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

Ivan FischerIt seems appropriate enough that a new recording of A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been top of my play-list over the past few sweltering weeks, though there’s nothing ‘appropriate’ or polite about Iván Fischer’s mischievous, often uncanny take on Mendelssohn. Elsewhere, Mark Elder’s Hallé Ring Cycle goes from strength to strength as he returns to the beginning with Das Rheingold, and Alexander Melnikov delivers quite the finest of the many Debussy tributes to come my way this year.

Budapest Festival Orchestra & Pro Musica (women's choir), Iván Fischer

This Budapest Dream is a far more raucous and rustic affair than John Eliot Gardiner’s recent plush pastoral idyll with the LSO: it’s as if even Fischer’s fairies have dirt under their fingernails, and the spirit of Shakespeare’s ‘rude mechanicals’ is never far away. The horns and bassoons have an almost Mahlerian quality in the Nocturne, and likewise the tiny parodic funeral-march (incidental-music-within-incidental-music for Pyramus and Thisbe) wouldn’t be out of place in a Mahler symphony.

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

Vadim Repin, Daniel Hope (violins), Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra, Sascha Goetzel

After their gloriously over-the-top recording of Rimsky-Korsakov and Respighi a couple of years ago, I was initially caught off-guard by the understated elegance of Borusan Berlioz – the first three movements are urbane, almost courtly, but once we start hurtling towards the Scaffold it’s a different story. This has to be one of the most terrifying, psychedelic Witches’ Sabbaths on record. Turnage’s double concerto is similarly eerie and unsettling, particularly the Shostakovichesque final movement.

Available Format: CD

Anne Gastinel (cello), Nicholas Angelich (piano), Gil Shaham (violin), Andreas Ottensamer (clarinet), Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi

Jarvi’s recruited a true triumvirate for the Concerto, and it says much that their exuberant, congenial performance is even more than the sum of their considerable parts; Gastinel, though, is the star of the show for me, particularly in the gorgeously lyrical opening of the slow movement. The gypsy finale goes with real swing: there’s an almost folkish quality to the playing in places, and the virtuoso exchanges between the three soloists feel like heat-of-the-moment improvisation.

Available Format: CD

Ray Chen (violin), Made in Berlin, Quentin Julien, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Robert Trevino

Chen treats Bruch’s war-horse with such delicacy and affection that it’s impossible not to be won over no matter how many times you’ve heard the piece – his legato’s a thing to marvel at (particularly in the slow movement), and even though there’s portamento and Mantovani-esque vibrato aplenty it’s used as seasoning rather than overpowering everything in its wake. The Made In Berlin ensemble’s riffs on Satie and (somewhat less expectedly) Waltzing Matilda are great fun.

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

Stephen Hough (piano)

Matilda undergoes another metamorphosis towards the end of this spellbinding nocturnal journey from Hough, which mixes his own arrangements and compositions with unabashedly sentimental miniatures by the likes of Eric Coates, Cécile Chaminade and Leon Minkus; just as you’re being lulled into a pleasant state of indulgent indolence, blistering accounts of two of Liszt’s Transcendental Études serve as a reminder that things do indeed go bump in the night.

Available Format: CD

Alexander Melnikov & Olga Pashchenko (piano)

I’ll admit that I was starting to suffer from mild Debussy fatigue in this anniversary year until this revelatory recital from Melnikov hit my inbox; the nigh-on orchestral range of colours and textures which he conjures from his Érard piano is little short of miraculous (it’s as if the keyboard morphs from celeste to Steinway and back again within a few bars in some movements), and he points up the modernism of the music to such an extent that (for instance) Ondine sounds like The Rite of Spring.

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

Le Concert Spirituel, Herve Niquet

The Franco-Italian composer Orazio Benevolo (a contemporary of Carissimi, Cavalli and Cesti) was entirely new to me, but these pungent, high-energy performances by Niquet and his French period band suggest a musical imagination which yields little to Monteverdi: the Cantate Domino begins along similar lines to Pitoni’s better-known setting but quickly spirals into something infinitely more radical, and the breakneck climax of the Mass’s Gloria left me gasping for breath.

Available Format: SACD

Véronique Gens, Cyrille Dubois, Étienne Dupuy, Flemish Radio Choir & Orchestre de chambre de Paris, Hervé Niquet

The memorable melodies never stop flowing in this 1841 grand opera, which shares more than its Venetian-Cypriot setting with Verdi’s Otello (the Machiavellian senator Mocénigo is surely second cousin to Iago). Gens, as ever, is in her element in tragedienne mode (though for once she’s portraying a heroine who comes up smelling of roses), but the star performance comes from French tenor Cyrille Dubois, who tackles the stratospheric role of Gérard with mellifluous sweetness and élan.

Available Format: 2 CDs + Book

Samuel Youn (Alberich), Iain Paterson (Wotan), Susan Bickley (Fricka); The Halle, Sir Mark Elder

The waters of the Rhine flow crystal-clear in Elder’s leisurely prelude, setting the tone for an opening scene which captures the pre-Lapsarian quality of the Rhinemaidens’ world like few others – every sparkling detail in the string-writing, in particular, is allowed to shine through. In a strongly characterised cast, Susan Bickley’s sympathetic Fricka and Clive Bayley’s snarky, lecherous Fafner stand out, whilst David Butt Philip had me wishing that Froh had rather more to do than knocking up a Rainbow Bridge in record time.

Available Formats: 3 CDs, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC