Here’s a Christmas stocking of musical goodies to buy as last-minute presents for your nearest and dearest – or even for yourself, and why not?
When I interviewed the one-time CBSO principal guest conductor Neeme Jarvi in Geneva a few years ago during his music directorship of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande he was able to recall every one of the 550-plus CDs he had recorded over a busy lifetime.
Well, here are five more, with all three Tchaikovsky ballets (Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Nutcracker) in a treasurable box set from Chandos, Jarvi conducting the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, a remarkable band currently under the directorship of another former CBSO principal guest conductor, Edward Gardner.
James Ehnes contributes classy violin solos, and Nutcracker brings something new to me: a CD which breaks the sacred 79 min 59 sec barrier. This one plays for 84 min 35 secs.
Sticking with Tchaikovsky, a recording of his heartbreaking opera Eugene Onegin which I have long treasured on LP is now available in a CD box set from Melodiya.
Mark Ermler conducts USSR Bolshoi Theatre forces, and the strong cast includes the impressive Evgeny Nesterenko as Prince Gremin.
Another CD re-release from a previous operatic LP recording is a thrilling account of Wagner’s Lohengrin, set down from a live performance at the Bayreuth Festival on July 30, 1967 (Orfeo).
Rudolf Kempe conducts with lyricism and insight, and the soloists include James King as Lohengrin, Heather Harper as Elsa, and Donald McIntyre as Friedrich von Telramund.
The most sumptuous boxed CD set in this brantub comes from Brilliant Classics, with 14 discs painting an aural picture of Handel in Italy.
During his apprentice years on tour Handel soaked up so many influences from Italian composers, not least Arcangelo Corelli.
This collection prefers only to nod towards an acknowledgement of the instrumental works (sonatas, the great string orchestra concerti grossi) produced under that influence, but instead concentrates upon the many-sided vocal music, including Acis and Galatea, and the Italian Duets, which he was to plunder for later compositions (Messiah-lovers, go sleuthing).
Disappointingly, the great Dixit Dominus is an absentee. Too many performers to name in this colourful box of delights rewarding frequent dipping-in.
Perhaps more chaste, and certainly more focused, comes a crowded-funded release of the haunting and evocative Rachmaninov All-Night Vigil, otherwise known as the Vespers.
To anyone who only knows this great composer through his orchestral music, this is a work which will reveal to you how austere and patrician he actually was.
The Vigil plumbs the cavernous depths which Russian basses can reach, building a foundation upon which the incandescent chants can sway like incense, and Jeremy Backhouse’s Vasari Singers bring years of experience to this account, with Catherine Wyn-Rogers the mellow, engaging mezzo soloist (Vasari media is the label).
Now here’s a rarity: a CD which I actually bought (most of the discs which pass through my lasers are review-copies), and I found this bargain in the shop in the ICC Mall at Symphony Hall.
The alto label reissues prestigious recordings from the past (browse through the carousel and you’ll come up with some real goodies), and they get no better than the one I pounced on.
Those close to me will know that Vaughan Williams is not one of my favourite composers, yet I consider his Serenade To Music to be among the finest pieces of music ever penned.
Composed in 1938 to celebrate Sir Henry Wood’s Golden Jubilee as a conductor, it scored verses from the final act of Shakespeare’s Merchant Of Venice for 16 of the most illustrious singers of the time, and this disc secures on CD the recording made soon after the work’s premiere at the Royal Albert Hall on October 5, 1938 (my 45rpm EP is virtually worn-out).
The array of soloists is mind-blowing, including Isobel Baillie, Elsie Suddaby, Eva Turner, Heddle Nash, Walter Widdop and all the other greats.
Under Wood the BBC Symphony Orchestra phrases with an attention to detail which is sadly too often skated over nowadays.
The recording is a bit close (the harp at the opening almost rattled the desk in my study) but, make no mistake, this is an invaluable, precious document of musical history.
George Maran is the vivid soloist in On Wenlock Edge, the London String Quartet and the incomparable piano-accompanist Ivor Newton collaborating, and Sir Adrian Boult conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the ballet Old King Cole, and the LPO and various vocal contributors in the Song Of Thanksgiving.
Insert notes by James Murray are excellent, including a valuable detailing of each singer’s contribution to the Serenade, and the booklet also gives a tempting list of other releases in the alto catalogue. Buy and enjoy!