Presto Editor's Choices - June 2017

by Katherine Cooper. 13th June 2017

Particular pleasures this month have included revisiting a favourite recent production from Glyndebourne on DVD, exploring Russian operatic repertoire (something that’s been on my to-do list for a while in general, and I’ve had a splendid ambassador in the soprano featured here!), encountering familiar song-texts in unfamiliar guises, and discovering a searingly relevant new song-cycle for tenor and string quartet which deserves to gain a firm foothold in the repertoire…

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Jonathan Dove: In Damascus

Mark Padmore (tenor), Sacconi Quartet

Given the subject-matter, Dove’s new song-cycle In Damascus (setting texts by the Syrian poet and journalist Ali Safar, exploring themes of diaspora and mourning in response to the current situation in the war-torn city) was never going to be an easy listen as such - but Dove’s writing is so accessible and lucid (aided by Mark Padmore’s eloquent, unhistrionic delivery) that its appeal is immediate and its impact impossible to forget.

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Songs by Robert Franz

Robin Tritschler (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano)

Plangent of tone and refreshingly unmannered in his delivery, the young Irish tenor is an inspired and committed advocate for the songs of Robert Franz (1815-92), many of which receive their first recordings here – I’m certain fellow lieder fans will relish the opportunity to compare and contrast Franz’s treatment of the poems which Schumann set in Dichterliebe with their better-known incarnation!

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Ravel: Piano Works

Stewart Goodyear (piano)

Pellucid, fluent accounts of all five works from the classy Canadian pianist, making his debut on Orchid Classics – Gaspard is a particular delight (Ondine shimmers and ripples, Le gibet is properly uncanny, and the notorious technical hurdles of Scarbo hold absolutely no terrors for Goodyear), whilst the ubiquitous Pavane pour une infante défunte is all the more affecting for being unsentimentalised.

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Bartók: Complete String Quartets

Heath Quartet

Taut, incisive accounts of all six works from the intrepid young British quartet, who positively crackle with energy in the allegros and endow the slow movements (particularly the sequence of ‘mesto’ sections in the Sixth Quartet) with an almost orchestral depth of tone. The folk-inspired movements are especially effective, with just the right sort of rough edge to the timbre.

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Many are the wonders - Renaissance gems and their reflections Volume 2: Tallis

ORA, Suzi Digby

Volume Two of ORA's ambitious celebration of a second ‘Golden Age’ of choral writing juxtaposes works by Thomas Tallis with seven new commissions inspired by his writing. If the gospel-influenced title-track (set by Ken Burton and featuring a stratospheric solo tenor as a sort of celebrant) is the most immediately arresting, it's the spacious sound-worlds of Richard Allain and Frank Ferko which make the most enduring impact.

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Russian Light

Olga Peretyatko (soprano), Ural Philharmonic Orchestra, Dimitri Liss

Possibly my favourite ‘new toy’ of the month, this exquisitely sung and characterised recital of arias by Glinka, Rimsky Korsakov, Stravinsky and Shostakovich was full of discoveries for me. The Russian coloratura soprano’s sound falls so easily on the ear but never tends to blandness: the Act One cavatina from Ruslan and Lyudmila showcases her dazzling agility, whilst the Lullaby from Sadko reveals warm mezzo-ish tints in the middle voice.

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The Alehouse Sessions

Barokksolistene, Bjarte Eike

I must admit that the prospect of a musical recreation of a long boozy session in a seventeenth-century tavern had me on high cringe-alert, but I'm so very glad I gave this a spin - the result somehow manages to feel authentic and contemporary at the same time (and had one of my most curmudgeonly colleagues dancing in his seat when he thought I wasn't looking).

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Berlioz: Béatrice et Bénédict

Stéphanie d’Oustrac (Béatrice), Paul Appleby (Bénédict), Philippe Sly (Claudio), Sophie Karthäuser (Hero); London Philharmonic Orchestra & The Glyndebourne Chorus, Antonello Manacorda

I loved everything about Laurent Pelly’s elegantly monochrome production of Berlioz’s rom-com treatment of Much Ado About Nothing when I saw it in the cinema broadcast from Glyndebourne last summer, and it works just as beautifully on the small screen. Stephanie d’Oustrac’s chic, gamine Béatrice and Paul Appleby’s golden-toned Bénédict exude charm, and the drunken revels which open Act Two are a slapstick delight.

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Berlioz: Béatrice et Bénédict

Stéphanie d’Oustrac (Béatrice), Paul Appleby (Bénédict), Philippe Sly (Claudio), Sophie Karthäuser (Hero); London Philharmonic Orchestra & The Glyndebourne Chorus, Antonello Manacorda

Also available on Blu-ray.

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