Skip to main content

 Presto Editor's Choices, Presto Editor's Choices - April 2018

Sandrine PiauThere’s a slight French accent to my April Choices, as two of my personal favourites from this month’s releases include settings of texts by Paul Verlaine (soprano Sandrine Piau’s Chimère includes the first book of Debussy’s Fêtes galantes, whilst tenor Nicholas Phan takes on Fauré’s La bonne chanson) and another centres on the world premiere recording of a long-lost late work by Gounod. Chamber-music from the mid-twentieth century also features prominently, as the Belcea Quartet and Piotr Anderszewski join forces for a hard-hitting account of the Shostakovich Piano Quintet, and the Silesian Quartet continue to do sterling work in bringing the music of Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz into the spotlight.

Orchestre de Chambre de Paris & Accentus, Laurence Equilbey

Completed just two years before his death and only discovered in 2011, Gounod’s sacred diptych receives its world premiere here, and what a find it is – the melodic material is superbly memorable and opulent (almost disconcertingly so for a work depicting an ascetic!), the orchestration rich and autumnal. I’ve waxed lyrical about the young French tenor Stanislas de Barbeyrac before, but he’s absolutely outstanding here – more Gounod (and hopefully Massenet) from him soon, please.

Available Format: CD

Nicholas Phan (tenor), Myra Huang (piano), Telegraph Quartet, The Knights Chamber Orchestra

Not everyone in the office loved this as much as I did: Phan’s edgy, febrile timbre may not be conventionally beautiful (he never shies away from taking risks in service of expressiveness), but he brings an astounding range of colours and textures to bear on poetry which he clearly loves and knows inside-out. The Knights suit the action to the word, too, in a reading of Les Illuminations which brings Rimbaud’s ‘parade sauvage’ to vivid, unsettling life.

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

Sandrine Piau (soprano), Susan Manoff (piano)

The other song-recital that’s grabbed my attention this month is unfailingly beautiful, but without ever lapsing into blandness: Piau’s light soprano is as fresh and pure as when she burst onto the scene in the mid-1990s, and she’s especially captivating in the mercurial Wolf settings and the indolent languor of Poulenc’s Hôtel. The eclectic programme’s a treat, too, with comparative rarities as André Previn and Robert Baksa’s settings of poetry by Emily Dickinson.

Available Format: CD + Book

Les Vents Français & Munich Chamber Orchestra, Daniel Giglberger

The all-star wind quintet draws maximum charm and elegance from relatively slight but attractive sinfonia concertantes by Danzi, Devienne and Pleyel, but buy this for the glorious account of Mozart’s apotheosis of the genre: it’s chock-full of inspired little touches, such as dashes of rubato, quirky ornamentation and call-and-echo effects that play up the music’s joie de vivre, and clarinettist Paul Meyer shines especially brightly with marvellously flamboyant solos in the finale.

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

David Aaron Carpenter (viola), London Philharmonic Orchestra

My cellist colleague bristled at the very suggestion of a viola-player appropriating Dvořak’s Cello Concerto, but Carpenter’s big-boned, expansive tone and astute reworking of Joseph Vieland’s transcription convinced me entirely on their own terms. Maltese composer Alexey Shor’s The Well-Tempered Chanson is great fun, riffing on popular Soviet songs of the 1920s with klezmer-ish abandon and echoing the folk-music antecedents of the Dvořák and Bartók works.

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

Silesian Quartet, Polish Cello Quartet

I discovered the distinctive voice of this female Polish composer through the Silesian Quartet’s award-winning recording of her string quartets in 2016, and this follow-up album proves that it was no one-hit wonder: if the earliest of the two piano quintets (written in 1952) has a distinct whiff of Shostakovich about it, the second (from 1965) ventures into far more experimental territory, whilst the 1950 Quartet for Four Violins is shot through with echoes of Ravel’s String Quartet.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC

Piotr Anderszewski (piano), Belcea Quartet

The Belceas summon a big, baleful, quasi-orchestral sound for the early stretches of the Piano Quintet, followed by playing of immense delicacy in the bleak second-movement fugue; the scherzo crackles with electricity thanks to percussive pizzicati and rasping martellato, and Anderszewski matches them with sonorities that could almost emanate from a prepared piano.

Available Format: CD