Classical CD Highlights: January | Playbill

Classic Arts News Classical CD Highlights: January
The new year begins with releases by superstars Anna Netrebko and Lang Lang and music by not-so-famous composers with famous names.

Lang Lang: "Dragon Songs"
(DG 289 477 65769)
Anna Netrebko: The Russian Album
(DG 289 477 6384)
Tchaikovsky: Overtures
(EMI Classics70065)

Two of Deutsche Grammophon's biggest stars kick off 2007 with new albums. Piano phenomenon Lang Lang takes a break from his usual diet of Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Mozart, and Liszt to perform works by Chinese composers. The release includes a CD plus a two-hour DVD that includes a documentary about the making of the album and footage of Lang Lang playing in the Forbidden City. He's joined by the China Philharmonic Orchestra under its music director, Long Yu.

Soprano Anna Netrebko is reunited with the man who gave her first big break, conductor Valery Gergiev, in a new disc of arias and songs by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, and Rimsky-Korsakov, among them the powerful "Letter Scene" from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. The chorus and orchestra of the Mariinsky Theater accompany Netrebko.

There's more Tchaikovsky from conductor Antonio Pappano: A new EMI disc features the Royal Opera House chief conductor leading the Orchestra and Chorus of Santa Cecilia, Rome in Francesca da Rimini, Romeo and Juliet, and 1812 Overtures, plus popular orchestral excerpts from Onegin.

B. Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 1 (Naxos 8.570195)
E. Bach: Reflexions; Berlin Revisited; Astrotrain
(Da Capo 8.226527)
Bach: Mass in B minor (H‹nssler Classic HNS 98274)
Cherubini: Requiem (Telarc 80658)

There's also Tchaikovsky on a new Naxos disc, but it's Boris Tchaikovsky (no relation), a Russian composer who influenced Shostakovich but was largely neglected until recently. In this release, the Volgograd Philharmonic performs the latter-day Tchaikovsky's First Symphony, which was completed in 1947 but not premiered until 1962 because of Stalin's campaign to protect his citizenry from modern music. The disc also includes two orchestral suites inspired by literary works.

Another modern composer with a famous name — Bach — appears on a Da Capo CD. In this case, it's Erik Bach (born 1946). The disc offers three works, written in an accessible style, that include quotations from well-known classics.

If you're interested in that other guy named Bach, there's a new recording of the Mass in B minor from Bach specialist Helmuth Rilling. This performance, Rilling's second go-round on disc with this monumental masterpiece, features the G‹chinger Kantorei Stuttgart and the (modern-instrument) Bach-Collegium Stuttgart plus a roster of young soloists: sopranos Stella Doufexis and Marlis Petersen; alto Anke Vondung; tenor Lothar Odinius; and basses Christian Gerhaher and Franz-Josef Selig.

Martin Pearlman and his (period-instrument) Boston Baroque group offer another large choral work, the Cherubini Requiem. The release also includes a shorter work by Cherubini and Beethoven's Elegiac Song, Op. 118.

Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 38-41 (Warner Classics 82564 630672)
Shostakovich: Violin Sonata; Viola Sonata
(Challenge Classics CHR 72071)
Mendelssohn, Bruch: Violin Concertos (Decca 289 4758 3288)

The Mozart and Shostakovich anniversaries may be over, but that's not stopping musicians from recording these composers just for the heck (okay, for the love) of it.

Actually, in the case of a new Mozart release, the occasion is the 25th anniversary of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Nikolaus Harnoncourt leads the celebrants in Mozart's last four symphonies. And the fine Dutch team of Isabelle van Keulen (violin and viola) and Ronald Brautigam (piano) plays two late Shostakovich works, his Violin Sonata and Viola Sonata.

Speaking of Dutch violinists, Janine Jansen plays the famous Mendelssohn and Bruch concertos, along with a Bruch Romance, on a new Decca disc. Jansen opened the BBC Proms in 2005 with an acclaimed performance of the Mendelssohn.

Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 82, 85 and 95
(H‹nssler Classic HNS 98265)
Schubert: "Arpeggione" Sonata (Harmonia Mundi HMC 901930)
Brahms: Piano Quartets (Hyperion CDA 67471)
Brahms: Symphony No. 3, "Haydn Variations" (Naxos 8.557430)
Schubert: Fantasy; Ravel: Violin Sonata (Onyx Classics ONYX 4015)

There are lots of enticing new discs of standard repertory to start the year. Thomas Fey and the Heidelberg Symphony continue their fine Haydn cycle with three mature masterworks, Symphonies Nos. 82, 88 and 95. The orchestra performs on a mix of modern and period instruments.

Fresh from excellent recordings of concertos by Dvoršk and Haydn, cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras plays Schubert's "Arpeggione" Sonata with pianist Alexandre Tharaud. The well-filled disc also includes a Schubert Sonatinae and several song transcriptions, plus works by two later Viennese composers — Berg and Webern.

Brahms's three wonderful Piano Quartets get a workout from Marc-Andr_ Hamelin and the Leopold Trio. Hamelin fills out the disc with the autumnal Intermezzos, Op. 117.

Marin Alsop also has a Brahms disc out to start the year. The American maestra, who won strong reviews for her recording of the composer's First Symphony, follows up with the Third, along with the Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn.

And on Onyx Classics, violinist Viktoria Mullova and pianist Katia Labque play a Schubert Fantasy, Ravel's jazzy Violin Sonata and Stravinsky's Suite Italienne.

Wagner: Das Rheingold (Testament SBT2 1390)
Berlioz: Les Nuits d'_t_ (Decca 289 475 7712)
Original Masters: Clara Haskill (Philips 289 475 7739)
Original Masters: Arthur Grumiaux (Philips 289 475 7825)

This month's reissues include some terrific performances, among them the latest installment in the so-called "lost" Ring, a series of Wagner operas recorded live in stereo at Bayreuth in 1955 but never released because the label, Decca, decided to produce a studio recording instead. Joseph Keilberth conducts; Hans Hotter, Gustav Neidlinger, Rudolf Lustig, and Ludwig Weber sing the major roles.

R_gine Crespin's ravishing account of Berlioz's orchestral song cycle is reincarnated on a mid-price Decca Originals reissue. The album also includes Ravel's Sh_h_razade, Debussy's Chansons de Bilitis and a selection of Poulenc songs.

Finally, there are several new boxed sets in Universal's Original Masters series. They include a seven-CD collection featuring pianist Clara Haskill playing sonatas and concertos by Domenico Scarlatti, Mozart, Ravel, Schumann, Beethoven, de Falla, and Chopin. The recordings date from 1951-1960.

A six-disc box highlights the artistry of violinist Arthur Grumiaux. In recordings made between 1955 and 1977, Grumiaux performs works by Handel, Bach, Vivaldi, Michael Haydn, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Bruch, Wieniawski, Johan Svendsen, and Tchaikovsky.

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