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

Stephen CostelloThree impressive debuts of one variety or another have grabbed my attention this month: the first recording from Portuguese vocal ensemble Cupertinos, viola-player Mathieu Herzog’s first outing as conductor of Ensemble Appassionato, and American tenor Stephen Costello’s first full-length solo album, which outclasses several of the year’s starrier vocal recitals by a country mile. There’s also an exotic and evocative Saint-Saëns rarity from Utah, bells-and-whistles Corelli from the Freiburger Barockorchester, and an eclectic but engaging album of predominantly sacred works for voice and organ from Anne-Sofie von Otter.

Stephen Costello (tenor), Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra, Constantine Orbelian

This rather unassuming album is one of the classiest vocal recitals of the whole year. Now in his late thirties and gently moving towards heavier roles, the American tenor made his name in bel canto, and everything about this gloriously sung recital (predominantly Donizetti) suggests a voice reaching its prime. He brings unusual heft and virility to Tonio’s ‘Ah, mes amis!’, and his golden, open sound has echoes of the young Pavarotti.

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

Gottfried von der Goltz (violin and director), Freiburger Barockorchester

Great fun, this: inspired by evidence that Corelli himself was partial to upscaling his concerti grossi (originally scored for strings-only) when resources and circumstances permitted, Gottfried von der Goltz introduces trombones, bassoons, oboes, harp, and (most thrillingly, as in the finale of the first concerto) trumpets into the mix. It could sound over-weighted and anachronistic, but von der Goltz is too assured a baroque stylist for that – everything dances, and there’s never the slightest sense of gilding the lily.

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

Ensemble Appassionato, Mathieu Herzog

This is the debut recording from the former viola-player of the Quatuor Ebène and his hand-picked chamber ensemble, and it’s tremendous – for my money, these are the most scintillating (and, where appropriate, joyous) accounts of the late symphonies since Sir Charles Mackerras’s recording with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra a decade ago. Energy-levels are high throughout, but nothing seems hard-driven, and Herzog’s background ensures that the inner parts receive plenty of tender loving care.

Available Format: 2 CDs

Paul Jacobs (organ), Utah Symphony, Thierry Fischer

The main point of interest here is the thirty-minute suite of incidental music which Saint-Saëns composed for Eugène Brieux’s ‘mighty homily’ (as American writer William Dean Howells somewhat wearily described it) La Foi in 1908. Chock-full of memorable melodies and evocative orchestration, it shares much of the musical language of the ‘Egyptian’ concerto of twelve years earlier, and switches idioms in the blink of an eye: Elgarian grandiosity gives way to silver-screen opulence within the space of a page or two. A shame there’s not even a brief synopsis, but that’s a minor quibble.

Available Format: CD

Symphonie-Orchester un Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Mariss Jansons

A buoyant and incisive live performance from Jansons and his Bavarian forces, with the large chorus and strings on particularly trenchant form, not least in the nimble ‘Et vitam venturi’ section of the Credo. The solo quartet blends well, with Luca Pisaroni launching the ‘Et resurrexit’ with real conviction and wonder. An exhilarating account of Leonore III is much more than a makeweight, echoing the sense of deliverance and jubilation of the Mass itself in miniature.

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

Xavier Sabata (countertenor), Vespres d’Arnadi, Dani Espasa

There’s huge stylistic variety across this selection of baroque depictions of Alexander the Great, from the swaggering coloratura fireworks of Handel’s ‘Vano amore’ and Francesco Mancini’s ‘Spirti fieri’ to the gentle lyricism of Davide Pescetti’s ‘Serbati a grande imprese’ and the sparse textures of Bononcini’s curiously austere ‘Chiare faci’. Sabata is firm-toned and florid in equal measure, and the Barcelona-based Vespres d’Arnadí yield nothing to Il Pomo d’Oro for snap and spring.

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

Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano), Bengt Forsberg (organ)

It’s not every day you see Messiaen sitting cheek-by-jowl with Rodgers & Hammerstein, but this rather eccentric programme works its own special magic thanks to the Swedish mezzo’s open-hearted and unfussy delivery (only Pärt’s soporific seven-minute setting of ‘My heart’s in the Highlands’ outstays its welcome); the Ives and Messiaen songs are particularly spellbinding, and the two movements from Mahler symphonies translate to the organ surprisingly well.

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

Cupertinos, Luís Toscano

Founded in 2009 to bring Portuguese polyphony to a wider international audience, this 11-voice vocal ensemble make an assured and attractive debut here, the texture pleasantly dominated by their three sweet-toned sopranos; the Victoria-esque Requiem is the centrepiece, but the most interesting works are the motets, particularly the imaginatively-set Domine, tu mihi lavas pedes? which depicts the dialogue between Peter and Christ as the latter washes his disciples’ feet.

Available Format: CD