Classical CD Highlights: November

Classic Arts News   Classical CD Highlights: November
November's CD releases include treats for opera lovers and fans of period performance, as well as some interesting reissues at bargain prices.

Handel: Serse (Virgin Classics 7243 5 45711 2)
Mozart: Early Symphonies (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 82876639702)

Devotees of Baroque opera will want to check out a new Virgin Classics recording of Handel's bleak comedy Serse (Xerxes), starring mezzo Anne Sofie von Otter in the title role. Recorded live at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees during the Paris premiere of the work in November 2003, this three-CD set features the period instrument band Les Arts Florissants under the direction of William Christie. The 1738 work includes one of Handel's best-known arias, "Ombra mai fu." Von Otter won considerable praise for her portrayal of Serse when this production toured Europe after its Paris engagement.

Another conductor closely identified with period instruments, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, explores the genesis of Mozart's genius in a new two-disc set. Harnoncourt and the Concentus Musicus Wien perform Mozart's first 11 symphonies, relatively brief works completed when the composer was between eight and 12 years old. The conductor's excursion into early Mozart in this Deutsche Harmonia Mundi release comes on the heels of his recent, acclaimed recording of the composer's final work, the Requiem, for the same label.

Mahler: Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection" (SFS Media 8291936-0006-2)
Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony offer a performance of Mahler's mighty "Resurrection" Symphony recorded live at San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall in the spring, with soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian and mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. The disc is the fifth release in what will eventually be a complete Mahler cycle on SFS Media, the orchestra's own label. Previous releases in the series‹Mahler's First, Third, Fourth and Sixth‹drew considerable praise from critics. A Mahler Ninth recorded this fall is expected to be issued next.

Britten Conducts Britten: Opera Vol. 1 (Decca B0003213)
Puccini Opera Collection (Decca B0003348)
Janšcek: Orchestra and Chamber Works (Decca B0003211)
Vivaldi: Concertos (Decca B0003212)
Haydn: 12 "London" Symphonies (Decca B0003214)
Purcell: Theatre Music (Decca B0003215)

Benjamin Britten's operas are among the greatest of the 20th century, and the recordings that Decca made with the composer conducting remain unsurpassed. The label has just repackaged Britten's performances of four of his operas‹ Peter Grimes, Billy Budd, Albert Herring, and Owen Wingrave‹and re-released them in a budget-priced, eight-disc set. In addition to allowing us once again to hear Britten's definitive interpretations, these recordings feature many of the singers for whom these operas were originally written, including the tenor Peter Pears, Britten's longtime lover. This set, billed as Britten Conducts Britten: Opera Vol. 1, also marks the return to the catalogue of the only studio recording of Wingrave.

Decca's Britten release is part of a new reissue series that offers a number of classic recordings at bargain prices. The series also includes a nine-disc Puccini opera collection featuring Luciano Pavarotti in La bohme, Madama Butterfly, Tosca, and Turandot; a five-disc collection of top-flight performances of orchestral and chamber works by Janšcek with performers such as Charles Mackerras and Riccardo Chailly; a seven-CD set of Vivaldi concertos performed by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Neville Marriner; Haydn's 12 "London" Symphonies with Georg Solti leading the London Symphony; and a box of theater music by Henry Purcell, with Christopher Hogwood conducting.

Kremerland (Deutsche Grammophon B0003392)
Off the beaten path, violinist and conductor Gidon Kremer and his own chamber ensemble, Kremerata Baltica, offer their first release on Deutsche Grammophon, a collection of original works and arrangements by living Russian and Baltic composers. For most Western listeners, Giya Kancheli will likely be the most familiar composer on this disc. Other composers include Leonid Chizhik, George Pelecis, and Alexander Vustin. Here's your chance to hear Alexander Bakshi's The Unanswered Call for violin, strings, and mobile phones. This disc hits stores just as Kremer and the Kremeratica kick off a cross-country tour that begins November 4 in San Diego and concludes November 20 at Carnegie Hall.

Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 9 and 18 (EMI CDC 57803)
Debussy and Ravel: Piano Works (EMI CDZ 85990)
Martinu: Piano works (Nimbus SMT 407)

For keyboard enthusiasts, EMI offers a pair of enticing releases. Leif Ove Andsnes continues his traversal of the Mozart concertos‹as both pianist and conductor‹with a disc featuring No. 9 (K.271, the delightful "Jeunehomme") and No. 18 (K.456). In a six-CD set, the French virtuoso Samson Francois (1924-70), known for his explosive yet engaging interpretations, performs works by Ravel and Debussy.

Finally, Nimbus presents an enterprising release that brings together piano works by the unfairly neglected 20th-century Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu. The disc includes 19 works spanning 30 years‹including 10 pieces that have never before been recorded. Erik Entwistle, an expert in Czech music and a Martinu specialist, performs.

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