Presto News - 2nd April 2012
This year marks the 150th anniversary of French composer Claude Debussy’s birth, and is therefore the perfect opportunity for those wishing to get to know more of his music. Such anniversaries always provide a good excuse for record labels to raid their back catalogues, and three boxed sets released today certainly do not disappoint on that front, with two enormous collections from Deutsche Grammophon and Sony, each consisting of the majority of his compositions spread across eighteen CDs, and a six-disc box of the complete piano music from Decca. With such a large number of discs, I can’t possibly go into as much detail as I would like about the minutiae of each set, but perhaps the best thing I can do is to share with you some highlights that jumped out at me during my listening, and then you can make your own mind up about which one to buy!
It is often said that the opening flute phrase of Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune is among a handful of compositions (along with the tonally-ambiguous chord heard at the start of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde) that herald the beginning of modernism in music. As Pierre Boulez observes, “the flute of the faun brought new breath to the art of music”. Along with La Mer it is undoubtedly among Debussy’s best-known works, and is an ideal starting point for those unfamiliar with his music. You’ll be pleased to hear that all of these cornerstones are served well in both sets, with Boulez conducting the Cleveland Orchestra in most of the major orchestral works for DG, and a more eclectic collection of conductors doing the honours for Sony, including Charles Munch, Michael Tilson Thomas, Marek Janowski and Leonard Bernstein. Interestingly, Boulez conducts the three Nocturnes on both sets, albeit in different recordings (Cleveland for DG, and an earlier recording with the New Philharmonia Orchestra for Sony). It is fascinating to hear the tiny changes of approach between the two recordings, separated as they are by a gap of twenty-five years. I had a very slight preference for his later, Cleveland version, occasionally finding the earlier performance just a touch too limpid in the central movement, Fêtes, but I’m being extremely picky here.
The Sony box also contains such fine recordings as Boulez’s classic account of Debussy’s only opera, Pelléas et Mélisande with George Shirley, Elisabeth Söderström and Donald McIntyre, which is perhaps as ideal a recording of this often-impenetrable piece as one could ask for. I also very much enjoyed getting to know the incidental music for the five-act mystery play, Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien, performed for Sony by Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, although I must admit that I could really have done with a little less of the spoken text from the play that has been included on this recording, as on repeated listenings it started to grate somewhat (the Ernest Ansermet recording in the DG box is mercifully free from such interpolations).
For my money, when it comes to the piano music, DG’s set has the advantage, with performers such as Krystian Zimerman, Michelangeli and Zoltán Kocsis (plus a special mention to a stunning set of the Études from Mitsuko Uchida). On the other hand, even with as fine a soprano as Véronique Dietschy in the four DG discs of Mélodies, I did find myself missing the variety of tone and absolutely glorious singing that Edita Gruberová, Dawn Upshaw, Frederica von Stade and Leontyne Price bring to their rival accounts on the Sony set. I should point out, though, that this latter set only gives us two discs of the songs, so if comprehensiveness is your criterion, then you’ll have to plump for DG.
So, I suppose it depends on where your priorities lie: keyboard aficionados will also want to consider the Decca box of just the piano works, which claims to be absolutely complete, and offers excellent performances by – principally – Jean-Yves Thibaudet (I really liked his way with the Préludes in particular). It also includes diverting curiosities such as arrangements for two pianos of the Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and Nocturnes (the latter arranged by none other than Maurice Ravel). Otherwise, I’d be tempted to opt for the DG set with its multiple pianists (who could possibly pass up the opportunity to hear Michelangeli playing the Golliwogg’s Cakewalk, for example!). If you’re more interested in the orchestral and dramatic works then it’s a much harder decision, as I personally preferred the Sony recordings of works such as Pelléas and Saint Sébastien, and yet I shouldn’t wish to be without Boulez’s Cleveland accounts of the orchestral works on DG. Whichever one you choose, I’m sure you will encounter many delights along the way, not just some fine recordings of the more popular pieces, but also some lesser-known treasures that are well worth getting to know!
The Debussy Edition
18 discs containing all his important works: orchestral (with Pierre Boulez); piano (with Krystian Zimerman, Jean-Yves Thibaudet); opera (Claudio Abbado’s Pelléas et Mélisande); mélodies (with Véronique Dietschy); chamber music (with Arthur Grumiaux, Melos Quartet, Lynn Harrell)
The Claude Debussy Collection
18 CDs containing orchestral pieces such as La Mer, Nocturnes, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune in legendary interpretations by Charles Munch, Leonard Bernstein and Pierre Boulez; Debussy’s complete music for piano featuring Robert and Gaby Casadesus, Glenn Gould, Philippe Entremont, Vladimir Horowitz, Arthur Rubinstein and others; as well as chamber music, songs and the Boulez recording of Pelléas et Mélisande.
Debussy Piano Edition
Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s acclaimed recordings of the solo piano music, as well as Alfons and Aloys Kontarsky’s Deutsche Grammophon recordings of the works for two pianos and for piano duet.
James Longstaffe - firstname.lastname@example.org
2nd April 2012
Schubert Lieder Volume 6: Schwanengesang & Sonata D960
with Matthias Goerne (baritone), Christoph Eschenbach (piano)
Matthias Goerne continues his Schubert survey that has already established him as one of the most gifted exponents of the song repertoire. Goerne does not merely ‘interpret’ Schubert, he ‘lives’ each song and invites the listener to share this poetry and musical intimacy.
This sixth volume also features an unforgettable performance of Schubert’s last piano sonata by one of the baritone’s favourite partners, Christoph Eschenbach. Offered on a free bonus CD, this ‘second swansong’ reveals hitherto unexplored resonances under his expert fingers.
Yuja Wang: Fantasia
Yuja Wang (piano)
The Yuja Wang album that everyone has been waiting for wows with musical miniatures that are short, sweet, and huge in impact. These encore pieces by Scriabin, Gluck, Rachmaninov, Chopin and others will enthral Yuja Wang’s fans with challenging technical demands and the bravura precision of her execution. The variety of styles – which includes neo-Classical, Impressionist, Romantic, jazz – in addition to the quality of the arrangements of pieces that are adaptations, provides a welcome and yet unique listening experience.
Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 3 & Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
Yevgeny Sudbin (piano), Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Lan Shui
BIS present two works composed by Sergei Rachmaninov, featuring virtuoso pianist Yevgeny Sudbin alongside the Singapore Symphony Orchestra under Lan Shui.
Bob Chilcott: Requiem & other works
Wells Cathedral Choir, Matthew Owens
Composer and conductor Bob Chilcott (born 1955) has been steeped in the British choral tradition since he was a boy chorister. A former member of The King’s Singers, he is now one of the UK’s most prolific and creative choral composers, writing appealingly direct and accessible music with memorable melodies reminiscent of John Rutter at his best.
Dvorak: Zigeunerlieder & Songs & Duets
Bernarda Fink (mezzo-soprano) & Christoph Berner (piano)
In 2004 Bernarda Fink released a recording of Dvorák songs that was awarded critical plaudits internationally. Now, eight years later, she returns to the composer, in the company of young soprano Genia Kühmeier, to sing thirteen of the Moravian Duets which brought the young musician fame far beyond his homeland. The other two cycles, for solo voice, round out the portrait of a Dvorák still attached to musical traditions, whether sacred (Biblical Songs) or secular (Gypsy Melodies).
The Nash Ensemble plays Glazunov, Borodin & Arensky
The Nash Ensemble
After a highly acclaimed series of Brahms chamber music releases for ONYX, the Nash Ensemble turn their attention to 19th-century Russian repertoire.
Glazunov’s superbly crafted String Quintet in A of 1891 is coupled with Arensky’s Second Quartet with two cellos and Borodin’s unfinished Sextet for strings in D minor. The latter was written, according to the composer, in Mendelssohnian style ‘to please the Germans’ while he was in Heidelberg.
Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances
London Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev
Following his acclaimed LSO Live recording of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No 2, a Gramophone Editor’s Choice, Valery Gergiev conducts a thrilling performance of the composer’s Symphonic Dances, coupled with fellow emigré Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements.
Cilea: Adriana Lecouvreur - DVD
Angela Gheorghiu, Jonas Kaufmann, Olga Borodina Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Sir Mark Elder (conductor) & David McVicar (stage director)
Starring Angela Gheorghiu as the celebrated French actress Adriana Lecouvreur and Jonas Kaufmann as her lover Maurizio, Count of Saxony, Cilea’s verismo drama explores celebrity, romance, jealousy, and death.
The trio of sublime voices is completed by Russian mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina as Adriana’s jealous rival, the Princess de Bouillon.
Also available on blu-ray.
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