2006 saw a deluge of delights on disc, writes Michael Dervan
SHARPENED journalistic knives have been flashing at Simon Rattle’s back in Germany over his musical stewardship of the Berlin Philharmonic. But Rattle has had a good year on disc, bringing fresh perspectives to Richard Strauss (Ein Heldenleben and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme on EMI Classics 339 3392), adding newly commissioned outer-space pieces to Holst’s The Planets (EMI Classics 369 0962), and creating a powerhouse partnership with the studio-shy Krystian Zimerman in Brahms’s First Piano Concerto (Deut- sche Grammophon 477 6021). He’s also been back with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra for another selection of Szymanowski, both folksy and exotically oriental, with fabulously gorgeous singing from the Polish soprano Iwona Sobotka (EMI Classics 364 4352).
There have been distinguished string quartet recordings from the Takács Quartet, in an auspicious début on Hyperion in Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet (CDA 67585), the Hagen Quartet in Shostakovich’s Third, Seventh and Eighth Quartets (Deutsche Grammophon 477 6146), and Spain’s Cuarteto Casals in early Mozart (Harmonia Mundi HMI 987080.82, a three-disc set). The Artemis Quartet were illuminating in a disc of sextets by Schoenberg, Strauss and Berg (Virgin Classics 335 1302), and Ensemble Explorations added to the list of cherishable Boccherini string quintet recordings (Harmonia Mundi HMC 901894).
RTÉ lyric fm’s label brought awelcome and rugged CD debut for the Irish Baroque Orchestra, documenting the dynamic leadership of Monica Huggett in works by the Bach family (RTÉ lyric fm CD 110). Pianist Una Hunt usefully espoused some more neglected Irish music of the 19th-century (RTÉ lyric fm CD 109). The Dublin Guitar Quartet made its CD debut in typically sharp-edged style (Greyslate Records GREYCD014). And the Callino Quartet’s cellist, Sarah McMahon, turned up in a Vivaldi double concerto, partner- ing Jonathan Cohen in a finelygauged collection of cello concertos by the red priest with the King’s Consort under Robert King (Hyperion CDA 67553). Andrea Marcon and the Venice Baroque Orchestra offered a highly attractive selection of Vivaldi concertos and sinfonias for strings on Archiv Produktion (474 5092).
Nigel North launched a new survey of the rich archive of John Dowland’s lute music on Naxos (8.557586); while Robert Barto continued his first-rate exploration of the lute sonatas of the prolific but still little-known 18th-century master, Silvius Leopold Weiss (Naxos 8.557806 is the seventh disc in the series). The mercurial Andrew Manze proved a perfect match for four symphonies by the flighty CPE Bach with the English Concert (Harmonia MundiHMU807403), and an expanded Phantasm provided sensual, fulfilling accounts of six-part viol concerts by John Jenkins (Avie AV2099).
Lightning struck twice for that enterprising independent label, with a second fascinating disc of the piano music of George Enescu from Luiza Borac (Avie AV2081). And themuchvaunted Gustavo Dudamel (Simon Rattle is a big fan) made an auspicious debut with his Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, in Beethoven’s Fifth and Seventh Symphonies (Deutsche Grammophon 477 6228).
Record companies continue to provide a flow of fascinating reissues. Deutsche Grammophon included some very rare material in a valuable survey of Czech conductor Rafael Kubelik (477 5838, 8 CDs); issued two discs of bon-bons from the 20thcentury’s greatest violinist, Jascha Heifetz, recorded in the 1940s (477 6269); and finally gave the world Yevgeny Mravinsky’s electrifying 1960 accounts of Tchaikovsky’s last three symphonies on CD at less than full price (477 5911).
Decca’s selection of French conductor Pierre Monteux offers the notto-be-missed opportunity to hear performances of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Petrushka from the man who conducted the premieres (Decca 475 7798, 7 CDs). And Naxos’s ongoing historical series of pianists Alfred Cortot and Benno Moiseiwitsch, and singers Elisabeth Schumann and John McCormack are well worth following.
A welcome and rugged CD debut for the Irish Baroque Orchestra, under the dynamic leadership of Monica Huggett