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Highly Reviewed Recordings

July 27 - August 9, 2011

BRITTEN, B.: Phaedra / A Charm of Lullabies / Lachrymae / 2 Portraits / Sinfonietta (Connolly, Rysanov, BBC Symphony, E. Gardner)
(Chandos: CHAN10671)

BRITTEN, B.: Phaedra / A Charm of Lullabies / Lachrymae / 2 Portraits / Sinfonietta (Connolly, Rysanov, BBC Symphony, E. Gardner) Excerpt:

“Edward Gardner continues his strong initial showing with his still-new Chandos contract. Here he teams up with another brilliant young artist, viola player Maxim Rysanov. Rysanov is especially touching in Britten’s Lachrymae but it is a more experienced hand, mezzo Sarah Connolly, who steals the show with a dramatic and involving Phaedra.”

Gramophone, July 2011.

ROSSINI, G.: Opera Arias (Lezhneva)
(Naive: V5221)

ROSSINI, G.: Opera Arias (Lezhneva) Excerpt:

“Lezhneva's characteristics will doubtless grow in depth and detail, but this is a highly enjoyable debut recital, by turns affecting and exhilarating, , from a soprano of impressive accomplishment and still more exciting potential. Orchestral accompaniments are trim and alert, recorded sound and annotation (by Richard Osborne) first-rate, though it's a pity the Naïve tricks out the none-too-generous playing time with the Cenerentola overture rather than including one or two more arias.”

Gramophone, July 2011.

Vocal Music (American) - WHITE, B.F. / CAREY, H. / PHILE, P. / BILLINGS, W. (Rose of Sharon: 100 Years of American Music) (Frederiksen)
(Harmonia Mundi: HMC902085)

Vocal Music (American) - WHITE, B.F. / CAREY, H. / PHILE, P. / BILLINGS, W. (Rose of Sharon: 100 Years of American Music) (Frederiksen) Excerpt:

When the end of 2011 comes, this masterpiece from Joel Frederiksen and his Ensemble Phoenix Munich will reside among the best of what undoubtedly will be a formidable mountain of first-rate vocal-music recording projects. I have to say that this kind of program was unexpected coming from this bass singer/lutenist/guitarist. What, other than something that inspired his interest during the time he spent studying and performing in the U.S. in the '90s, would have possessed this extraordinary artist to organize such a program around the "wide range of music composed between the War of Independence and the Civil War"? This is the sort of thing we used to hear from world-class American ensembles such as the Baltimore Consort, Joel Cohen and his Boston Camerata, and even in a couple of notable ventures, from Anonymous 4.

Frederiksen's opening unaccompanied rendition of the Shaker spiritual Lay me low is an irresistible call to this celebration of early American music, and the closing Hear, O Lord, when I cry, a 19th-century anthem by Philadelphia composer/Moravian Church organist Massah M. Warner for four a cappella voices, makes an equally compelling benediction. The spirit and tradition of this music is almost entirely lost now, but as one who grew up with first-hand experience of camp and revival meeting songs and hymns, and who was present for part of Joel Cohen's Shaker music recording project, I have to say that this current effort to bring this music to life has a genuine air of sincerity and reverence--and if nothing else, it's certainly enlivening and entertaining. Frederiksen is an amazing musician and a uniquely gifted singer, and for that reason alone you shouldn't miss this.

David Vernier,

SCHUBERT, F.: Symphony No. 6 / GAL, H.: Symphony No. 1 (Kindred Spirits - Two Ends of a Great Tradition) (Northern Sinfonia, Zehetmair)
(Avie Records: AV2224 )

SCHUBERT, F.: Symphony No. 6 / GAL, H.: Symphony No. 1 (Kindred Spirits - Two Ends of a Great Tradition) (Northern Sinfonia, Zehetmair)

The disc's title suggests that Franz Schubert and Hans Gal, though separated by a century, are "Kindred Spirits" because they both were innovative Viennese composers--although clearly it's Schubert who was the greater innovator. Schubert's Symphony No. 6, though one of the composer's "early" works in the genre, displays harmonic ingenuity throughout, while the overture-divertimento Finale is remarkable for its formal innovation. Thomas Zehetmair and the Northern Sinfonia provide a lively, shimmering performance that plays up the music's rich coloring and joyous moods. Zehetmair also makes sense of the Finale's stop-start quality without overemphasizing it (Harnoncourt makes it sound almost Brucknerian).

You can imagine Mahler being influenced by this, just as Mahler is obviously a major influence on the music of Hans Gal, at least in terms of orchestral style (Gal's scherzo perfectly emulates the former composer's method of orchestration). Harmonically, however, Gal's music recalls Zemlinsky, with a dash of Korngold thrown in. Even with such an advanced chromatic language, Gal's Symphony--in four movements that strictly adhere to principles laid down by Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven--is paradoxically the more conservative of the two works on offer (especially considering its late-1920s musical milieu).

Nonetheless, this is very engaging music, as Gal's melodic invention and cultivated sound-world continuously captivate the ear. The bright first movement brims with neoclassical charm, while the slow movement offers tenderness spiked by wittily straying harmonies. Zehetmair's belief in this music--and his inspired direction--makes for a wholly convincing performance. Both works are captured in realistic, spacious sound. A most intriguing and rewarding disc!

Victor Carr Jr.,

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