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The releases highlighted below are just some of the best-reviewed albums in the latest issues of International Record Review (May), Gramophone (June), and BBC Music Magazine (June).

Four string quartets by “Danish maverick” Rued Langgaard (Dacapo 6.220575) are a Choice of both Gramophone and BBC Music. In the latter, Stephen Johnson praises the Nightingale Quartet for understanding “the provocative vitality, the fragile romantic sensitivity and the striking intellectual independence behind it all”, while in Gramophone David Fanning notes that the quartet “throws itself into the music with a vehemence and sense of purpose”. Both of these magazines also praise pianist Yuja Wang’s “Fantasia” (DG 479 0052GH), a collection of her favourite encores; BBC Music’s Michael Church says that “Given that these bonnes bouches were never designed to be consumed in bulk, this young virtuoso has pulled off a remarkable feat”, and Bryce Morrison in Gramophone says “Wang is clearly one of the major talents of our time and her playing throughout is of an astonishing verve, style and dexterity”. Morrison also finds plenty of praise for the latest from Olli Mustonen, a disc of Scriabin (Ondine ODE1184-2): “This is Scriabin as you have never heard him before, played by one of music’s most formidable and compusive free spirits… The music is made to leap flame-like and uncontained from the page”. Guitarist David Russell, too, is a Gramophone Choice with a disc of transcriptions entitled “The Grandeur of the Baroque” (Telarc TEL33223-02) in performances that William Yeoman calls “revelatory”; for instance, Russell’s performance of four three-part Sinfonias by Bach “is the epitome of clarity, grace, humour and melancholy”.

The “real thing” in terms of Baroque plucked instruments comes in the form of Anthony Bailes’s “Un Douceur violente” (Ramée RAM1104), a selection of lute music by three Frenchmen – Charles Mouton and uncle-and-nephew Jacques de Gallot and Pierre Gallot. “The expressively subtle music of the French lutenists can be elusive”, Christopher Price says in International Record Review, “but this masterful recording by one of today’s veterans of the Baroque lute makes it readily accessible”. Another lesser-known Baroque work is Mazzocchi’s 1626 opera La catena d’Adone; Andrew O’Connor in IRR highlights the flaws that bedevil early Baroque opera performances and hails the recording by Scherzi Musicali under Nicolas Achten (Alpha 184) as one that “has doubled the number of really satisfying productions” in the genre (the other happens to be the same group’s recording of Caccini’s Euridice). Moving on more than a century we have Hasse’s Didone abbandonata, from which countertenor Valer Barna-Sabadus with Hofkapelle München/Michael Hofstetter (Oehms OC830) provide a selection of highlights, along with the cantata La Gelosia. In this “glorious music”, Barna-Sabadus shows “stunning flexibility” and “silvery virtuosity”, according to John T. Hughes in IRR. A little further on again, chronologically, comes Gluck’s opera Il trionfo di Clelia. Anna Picard in BBC Music praises the “clear, agile voices” of the cast in the recording by Armonia Atenea under Giuseppe Sigismondi de Risio (MDG 609 1733-2), of a work whose “styles employed range from coloratura showpieces to concise French-accented palate-cleansers”. One last opera: Marek Janowski and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra continue their Wagner series with Parsifal (PentaTone PTC5186 401), BBC Music‘s Recording of the Month. Michael Tanner says this “takes its place with [Hans Knappertsbusch’s live recordings from Bayreuth] in compellingness and emotional depth”.

Poulenc’s complete chamber music appears on a double-disc set from the London Conchord Ensemble (Champs Hill CHRCD028), who, according to Gramophone‘s Geoffrey Norris, “manifestly relish what Poulenc has to offer, playing with panache, wit and discreet sensitivity in performances that are a constant joy”. The word “panache” also appears in Richard Whitehouse’s IRR review of three orchestral works by Pierre Boulez from Daniel Kawka with the Ensemble Orchestral Contemporain (Naïve MO78283): these players are “an outfit whose virtuosity renders this music with panache likely to surprise anyone who regards Boulez as an austere aesthete… As a disc of where Boulez the composer has now reached, there is none finer”. The reputation of Herbert Howells may also require reconsideration with a new disc of his music from the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, under Stephen Layton (Hyperion CDA68914), which Peter Quantrill praises in Gramophone “for dispelling the clouds of dissonance that have given Howells the bad name of a meandering mystic and letting us hear what a fine ear he had”. Finally, a composer now emerging from obscurity, Erik Chisholm: his first and second piano concertos are presented by Danny Driver (Hyperion CDA67880). Describing these as “major” works, Calum MacDonald in BBC Music describes the first, a Bartók-influenced work based on bagpipe music, as “taking the percussive piano style to an entirely individual synthesis”, while the second, based on Indian ragas, “is an even more original work”.

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