Classical CD Highlights: March

Classic Arts News   Classical CD Highlights: March
A Deutsche Grammophon reissue honors Lorin Maazel on his 75th birthday and a respected budget label returns to the U.S.

Lorin Maazel: Complete Early Berlin Philharmonic Recordings (Deutsche Grammophon B0003892)
In time for Lorin Maazel's 75th birthday this month, Deutsche Grammophon is releasing an eight-disc set containing the maestro's early recordings with the Berlin Philharmonic. Included are records made between 1957 and 1962, when Maazel was in his late 20s and early 30s. Of course, by then, Maazel was already a veteran; a conducting prodigy, he had led most of America's major orchestras by the time he was 15. The remastered set includes Maazel's DG debut—an album of Romeo and Juliet-themed works by Berlioz, Tchaikovsky, and Prokofiev—plus many of the other recordings he made for the label, among them symphonies by Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Tchaikovsky. Also included is a previously unreleased recording of Mozart's Symphonies Nos. 1, 28 and 41 and an account of Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra with Maazel's own commentary. Maazel, a composer as well as the current music director of the New York Philharmonic, celebrates his birthday early this month by leading a concert of his own works at Avery Fisher Hall.

Tippett: A Child of Our Time (Naxos 8.557570)
Tippett: The Ice Break (EMI 7243 5 86585 2 1)
Tippett: Piano Concerto (EMI 7243 5 86586 2 0)
Tippett: Ritual Dances from The Midsummer Marriage (EMI 7243 5 86587 2 9)
Tippett: Concerto for Double String Orchestra (EMI 7243 5 86588 2 8)
Britten, Finzi, Tippett: Songs (Hyperion CDA 67459)

This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of composer Michael Tippett. Tippett, who lived to age 93, was overshadowed much of his life by his countryman, the immensely talented Benjamin Britten. Even today, critics debate whether Tippett should be considered a first-rank composer. You can decide for yourself thanks to a series of releases marking the centenary. Naxos offers his best-known work, the oratorio A Child of Our Time, a pre-World War II plea for peace. Tippett conducts in this recording, which was first released by Britain's defunct Collins Classics label. EMI re-releases several discs containing Tippett's major large-scale works, including the Concerto for Orchestra with the composer conducting and the Ritual Dances from the opera The Midsummer Marriage. You can compare Tippett to Britten (and another Englishman, Gerald Finzi) in a new Hyperion CD featuring songs on themes of youth by all three composers. Tenor Mark Padmore is accompanied by pianist Roger Vignoles.

Beethoven: Symphonies No. 5 and No. 6 ("Pastorale") (Arte Nova ANO 496950)
Schumann: The Four Symphonies (Arte Nova 577430)
Schubert: Works for Violin and Piano (Arte Nova ANO 721280)
Messiaen: Preludes and Etudes (Arte Nova ANO 578330)

Arte Nova, a budget imprint of BMG Classics, is returning to American and Canadian stores, thanks to a new distribution deal. Before it virtually disappeared from the this side of the Atlantic several years ago, Arte Nova won critical acclaim with a line that featured classical warhorses and contemporary works at bargain-basement prices, performed by such well-known artists as Christopher Hogwood, Vaclav Neumann, and Ursula Oppens. Among the re-launched label's first batch of releases are a revealing series of Beethoven symphonies conducted by David Zinman, who leads the Zurich Tonehalle Orchestra in fleet, modern-instrument performances reflecting the latest scholarship. Also available are the complete Schumann symphonies with Zinman, a program of Schubert works performed by the father-daughter duo of Pamela and Claude Frank, and a recording of Messaien piano pieces.

Brahms: Haydn Variations, Sonata for Two Pianos (Sony Classical ASK 89868)
Brahms: String Sextets—for piano four-hands (Naxos 8.554817)
Dvoršk: Symphony No. 9; Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3—for piano four-hands (Divine Art CD 25028)

Pianists Emanuel Ax and Yefim Bronfman reunite for a new Sony disc featuring two major pieces by Brahms, both of which are better known in other versions. The Variations on a Theme by Haydn is a work more commonly heard in its orchestral guise, but Brahms' original two-piano version remains an exciting keyboard showpiece. The Sonata for Two Pianos is far more familiar in its later incarnation as the F Minor Piano Quintet, but the keyboard version is a successful work on its own. Ax and Bronfman, who last teamed up for a well-received disc of two-piano music by Rachmaninoff, will also take their Brahms program on the road, performing both pieces in a nationwide tour throughout March.

The Haydn Variations and the Piano Quintet started out as piano pieces, but in the days before the phonograph, many large-scale works were later arranged for keyboard so people could enjoy them at home. Brahms himself made many such "reductions," including piano-duo versions of his symphonies and even his German Requiem. Naxos has just released Volume 13 in its series of these rarities, a disc that includes both of Brahms' String Sextets re-scored for piano four-hands and performed by Christian Kohn and Silke-Thora Matthies.

Speaking of piano duos, England's tiny Divine Art Record Co. scored a success a couple of years ago with a disc featuring keyboard-duo versions of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony (in an arrangement by Taneyev) and Romeo and Juliet (arranged by Mrs. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov!). The pianists on that disc, Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow, are back with another interesting Divine Art release, this one containing Dvoršk's Ninth Symphony and Mendelssohn's Third, the "Scottish," in the composers' own four-hand arrangements.

Mahler: Symphony No. 8 (EMI 7243 5 57945 2)
Puccini: Arias (EMI 7243 5 57955 2)

Simon Rattle has recorded some monumental works since taking over the Berlin Philharmonic—Schoenberg's Gurrelieder and Orff's Carmina Burana among them. But for one of the biggest, Mahler's sprawling Eighth Symphony—the so-called "Symphony of a Thousand"—Rattle returns to the orchestra with which he first rose to prominence, England's City of Birmingham Symphony. The Eighth, recorded live last June, completes a Mahler cycle that has won numerous prizes since Rattle began it back in 1987 with the Second. In addition to several choruses, the new recording features top-notch soloists: sopranos Christine Brewer, Soile Isokoski, and Juliane Banse; mezzo-sopranos Birgit Remmert and Jane Henschel; tenor John Villars, baritone David Wilson-Johnson; and bass John Relyea.

Also among EMI's major new releases: a disc of Puccini arias sung by Angela Gheorghiu. Among the many popular items on the CD are several numbers from La bohme, the opera that vaulted the Romanian soprano to stardom 15 years when she sang Mimi at Covent Garden.

J.S. Bach: Easter Cantatas (Harmonia Mundi HMC 901843)
J.S. Bach: Cantatas, Vol. 17 (Challenge Classics CHR 72217)
J.S. Bach: St. John Passion (Channel Classics CCSSA 22005)
J.S. Bach: Mass in B Minor (Hyperion CDD 22051)

Finally, in time for Easter, several Bach releases. Early-music specialist Phillipe Herreweghe leads three Easter-season cantatas, BWV 12, 38, and 75, on a Harmonia Mundi CD. Ton Koopman's Bach cantatas cycle on Challenge Classics reaches Volume 17 with a three-disc set featuring numbers 13, 17, 19, 32, 35, 56, 57, 58, 84, and 169. The Netherlands Bach Society under Jos van Veldhoven offers the St. John Passion in a small-scale performance with a score reconstructed from the composer's original 1724 version. Robert King and The King's Consort perform Bach's mighty B-minor Mass in a mid-price reissue on Hyperion.

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