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 Presto Editor's Choices  Presto Editor's Choices - August 2017

Presto Editor's Choices - August 2017Two introspective literary anti-heroes feature highly on my bill of fare this month - Tchaikovsky's Manfred, brought vividly to life by Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, and Franco Faccio's Hamlet, which receives its DVD premiere (150 years after its first staging!) in an arresting production from last year's Bregenz Festival. I've also been won over by some rarities from Félicien David and Nikolai Medtner, and a fabulously sultry Spanish song disc which will surely have casting-directors queuing up to book the mezzo in question as Carmen!

Medtner & Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos

Jayson Gillham (piano), Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Benjamin Northey

The young Australian pianist is the most persuasive of advocates for Medtner's neglected First Concerto, his bright timbre and judicious use of rubato keeping the lush Romanticism of the first movement just on the right side of sentimentality and pointing up the almost jazzy syncopations of the finale. Do keep an eye out for an in-depth interview with him about the work over the next week or so!

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC

Alma Espanola

Isabel Leonard (mezzo), Sharon Isbin (guitar)

Leonard's tangy lyric mezzo has just the right sort of smokiness in the middle and lower registers to bring these songs by Lorca, Granados, Falla, Rodrigo and Montsalvatge to smouldering life - an entrancing 'heure espagnol' indeed, and one which augurs really well for her performances of Concepcion in Ravel's opera of the same name later this autumn...

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

Secret History - Music by Josquin and Victoria

John Potter (vocals), Anna Maria Friman (vocals), Ariel Abramovich (vihuela), Jacob Heringman (vihuela), Lee Santana (vihuela)

Just two voices and three vihuelas weave through a hypnotic sequence of sacred music by Josquin and Victoria, based on tablature versions of choral works. The singing has an airy clarity but never sounds overly manicured: the performances are shot through with the same spirit of spontaneity and exploration which made Potter's previous work on the Hilliard Ensemble's Officium such a resounding success.

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

The Tchaikovsky Project Vol. 2: Manfred Symphony

Czech Philharmonic, Semyon Bychkov

Bychkov kicked off his Tchaikovsky Project with the composer's most popular Symphony, but his advocacy for a work which is almost as much of an outsider as its Byronic subject is if anything even more impressive - he neither shortchanges nor oversells the piece's melodramatic qualities, and the balance between its light and dark elements is beautifully judged.

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

Faccio: Hamlet

Prague Philharmonic Choir, Wiener Symphoniker, Paolo Carignani

A collaboration between the librettist and the first-ever conductor of Verdi's Otello (which it pre-dates by two decades), this long-lost, full-throttle depiction of Shakespeare's 'noble mind o'erthrown' has been one of the discoveries of the summer for me: the Czech tenor Pavel Cernoch is mesmerising in the title-role, particularly in the great confrontation-scenes with his mother and Ophelia.

Available Format: DVD Video

Faccio: Hamlet

Prague Philharmonic Choir, Wiener Symphoniker, Paolo Carignani

Also available on Blu-ray.

Available Format: Blu-ray

Félicien David: Portrait

Brussels Philharmonic, Flemish Radio Choir, Hervé Niquet

I've been dipping into this beautifully-presented compendium of David's sacred and secular works (all of them new to me) throughout the past month, and was particularly taken by the 'ode-symphonie' Christophe Colomb, which has a scope and sweep that put me very much in mind of Wagner's Flying Dutchman (which premiered just four years earlier) in places.

Available Formats: 3 CDs + Book, MP3, CD Quality FLAC

Barsanti & Handel: Edinburgh 1742

Ensemble Marsyas, Peter Whelan

It might look at little esoteric on paper, but this reconstruction of a typical Edinburgh Musical Society concert in the mid-eighteenth century (juxtaposing concerti by Handel and the Scottish-domiciled Italian Francesco Barsanti with Scots folk tunes) is brought off with captivating brio from all involved, with delightfully boisterous contributions from horn soloists Joe Walters and Alec Frank-Gemmill.

Available Format: CD