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 Gramophone Choices, Gramophone Editor's Choices - March 2019

Gramophone March 2019Out in front this month is an eloquent new recording of Book One of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier from Polish pianist Ewa Pobłocka, which impressed Martin Cullingford with the ‘controlled freedom and imaginative voicings’ on display and the ‘strong inner rhythm and subtle organisation of dynamics [which] keep the music alive in every bar’.

Among those mentioned in despatches are young Russian pianist Andrey Gugnin (for his ‘disarming’ interpretation of Liszt’s Transcendental Études on Piano Classics), fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout, and Riccardo Chailly, who presides over a ‘powerful, persuasive’ performance of the original 1904 version of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly from La Scala on DVD and Blu-ray, with Uruguayan soprano Maria José Siri and American tenor Bryan Hymel in the lead roles.

Recording of the Month

'Wary as I am of superlatives, I can claim without hesitation that Ewa Pobłocka’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1 encompasses some of the greatest and most fulfilling Bach pianism on record...Her Bach has everything going for it: pianistic resourcefulness, keen polyphonic acumen, impeccable taste and an ability to imbue each Prelude and Fugue with a distinct point of view borne out of musical considerations.'

Available Format: 2 CDs

Editor's Choices

Mitsuko Uchida (piano), Berliner Philharmoniker, Sir Simon Rattle

'Uchida takes enormous care over articulation, clarity, voicing and dynamics. And this is true in the simplest passages as well as the most virtuoso...Uchida’s fastidious articulateness makes every stitch count, yet her phrasing is generous, so the detail always remains in its rightful place as part of a larger unfolding...What’s most valuable about these performances, I think, is their exploration of the music’s dramatic potential.'

Available Format: 3 CDs + Blu-ray Audio + Blu-ray Video

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Santtu-Matias Rouvali

'This is one terrific disc...Everything about this performance [of the Symphony] is clearly, startlingly defined. A penetrating ear is held to the score...The Gothenberg Symphony have rarely sounded more committed...So I doubt there’s a more gripping account of the symphony currently to be found – and it comes in tandem with an equally impressive reading of the 19-minute epic that is En saga.'

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

Tasmin Little (violin), John Lenehan (piano)

'Neither [the Beach or the Smyth], surely, has ever been treated to anything like Little’s gleaming, endlessly fluid tone or John Lenehan’s warmly characterised, unfailingly sensitive pianism…there’s a flexibility and sense of sweep to Little and Lenehan’s performance [of the Beach] that’s utterly persuasive on its own terms. The two players respond to each other as if by instinct.'

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

Alina Ibragimova (violin), Cédric Tiberghien (piano)

'Superb playing and ravishing engineering intertwine here to stunning effect. It’s a modern set-up – Ibragimova on a 1775 Anselmo Bellosio strung with metal, with Tiberghien on a very beautiful and relatively new Steinway D – and it serves as a reminder that you don’t necessarily need period instruments to bring a lightness and air-filled delineation to these densely textured late-Romantic works.'

Available Format: CD

Bruno Philippe (cello), Jérôme Ducros (piano)

'Philippe is still only 25 but you wouldn’t guess from the maturity of his musical thinking, which is coupled with a songfulness and ravishing sound – essential qualities for Rachmaninov...How refreshing to have this sonata coupled with Myaskovsky’s First Cello Sonata, a rarity in the studio...Throughout, Philippe and Ducros play with absolute conviction and make the strongest possible case for the piece.'

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

Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano)

'The listener is drawn in by the myriad subtleties of Bezuidenhout’s playing and by the glorious sounds he draws from his instrument...Soon you’re hanging on every note of this sequence that seems to travel from darkness to darkness...Most important, though, is Bezuidenhout’s playing itself. Technique is obviously not an issue...Decoration, too, is sparing rather than trowelled on. This is the very opposite of ‘look-at me’ pianism.'

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

'This is some of the finest Liszt-playing one is likely to encounter these days, rich with affective contrasts, pliant and organic rubato, an exquisitely calibrated dynamic spectrum and a beguiling cantabile that speaks simply and directly...Gugnin’s cultivated pianissimo presto leggiero, imperturbable rhythmicality, his preference for the heroic over the melodramatic, and not least his wealth of poetic imagination, easily place him in elite company.'

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Jodie Devos (soprano), Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Laurent Campellone

'The main thing to say about Devos – and her thoroughly idiomatic partner-in-frolic, Laurent Campellone – is that she (and this is a huge compliment) delivers all that is required of her, and more, with the apparent ease of one who knows how important it is to conceal the difficulty. The real kicker with this album is the way in which number after number springs its surprises. The vocal pyrotechnics are artfully designed to make one’s jaw hit the floor.'

Available Format: CD

Delphine Galou, Emöke Barath, Silke Gäng, Ana Maria Labin; Accademia Bizantina, Ottavio Dantone

'Il Giustino is among the most beautiful and cogent of Vivaldi’s operas...and Dantone finds a strong sense of unity and purpose within it. Rhythms are crisp and incisive, textures sensuous and often startlingly immediate. There’s plenty of swagger and bravado in the Accademia Bizantina’s playing...The whole thing is hugely enjoyable, consistently engaging and highly recommended.'

Available Format: 3 CDs

DVD/Blu-ray of the Month

María José Siri (Butterfly), Bryan Hymel (Pinkerton), Carlos Álvarez (Sharpless), Annalisa Stroppa (Suzuki); Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala, Riccardo Chailly

'The premiere of Madama Butterfly at La Scala, Milan, in 1904 was famously one of operatic history’s great flops...It’s hard to imagine, though, that the orchestral playing or conducting that night came close to what Chailly achieves here with his Milan band, beautifully paced and tender, with the sheer invention and quality of the music shining reliably through. It’s carefully controlled, too, so that we never risk toppling over into excess. He’s assembled a fine cast, too.'

Available Format: 2 DVD Videos

María José Siri (Butterfly), Bryan Hymel (Pinkerton), Carlos Álvarez (Sharpless), Annalisa Stroppa (Suzuki); Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala, Riccardo Chailly

Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - 1.77:1

Available Format: Blu-ray

Reissue/Archive of the Month

'The sound quality throughout is amazingly good...there are several valuable additions to this great pianist’s discography. Not least among them is a superb live performance of the Emperor Concerto, boasting an especially exuberant and forthright finale...Debussy is a composer who one does not normally associate with Bolet. Perhaps hearing him in Images Book 2 and Masques (both from 1961) will change perceptions...All in all, a pianophile delight.'

Available Formats: 3 CDs, MP3, FLAC