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 Presto Editor's Choices, Presto Editor's Choices - January 2019

January 2019 Editor's ChoicesMy personal flavours of the month include the first symphony by an African-American composer to be performed by a major American orchestra, a fascinating survey of music by exiled Catholic sympathisers in Elizabethan England from British ensemble Stile Antico, a riveting Bach recital from Italian pianist Federico Colli, and Berlioz’s ‘Scenes from the Life of an Artist’ laid bare on a Pleyel vis-à-vis piano.

Fort Smith Symphony, John Jeter

There's fun to be had in listening out for echoes of Dvořák in the First Symphony in particular (the brass chorale which opens the Largo sounds like the sunnier first-cousin of its counterpart in the New World), but Price’s quirky orchestration and innovative use of dance-rhythms are all her own – her writing for percussion is especially striking, and the juba-inspired scherzos are a delight.

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Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Santtu-Matias Rouvali

The young Finnish conductor nails his vivid colours firmly to the mast in this first instalment of a projected Sibelius cycle with Gothenburg, which on this evidence will be cast in a completely different mould to the same orchestra’s grandly expansive recordings with Neeme Järvi in the 1980s. If the unsettling, proto-modernist account of En Saga gripped me more than the symphony, this is nonetheless a Sibelius series to watch.

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Gautier Capuçon (cello), Martha Argerich (piano), Renaud Capuçon (violin), Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Bernard Haitink

An illuminating pairing, this – there’s a chamber-music-like intimacy and introversion to the account of the Cello Concerto (with some especially lovely, ethereal interplay between the soloist and the COE woodwinds in the slow movement), whilst the force of nature that is Martha Argerich draws big-boned, impassioned playing from Capuçon in a muscular account of the Adagio and Allegro that’s well-nigh symphonic in scale.

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Florian Boesch (bass-baritone), Concentus Musicus Wien, Stefan Gottfried

I’m still in two minds as to how well this completion of Schubert’s score (fleshed out with a reupholstered scherzo and an en’tracte from Rosamunde) hangs together, but the poise and lyricism of the first two movements are thoroughly winning on their own terms. Boesch contributes incisive and intense accounts of seven songs in Brahms's and Webern’s orchestrations, spurred onto near-Wagnerian grandeur by the thrilling brass in Gruppe aus dem Tartarus.

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The exuberance and expansiveness which made this young Italian pianist’s Scarlatti recital last year so engaging prove equally riveting in Bach – Colli may view Baroque repertoire through the prism of Romanticism, but he never loses sight of the underlying structures behind the music. The mighty Chaconne (in Busoni’s transcription) sees him conjuring quasi-orchestral sonorities from his Steinway, but it’s his weightless delicacy in the slow movements of the Partita that make this essential listening.

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Jean-François Heisser, Marie-Josèphe Jude (Piano vis-à-vis Pleyel 1928)

I wasn’t particularly enthralled by the prospect of hearing Berlioz’s orchestral Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man shorn of its phantasmagorical orchestration when my colleague first suggested this, but I’m so glad I stuck with it: the Scène aux Champs sounds uncannily like a Bach invention, whilst the eerie sonorities of the double Pleyel are so bone-chilling in the Scaffold and Witches’ Sabbath that I didn’t miss the snarling brass and macabre E flat clarinet at all!

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Eva Zaïcik (mezzo), Le Consort

There’s a lovely vernal bloom to this Jardin des Voix alumna’s high-lying mezzo, and she’s fully alive to the taut drama of these concise French baroque cantatas, the majority of which receive their recording premieres here: Courbois’s Ariane, Clérambault’s Héro and Lefevbre’s Andromède spring vividly to life, and are worthy to be set alongside Handel’s Agrippina, Lucrezia and Armida, whilst flautist Anna Besson provides delectable support in Monteclair’s pastoral La Bergère.

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Stile Antico

The conductorless British vocal ensemble are in their element with this thoughtfully-assembled programme exploring music by Elizabethan composers who found themselves literally or figuratively estranged from their homeland due to their Catholic sympathies; Robert Dering’s Factum est silentium showcases their springy agility and immaculate ensemble, whilst Huw Watkins’s new setting of Shakespeare’s The Phoenix and the Turtle had me craving more contemporary music from this source.

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