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 Gramophone Choices, Gramophone Editor's Choices - December 2017

BBC Music Magazine - Christmas 2017 ChoicesThere’s a distinctly Gallic flavour to this month’s Choices: two outstanding concert-performances of nineteenth-century operas make the cut, along with a pair of gorgeous recitals by up-and-coming French singers Sabine Devieilhe and Marianne Crebassa (indeed the two join forces for a ravishing account of the Flower Duet from Lakmé on Devieilhe’s Mirages). Other albums mentioned in despatches include The King’s Singers’ fiftieth-birthday celebration, a fascinating collection of Schubert lieder in orchestrations by major composers, and an assured and quirky debut from the young Basel-based Sollazzo Ensemble – far more engaging and ebullient than the title (‘Moralizing Songs of the Middle Ages’) might suggest!

Recording of the Month

Berlioz: Les Troyens

Joyce DiDonato (Didon), Michael Spyres (Énée), Marie-Nicole Lemieux (Cassandre); Orchestre et Choeur philharmonique de Strasbourg, John Nelson

'Nelson is in no great rush, allowing Berlioz’s music time to breathe where necessary…Nelson’s cast is simply to die for...[Lemieux's] burnt caramel contralto utterly compelling…Énée is thrillingly sung by Michael Spyres…DiDonato’s vehement response to Énée’s desertion reveals her as a great tragedienne…In short this is a peach of recording.'

Available Formats: 4 CDs + DVD Video, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Editor's Choices

Grandissima Gravita: Music by Pisenel, Tartini, Verachini & Vivaldi

Rachel Podger (violin), Brecon Baroque

'The performances themselves are as stunning as the notes are imaginative…Podger herself is exquisite; fluid, lilting and multi-shaded, with gorgeous filigree ornamentations. Her fellow Brecon Baroque members are equally faultless as sympathetic chamber partners…Programmed and presented with flair…this is a listening experience of unbridled pleasure.'

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

Schubert: Nacht & Träume Lieder with orchestra

Wiebke Lehmkuhl (contralto), Stanislas de Barbeyrac (tenor); Insula orchestra & Accentus, Laurence Equilbey

'A lot of thought has gone into this lovely album…immediately one is struck by the high quality of Stanislas de Barbeyrac’s singing. His interpretations are sensitive and intelligent and his tenor is beautifully controlled – flexible but steely…Wiebke Lehmkuhl is hardly less fine, her mezzo wonderfully limpid and rich.'

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

Secrets

Marianne Crebassa (mezzo), Fazil Say (piano)

'With her warm tone and often remarkable way with both vocal colour and verbal inflection, Crebassa is outstanding in this repertory, and in Fazil Say she has an accompanist whose direct yet subtle approach matches her own…the combination of intelligence, immediacy and subtlety is utterly compelling and marks ‘Secrets’ out as one of the finest French song recitals of recent years. I cannot recommend it too highly.'

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

Mirages

Sabine Devieilhe (soprano), Alexandre Tharaud (piano); Les Siècles, François-Xavier Roth

'[The] Lakmé numbers can rarely have sounded fresher or more original…Roth exploits the period instruments of Les Siècles to emphasise the sheer variety of orchestral colours on display…Devieilhe, meanwhile, has a wonderfully instinctive and apparently effortless way with this music…All in all, this refreshing, fascinating and beguiling album is impossible to resist. Highly recommended.'

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

JS Bach: Magnificat in E flat and Missa in F

Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, Sir John Eliot Gardiner

'Even if the members of the Monteverdi Choir aren’t singing off the book…they sound liberated from the score. The fugues are tight without being regimented; indeed, Gardiner’s old recording sounds a little stiff by comparison, even if it set a standard at the time which this new recording supersedes.'

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

Parle qui veut: Moralizing songs of the Middle Ages

Sollazzo Ensemble

'This has to be one of the most exciting and engaging releases of medieval song in recent years…[The Sollazzo Ensemble’s] sound is very bright, deft and energetic, with a very clear focus on text…Every performance on this disc is illuminating, considered and committed.'

Available Format: CD

The King's Singers - GOLD

The King's Singers

'What hits you first and leaves you last when listening to this project is the astonishing, exhilarating musicianship of these singers…there’s no arguing with tuning that electrifies even the simplest of chords, or with a vocal blend that turns cluster chords into gauzy clouds of colour…this new generation of King’s Singers here prove that they still have the skills to go back to basics.'

Available Formats: 3 CDs, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

The King’s Singers - GOLD (premium version)

The King’s Singers

'What hits you first and leaves you last when listening to this project is the astonishing, exhilarating musicianship of these singers…there’s no arguing with tuning that electrifies even the simplest of chords, or with a vocal blend that turns cluster chords into gauzy clouds of colour…this new generation of King’s Singers here prove that they still have the skills to go back to basics.'

Available Format: 3 CDs

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

Christian Gerhaher (Pelléas), Magdalena Kožená (Mélisande), Gerald Finley (Golaud); London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle

'[Rattle] uses a broad and detailed orchestral palette but…the balance is very well made between the score’s wide range of dynamics…The LSO’s playing throughout is at a high level of virtuosity…Both Gerhaher and Kožená are good at not over-egging the pudding of their confusions and naiveties…An early jewel in the crown of Simon Rattle’s assumption of the principal conductorship of the LSO.'

Available Format: 3 SACDs + Blu-ray Audio

Re-issue of the Month

Purcell: The Fairy Queen

Thomas Hemsley, Jennifer Vyvyan, Elsie Morison, Peter Pears, The St. Anthony Singers & The Boyd Neel Orchestra, Anthony Lewis

'[Lewis’s] dramatically apposite handling of the innovative Boyd Neel Orchestra offers plenty of pleasure. Sixty years on, various aspects might demand readjustment from listeners weaned on period-instrument versions…Nevertheless, Lewis sketches contrasting dramatic moods and varied musical colours with nuanced imagination…the shifting moods of comedy, tragedy, charm and sense of spectacle are transparent throughout Lewis’s congenial performance.'

Available Format: 2 CDs

DVD of the Month

Monteverdi: L'Orfeo

Cyril Auvity (Orfeo), Hannah Morrison (Euridice/La Musica), Paul Agnew (Apollo, Eco), Miriam Allan (Proserpina/Ninfa); Les Arts Florissants, Paul Agnew

'All participants prove a shared affinity for democratic music-making…There is a wondrous simplicity and beauty to Agnew’s staging, which looks as if Caravaggio painted an equinox ceremony taking place in a stone circle…Bucolic fun is depicted in a relaxed and natural way: tenor duets are sung with suppleness by Zachary Wilder and Sean Clayton…Cyril Auvity’s tremulous and emphatic singing of the title-role has unstinting dramatic commitment.'

Available Format: Blu-ray + DVD Video