Recommended Releases
LISTEN Summer 2014

Wild Dreams / Joyce Yang
Joyce Yang (the 2005 Van Cliburn Competition Silver Medalist) opens her second Avie release with two gorgeously shaded Earl Wild transcriptions of Rachmaninoff songs, then illuminates the Impressionistic underside of a selection from Hindemith's In einer Nacht. Her Bartók Out of Doors suite isn't quite so characterful as that of 2013 Cliburn Silver winner Beatrice Rana, while Schumann's Fantasiestücke come off best in the quick and vehement movements. Conversely, a lovely and floating Lento proves the high point of Yang's Rachmaninoff Second Sonata (the 1931 revision), bridging well-played yet slightly matter-of-fact outer movements that won't displace higher-voltage competitors. Jed Distler

Box o' Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein Conducts Bernstein
This inexpensive seven-disc set offers the basic Bernstein in the composer's own incomparable performances with the New York Philharmonic. His later versions for Deutsche Grammophon may feature some of this music in the final, revised editions, but the differences are never large, and Bernstein in his prime is a tough act to follow, even for himself. In this set, you get all three symphonies, all of the ballets including the complete Dybbuk (still underrated), Zino Francescatti in the earlier of Bernstein's two Sony recordings of the Serenade (after Plato's Symposium), the suites from On the Waterfront, On the Town and West Side Story, the Candide Overture, Chichester Psalms, the witty song cycles I Hate Music! and La Bonne Cuisine, Trouble in Tahiti (so much better in this original version as opposed to its inclusion in the awful opera A Quiet Place), and best of all, the Mass. I have great personal affection for this latter work, Bernstein's Broadway answer to Britten's War Requiem, with its typically eclectic and riotous mixture of styles. The performances, like the music, have an enduring value that hasn't diminished a bit. David Hurwitz

Swedish Luminosity
Atterberg: Symphonies No 2 & 8 / Jarvi
The first outstanding entry in Neeme Järvi's orchestral survey of Kurt Atterberg (1887-1974) included the Swedish composer's most famous work, his Symphony No. 6 of 1928. This second installment features an earlier symphony (1913) and a later one (1944), both brimming with the luminous melodies - particularly in the slow movements - so characteristic of this self-professed "classical romantic." Atterberg premiered his Eighth Symphony in Helsinki, and Sibelius himself sent him a telegram praising its "wonderful cogency." The complete CPO set of Atterberg's nine symphonies was a landmark, but fresh, audiophile Chandos sound and the beautifully heartfelt playing of the composer's hometown orchestra make these new discs must-haves. Bradley Bambarger

An Alluring Seven Last Words
Haydn: Die Sieben Letzten Worte / Cuarteto Casa
Haydn's Seven Last Words - a cycle of sacred adagios - has been lucky on record. There are excellent recordings no matter how you like the piece: in oratorio form (Jordi Savall, dramatic), the original orchestral (Riccardo Muti, dark-hued) or - most abundant - wide-ranging string quartet interpretations, from the poetic and period-instrument (Quatuor Mosaiques) to the intensely inward (Rosamunde Quartett). Cuarteto Casals has a quirkily formal sense of phrasing that can take some getting used to. Yet this group - from Spain, where the piece was premiered in 1787 - offers an alluring rendition in terms of timbre and texture, with the quartet's period bows drawing out a sound that's complex and vulnerable. B.B.

Delius in Norway
Delius in Norway / A. Davis, Bergen
Delius took much inspiration from the gorgeous country of Norway. The pieces on this intelligently planned program run from 1889-1917, and are in roughly chronological order. They range from the charming orchestration of good friend Edvard Grieg's Norwegian Bridal Procession to Delius's first major works for orchestra (Paa Vidderne) and for the theater (the incidental music to Folkeraadet), taking in a couple of orchestral songs along the way. Paa Vidderne (On the Mountains) is a tone poem of the Wagner/Liszt school, with plenty of hefty brass scoring and way too many cymbal crashes. It does not sound particularly Delian, yet the earlier Sleigh Ride's calm central section clearly foreshadows the composer to come. On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring is based on a Norwegian theme, while Eventyr, which concludes the program, is a masterpiece of mood and turbulent atmosphere, sort of Delius's answer to Sibelius's En Saga. Ann-Helen Moen sings the two songs beautifully, and Andrew Davis, who recorded some very nice Delius for Teldec back in the day, knows his way around the music. It's also good to hear non- British orchestras taking on this repertoire. D.H.

Busoni Beyond Bach
Busoni: Late Piano Music / Marc-Andre Hamelin
Marc-André Hamelin has again recorded rarely heard music so beautifully that its neglect seems almost tragic. His diamondsharp musicianship - going far beyond virtuosity to something more profound - helps return Busoni's original works to our collective imagination. The composer was so famous for his transcription of Bach's Chaconne and other Bach-Busoni treatments that someone once asked his wife if she was Mrs. Bach-Busoni. Only his more re-creative pieces from Bach are here, such as the fourteen-minute Fantasia After J.S. Bach. Also included are Six Sonatinas (with one riffing on Bizet's Carmen), various works woven from Native Americana and a set of Elegies that includes themes from his operas. This is an epic, triple-disc experience.. B.B.

Pure Misery
Pettersson: Symphony No 6 / Christian Lindberg, Norrkoping Symphony Orchestra
Allan Pettersson's Sixth runs the gamut from sad, tragic, wrathful, miserable and stormy to neurotic, stressful, dismal, pained, vicious and sepulchral. What it never sounds is happy, though as we all know there is often much beauty in misery, and Pettersson finds quite a bit of it. The Sixth belongs among Pettersson's most mature and iconic works. For all its textural complexity, the musical argument is surprisingly direct and easy to follow. Pettersson makes ridiculous demands on the orchestra, especially the strings, who have to sustain the music's unrelenting intensity almost without interruption. Kudos to Lindberg and the Norrköping players for pulling it off so handsomely. This is just the antidote to a sunny day. D.H.

Paganini by Piccinini
Paganini: 24 Caprices / Marina Piccinini
Paganini's 24 Violin Caprices have been attracting flute virtuosos on disc, each approaching the original text's idiomatic challenges in a different way. For example, Patrick Gallois' arrangements employ a myriad of twentieth-century flute techniques like circular breathing, flutter tonguing, and humming into the instrument. By contrast, Bonita Boyd recorded nineteenth-century flutist Julius Herman's transcriptions, which adhere more closely to the era's performance practices yet are based on heavily edited texts that are not always accurate. Marina Piccinini's edition, however, is based on Paganini's Urtext, and is similarly conservative from the standpoint of flute technique. She also contends that normal breathing allows the ebb and flow of Paganini's phrasings to emerge more naturally. Collectors may be taken aback at her total timing of more than a hundred minutes for a work that usually requires seventy-two. This has less to do with tempos (which are not unusually slow) as it does with the flutist's small fluctuations in pulse, agogic stresses, tenutos, accentuations, and other expressive gestures. Furthermore, Piccinini's softergrained articulation and tendency to shape phrases in asymmetrical note groupings radically differ from Boyd's rhythmic drive and technical ebullience, yielding a high degree of textural diversity and harmonic tension. While some listeners may find Boyd's Paganini more incisive and direct, Piccinini's intelligent musicality and command manage to reveal these familiar works in a new, thought-provoking light that transcends the question of instrument. Jed Distler

Abbado's Arena
Mendelssohn: 5 Symphonies, 7 Overtures / Abbado, London SO
Mendelssohn is one of the few composers in whose music Abbado has demonstrated consistent mastery (Rossini is another), and while he recorded some of the works in this set both before and after these editions, taken as a whole there is no finer complete Mendelssohn symphony cycle available. He turns in a bubbly and perfectly proportioned account of the First Symphony, a remarkably listenable rendition of the choral Second, and excellent versions of the remaining three. The "Italian" Symphony has particular shapeliness and verve - even the opening pizzicato "snap" has a distinctive sharpness. You get the sense that nothing is being taken for granted. The same can be said of the seven overtures. Yes, it's true that in his later Berlin recording of A Midsummer Night's Dream Overture he achieved even more lightness and velocity, but the differences are on the whole very minor. Fingal's Cave has a genuinely fresh spray of the sea running through it, and this version of the zany Overture for Wind Instruments has never been bettered: the music's crispness and perky sonority - once past the solemn introduction - are just irresistible. Abbado's LSO recordings rank among his finest in terms of sound, and these are no exception. If only he'd stayed in London! David Hurwitz

A Grand Sound
Pace Mio Dio... / Dinara Alieva
While recitals by lyric sopranos seem to come around on a weekly basis, here is an interesting new spinto who may grow into the Verdi soprano many of us have been waiting for. Azerbaijani Dinara Alieva has a grand sound: rich and full in the middle, and rock-solid, if edgy, at the top. Her "Ah, fors'é lui" is lovely and sung with a nice sense of legato; the letter reading before "Addio del passato" is moving without exaggeration. Leonora's two arias from Trovatore are beautifully handled, with almost pianissimo singing and something like a trill; it is only the scrutiny of a recording that shows the flaws: some graceless attacks on high notes and occasional lack of breath. "Pace, pace mio Dio" is a gem - it's rare to hear it so thrillingly performed, with most of the dynamics in place. Tosca's big aria is dignified and handsome; "O mio babbino caro," though well sung and shaded, is too small for Alieva. Doretta's song disappoints. La Wally's "Ebben…" has gravitas but doesn't tear at the heart, and Adriana's first aria lacks introspection. Under a more sympathetic conductor - the accompaniments stress all of the oom-pah-pah and none of the cantilena - she might even be great. Pay attention to her. Robert Levine

Brand-New Shostakovich and String Quartet No. 8, Too
Shostakovich: Preludes, Quartet No 8 / Dogma Chamber Orchestra
It's rare enough to hear Shostakovich's Twenty-Four Preludes Op. 34 on disc (much less in recital). Much rarer still, but no less interesting, is it to hear the work - not to be mistaken for the increasingly popular 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87 - set for string orchestra. The Dogma Chamber Orchestra took on the task and recorded Grigory Kochmar's arrangement to marvelous, delightfully unsettling effect: a new angle on an unfamiliar work gives us what amonuts to brand-new Shostakovich. The String Quartet No. 8 in its souped-up version (basically a simpler version of Chamber Symphony Op. 110a), is familiar territory in which Dogma faces the competition with success. Jens F. Laurson

Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No 3, Symphony No 5 / Matsuev, Gergiev
Valery Gergiev - one of the most devoted Prokofiev interpreters ever - recorded Prokofiev's Fifth live with his hometown Mariinsky band, which benefits from an acoustic with much more bloom than London's Barbican, making one wish Gergiev had recorded his previous cycle in St. Petersburg. The climax of the Adagio is hugely powerful, and the Russians play with an idiomatically plangent cry throughout. Denis Matsuev - Gergiev's pianist of choice in such showpieces as Rachmaninoff's Third Concerto and Tchaikovsky's First - brings glowing romanticism as well as digital brilliance to Prokofiev's Third Concerto. B.B.

Easy Prokofiev
Prokofiev: Piano Concertos 1-5 / Bavouzet, Noseda
Chandos has a great catalog of Prokofiev recordings, including a 1992 set of the five piano concertos split by soloists Horacio Gutiérrez and Boris Berman with the Concertgebouw Orchestra under Neeme Järvi. This new two-disc set - featuring French virtuoso Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, whose work for the label includes magical solo Debussy - is a generally lighter take on this ever-alluring music. The BBC Philharmonic doesn't pack the punch of the august Dutch orchestra and there are other more moving versions of Nos. 1 (Toradze/Gergiev) and 5 (Richter). Yet Gianandrea Noseda is an excellent Prokofiev conductor - see his Chandos take on ballet rarity The Stone Flower - and Bavouzet is both beautiful and exciting in No. 2 and the cycle's most popular, the glittering No. 3. B.B.

Pianistically Peterson
A Tribute To Oscar Peterson / Andrew Litton
In an even dozen solos transcribed from Oscar Peterson recordings, Andrew Litton grasps the dazzling runs and big, rapid left hand chords with genuine idiomatic flair and a sense of timing that do the late, great jazz virtuoso justice. It is true that back-to-back comparisons reveal Oscar to have the lighter touch and sharper accents, along with more angular linear projection, pliable bass lines and harmonic tension. In other words, Litton's fingers are pianistically oriented, while Oscar's evoke the dynamism, color and visceral impact of a big band. Still, this disc is an obvious labor of unconditional love. J.D.

Debussy with Clarity and Color
Debussy: Beau Soir - Preludes Book 2, Etc / Michael Lewin [CD & Blu-ray Audio]
Even in a catalog crowded with world-class Debussy Préludes Book II cycles, Michael Lewin has a lot to offer. The intricate fingerwork in Nos. 1, 4, 8, 11 and 12 combine muted hues and blueprint clarity, while sustained neutral tones create haunting long lines throughout Nos. 2 and 10. The disc opens with pianist/transcriber Koji Attwood's beautiful reworking of the song "Beau Soir," followed by myriad short works. Although Lewin's cut and dried Valse romantique and La Plus que lente may lack charm and sentiment to certain ears, L'isle joyeux and Etude pour les octaves release their pent-up tension to impressive effect. J.D.

Goerne on Eisler
Eisler: Ernste Gesange; Lieder With Piano / Matthias Goerne, Ensemble Resonanz
Matthias Goerne's voice is a dark, mahogany-rich marvel, and he has a dramatic interpretive flair to match. The German baritone's epic Schubert lieder series for Harmonia Mundi has hit volume eight (the double-disc Wanderers Nachtlied), while this release sees him return to a troubled twentieth century and the songs of Hanns Eisler (1898-1962). Goerne's 1998 Decca release of Eisler's Hollywood Songbook remains one of the most important lieder recordings of the past 20 years. This is an excellent reprise, and includes 1940s songs with words by Bertolt Brecht (appealing for Kurt Weill fans) as well as a nuanced interpretation of the autumnal cycle with strings, Ernste Gesänge ("Serious Songs"). Pianist Thomas Larcher adds Eisler's Sonata Op. 1, an atonal work from the years he studied with Schoenberg. B.B.

Bach's Greatest Son
C.P.E. Bach: Cello Concertos / Meneses, Munich Chamber Orchestraev
This reissue from 1997 may not have the textural period-instrument felicities that some now expect in C.P.E. Bach, and there is keen recent competition, too, from modern instruments playing in a period manner (notably, Truls Mørk with Les Violons du Roy under Bernard Labadie). But cellist Antonio Meneses and the Munich Chamber Orchestra perform three cello concertos - Wq 170-72, in A minor, Bflat Major and A Major - in a timeless, wonderfully red-blooded style. Meneses sings on his instrument, particularly in the affecting, almost operatic slow movements, and the German ensemble plays with robust energy. A bridge between the Baroque and Classical eras, Bach's greatest son penned a catalog of still largely unsung music; this hour-plus selection is irresistible. B.B.

Dutilleux Gems
Henri Dutilleux 1916-2013
The music of the French composer Henri Dutilleux is the aural equivalent of a Van Gogh painting - almost dizzyingly kaleidoscopic, with an imagination utterly individual and life-affirming. Dutilleux was more meticulous than prolific, so his oeuvre can be collected on just a few discs. The Chandos set of his orchestral works is highly recommended for its lush sound. But this four-CD Erato collection includes chamber and vocal works, too, along with pioneering interpretations by the likes of Mstislav Rostropovich (conducting Métaboles and Timbres, espace, mouvement), Daniel Barenboim (the two early symphonies) and Paul Sacher (the cimbalom-laced Mystère de l'instant). The pianist's wife, Geneviève Joy, plays the great Piano Sonata of 1948, and Seiji Ozawa leads the deeply moving Shadows of Time of 1997. This is a treasure trove. B.B.

Falletta's Paine
Paine: Symphony No 1, The Tempest / Falletta, Ulster
John Knowles Paine won't win any awards for originality, but these three works from the period 1872-77 are pleasing, well-crafted and worthy of repetition. The First Symphony has been recorded before, but not better than this version featuring JoAnn Falletta and the Ulster Orchestra. The inner movements of the Cminor are actually quite distinctive, the Adagio especially, and the Finale does not suffer from the typical Romantic problem: in other words, it moves. The Overture to As You Like It begins with a gracious slow introduction and continues with a charming Allegro that is, once again, very well sustained rhythmically. The Tempest is described in the booklet as a "powerful Lisztian tone poem." Well, Lisztian it certainly is not (which for many will be a good thing), nor is the music terribly powerful - definitely not stormy. But it is vital and colorful, exhibited by the memorably beautiful writing for woodwinds and harp in the "Ariel" section. As in the symphony, the performances are completely satisfying. D.H.

Rising Star
Beethoven: The Late Piano Sonatas / Igor Levitv
All of the positive attention and high praise that twentysix- year-old pianist Igor Levit has garnered in Europe is thoroughly justified by his Sony Classical debut release encompassing Beethoven's last five sonatas. Levit's affinity for the composer's essentially linear style and intense expressivity borders on clairvoyance. You notice this immediately in Op. 101's first and third movements, where thoughtful voice leading and flexible lyricism mesh into a single entity. Impressive pianistic poise and thoughtful dynamic scaling give clarity and meaning to the Scherzo's obsessive march rhythms and difficult register leaps as well as to the Fugue's knotty textures. Levit takes the "Hammerklavier" first-movement Allegro at a tempo close to the composer's admittedly optimistic metronome marking, yet the music ebbs and flows with characterful assurance. The Scherzo also takes bracing wing; it features biting crossrhythmic accents and a ferocious ascending F-Major scale from bottom to top. You might describe Levit's masterful Adagio sostenuto as a fusion of Rudolf Serkin's classical reserve and Claudio Arrau's depth of tone and vocally oriented inflection. In the finale's introductory Largo, Levit piles into the jazzy broken-chord accelerando with shattering abandon, and brings plenty of drama, dynamic contrast, and varied articulations to the fugue. Following Op. 109's eloquently shaped Vivace, Levit's well-sprung and sharply detailed second movement is one of the few on disc to make Beethoven's detached and legato phrasings audible to the point where the music sounds faster than it actually is performed. Levit's heartfelt, beautifully sung out, and assiduously unified third-movement variations easily measure up to the catalog's finest versions. Op. 110 also stands out for Levit's brilliant synthesis of personal poetry and scrupulous detail, while Op. 111 matches Mauruzio Pollini's extraordinary exactitude (the first movement's driving 16th-note sequences impeccably in place, the Arietta's dotted rhythms' spot-on accuracy and inner "swing") with an extra hint of cantabile warmth. In short, this is Beethoven playing of the highest distinction, not to be missed. J.D.

Vital Elgar
Elgar: Symphonies No 1 & 2, Etc / Slatkin, Et Al
Leonard Slatkin's vital and idiomatic readings catch the spirit of the music while recreating that uniquely Elgarian sound world. Symphony No. 1 fairly crackles with energy thanks to Slatkin's mastery of the score's rhythmic structure, especially in the dramatic first movement. So few conductors excel at both Elgar symphonies, but Slatkin is one of this rare and vanishing breed. In No. 2, Slatkin achieves the perfect blend of pageantry and mystery that makes the first movement so compelling. And he also does the scherzo better than anyone, making the percussion-drenched trio sound truly frightening. The Enigma Variations, Froissart, Cockaigne, and In the South (a thrilling performance) all benefit from Slatkin's keen musical insight and impeccable execution. The London Philharmonic, well experienced in this music, provides its usual enthusiastic and authoritative performances. For the concertos, Slatkin turns to his home band, the St. Louis Symphony, which adds its own characteristic timbre to the traditional Elgar sound (listen to the glorious tuba playing, for example). Pinchas Zukerman and Janos Starker offer first-class solos that communicate the tenderness and melancholy inherent in these impassioned, reflective works. RCA's spacious, full-bodied sound relays the performances with impressive impact. If you want all your Elgar in one place, you won't find any better than this. Victor Carr, Jr

Seduction, Jealousy & Amazement
Hommage A Trois
The "trois" here refers to Haydn, Mozart, and Cimarosa. Aside from Cimarosa's Il maestro di capella, a long, comic monologue in which the "maestro" upbraids and "teaches" his orchestra, each of the arias and duets (with Carolyn Sampson) finds the characters in one stage or another of love - seduction, jealousy, amazement - and in the case of the arias from Haydn's L'isola disabitata and Armida, friendship. William Berger's voice is light, more potent at the top than the lower reaches, rich and expressive in the middle, and agile enough for both coloratura and trills. His sexy pleading as the Count, in "Crudel! Perché finora," is warm and convincing, and Sampson is an utterly enchanting Susanna. I can't recall hearing this duet, or the Count's big aria that follows, sung as smoothly and with as much character: Berger is treacherous, with an audible sneer. His Don Giovanni is the least successful portrayal on the CD; while "Deh vieni…" is smooth and alluring and sung with a ravishing legato, "Fin ch'an dal vino" is underpowered and lacks lust. Guglielmo's "Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo" is gorgeous; the changes in mood are delineated well, and the outcome heroic. And he is the most delightful of Papagenos (with Sampson lovely as both Pamina and Papagena) and his tone painting is different from one duet to the next. His timbre is almost ideal for these three composers, and, I imagine, for earlier music; he will probably excel in some of the French repertoire as his tone ripens. Hearing highlights from five of Haydn's operas is a mixed blessing: though filled with lovely cantilena and fine orchestrations, Haydn's operatic efforts pale beside Mozart's in the ability to make us care about the character's situation, even in brief excerpts. But his wit, grace, and charm are all in evidence, and frankly, the flirtatious duet from Orlando paladino is a sexy little piece, well worth hearing again. Berger makes the most of each aria; you only wish that they were more memorable. The Cimarosa is a "stunt" piece, a showpiece for bass-baritone that I have only previously heard with plenty of exaggerated vocal mugging. What a joy it is to hear Berger sing every note and articulate every word (his diction is impeccable). Nicholas McGegan leads with total understanding and support, and the modern-instrument Scottish Chamber Orchestra plays with perfect eighteenth-century style. R.I.

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