Fire and pas­sion

Clas­si­cal record­ing gems of 2018, by RICHARD OS­BORNE

The Oldie - - CHRISTMAS GIFT GUIDE 2018 -

It’s sur­pris­ing what you find when you knock down a wall. In Daniel Baren­boim’s case, it was the Staatskapelle Ber­lin, res­i­dent or­ches­tra of the Ber­lin State Opera, which he took over af­ter the fall of the Ber­lin Wall in 1989. ‘It was like find­ing a won­der­ful col­lec­tion of an­tique fur­ni­ture’, he has said. ‘There was a thick layer of dust over ev­ery­thing but the work­man­ship was su­perb.’ Af­ter 25 years of fur­ther nur­ture and care, Baren­boim has recorded the four Brahms

Sym­phonies with the or­ches­tra, evinc­ing sounds the like of which have prob­a­bly not been heard in Ber­lin since Furtwän­gler’s day. This is not sharp-el­bowed Brahms in the modern style. Spa­ciously con­ceived, these per­for­mances, like the mu­sic it­self, em­body deeper mem­o­ries and scan larger hori­zons (Deutsche Gram­mophon 4CD 4835251 £23).

Baren­boim’s great con­tem­po­rary, the Lat­vian-born mu­sic di­rec­tor of the Bavar­ian Ra­dio Sym­phony Or­ches­tra, Mariss Jan­sons, turned 75 this year. His cou­pling of Rach­mani­nov’s Sym­phonic Dances with the com­poser’s Edgar Al­lan Poe-in­spired, cra­dle-to-grave choral mas­ter­piece, The Bells, makes for mes­meris­ing lis­ten­ing (BR Klas­sik 900154 £11).

It’s rare nowa­days to find a record of Beethoven pi­ano sonatas to set along­side clas­sic record­ings by pi­anists such as Solomon, Serkin, Kempff, and Ar­rau. The drought is bro­ken, how­ever, by Mur­ray Per­ahia’s spiritually lu­mi­nous and tech­ni­cally su­perb tra­ver­sal of the

Ham­merklavier and Moon­light sonatas (Deutsche Gram­mophon 479 8353 £12.50).

There are those who think the King’s Singers in­suf­fer­ably smug. In which case, let the oc­ca­sion of their 50th an­niver­sary al­low us to stand back and won­der at the verve of their singing, their hair’s-breadth tim­ing, their flaw­less in­to­na­tion, and the as­ton­ish­ing catholic­ity of their reper­tory. The an­niver­sary has pro­duced two ret­ro­spec­tives. Sony’s 11-CD set of the com­plete RCA record­ings has a wide range of pop­u­lar reper­tory, rang­ing from Gilbert and Sul­li­van to close har­mony treat­ments of themes from the movies. But for real mu­si­cal dis­tinc­tion (at an ab­surdly low price) I would com­mend the 8-CD box Madri­gals and Songs from the Re­nais­sance, an end­lessly ab­sorb­ing Cook’s tour through Britain, Italy, Spain and France dur­ing Euro­pean mu­sic’s first golden age (Warner Clas­sics 9029570282 £16.60).

Semi­ramide, Rossini’s last and grand­est opera for the Ital­ian stage, is a mas­ter­piece that’s rarely played com­plete. Even the ac­claimed 2016 Prom per­for­mance was cut. Not so the su­perb stu­dio record­ing­which Opera Rara made at the time. With a strong cast, and con­duct­ing by Sir Mark Elder that is as the­atri­cally thrilling as it is ar­chi­tec­turally as­sured, it’s un­likely to be sur­passed (Opera Rara 9293800572 £45).

Look out, too, for a new and quintessen­tially French ac­count of Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Per­les, recorded in Lille un­der the di­rec­tion of Alexan­dre Bloch. The fa­mous Pearl Fish­ers duet comes early. But this limpidly beau­ti­ful and supremely singable opera – a tale of Sin­halese deep-sea divers and the Brah­min priest­ess who holds them in thrall – is no one-hit won­der (Pen­ta­tone 2CD PTC5186685 £20).

‘It is clar­ity that re­veals depth to us,’ wrote French apho­rist Vau­ve­nar­gues. That’s cer­tainly the case with a lovely record of (mainly) late De­bussy cham­ber mu­sic from the lav­ishly gifted Ca­puçon broth­ers and their friends. The high­light is the ex­tra­or­di­nary Sonata for flute, vi­ola and harp, but the en­tire disc is rich in won­der (Erato 9029577396 £12.75).

De­bussy will sur­vive this year’s cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions but Dame Ethel Smyth may find it harder to re­tain the loy­alty of the new friends this year’s suf­frag­ist shenani­gans may have thrust upon her. All the more rea­son, then, to se­cure a copy of a fa­mous record­ing of her Cor­nish-in­spired mas­ter­piece The Wreck­ers – a tem­plate for Brit­ten’s

Peter Grimes if ever there was one – which Ret­ro­spect Opera has re­cently reis­sued (2CD RO004 £17.95).

De­bussy died in 1918, the year the great Swedish film-maker Ing­mar Bergman was born. I say film-maker, but Bergman was equally dis­tin­guished as a theatre and opera di­rec­tor, a fact that’s been hand­somely recog­nised by the Bri­tish Film In­sti­tute’s tech­ni­cally su­perb reis­sue of Bergman’s leg­endary 1975 tele­vi­sion film of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. What the Flute needs, said Bergman, is ‘young fire, young pas­sion, young play­ful­ness’. They’re qual­i­ties this most mirac­u­lous of op­er­atic reimag­in­ings has in spades. If you need a tele­vi­sual Christ­mas treat, this is it. (Dual For­mat DVD video and Blu-ray BFIB1299 £19.99). Note: re­tail prices may vary

From the top: Daniel Baren­boim, Mariss Jan­sons, Claude De­bussy

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