Monday, December 31, 2007

Xmas bonus put to work

So my internet died on me for a few days during the holiday period there. I could still write, but I could not report... until now...

Arie De Bravura - Salieri, Mozart & Righini
Diana Damrau; Le Cerde De L’harmonie; Jeremie Rhorer
Virgin Classics #95250

For those out there who prefer their aria collections over the top then this is the one to go for. On her debut recording Diana Damrau has chosen some of her favorite classical era arias to show off her skills. She blisters through Mozart at light speed, I‘ve never heard the Queen of the Night aria done so quickly. She may do the same for the other composers, but all the other arias that aren’t Mozart I’ve never heard before. Her renditions of Salieri arias gave me a better understanding as to why he was so popular in his day, the man could write an aria. She gives some guy named Righini a chance to shine, but I wasn‘t terribly impressed. Start to finish the collection has a little to many fireworks for my liking, but piece by piece it does a good job showing off a side of the classical era that not everyone is familiar with.

Sibelius; M. Lindberg: Violin Concertos
Lisa Batiashvili; Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Sakar Oramo
Sony #712936

Most classical fans have encountered the Sibelius violin concerto at some point or another and with good reason, it’s a great concerto, but the greatness of the concerto was not the reason I bought this disc. Magnus Lindberg won a gramophone award last year for his clarinet concerto (which, by the way, is way better than that piece of fluff Kalevi Aho wrote that everyone went so crazy for) and with good reason, his compositions are fantastic. His violin concerto isn’t his most convincing case, but it’s worth a listen. Lindberg sounds like a proper combinations of Stravinsky, Bartok and Penderecki, strong, smart and often violent. His violin concerto is a bit more on the tame side, but still provides great moments.

Stockhausen: Stimmung
Paul Hillier; Theatre of Voices
Harmonia Mundi #807408

I actually bought this disc when it came out a few months ago, but now that he’s dead I figure I should draw some attention to it. Stimmung is a deeply meditative and somber piece, involving a small group of singers chanting into a microphone with various electronic effects tagged on. To the casual listener this piece may sound boring, but the introverts out there will find it strangely intriguing.

Polish Spirits / Mlynarski; Karlowicz; Chopin
Nigel Kennedy
EMI Classics #79934

After a discussion with ZC about the lack of unifying traits in Polish classical music this little disc showed up in the new release bin. It looked interesting enough, not to mention Nigel Kennedy knows how to pick and play good violin concerti, and with my curiosity towards Poland gearing up I took note of this particular item. After reading a few reviews though I was discouraged, not because the reviews were bad, quite the opposite they were all good. I just usually end up less than pleased with these so called ‘hidden gem’ releases. For one reason or another this CD ended up in my player and after a listen, I must say I was pleased. High romance is nothing if not accessible, and this has enough lushness for anyone who’s a strong fan of Dvorak, Chopin or Grieg.

Ornstein: Complete Works for cello and piano
Joshua Gordon; Randall Hodgkinson
New World Records #80655

Any new disc of Leo Ornstein compositions always catch my eye for a number of reasons. 1) There aren’t very many of them. 2)Ornstein’s style is so erratic, often within the same piece, his discs always make for at least a very interesting listen. And 3) Most of his music is terribly engaging, no matter which side of the compositional fence he’s sitting on. And of course any new releases from New World Records always deems at least a little attention from me. And lo, all this things describe the disc to a T. All the pieces on this disc are from Ornstein’s early important period when he seemed to take his inspirations then cut-and-paste them together into compositions. Sometimes sounding like Scriabin, other times sounding like Ravel, often times sounding like Schoenberg. A terribly impressive disc to the early twenty century chamber music fan.

Prokofiev: Piano concerto 2; Ravel: Concerto in G Major
Yundi Li, Seiji Ozawa, BPO
DG #001017502

The Prokofiev might as well be called Concerto in G minor for piano and young pianist. It’s overflowing with that youthful exuberance we all long to keep through our lives. Long extended passages for solo piano, hard dramatic thrusts and dynamics, everything anyone wants out of Russian piano concerto. As far as fireworks and technical swagger are concerned, Prokofiev’s third (and considerably more famous) has nothing on his second. And Yundi Li provides an absolutely incendiary performance from start to finish. He may play a little too fast for those who prefer a more stern Russian approach to the piece, but he hits all the right notes and he hits them right.

Sadly the Ravel doesn’t live up in the shadow of the Prokofiev. Ravel’s famous concerto in G major I think is too subtle for Li at his young age. He lacks the delicate touch this piece needs and listening to it I can’t help but feel as if the whole thing just kind of clobbers around until it’s over. So while I can’t give my support to the Ravel performance, I suggest to buy this disc just for the Prokofiev.

Scriabin: Piano Works
Yevgeny Sudbin
BIS #1568

Who doesn’t love a Scriabin recital? Especially one laid out as nicely and with such a variety as this one. Sudbin has been receiving accolades from the start of his recording career, but this is really the first time I think he feels that he put out a disc he can really be proud of. Not because he didn’t feel passionate about the material or performances on previous discs, it’s just that in the liner notes (which he writes) he speaks so passionately about Scriabin compared to how he speaks about Tchaikovsky or Medtner. Sudbin has a clear love for the piano works of Scriabin and this disc I think gave him the ability to really showcase it.

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