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      Archive for December, 2014

      December 28, 2014

      Beck: Symphony in D major, Op 4 No 4 (12:40)

      Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice / Marek Štilec

      The court at Mannheim, one of Europe’s great 18th-century musical centers, provided myriad opportunities for creative development. Having absorbed the ideas of his teacher Johann Stamitz and other luminaries, Franz Ignaz Beck (1734-1809) wrote a series of symphonies notable for their dramatic contrasts, breadth and sweep, the progressive inclusion of the woodwinds and a willingness to explore expressive intensity.

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      Bach: The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080: Contrapunctus 1 – 4 (14:06)

      Angela Hewitt, piano

      Angela Hewitt’s recording of Bach’s ultimate masterpiece, The Art of Fugue, is destined to be the crowning achievement of her Bach cycle for Hyperion—a recording and performing project which has taken her all over the world and won her international acclaim. With decades of experience behind her, she breathes fresh air into the most complex keyboard-writing of Bach. “Hewitt’s achievement is to bring its abstract purity to memorable tonal embodiment by providing an emotional context that audiences connect with.” (Sydney Morning Herald)

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      Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No 4 in G major, BWV 1049 (14:49)


      Regular performances in the world’s most prestigious venues have confirmed Florilegium’s status as one of Britain’s most outstanding period instrument ensembles. Since their formation in 1991, they have established a reputation for stylish and exciting interpretations, from intimate chamber works to large-scale orchestral and choral repertoire. Their latest album features the complete Brandenburg Concertos of Bach, works that ensemble member Ashley Solomon describes as “the union of joyful music making and compositional brilliance.”

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      Brahms: String Sextet No 2 in G major, Op 36: I, Allegro non troppo (14:12)

      Sine Nomine Quartet; Nicolas Pache, viola; François Guye, cello

      The Sine Nomine Quartet of Switzerland has a vast repertoire ranging from Haydn all the way to 21st century works. The quartet has given many premiere performances of new works, some of which were dedicated to the ensemble. Sine Nomine, meaning ‘without a name,’ is intended to symbolize the constant endeavor of devoting to composers and the performance of their works. This album concludes the quartet’s Brahms cycle on Claves Records.

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      Schumann: Symphonic Etudes, Op 13 (25:31)

      Valentina Lisitsa, piano

      Demonstrating her ability to play virtuosic, technically challenging and innovative pieces, Valentina Lisitsa takes on Études of Chopin and Schumann with this new album. Developed in the early 19th century, the musical form was designed to provide material for perfecting particular pianistic techniques. Chopin’s Études were the first to be seen as true piano works rather than merely studies. Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes are also featured on this release, including five additional movements restored by Brahms in 1890 after Schumann’s death.

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      Strauss: Four Last Songs (21:55)

      Anna Netrebko, soprano; Berlin Staatskapelle / Daniel Barenboim

      To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Richard Strauss’s birth in 2014, Anna Netrebko performed Strauss’s Four Last Songs in Berlin. She was joined by conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim and one of Germany’s oldest orchestras, the Berlin Staatskapelle. The album also features Barenboim and the Staatskapelle performing Ein Heldenleben, one of the most vivid and popular tone poems by Strauss, who conducted the Staatskapelle as the General Music Director over a century ago.

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      December 26, 2014

      Best Classical Recordings of 2014

      Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet

      Chicago Symphony Orchestra / Riccardo Muti

      CSO Resound 901 1402

      This CSO Resound album features the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Riccardo Muti in performance from October 2013, playing an extended suite drawn from Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet score. The ten movements were selected by Muti from two other orchestral suites that Prokofiev created, and their chronology closely follows the storyline of the tragedy.

      The Carnegie Recital

      Daniil Trifonov, piano

      Deutsche Grammophon 479 1728

      In the past thirty years, the honor of a live Carnegie Hall recital recording has been bestowed by Deutsche Grammophon upon only two other pianists: Mikhail Pletnev and Lang Lang. Daniil Trifonov now joins this elite company for his first recording on the Yellow Label, performing music of Scriabin, Liszt, Chopin and Medtner.

      John Luther Adams: Become Ocean

      Seattle Symphony / Ludovic Morlot

      Cantaloupe CA-21101

      John Luther Adams’ Become Ocean is the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner for music. Written for three distinct orchestras within the orchestra, the piece expands on some of the ideas Adams explored in his 2007 work Dark Waves, with the different sections following their own rhythms and eventually meeting each other at the peak of three huge crescendo-like waves. Commissioned and premiered by the Seattle Symphony in June 2013, the piece was described by Alex Ross in The New Yorker as “the loveliest apocalypse in musical history.”

      1930s Violin Concertos

      Gil Shaham, violin; Various Orchestras

      Canary Classics CC-12 (2 CDs)

      Since its launch in 2009, Gil Shaham’s exploration of ‘Violin Concertos of the 1930s’ has fostered a wealth of collaborations between the violinist and the foremost orchestras and conductors. Now the first installment of this journey has been captured on a double album. Shaham gives live accounts of five of the decade’s most compelling concertos, with works by Barber, Berg, Stravinsky, Britten and Hartmann.

      Schubert: Winterreise

      Jonas Kaufmann, tenor; Helmut Deutsch, piano

      Sony Classical 88883795652

      For Jonas Kaufmann, however much he loves opera, he considers interpreting the classical lieder repertory the highest order of singing. It demands far more detailed work than any other vocal discipline, more color, more nuances and a greater range of dynamics. Says Kaufmann, “I think that Winterreise has the same sort of cathartic effect as a Greek drama: the emotional experience purges the soul.”

      Prokofiev: Complete Piano Concertos

      Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, piano; BBC Philharmonic / Gianandrea Noseda

      Chandos CHAN-10802 (2 CDs)

      Jean-Efflam Bavouzet performs all five of Prokofiev’s formidable piano concertos in partnership with Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic. The flair of Bavouzet for powerful 20th-century repertoire was made clear in his recording of Bartók’s Piano Concertos, described by the Daily Telegraph as ‘vibrant in color, vital in rhythm and detail, and viscerally exciting in impact.’


      Jason Vieaux, guitar

      Azica ACD-71287

      Jason Vieaux celebrates his 20th anniversary as a performer by featuring the Spanish, Mexican, South American, Cuban, French and American classics that he has found to be universal favorites over the past two decades. The guitarist has earned a reputation for putting his expressive gifts and virtuosity at the service of a remarkably wide range of music, equally at home playing classical, jazz and rock.

      Dvořák: Complete Symphonies & Concertos

      Various Soloists; Czech Philharmonic / Jiří Bělohlávek

      Decca 478 6757 (6 CDs)

      Marking a triumphant return to the orchestra where he trained, conductor Jiří Bělohlávek has recorded Decca’s first Dvořák cycle since the 1960s. Dvořák himself conducted the Czech Philharmonic’s first concert in 1896, and the shared Bohemian heritage of composer, conductor and orchestra lends a special authenticity to these recordings. Dvořák’s three concertos are featured alongside his nine symphonies, with cellist Alisa Weilerstein, violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann and pianist Garrick Ohlsson.

      Stella di Napoli

      Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano; Lyon National Opera Chorus & Orchestra / Riccardo Minasi

      Erato 463656-2

      Joyce DiDonato breathes new life into little-known arias by Saverio Mercadante, Michele Carafa, Carlo Valentini and the prolific opera composer Giovanni Pacini, whose Stella di Napoli gives the album its title. DiDonato worked closely with Italian conductor Riccardo Minasi to bring three neglected arias to light in new editions and world premiere recordings. Alongside these little-known gems, she presents music by the three bel canto greats — Bellini, Rossini and Donizetti.

      Bruckner: Symphony No 9

      Lucerne Festival Orchestra / Claudio Abbado

      Deutsche Grammophon 479 3441

      In January 2014, music lovers worldwide were saddened to learn that Claudio Abbado had passed away. Deutsche Grammophon has released his final concert from the Lucerne Festival in August 2013, featuring Bruckner’s Symphony No 9. “Abbado led an otherworldly account of Bruckner’s Ninth. Never have I heard as magisterial and moving performance of the work as that given by the 80-year-old maestro and his fabulous Lucerne Festival Orchestra.” (Wall Street Journal)

      Turina: Chamber Music for Strings & Piano

      Lincoln Trio

      Cedille Records CDR 90000 150 (2 CDs)

      The Lincoln Trio brings its “interpretative flair” (The Strad) to the early 20th-century chamber music of Spanish-born, French-trained Joaquín Turina in a richly varied program of works blending Spanish dance and folk influences with romanticism and French impressionism. The album offers Turina’s complete works for multiple strings and piano — four trios, a quartet, quintet, and sextet, including what is only the second recording of his lovely early Piano Trio in F Major.

      Music of Palestrina, Volume 5

      The Sixteen / Harry Christophers

      Coro COR-16124

      Harry Christophers and The Sixteen continue their exploration of Palestrina’s great works with the fifth disc in their celebrated series. This album features a selection of music for Pentecost including Missa Iam Christus astra ascenderat. Alongside the Mass are motets from the Song of Songs, containing some of Palestrina’s most sublime and expressive works.

      Wagner Without Words

      Llŷr Williams, piano

      Signum Classics SIGCD-388 (2 CDs)

      Pianist Llŷr Williams explores Richard Wagner’s rich and evocative sound world from a less well-known angle. Featuring insightful arrangements of Wagner’s operas by Franz Liszt and Glenn Gould (as well as Williams’ own arrangement of music from Parsifal), at the center of the program is a selection of Wagner’s own piano pieces – many of which were written earlier in his compositional career.

      Fauré: Orchestral Music

      Seattle Symphony / Ludovic Morlot

      Seattle Symphony Media SSM-1004

      Fauré’s most beloved orchestral works are presented here in refined and beautifully recorded performances. With charismatic interpretations of the three short works for solo instruments and a rare recording of the choral version of the famous Pavane, this is a definitive collection of Fauré’s orchestral music.

      Beethoven: The Late Piano Sonatas

      Igor Levit, piano

      Sony Classical 88883703872 (2 CDs)

      For the last three years, Igor Levit’s name has been the first to be mentioned whenever there has been talk of the most exciting pianists of the younger generation. He is not only mature in his interpretations, but Levit’s appetite for new repertoire of works as difficult and demanding as possible is boundless. For his debut 2-CD album on Sony Classical, the twenty-six-year-old pianist has chosen some of the most challenging repertoire ever written for the piano: Beethoven’s last five piano sonatas.

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      December 21, 2014

      Traditional: Ding Dong Merrily on High (2:24); Dominus Dixit (2:40); Angels We Have Heard on High (3:49)

      Boys of St Paul’s Choir School / John Robinson

      Since 1963, Saint Paul’s Choir School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has formed and educated boys in grades four through eight in the rich music tradition of the Roman Catholic Church. Their new album features 19 classic Christmas songs in both traditional and contemporary arrangements, including original versions by Director of Music John Robinson.

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      Vivaldi: Guitar Concerto in D major, R 93 (11:40)

      Sharon Isbin, guitar; Zurich Chamber Orchestra / Howard Griffiths

      Acclaimed for her lyricism and virtuosic technique, Sharon Isbin is widely acknowledged to be one of today’s finest guitarists. This collection is a showcase for her extraordinary versatility, bringing together cornerstones of the guitar concerto repertoire by Rodrigo and Villa-Lobos, arrangements of Baroque favorites, concertos by Christopher Rouse and Tan Dun that were written for Isbin herself, and two recital discs including the Grammy Award-winning ‘Dreams of a World.’

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      Britten: A boy was born (2:36)
      Mathias: A babe is born (3:09)
      Traditional: Gabriel’s Message (2:20)
      Mendelssohn: Frohlocket ihr Völker auf Erden (1:21)

      Choir of Clare College, Cambridge; Dmitri Ensemble / Graham Ross

      Under the direction of Graham Ross, the Choir of Clare College and the Dmitri Ensemble celebrate the legacy of European and English carols in this Christmas program of settings by Praetorius and Bach heard alongside later examples by Mendelssohn, Schoenberg, Britten and Tavener.

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