Dmitry Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4
Bernard Haitink; Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Shostakovich 4The last of Dmitry Shostakovich's youthful, experimental symphonies, the Symphony No. 4 (1935-1936) marked a critical turning point, for its modernist tendencies provoked a hostile article in Pravda, thought to have been written by Stalin himself to intimidate the composer. Because of this rebuke, the symphony was withdrawn from performance and not played again until 1961, so due to its comparatively late absorption in the repertoire, it is one of the least played of Shostakovich's symphonies. Yet this is one of his most gripping scores, full of volatile expressions and memorable ideas, and its expansive form, caustic themes, complex developments, and wide emotional range make it comparable in many ways to the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, on which it was partly modeled.
Read the rest of the review by Blair Sanderson
Bernard Haitink, cond. - Dmitry Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4, 1. Allegro poco moderato

Hector Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique
Gustavo Dudamel; Los Angeles Philharmonic
Symphonie fantastiqueAn international sensation and instant star in Deutsche Grammophon's stable while only in his 20s, Gustavo Dudamel won kudos worldwide for his extraordinary musicality, wide expressive range, astute technical mastery, and acute perception of what works in a score, and he has brought great vitality and excitement to his performances of the Romantic symphonic repertoire. His 2007 release of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5 with the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela brought critical praise, and his live follow-up with Hector Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique with the Los Angeles Philharmonic is sure to do the same. What both recordings reveal is Dudamel's amazing ability to reshape whole passages of overly familiar music into fluid and seemingly spontaneous renderings that sound almost like re-creations and make listeners really think about what they're hearing. You may not always agree with Dudamel}'s choices, and his handling of the music may at times seem a bit too calculated, but once you are caught up in a performance, you are compelled to pay attention to everything this conductor does.
Read the rest of the review by Blair Sanderson
Gustavo Dudamel, cond. - Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique, 1. Reveries; Passions
Josef Suk: Symphony in C minor, "Asrael"
Vladimir Ashkenazy; Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
AsraelAlong with the increasing frequency that Josef Suk's Symphony in C minor, Op. 27, "Asrael," is performed and recorded, it's great to see it has finally been released as a hybrid SACD. Though the legendary 1952 recording by Vaclav Talich remains the ne plus ultra for devotees of this searing symphonic requiem, it was recorded in mono, and by virtue of its technology has become a historical document that will be sought out mostly by aficionados. Newcomers to Suk's towering work will be aided in appreciation by the fact that Ondine's DSD recording is as clear and deep as always, and none of the details of the elaborate score are lost. Whether Vladimir Ashkenazy's 2008 interpretation seems as hard-earned and profound as Talich's is another matter, for the two conductors' approaches are different: Talich was steeped in the Czech tradition, while Ashkenazy has always been more cosmopolitan in outlook, so there are clear differences in phrasing, rhythmic emphasis, orchestral sonority, as well as nuances of expression.
Read the rest of the review by Blair Sanderson
Vladimir Ashkenazy, cond. - Josef Suk: Symphony in C minor, "Asrael," 1. Andante sostenuto
Anton Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 in B flat major
Benjamin Zander; Philharmonia Orchestra of London
Bruckner 5In the 1990s, Benjamin Zander achieved a high degree of fame through a series of recordings he made of Gustav Mahler's symphonies for Telarc, which combined elegant performances with bonus discs featuring the conductor's enlightened commentary. This 2009 release of Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 5 in B flat major follows suit and delivers a remarkably clear and cogent reading of Bruckner's most skillfully wrought symphony, along with a moving account of how Zander came to conduct this work so late in his career. One has to respect Zander's intelligence in analyzing the symphony and sincerity of his views on the work's deeper meanings, but it may be a stretch for some listeners to buy the programmatic explication he gives for particular themes, sections, and the overall structure of the work. Included in the package is a diagram of the symphony's form, laid out like the floor plan of a cathedral, obviously tying into the work's unofficial nickname, "Church of Faith," an appellation Bruckner did not give the work. From this, it seems Zander extrapolates certain meanings behind the tonal scheme of the expanded sonata form, the inter-connectedness of thematic shapes, and the spiritual dimensions of Bruckner}'s work, all explained with lucidity and conviction. Yet another view of this work is that it, like all the rest of Bruckner's symphonic output, is pure music, and that the religious and spiritual ramifications people are so eager to find in it are not necessary for appreciation.
Read the rest of the review by Blair Sanderson
Benjamin Zander, cond. - Anton Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, 1. Adagio
J.S. Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier
Angela Hewitt
Well-Tempered ClavierAcclaimed as one of the most creative and thoughtful performers of J.S. Bach's keyboard music since the innovative performances of her compatriot, Glenn Gould, Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt has certainly matched her usual exquisite playing in this 2008 set of The Well-Tempered Clavier, an anticipated follow-up to the 2007 reissue of her 1997 recordings. Having both sets would be ideal for Hewitt fans, but for listeners who can choose only one, either is an excellent option and sure not to disappoint. While no one should expect vast differences in her interpretations here, which are rich in the variety of tone colors, moods, and nuances, Hewitt's maturing appreciation of Bach is not a radical overhaul, though there are necessarily changes in the particulars of accentuation, phrasing, dynamics, and emphasis due to the passage of time, as well as to the spontaneity of Hewitt's expression and the fluidity of the moment.
Read the rest of the review by Blair Sanderson
Angela Hewitt, piano - J.S. Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1, Prelude in E flat major
Anne Akiko Meyers
Anne Akiko Meyers SmileViolinist Anne Akiko Meyers' Koch release Smile continues, to some extent, from her previous Avie issue Birds in Warped Time in that she is attempting to expand beyond the constraints of typical classical CD programming -- combining a couple of big works, or collecting a bunch of little ones, "encores" -- into something more imaginative and more in keeping with her own taste and personality. With that, Meyers has invested some measure of muscle into developing repertoire that fits her generous, yet transparent tone with the same degree of comfort as one of her designer-made concert gowns. Here we have an arrangement of the Japanese melody "Kojo No Tsuki," made by Meyers herself in collaboration with Shigaeki Saegusa, for solo violin. With all apologies due to accompanist Akira Eguchi, this solo violin track is one of the loveliest things that Meyers has ever done.
Read the rest of the review by Uncle Dave Lewis
Anne Akiko Meyers, violin - Rentaro Taki: Kojo No Tsuki (Moon Over the Ruined Castle)

Anne Akiko Meyers, violin - Arvo Pärt: Spiegel im Spiegel

Lincolnshire Posy: Music for Band by Percy Grainger
Jerry Junkin & The Dallas Wind Symphony
Lincolnshire Posy Music for band by Percy GraingerPercy Grainger was best known during his lifetime as a virtuoso concert pianist and educator, but a major factor in reviving his work as a composer from its long eclipse was his interest in wind ensembles; Grainger's Lincolnshire Posy (1938), probably more that any other, single band work became both touchstone and litmus test for symphonic bands and literature as these forms evolved in the latter half of the twentieth century. Jerry Junkin and the Dallas Wind Symphony remains one of only a few fully professional non-collegiate, non-military symphonic bands in the United States, and they do not take lightly the prospect of their all-Grainger disc, Lincolnshire Posy: Music for Band by Percy Grainger, for Reference Recordings. Their stated intent is to "set a new standard for Percy Grainger's music," partly through making an effort to connect with some musical instruments that Grainger utilized that have gone obsolete, and also in examining some of the many options he makes for instruments owing to his preference for "elastic scoring," where a single piece can be realized by varying instruments, given the situation.
Read the rest of the review by Uncle Dave Lewis
Dallas Wind Symphony - Grainger: Molly on the Shore

Dallas Wind Symphony - Grainger: Lads of Wamphrey

Journey to the New World
Sharon Isbin
Sharon Isbin Journey to the New WorldThe very early history of the folk music revival in America is peopled to some extent by classical musicians such as Ruth Crawford Seeger (Pete's step-mom) and Suzanne Bloch who acted as midwives, expert collectors of past folk material, sources of repertoire, and even as performers when there was no folk movement as such. Once the folk revival got going, however, the movement necessarily took its own direction, reaching out to the young, with some artists pursuing a distinct political agenda and all getting as far away from "art music" as they could. Although Peter, Paul & Mary have long moved out of the coffee houses and into the concert halls, the estrangement of American folk music -- as it was practiced in the 1950s and '60s -- and art music has more or less continued since, however, in her Sony Classical disc Journey to the New World, classical guitarist Sharon Isbin brings it all back together in a very beautiful way.
Read the rest of the review by Uncle Dave Lewis
Sharon Isbin, guitar - Andrew York: Andecy

Sharon Isbin, guitar - John W. Duarte: Joan Baez Suite

Mark Grey: Enemy Slayer - A Navajo Oratorio
Scott Hendricks, Michael Christie & The Phoenix Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
Mark Grey Enemy SlayerAdvertised as "the first-ever oratorio to be founded on an indigenous creation story" -- and it may well be so -- Enemy Slayer - A Navajo Oratorio was commissioned from composer Mark Grey by the Phoenix Symphony as part of its longstanding effort to bring a little of the American Southwest into its concert halls and to bridge the gap between Native American and Western cultures. Grey's fulfillment of his year-long tenure as the Phoenix Symphony's composer in residence went well beyond the usual call of duty; a 70-minute oratorio for baritone soloists -- Scott Hendricks, in this instance -- full orchestra and a chorus of 140 voices. Enemy Slayer is based on a creation story of the Diné or, as familiarly known, Navajo people, and its libretto was written by the Diné poet Laura Tohe.
Read the rest of the review by Uncle Dave Lewis
Michael Christie, cond. - Mark Grey: Enemy Slayer - A Navajo Oratorio

Vaet: Missa Ego flos campi
Cinquecento Vaet Missa ego flos campiIt's certainly hard not to love this; for the first time since their first Hyperion disc, Music from the Court of Maximilian II, Cinquecento returns to the music of Jacobus Vaet for a full-disc serving, only the second this composer has ever enjoyed. Vaet, who worked in Germany and lived from c.1529-1567 only, has nine surviving mass settings, and one of these is the main event, ergo the album title Jacobus Vaet: Missa Ego flos campi. As this mass utilizes a melody of Vaet's master, Jacob Clemens non Papa, the motet from which it is taken is included as one bookend to Vaet's mass, and the other is supplied in a glorious motet, Antivenis varides, written in honor of Duke Albrecht of Bavaria. Filling out the program is a Magnificat, a short Miserere, Salve Regina, and four additional motets.
Read the rest of the review by Uncle Dave Lewis
Cinquecento - Jacobus Vaet: Antivenis varides

Cinquecento - Jacobus Vaet: Salve regina

Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Songs of Love and Loss
Jolle Greenleaf & Hank Heijink
CharpentierFor this recital of music by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, soprano Jolle Greenleaf and theorbo player Hank Heijink have chosen an exceptionally attractive selection of pastoral songs that deal with the joys and disappointments of love. These songs are over 300 years old, but they have a communicative directness, elegance, and musical and emotional subtlety that make them immediately engaging. Each is a little gem, but the chaconne, "Sans frayeur dans ce bois," is particularly memorable, a simply drop-dead gorgeous example of Charpentier's gift for appealing melody, and imaginative text setting. Greenleaf has the high, gleaming soprano that this repertoire requires. Her tone is pure, fully rounded and warm over its complete range, even into the highest reaches, and she sings with a luscious, velvety legato. She also has a sure grasp of the subtleties of mid-Baroque ornamentation and vocal production, and the discipline and agility to put the music across with both finesse and unmannered naturalness.
Read the rest of the review by Stephen Eddins
Jolle Greenleaf, soprano; Hank Heijink, theorbo - Charpentier: Ah! qu'ils sont courts les beaux jours

Jolle Greenleaf, soprano; Hank Heijink, theorbo - Charpentier: Sans frayeur dans ce bois

Monteverdi: Teatro d'Amore
Christina Pluhar & L'Arpeggiata
MonteverdiA warning to purists: there's little in the packaging of this CD to indicate the interpretive freedom with which the ensemble, l'Arpeggiata, led by Christina Pluhar, treats some of the Monteverdi love songs and madrigals on the album. There's a hint in the opening track, the toccata from Orfeo, in its wonderfully reckless abandon and prominent use of percussion. In Ohimè ch'io cado, the solo madrigal that follows it, the continuo part is transmogrified into a walking bass, the rhythm is swung, blue notes abound, and the Baroque trumpet launches into frankly jazzy riffs between verses. We're clearly no longer in the land of scrupulously authentic period performance practice. It's followed by a traditional, but lusciously sensual performance of Pur ti miro, from L’Incoronazione di Poppea, its accompaniment as direct and heartfelt as that of an Appalachian folk song, sung with a smoldering -- no, scorching -- erotic charge, by soprano Núria Rial and counter tenor Philippe Jaroussky.
Read the rest of the review by Stephen Eddins
Philippe Jaroussky, counter tenor - Monteverdi: Ohimè ch’io cado

Núria Rial, soprano; Philippe Jaroussky, counter tenor - Monteverdi: L’Incoronazione di Poppea - Pur ti miro

Pawel Lukaszewski :Via Crucis
Stephen Layton
LukazsewskiPolish composer Pawel Lukaszewski has created a virtual anomaly: a contemporary, large-scale liturgical work that could function equally as well as part of a traditional religious service and as a concert piece with the musical integrity and inspiration to appeal to broad audiences. Lukaszewski, though little known in the West, is clearly a composer to be reckoned with; his wide ranging imagination and formidable compositional technique have equipped him to write a stunningly dramatic Via Crucis (the Stations of the Cross), traditionally in 14 sections, but here with an added 15th station depicting the Resurrection. The rich variety of his choral writing, which draws on traditional polyphony as well as an array of contemporary techniques, allows him to vividly convey the high dramatic profile of the texts. Another striking element is the structural sophistication of his handling of this large scale text.
Read the rest of the review by Stephen Eddins
Stephen Layton, cond. - Lukaszewski: Via Crucis - Station 4. Jesus meets his Blessed Mother

Stephen Layton, cond. - Lukaszewski: Via Crucis - Station 9. Omnes nos quasi oves erravimus (All we like sheep)

Handel: Faramondo
Diego Fasolis, Max Emanuel Cencic, Philippe Jaroussky
HandelUntil it was revived in the late 20th century, Handel's opera, Faramondo, was performed just eight times in London in 1738 and then fell into obscurity. According to the conventions of Italian opera of the period, men's roles were often written for women, in spite of the lack of dramatic realism, and the use of castrati was common, so higher voices strongly predominate. Handel wrote the title role, which would have gone to a castrato, usually a male alto, for Cafarelli, who had the range of a mezzo-soprano. This recording is exceptional in its use of countertenors in all the male roles, and it's intriguing to hear together the variety of voice types lumped together as "counter tenors" -- the singers here are distinctly males altos, mezzo-sopranos and sopranos. The early 21st century is blessed with an abundance of extraordinarily fine counter tenors, and the singers on this recording are exceptional, with voices of great tonal fullness and purity, agility and individuality.
Read the rest of the review by Stephen Eddins
Diego Fasolis, cond.- Handel: Faramondo - Act 1. Scene 3. Aria. Conoscerò, se brami

Diego Fasolis, cond. - Handel: Faramondo - Act 1. Scene 11. Aria. Sì, tornerò a morir

Puccini: Madama Butterfly
Angela Gheorghiu, Jonas Kaufmann, Antonio Pappano
PucciniThe most notable thing about this recording of Madama Butterfly is the conducting of Antonio Pappano. His reading emphasizes the opera's dramatic intensity, and has a sinewy, sometimes brutal power that never lets the listener forget the cruelty and arrogance that are at its core. Pappano highlights the modernist elements in Puccini's score -- its harsh dissonances, sometime startling orchestration, and astonishing harmonically unresolved conclusion -- that tend to be glossed over in more conventionally romantic performances. His approach throws the irony of the love scene into harsh relief, and makes Cio-Cio-San's naïve devotion all the more poignant. The rhythmic fluidity that he brings to the score creates a terrific sense of spontaneity and vitality, and his attention to detail, such as having the strings subtly bend the tone in the pentatonic sections, creates a lovingly nuanced performance. Altogether, it’s a revelatory version of the opera. Having a uniformly outstanding cast and two stars at the top of their form also contributes hugely the recording’s impact.
Read the rest of the review by Stephen Eddins
Antonio Pappano, cond. - Puccini: Madama Butterfly - Act 1. Ah! ah! Quanto cielo! Quanto mar!... Ancora un passo or via

Antonio Pappano, cond. - Puccini: Madama Butterfly - Act 1. Bimba, non piangere

Brahms: Symphony No. 2
John Eliot Gardiner & Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique
Brahms: Symphony No. 2John Eliot Gardiner, the conductor more highly decorated by the recording industry than any other, returns for his second installment of his complete cycle of the Brahms symphonies. This disc includes the Second Symphony along with the lush Alto Rhapsody and three Schubert songs (two of which were arranged by Brahms). Gardiner's argument to juxtapose vocal and symphonic works is sound; Brahms' true compositional love was for the voice, and his symphonies reflect this in their frequent vocal, choral qualities. Like other recordings of Gardiner, an abundance of research preceded these Brahms performances.
Read the rest of the review by Mike D. Brownell
John Eliot Gardiner, cond.; Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique - Brahms: Symphony No. 2 - 4. Allegro con spirito

Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 42, 49, 44
Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 42, 49, 44While we may conceptually think of a symphony as a composition for a large number of musicians, such was not the case when Haydn, the so-called "Father of the Symphony," composed the majority of is 104 symphonies. Rather, his symphonies were composed for the smaller number of musicians (generally no more than two to a part) that were available to him, usually at the Palace of Esterház. Many modern recordings of Haydn's symphonies, even those incorporating period instruments, still use far greater forces than Haydn originally had at his disposal. This album by the Canadian early music ensemble Arion, led by the talented harpsichordist/fortepianist Gary Cooper, returns listeners to the time of Papa Haydn by using the proportions of instruments that Haydn himself would have used.
Read the rest of the review by Mike D. Brownell
Arion - Haydn: Symphony No. 41 - Allegro con spirito

Italia 1600, Argentina 1900
Verónica Cangemi
Italia 1600, Argentina 1900France's Naïve label has overdone it this time with the electronica-like design for the cover of this release, which gives the buyer little idea of what he or she is going to hear. Even the title is not much help; most of the music does not come from Italy in the years around 1600 nor from Argentina around 1900, and the South American selections are more in the nature of punctuation of the program than the equivalent group the title implies. One might also note that the Spanish accent marks are pointing the wrong way in the track list. And there the list of complaints ends. This is a breathtaking vocal recital that, in its way, represents a landmark for the long incorporation of early music in the classical mainstream. The biggest news is that Argentine soprano Verónica Cangemi emerges as a major new talent, capable of handling perhaps the most devastatingly difficult of Vivaldi's operatic arias, the storm aria "Come in vano il mare irato," from Catone in Utica, track 2. But more intriguing is the diverse set of paths Cangemi takes as she approaches and departs from these centerpieces.
Read the rest of the review by James Manheim
Verónica Cangemi, soprano - Vivaldi: Catone in Utica - Come in vano il mare irato

Katsuya Watanabe
ImpressionThe oboe's solo literature is not large, and the list of works represented on this recital disc by Japanese oboist Katsuya Watanabe may not look promising at first glance, with composers traditionally thought of as minor and an extended "morceau de salon" by the Czech early Romantic Johann Wenzel Kalliwoda Q 3188. All of it is written for the oboe rather than being arranged from other music, however, and in this resides its utter charm. These are "technical" pieces, written to display aspects of the oboe's, and the oboist's, capabilities, and Watanabe, taking that as a basis, treats the music with the utmost lyricism. The effect is unique. The program is carefully framed for maximum effect, with the 1955 Sonata for oboe and piano of William Alwyn immediately showing what Watanabe can do.
Read the rest of the review by James Manheim
Katsuya Watanabe, oboe - Alwyn: Sonata for oboe & piano - 1. Moderato e grazioso

Boccherini: Trio, Quartet, Quintet & Sextet for Strings
Europa Galante
Boccherini: Trio, Quartet, Quintet & Sextet for StringsThis could be the best disc of Boccherini's chamber music ever recorded. Whereas most ensembles seem to hold to the idea that Boccherini was a more charming but less profound Haydn, Europa Galante plays Boccherini like he's a sophisticated composer who was a moody and mercurial master in his own right. Led by violinist Fabio Biondi, Europa Galante delivers performances of tremendous tonal beauty and revelatory soul. A portion of its success is attributable to the choice of repertoire. Instead of the lighter Boccherini fare, Biondi has picked a String Quintet in C minor, a String Sextet in F minor, and a String Quartet in C minor, and, as dessert, a String Trio in D major.
Read the rest of the review by James Leonard
Europa Galante - Boccherini: String Quintet No. 91 in C minor - 1. Adagio non tanto

Europa Galante - Boccherini: String Trio No. 22 in D major - 1. Allegro giusto