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 Gramophone Choices  Gramophone Editor's Choices - January 2016

Gramophone Editor's Choices - January 2016The next instalment of François-Frédéric Guy's Beethoven Project takes the honours this month: following much-praised series of the Piano Sonatas on ZigZag and the Piano Concertos on Naive, he is joined by Xavier Phillips for a traversal of the complete works for cello and piano on Evidence Classics. We're listening to the Magic Flute Variations in the office as I type, and can confirm that it's glorious!

Christian Blackshaw's Mozart series from the Wigmore Hall goes from strength to strength, whilst Hannu Lintu's Sibelius cycle with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra is this month's stand-out DVD and Blu-ray. And it's good to see Véronique Gens and Susan Manoff's beautiful French song recital Néère on Naive getting an honourable mention, too - a Presto Disc of the Week not long ago, and one of our collective favourites of 2015.

Recording of the Month

Beethoven: Complete Works for Cello & Piano

Xavier Phillips (cello) & François-Frédéric Guy (piano)

'One of the finest aspects of this new set is a sense of absolute rightness about each of the tempi chosen...A wonderful recording of Beethoven’s cello and piano music, one which emphasises the equal role of each player, and how the best collaborations raise the music to a level higher still...It’s a recording that brings this sublime music into your living room in the most natural manner possible.'

Available Format: CD

Editor's Choices

Saint-Saëns: Cello Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

Truls Mørk (cello), Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Neeme Järvi

'This is one of those recordings where it seems invidious to look for faults and which just encourages you to sit back, relax, listen and wallow. Mørk brings his characteristic incisiveness and mountain-spring tone to the concertos...The Grande fantaisie zoologique receives one of its most successful performances on disc (sans narrator) with just the right balance of instrumental virtuosity, sensitive musicianship and, where the opportunity presents itself, fun.'

Available Formats: SACD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Néère: Hahn, Duparc, Chausson

Véronique Gens (soprano) & Susan Manoff (piano)

'Gens, as one might expect, is exceptional in this repertoire. Most of the songs are about erotic anticipation and tristesse, and her dark, slightly smoky tone adds to the sensuality of it all. She sings as much off the text as the line, but nothing is nudged or forced in an overtly interventionist way... ‘A Chloris’ is one of the best there is, and Hahn’s ‘Néère’, which gives the disc its title, leaves you open-mouthed with its beauty.'

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC

WF Bach: Harpsichord Concertos

Maude Gratton (harpsichord), Il Convito

'Spirited, elegant and lively performances, recorded in appropriately vivid sound, of music by the ever-intriguing figure of WF Bach, the eldest son of Bach...What Gratton and Il Convito convey so persuasively in their assuaging and elegant performances is that, beyond Wilhelm Friedemann’s capricious figures, mental robustness and vulnerability cohabit as a kind of conceit.'

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

My Armenia

Sergey Khachatryan (violin) & Lusine Khachatryan (piano)

'Komitas reveals himself as the Armenian equivalent of Bartók: someone who could take the simplest folk material and turn it into sophisticated polyphony...The Khachatryans eagerly embrace Komitas’s voice, by turns white-hot and icy cold. But perhaps the main achievement of this disc is the way it profiles a melting-pot of influences through the works of just five composers.'

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Mozart: Piano Sonatas Volume 4

Christian Blackshaw (piano)

'Permit me to join the chorus of acclaim for his elegance of phrasing, limpid tone quality (captured in a demonstration-quality recording), tastefulness of nuance and ornamentation, and imaginative response to harmony and character. Every tiniest detail here is thought through... Yet nothing is fetishised. Perfection – or something very close to it – is in the service of freedom.'

Available Format: CD

Zandonai: Francesca da Rimini

Christina Vasileva, Martin Muhle, Juan Orozco, Philharmonisches Orchester Freiburg, Fabrice Bollon

'This new CPO set, the first, as far as I’m aware, to present the score uncut, fills an important gap, giving us a well-engineered modern account of the work...But it’s also an excellent achievement on its own terms....[the cast] sing powerfully, reliably and impressively. Christina Vasileva’s soprano is up to the challenge of Francesca...Fabrice Bollon conducts the score with a sure touch and is particularly adept at bringing out its moments of beauty.'

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC

Re-issue of the Month

Horowitz: Return To Chicago

Vladimir Horowitz

'No one could imitate anything Horowitz did, and that’s particularly true of his Scarlatti, which combines lightness of action and the subtlest of pedalling...Schumann’s Arabeske, new to his DG output though by no means new to his discography as a whole, has a pearlescent beauty, a reactivity that gives new tints to the main theme each time it reappears...this is another compelling addition to the vast Horowitz legacy.'

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

DVD/Blu-ray of the Month

Sibelius: Complete Symphonies

Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Hannu Lintu

'Lintu has always had an interesting analytical perspective on the symphonies but he delves even further here...To describe this as an important snapshot of orchestral Helsinki in 2015 is to belittle the touching gift that is Finns offering us their greatest music with such undemonstrative heart and soul.'

Available Format: DVD Video