Classical CD Highlights: October

Classic Arts News   Classical CD Highlights: October
Mozart takes center stage as a major anniversary approaches; a couple of young virtuosos offer new takes on favorite violin concertos.

Mozart: Violin Sonatas (Deutsche Grammophon B000477102)
Mozart: Violin Sonatas (Harmonia Mundi HMU907380)
Mozart: Violin Sonatas (Channel Classics CCSSA 22805)
Mozart: Piano Concertos, Volume 1 (Nimbus NIM 5749)

In case you're one of the few who hasn't heard yet, 2006 is another Mozart year—the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth. A flood of new Mozart recordings and commemorative reissues is already underway, and among the releases are several recordings of the Violin Sonatas. On Deutsche Grammophon, the young violinist Hilary Hahn performs some of her favorite Mozart sonatas—K.301, 304, 376, and 506—with her long-time chamber music partner, pianist Natalie Zhu. The two began playing together as 13-year-old students at the Curtis Institute. Harmonia Mundi offers the English virtuoso Andrew Manze and fortepianist Richard Egarr in a set of works (K.376, 377, 380, and 403) composed shortly after Mozart settled in Vienna. And on Channel Classics, early music specialist Rachel Podger and fortepianist Gary Cooper present the second volume of their complete set of the sonatas. In this edition, as in Volume One, they cover a selection of early, middle, and late works—K.7, 30, 301, 303, and 481.

Mozart's keyboard concertos are central to his art. On Nimbus, Jeremy Menuhin, the son of violinist Yehudi Menuhin, begins a trek through the complete series, leading the English Symphony Orchestra from the keyboard. The first volume in his traversal, a two-CD set, contains the concertos K.175, 414, 415, 449, and 488 and the Rondo K.382.

Beethoven, Mendelssohn: Violin Concertos (RCA Victor Red Seal 82876 69216)
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto (Sony Classical SK 94832)

The Sony-BMG combine offers new recordings of some the big violin concertos this month. Russian virtuoso Nicolaj Znaider tackles the Beethoven and Mendelssohn concertos on an RCA Victor release, with backing from the Israel Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta. Znaider will also perform the Mendelssohn in Chicago October 14-16. Joshua Bell plays the Tchaikovsky concerto in a live recording with Michael Tilson Thomas leading the Berlin Philharmonic. Bell restores all of the cuts that are traditionally made in the final movement. The disc also includes Tchaikovsky's Meditation and excerpts from Swan Lake.

Handel: Saul (Harmonia Mundi HMC 901877)
Verdi: Requiem (RCA Victor Red Seal 61244)

Two big choral works get fresh looks. Baroque specialist Ren_ Jacobs, who has previously recorded several Handel operas, presents a reading of the dramatic oratorio Saul with his Concerto K‹ln. The soloists are sopranos Rosemary Joshua and Emma Bell, countertenor Lawrence Zazzo, tenor Jeremy Ovenden, and bass-baritone Gidon Saks. Nikolaus Harnoncourt uses a new critical edition of the score for his performance of Verdi's mighty Requiem, recorded live with the Vienna Philharmonic and the Arnold Schoenberg Choir. Harnoncourt eschews the operatic flourishes that some conductors impose on the piece and presents it as a sacred work, as Verdi specified in his writings. Harnoncourt's soloists are Eva Mei, Bernarda Fink, Michael Schade, and Ildebrando D'Archangelo.

Adams: I was looking at the ceiling and I then saw the sky (Naxos 8.669003/4)
Golijov: Ayre; Berio: Folk Songs (Deutsche Grammophon B0004782)
Henze: Ein Landarzt; Das Einer Welt (Wergo WER 6666)

John Adams' much-anticipated new work, Doctor Atomic, opened at San Francisco Opera this month. If you can't make it to San Francisco, you can check out an earlier Adams stage work on the low-priced Naxos label. I was looking at the ceiling and I then saw the sky is a "song play" for seven singers and eight instrumentalists, set to a libretto by the poet June Jordan.

Several other recordings this month should also appeal to those interested in modern music. Osvaldo Golijov's new song cycle, Ayre, a Carnegie Hall commission, will be performed around California and the Midwest throughout October. Ayre, meaning "air" and "melody" in medieval Spanish, is a cycle of 11 songs drawn primarily from 15th-century Spanish sources. Soprano Dawn Upshaw, for whom the work was composed, sings it on a Deutsche Grammophon disc that also includes music of Luciano Berio. In the early 1950s, Hans Werner Henze wrote two operas for North West German Radio. The works, meant to be heard but not seen, feature easy-to-follow texts and a variety of aural special effects. A new Wergo disc contains these works with Marcus Stenz conducting. Ein Landarzt (A Country Doctor) uses texts by Franz Kafka; in Das Einer Welt (The End of the World), Henze himself is the narrator.

Mahler: Symphony No. 7 (San Francisco Symphony 60009)
Brahms: Symphony No. 2; Hungarian Dances (Naxos 8.557429)

Back in the mainstream, two major American conductors continue important symphonic cycles. Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony perform Mahler's Seventh in the latest release by the orchestra's own label. MTT's ongoing Mahler cycle has garnered generally good reviews so far. Marin Alsop, who was awarded a MacArthur "genius" grant in September, directs the London Philharmonic in Brahms' Symphony No. 2 on Naxos. Alsop's reading of Brahms' First, released earlier this year, was a hit with critics.

Gottschalk: Piano Music, Volume 8 (Hyperion CDA 67536)
After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, many took note of the city's myriad contributions to American music. One of the greatest treasures to come from the Crescent City was the 19th-century pianist and composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Philip Martin's survey of the Gottschalk's complete piano music reaches Volume 8 with a disc of polkas and other popular tunes. One more volume in the series is planned.

Michael Rabin, 1936-1972 (EMI CDMF 64123)
Juilliard Quartet: Mozart, Haydn, Schubert (Testament SBT 1372)
Juilliard Quartet: Beethoven, Schubert (Testament SBT 1373)
Juilliard Quartet: Berg, Carter, Schuman (Testament SBT 1374)
Juilliard Quartet: Debussy, Ravel, Webern (Testament SBT 1375)
Original Masters: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Deutsche Grammophon B0004805)
Original Masters: Reginald Kell—American Decca Recordings (Deutsche Grammophon B0004806)

Finally, several labels are offering retrospectives of important artists. EMI presents a six-CD collection of performances by Michael Rabin, the New York-born prodigy who died in 1972 at age 35. The set features Rabin performing a wide range of music, including the Romantic concertos by Wieniawski, Paganini, Glazunov, Bruch, and others that were his signature works. Testament draws together recordings that the renowned Juilliard Quartet made in the late 1950s and early '60s for four discs containing major works by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Debussy, Ravel, Berg, Webern, Carter, and William Schuman. A nine-disc set offers early recordings by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the bass-baritone who turned 80 this year. The collection of arias and lieder includes several items never-before released on CD, among them excerpts from Carmina Burana. Clarinet lovers will no doubt be interested in a set that gathers the complete American Decca recordings of the Reginald Kell. The English virtuoso, who died in 1981 after a long and distinguished career on both sides of the Atlantic, can be heard in major works and rarities both old and new.

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