“This magnificent production is a complete and blissful success. Don’t miss it.” Those were the words of the French website Classique News when Leonardo Vinci’s rediscovered Artaserse was staged by Silviu Purcãrete at the Opéra National de Lorraine in Nancy. Complementing the CD version of the opera released in Autumn 2012, this DVD features no fewer than five of the world’s leading countertenors – assuming both male and female roles: Philippe Jaroussky, Max Emanuel Cencic, Franco Fagioli, Valer Barna-Sabadus and Yuriy Mynenko.
The chamber works on this recording encompass a variety of instrumental groupings and a range of moods from the humour and lightness of the Serenade to the serious magnificence of the Piano Quintet, a five-movement ‘memorial’ developing the tradition of so great a work as Shostakovich’s single-movement work for this combination. The Three Madrigals set a three-language cycle of miniature poems by Francisco Tanzer, poems which themselves encapsulates much that is distinctively Schnittke through their epigrammatic atmosphere of cryptic completeness.
What the world needs more of is intelligently planned, stupendously played, and brilliantly recorded collections like this one. These two discs contain all the piano works of Michael Tippett, works that come from every period of the composer's very long life except his very last. It includes the youthful, tuneful Piano Sonata No. 1 written between 1936 and 1938 and revised in 1941, the massive Fantasia on a Theme of Handel from 1941, the exuberant Piano Concerto from 1955, the experimental Piano Sonata No. 2, the gnomic almost Beethovenian Piano Sonata No. 3 from 1973, and the gnarly post-Beethovenian Piano Sonata No. 4. It features a bravura performance by pianist Steven Osborne that makes the best case for all the music, no matter how outré or recherché its harmonic proclivities or rhythmic audacities. Osborne has the emotional enthusiasm, intellectual clarity, physical strength, and sheer willpower to make listeners believe that Tippett is a major English composer and make them wonder why they ever doubted it. With the superlative accompaniment of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Martyn Brabbins in the Concerto and the Fantasia and the sparkling recording by Andrew Keener for Hyperion, this disc marks a major step forward in the Tippett discography.
An album of encores once played by someone else, even someone as famous as Mstislav Rostropovich, might seem an overspecialized product, but German cellist Alban Gerhardt had some success with a similar album devoted to Pablo Casals, and is now back for more. Gerhardt does a reasonable impression of Rostropovich's songful style, overlaid with a bit of mysterious and gloomy Russian philosophy. But the really innovative feature of the album is the program, which draws out the breadth of the great Russian's musical interests, even in the seemingly restricted feel of the encore.
'… brimful with alert character and beauty whilst the two piano pieces are delightful in their raucous melodies … briliantly done by Tanyel' (Classical Net Review). It was brave and useful and laudable of Seta Tanyel and the now-defunct label Collins Classics to have embarked, in the 1990s, in a thorough exploration of the music of Xaver Scharwenka (1850-1924), and one must be grateful to Hyperion to have reissued almost all of it. The 4-volume traversal of his solo piano music doesn't embrace I think Scharwenka's complete piano output, but it is still very substantial. Add to that the three first piano concertos (apparently Collins didn't live long enough to record the Fourth, and the first is the one disc that Hyperion did not reissue, Piano Concerto 1, obviously because they already had another one in their catalog, Rubinstein: Piano Concerto No. 4; Scharwenka: Piano Concerto No. 1) and what I think was the complete chamber music. However, I didn't always feel that the results lived up to the project's promises.
Marios Papadopoulos plays Janacek's sonata with a gentle, romanticizing melancholy that is nature can well encompass, even if such an approach can diminish the work's sense of tragedy. It is a work with a tougher core than is here suggested. However, this is not an unattractive performance, and Papadopoulos seems more attuned to its manner than to the crisp assertions of the Capriccio or of Stravinsky's Concerto. It does not seem a good idea to attempt the Capriccio without a conductor. The admirable RPO players sound less than wholly comfortable, and their ensemble is a trifle precarious at times; moreover, the work's odd, sharp character does not emerge with sufficient definition.