble that put chant on the charts, releases what is likely to be its last album. In The Origin of Fire, the group returns to one of its favorite composers, the 12th-century German abbess and mystic Hildegard von Bingen. A follow-up to the group's bestselling 11,000 Virgins, the new disc marks the end of an 18-year career for Anonymous 4, which called it quits in 2004, leaving behind an enormous following built through recordings, tours, and television appearances.

Gounod, Massenet: Arias (Virgin 7243 545719 2)
Rossini: The Barber of Seville (Opera d'Oro OPD 1424)
Smetana: The Devil's Wall (Opera d'Oro OPD 1422)
Mozart: La Betulia liberate (Opera d'Oro 1417)
Hindemith: Cardillac (Opera d'Oro OPD 1427)

Rolando Villaz‹n, the 32-year-old Mexican tenor, has impressed audiences across Europe and the United States over the past few years, winning fans with his portrayals of a variety of roles. On the heels of Villaz‹n's recent engagement at the Los Angeles Opera‹where he appeared with Russian soprano Anna Netrebko in Gounod's Rom_o et Juliette‹Virgin offers a disc showcasing the tenor in arias by, appropriately enough, Gounod and Massenet. Pieces from Romeo, Faust, Werther, Manon, and several less-known operas are included. Evelino Pido conducts.

Opera lovers saddened by the January death of the beloved Spanish soprano Victoria de los Angeles can once again hear her in one of her finest recordings. Opera d'Oro has reissued EMI's Milan recording of The Barber of Seville, starring a radiant de los Angeles, in her prime, as Rosina. The recording is one of four new sets from the budget-priced label, which specializes in reissues and archival broadcast performances featuring operatic luminaries. Also new on the label are three rarities: Mozart's early opera La Betulia liberate, with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf; Smetana's last opera, The Devil's Wall; and Hindemith's rarely heard Cardillac, with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing the role of a Renaissance goldsmith who murders his customers because he cannot stand to let go of his creations.

Rodrigo, Villa-Lobos, Ponce: Guitar Concertos (Warner WSM 60296)
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5 (LSO Live LSO 0058)

In these days of record company cutbacks you don't see many studio discs involving a major American orchestra. But Sharon Isbin, apparently, is enough of a star to merit a rare investment by her label. On a new Warner release, Isbin and the New York Philharmonic perform three 20th century works for guitar and orchestra: Rodrigo's warhorse, the Concierto de Aranjuez; Villa-Lobos's Guitar Concerto; and the Concierto del Sur by the Mexican composer Manuel Ponce. Jos_ Serebrier conducts. For Grammy-winner Isbin, this is the second recorded traversal of the Rodrigo; her first account drew praise from the composer. For the Philharmonic, this CD is its first-ever recording with guitar.

It's becoming far more common these days for orchestras to record live performances and release them on their own labels. One of the pioneers in self-publishing, the London Symphony, continues its Shostakovich cycle under the baton of the composer's good friend Mstislav Rostropovich. The latest disc in the series offers the popular Fifth Symphony in a concert performance that London critics described as energetic and insightful.

Orff: Carmina Burana (EMI 7243 557888 2)
Bach, Stravinsky: Works for violin (ECM New Series B0003847)
Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf, Lt. Kije Suite (Silverline Records 284213)

Simon Rattle, continuing his campaign to make the Berlin Philharmonic as synonymous with 20th-century music as it is with Beethoven, tackles Carl Orff's bawdy and brazen Carmina Burana, with soprano Sally Matthews, tenor Lawrence Brownlee, and bass-baritone Christian Gerhaher. The gifted violinist Leonidas Kavakos offers the old and new side by side in a release by the innovative ECM New Series. Kavakos's CD of works by Stravinsky, with pianist Peter Nagy, also includes Bach's first Sonata and Partita for solo violin, underscoring the Baroque roots of Stravinsky's post-World War I style. Finally, something a bit scary: a re-release of Prokofiev's children's classic Peter and the Wolf‹with Boris Karloff as narrator!

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