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 Presto Editor's Choices, Presto Editor's Choices - July 2017

Presto Editor's Choices - July 2017I've been in danger of overdosing on dark nights of the soul these past few weeks thanks to a raw and compelling new Mahler recording from Alice Coote and the Netherlands Philharmonic - but there are palette-cleansers aplenty in amongst this month's offerings, including some mettlesome Stravinsky from Ilya Gringolts and the gentle charm of a Donald Swann anthology curated by the British pianist Christopher Glynn.

Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano), Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, Marc Albrecht

There may be more beautifully-sung Mahler recitals on the market, but none that I’ve heard to rival Coote for unflinching emotional candour, particularly in the insomniac angst of Um Mitternacht and the angry self-laceration of the third Wayfarer song. The Dutch players match her every nuance, with some particularly empathetic woodwind solos.

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

Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano)

The veteran pianist celebrates his eightieth birthday with luminous and leisurely performances which unfold with a natural fluidity; the spaciousness and lyricism of his playing is underpinned by an unfaltering and unmannered awareness of the dance impetus behind the music. A worthy successor to his Well-Tempered Clavier and Partitas.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Ilya Gringolts (violin) & Peter Laul (piano)

Sparky, spirited, and deliciously abrasive when required, Gringolt’s Stravinsky is a force to be reckoned with – the pyrotechnics of the Petrushka take the breath away, and the almost schmaltzy rubato in more lyrical works like the Ronde des princesses is tempered by a pleasing astringency of tone. I can’t wait for volume two.

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

Sophie Gent (violin), Jonathan Manson (cello) & Thomas Dunford (lute); Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen

Until I test-drove this, I wasn't aware that Buxtehude could sound so lush and almost sensual: the string-playing is warm and glowing, the phrasing relaxed and elastic but never sloppy or anachronistic. The dance-inspired movements have a wonderfully spontaneous, almost folksy quality that makes them sound as if they're being improvised in front of the mics.

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

Chineke! Orchestra, Kevin John Edusei

An assured and instantly engaging debut disc from Europe’s first professional BME orchestra, who give fresh and unsentimentalised accounts of two orchestral warhorses: the sweep and surge of Finlandia, (with rhythms almost ‘swung’ in places), is particularly attractive, and there’s some wonderfully mercurial string-playing in the Scherzo of the New World.

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

Howard Shelley (piano & conductor), Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

Howard Shelley makes a typically persuasive case for three contrasting works by the British composer 'Chip' Potter (1792-1871), pointing up the gentle wit and charm of these tuneful and immediately appealing scores: the Sturm und Drang opening of the D minor concerto recalls Mozart's 20th, and the operatic brio of the Rossini Variations is irresistable.

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

María Savastano (soprano); Ensemble Diderot, Johannes Pramsohler

A happy discovery on two counts, this: firstly for the hugely appealing and melodically memorable writing of Giovanni Alberto Ristori, and secondly for the characterful and classy singing of the pleasantly tart-voiced Argentine soprano Savastano (a specialist in Mozart soubrette roles), who brings these three Classical heroines to life with panache.

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

Dame Felicity Lott (soprano), Kathryn Rudge (mezzo), John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Roderick Williams (baritone), Christopher Glynn (piano)

I’ve been dipping into this treasure-trove of hugely varied miniatures by Michael Flander’s ‘other half’ for the past six weeks, and practically every song reveals another facet of Swann’s musical personality: it seems incredible that the whimsical Betjeman settings, charmingly brought off by Roderick Williams, and the Rachmaninov-lite Ya vas lyubil sprang from the same pen.

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Vittorio Grigolo (Hoffmann), Kate Lindsey (Nicklausse/Muse), Christine Rice (Giulietta), Sonya Yoncheva (Antonia), Sofia Fomina (Olympia), Thomas Hampson (Villains)

I was lucky enough to catch John Schlesinger's handsomely traditional production (recently retired at the grand old age of 36) just before Christmas, and what a send-off it gets here: Grigolo catches the anti-hero's naivety and nihilism to perfection, but the real star is Sonya Yoncheva's sumptuously sung Antonia, not so much tugging at the heart-strings as snapping them altogether.

Available Format: DVD Video

Vittorio Grigolo (Hoffmann), Kate Lindsey (Nicklausse/Muse), Christine Rice (Giulietta), Sonya Yoncheva (Antonia), Sofia Fomina (Olympia), Thomas Hampson (Villains)

Also available on Blu-ray.

Available Format: Blu-ray