Classical CD Highlights: February

Classic Arts News   Classical CD Highlights: February
Daniele Gatti continues his acclaimed Tchaikovsky cycle while two fine singers—Juliane Banse and Rolando Villaz‹n—each get a chance to shine in two new discs.

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6, Serenade for Strings (Harmonia Mundi HMU 907394) Verdi: Arias and Duets from La traviata (Deutsche Grammophon B0005516)
Rolando Villaz‹n: Opera Recital (Virgin Classics 09463447012)
Wolf: Prometheus (Harmonia Mundi HMC 901837)
Koechlin: Vocal Works with Orchestra (Hanssler 93.159)

Daniele Gatti resumes his Tchaikovsky symphony cycle with the rich and moody Sixth, the "Pathetique," played by the Royal Philharmonic. Gatti's previous releases in the series, Symphonies 4 and 5, were hailed for their superb playing and astutely shaped interpretations. Deutsche Grammophon issued a stunning recording of Verdi's La traviata late last year, with the glamorous Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villaz‹n in the main roles. If you don't want to shell out money for the complete opera, there is now a disc of highlights, containing all the major arias and duets. Villaz‹n also stars in a new recital disc with Michel Plasson conducting the Munich Radio Symphony. The young Mexican tenor sings arias by Puccini, Offenbach, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Bizet, and others.

Hugo Wolf was without peer as a song composer. Although almost all his songs are written for voice and piano, he did orchestrate a couple of dozen of them, including four numbers from the exquisite Spanisches Liederbuch. Two singers with a special love of lieder, soprano Juliane Banse and baritone Dieter Henschel, tackle the orchestral songs on a new Harmonia Mundi release. Kent Nagano conducts. Banse also lends her voice to a collection of works for voice and orchestra by the colorful 20th-century French composer Charles Koechlin, whose buoyant music deserves to be better-known.

Pops Caviar: Russian Orchestral Favorites (RCA Victor 8287671618)
Mario! Lanza at His Best (RCA Victor 82876716252)
Copland: Billy the Kid, Rodeo; Grof_: Grand Canyon Suite (RCA Victor 82876679042)
Virgil Fox: Encores (RCA Victor 8287671626)
Bruch, Vieuxtemps: Concertos (RCA Victor 8287671622)
Schubert: Piano Music for Four Hands (RCA Victor 82876692822)

RCA continues to reissue its Living Stereo mid-priced series of historic recordings in the hybrid SACD-CD format. This month, the label adds 10 titles to the catalog, including a disc of Russian showpieces performed by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, a Mario Lanza album, a program of hits by Copland and Grof_ performed by Morton Gould and His Orchestra, a Virgil Fox organ recital, and concertos by Bruch and Vieuxtemps, with Heifetz as soloist.

The same label also brings us Evgeny Kissin and James Levine in stellar performances of music for piano four-hands by Schubert, including the Grand Duo and the hauntingly beautiful F-minor Fantasy. Kissin and Levine toured several major concert halls with this program last year, winning rave reviews at every stop. The concert on this CD was taped at Carnegie Hall.

Mozart: Mass in C minor, K.427 (Archiv 00289-4775744)
Mozart: Complete Piano Trios (Analekta AN 2 9827-8)
Mozart: Piano Sonatas (EMI 3 36080 2)
Mozart: Wind Serenades (EMI 3 4324 2)
Salieri: La grotta di trionfo (Ambroisie AMB 9986)

Mozart's 250th birthday came and went last month, but the record labels continue their commemorative issues. Archiv presents Paul McCreesh leading his Gabrielli Consort in a performance of the grand C-minor Mass, taped in 2004 after a highly successful series of concert performances in England. Choral works by Haydn and Beethoven round out the program. The Gryphon Trio of Canada offers some truly gorgeous playing on a two-disc set of Mozart's complete piano trios, a worthy series of works that are less well known than the composer's other chamber pieces. Lars Vogt, who is currently touring the United States and Europe with a program featuring Mozart piano sonatas, plays three popular ones—K.330, 331, and 332—plus several other pieces on a new EMI disc. On the same label, the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Ensemble performs two wonderful works, the Serenade K.375 and the "Gran Partita," K.361. On Ambroise, period-instrument specialist Christophe Rousset sets out to prove that Mozart's legendary rival, Salieri, was no hack. Rousset leads the world-premiere recording of La grotta di trionfo, an unpublished Salieri opera discovered by Rousset.

Pleyel: String Quartets Op. 2, Nos. 4-6 (Naxos 8.557497)
Bolcom: Violin Sonatas 1-4 (Naxos 8.559150)
Moravec: The Time Gallery, Protean Fantasy, Ariel Fantasy (Naxos 8.559267)
Wuorinen: Six Trios (Naxos 8.559264)

While the major labels continue to pour out Mozart, Naxos has been shedding light on the little-known but worthy music of other Classical-era composers. The Enso Quartet's CD of Pleyel's first three Op. 2 quartets revealed an imaginative composer who had some of the skill, if not the inspiration, of his teacher, Haydn. This new disc, containing the next three works in the Op. 2 set, should also prove rewarding. Three new releases in Naxos' American Classics series present chamber works by intriguing contemporary composers. Pianist Arthur Greene and violinist Solomia Soroka perform four sonatas by William Bolcom. Violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved and pianist Aaron Shorr team up with the innovative new-music ensemble eighth blackbird for a program of works by Paul Moravec. A disc of music by Charles Wuorinen features unusual combinations of brass, strings, and percussion.

Antheil: Piano Concerto No. 1, Jazz Symphony (CPO 777109)
Ginastera: String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 (Arte Nova 721250)
Shostakovich: Complete String Quartets (Hyperion CDS 44091)

Several 20th-century composers are represented on interesting new discs this month. CPO offers a collection of works by the American iconoclast George Antheil, who cultivated a reputation as a musical bad boy back in the 1920s. The disc, with Markus Becker playing piano and Eiji Oue conducting the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra, features the Jazz Symphony, the First Piano Concerto, a Sonatina for Piano subtitled "Death of the Machines," and a piece called Sonatina for Radio. The budget Arte Nova label offers two string quartets by the great Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera, composed in 1948 and 1958. And finally, Hyperion reissues the St. Petersburg Quartet's well-regarded Shostakovich quartet cycle on six mid-priced CDs.

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