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The aim of this regular column is to highlight the classical CDs that have been getting great reviews in the major English-language review magazines – Gramophone, BBC Music Magazine, International Record Review, American Record Guide, and Fanfare. Given the relative sizes of the five magazines, I’ll be treating the two big bimonthlies ARG and Fanfare separately, and the three monthly UK publications together.

The reviews below appear in the order in which they appear in the print edition of Fanfare.

Alessandro Scarlatti: Nisi Dominus; Salve Regina; etc. soloists; Concerto de’ Cavalieri, Marcello di Lisa. CPO 777 476

“All of these works demonstrate that Scarlatti was a master of vocal music, knowing when to unleash the often tortuous melismatic coloratura and when to hold it back for simplicity” – Bertil van Boer

Bach: Cello suites, played on viola. Helen Callus (va). Analekta 2 9968-9

“Callus’s playing should be considered Exhibit A for anyone with remaining doubts about the viola’s ability to stand alongside the other strings as a viable solo instrument. … This is among the very best of recordings of the suites on any instrument” – Michael Cameron

To The Point – music by Higdon, Rudin, Schuller, Cascarino and Reise. Orchestra 2001, James Freeman and Gunther Schuller. Innova 745

“it is a joy to become acquainted with these new pieces via an ensemble of the quality of Orchestra 2001. … Go buy this CD now. You’ll thank me after you hear it” – David DeBoor Canfield

Marx: Lieder. Angelika Kirchschlager (mez); Anthony Spiri (p). CPO 777 466

“If you have even the slightest interest in late-Romantic vocal music, snap this up. … both singer and pianist seem deeply in love with the music, and both bring it vividly to life” – Henry Fogel

Mozart to Gershwin – music by Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Griffes and Gershwin. Margery McDuffie Whatley (p). ACA 20110

“What a delightful musical whirlwind tour this is … the strongest possible recommendation” – Jerry Dubins

Bartók: Solo violin sonata; Bach/Papavrami: Fantasy and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542; Suite in G, BWV 822. Tedi Papavrami (vn). Aeon 1101

“Papavrami’s accomplishment in this program seems considerable in many ways—his more than simple transcriptions have provided violinists with works by the Master for solo violin that fit perhaps better with the existing ones than do several of the arrangements for violin and orchestra of harpsichord concertos, even if those works originated in violin concertos. And his performances capture the majesty of these transcriptions. Finally, he’s recorded a performance of Bartók’s Solo Sonata that makes it take a place as a near equal with these Bach-like transcriptions” – Robert Maxham

Bach: Solo violin sonatas and partitas. Jascha Heifetz (vn). Pristine 075

“This set now occupies one of the top places on my short list of a half-dozen most treasured violin recordings of all time … this remastering situates [Heifetz] in your living room or study and reveals more of his mechanism” – Robert Maxham

Bach: Cello suites. Pablo Casals (vc). Pristine 074

“Everything about the playing here is musical in the most rudimentary and important sense of the term. Despite the fine transfers of previous CD editions, this one stands alone as a stunning achievement” – Mortimer H Frank

Beethoven: Piano sonatas nos.30-32. Penelope Crawford (fp). Musica Omnia 0308

“Beethoven’s three final sonatas are some of the densest, thorniest music around; they require a pianist with flawless technique and consummate interpretative skills. Penelope Crawford has these qualities in spades … The instrument has a wonderfully warm, well-balanced sound, with nary a trace of action noise – at first, you might not recognize it as a fortepiano” – Christopher Brodersen

Beethoven: Piano sonatas nos.30-32. Alexei Lubimov (p). Zig-Zag Territoires ZZ110103

“there is a deep humanity expressed in this playing. In a way, these readings are incomparable. Musicians and listeners worship this music and so there have been many fine performances over the years. … I will now add this very special recording to an exalted short list” – Peter Burwasser

Beethoven: Symphonies nos.1-9. La Chambre Philharmonique, Emmanuel Krivine. Naive V5258

“This set is quite simply the most impressive period-instrument Beethoven symphony cycle I’ve heard since that of John Eliot Gardiner on Archiv. If that sounds too much like faint praise to some readers, I’ll suggest that it can stand comparison with many classic cycles played on modern instruments as well. These interpretations are invested with energy, power, sensitivity, and nuance; the orchestral execution is exemplary, and the recorded sound is demonstration quality, especially for live recordings” – Christopher Abbott

Brahms: Piano concerto no.2; Paganini variations book 2; 3 Hungarian Dances. Boris Berezovsky (p); Ural Philharmonic, Dmitri Liss. Mirare 132

“With this recording, Berezovsky and Liss, I believe, have set a new “normal” for Brahms’s Second Concerto that will stand as a bar for those contemplating a future run at the score” – Jerry Dubins

Brahms: Violin concerto. Eduard Davidovitch Grach (vn); Moscow State PO, Kiril Kondrashin. Talents of Russia RCD 16211

“This is a performance that simply beggars superlatives; astonishingly, it does so even though the interpretation runs counter to my previously established tastes in this work. Normally I favor an incisive, energetic approach with brisk tempi … [Graf’s] is a deeply thought-out conception of the work, frequently introspective and reflective rather than extroverted and mercurial, with the moments of soaring triumph, bucolic repose, and rustic revelry hard won from hidden griefs stoically borne” – James A Altena

Brahms: Variations, op.21/1; Piano pieces op.76; Rhapsodies op.79; Intermezzi, op.117. Adam Laloum (p). Mirare 131

“Laloum proves himself a Brahmsian of special insight and sensitivity, responsive to every expressive nuance and subtle inflection in these pieces” – Jerry Dubins

Debussy: La mer; Jeux; Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. London SO, Valery Gergiev. LSO Live 0692

“Rarely have I heard Debussy presented with such purity of intonation and miracles of ensemble… Gergiev presents us with the best Jeux I have ever heard” – Dave Saemann

Dennehy: Grá agus Bás; That the Night Come. Iarla Ó Lionáird (voice); Dawn Upshaw (sop); Crash Ensemble, Alan Pierson. Nonesuch 527063

“Dennehy’s musical style is deeply vibrant, drawing on post-Minimalist rhythms and a sound world that combines jagged and raw elements (both acoustic and electronic) with lyricism and melody, sometimes connected to Irish folk music. … This is a very fine release of music by an extremely compelling composer from whom you will be hearing much more” – Carson Cooman

Donizetti: Linda di Chamounix. Eglise Gutiérrez (sop), etc; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Mark Elder. Opera Rara ORC 43

“While in most Donizetti operas one would start with the soprano, for my taste the galvanizing force behind this performance is conductor Mark Elder. This is a very tricky opera to get right… Elder is just about perfect… Do not worry that my praise for the conductor is a way of beating around the bush about the soprano. The Cuban-American Eglise Gutiérrez is surely the finest soprano to record this role yet” – Henry Fogel

Duparc: Mélodies. Nora Gubisch (mez); Alain Altinoglu (p). Cascavelle VEL 3150

“The French mezzo Nora Gubisch is simply sensational… This is one of the finest song recitals I have encountered in a long time, and I recommend it without a shred of reservation” – Henry Fogel

Holst: Vocal music (3 separate discs). Peter Pears; Benjamin Britten; Imogen Holst; Adrian Boult; Janet Baker; Robert Tear; Purcell Singers; BBC SO; English CO. Decca Eloquence 480 2327, 480 2328, 480 2329

“This three-CD collection would be urgently recommended even without [Boult’s 1962] The Hymn of Jesus; with it, it’s a no-brainer. If you care about Holst, or indeed about music of the early 20th century apart from the inevitable Schoenberg and Stravinsky, you must get these discs” – Richard A Kaplan

Klughardt: Violin concerto; Symphony no.3. Mirjam Tschopp (vn); Anhalt Philharmonic, Golo Berg. CPO 777 465

“two major orchestral works splendidly played, recorded in a vivid acoustic environment, and conducted with great verve and panache. In fact, these performances are so good they might well be even better than the music itself” – Robert Markow

Liszt: Bellini and Verdi opera transcriptions. Giovanni Bellucci (p). Lontano/Warner 2564-69074-8

“according to the pianist’s biographical note, Diapason selected this disc as among the “Top 10 Liszt recordings in history.” That’s a heady compliment, and I am not sure I would go so far. Still, Bellucci’s playing, which is virtuosic, unashamedly dramatic, and musical, has me thinking of the late Earl Wild, and that is no small praise” – Raymond Tuttle

Platti: Late keyboard sonatas. Luca Guglielmi (fp, hpd). Accent 24228

“The combination of Luca Gugliemi’s energetic, nuance-rich playing with the refined sound of Kerstin Schwarz’s copy [of a Cristofori fortepiano] is exactly what this music needs. Platti’s music can be all over the map at times, but thanks to the dynamic control at his disposal, Gugliemi is able to make sense of Platti’s verbosity. … certain to be one of the outstanding keyboard releases of 2011” – Christopher Brodersen

Reger: Piano concerto; R Strauss: Burleske. Marc-André Hamelin (p); Berlin RSO, Ilan Volkov. Hyperion 67635

“Here Hamelin simply has excelled himself, giving performances of intense virtuosity and deep understanding” – Dave Saemann

Schumann: Piano trios nos.1 and 2. Swiss Piano Trio. Audite 92.654

“The youngish members of the Swiss Piano Trio (founded 1998) are about the age of Schumann when he penned these works, and their approach is one of considerable abandon, at times fiercely digging into the music while never losing either control or tonal luster. I felt as though I was learning a lot about music that I already know so well while listening to this recording, and Audite’s fabulous SACD surround sound puts them right in front of you. An essential recording” – Steven E Ritter

Stanford: Piano concerto no.2; Concert variations on “Down among the dead men”. Finghin Collins (p); RTÉ National SO, Kenneth Montgomery. Claves 50-1101

“Throughout the disc, Collins and Montgomery perform with bravura and great stylistic understanding. The Dublin orchestra, familiar from so many Naxos CDs, plays consistently beautifully. The sound engineering is excellent: crisp, warm, with a wide soundstage, and just a touch of thinness. This album ranks as a high point in the Stanford discography, along with the best efforts of Vernon Handley and David Lloyd-Jones. I can’t think of a CD I’ve reviewed for Fanfare that I enjoyed more” – Dave Saemann

Telemann: Harmonischer Gottes-Dienst, volume 3. Mona Julsrud (sop); Bergen Baroque. Toccata 0074

“The ensemble is overall excellent, with Julsrud’s flexible soprano handling both the sensitive, slower arias and virtuoso display with taste and accuracy… Again, Bergen Baroque has created a performance that brings Telemann’s music alive” – Bertil van Boer

Verismo arias. Jonas Kaufmann (ten); Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Antonio Pappano.  Decca B001 5463-002

“Make no mistake, this is a fine disc of showpiece arias from the German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, the best vocal collection I have heard this year… I am certainly not claiming that Kaufmann sings all of these arias better than the greats of yesteryear, but he does sing them very well, and to have them together in one collection in such fine sound makes this vocal disc highly recommendable” – Bill White

Songs to Mary – music by Grandi, Monteverdi, Carissimi, Frescobaldi and Kerll. Robert Crowe (male sop); Michael Eberth (org). Profil PH 10054

“It is a voice of incredible suavity, power, and sheer beauty… from beginning to end this program is a ravishing delight” – J F Weber

More Bizarre or BaRock. Elizabeth Anderson (hpd) and others. Move 3326

“Yeah, baby! The sequel to Elizabeth Anderson’s marvelous CD Bizarre or baRock (reviewed in Fanfare 34:5) has arrived and is marked by an even greater variety of music and instrumentation. As with the first volume, not every piece is a runaway success, but there is enough music of quality here to hold one’s interest, and plenty of surprises along the way … if you’re a lover of the unusual and offbeat, definitely consider the acquisition of both CDs for your library” – Christopher Brodersen

The Sari Biro Legacy. Sari Biro (p), solo and with orchestras. Cambria 1174 (4 discs)

“By my reckoning, Sari Biro (1910–90) was one of the three greatest female Hungarian pianists of the last century, along with the much better-known Lili Kraus (1903–86) and Annie Fischer (1914–95). But save for her live 1944 account of Pick-Mangiagalli’s tricky Danse d’Olaf (heard in Volume 1 of the Naxos series Women at the Piano) and a lone Pearl disc of live performances, no other CD examples of Biro’s artistry have surfaced until now. … Despite my occasional quibbles, I find this Cambria set to be a veritable treasure trove of great piano playing by a vastly underrated artist” – Jeffrey J Lipscomb


Stephen J. Nereffid lives near Dublin, Ireland, and spends far too much time listening to classical music.
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