Skip to main content

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

Troy SonataPersonal highlights this month include two new concertos which Tan Dun composed for the Norwegian violinist Eldbjørg Hemsing, Fazil Say’s cinematic depiction of the Trojan War, some charming holiday snapshots of Richard Rodney Bennett's family, and a starkly beautiful account of ‘Abbé Liszt’’s meditations on the Stations of the Cross from Reinbert De Leeuw and Collegium Vocale Gent.

As the Turkish pianist-composer points out in his sleeve-note, non-operatic musical representations of the Trojan War are few and far between, and his ten-movement sonata packs a terrific amount of drama into its forty minutes: the ‘wine-dark’ sea is conjured with Debussy-like sonorities, whilst the depictions of the heroes sound like Game of Thrones scored by Bartók. The vivid portrait of the Trojan Horse itself wouldn’t sound out of place in Mussorgsky’s gallery – definite shades of Bydlo here…

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

Tina Gorina, Monika Ledzion-Porczynska, Matheus Pompeu, Karol Kozlowski; Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi

My only previous encounter with what Carl Dahlhaus described as ‘the Polish national opera’ came courtesy of a bleeding chunk on Mariusz Kwiecien’s Slavic Heroes album a few years ago, but what a delight to make its acquaintance in full here; it plays out like early Verdi shot through with foreshadowings of Janáćek, and the polonaises and mazurkas deserve to be included in gala concerts the world over. The vocal palm goes to tenor Matheus Pompeu, plangent and impassioned as the friend-zoned Jontek.

Available Format: 2 CDs

Dame Sarah Connolly (mezzo), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, John Wilson

The three shorter works are the real gems here: Connolly is by turns louche and affectionate in the settings of poems by Bennett’s sister (inspired by photographs of the siblings’ parents on holiday during the 1920s), and each portrait of the Zodiac springs to life so vividly that you’re never in any doubt as to which sign’s being depicted. The Reflections on a Sixteenth Century Tune will charm anyone who loves Warlock’s Capriol Suite and Vaughan Williams’s Tallis Fantasia.

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

Eldbjørg Hemsing (violin), Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Tan Dun

Dun casts his stylistic net wide in these two East-meets-West concertos which he composed for the Norwegian violinist Hemsing (indeed both scores veer into ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ territory in places), and their language is immediately accessible and attractive; highlights include the berceuse-like interlude of ‘Rock the Violin in Rhapsody’, where the soft-focus cinematic atmosphere is undercut by unsettling orchestral glissandi, and the high-energy sparring between marimba and violin in the opening track.

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

Stéphane Degout (baritone), Simon Lepper (piano)

I’ve a feeling I’ll be raving about another, very different Kerner-Lieder in these pages next month, but I couldn’t let this tremendous live account of Schumann’s song-cycle from Paris’s Théâtre de l'Athénée last December go unnoticed: it’s the first time I’ve heard Dégout in German repertoire, and he and Lepper are on mesmerising form here, brawny and exuberant in the more extrovert songs, and exquisitely tender in the cloistered intimacy of Stirb’, Lieb un Freud’!. Dichterliebe next, please.

Available Format: CD

Véronique Gens (soprano), Orchestre National de Lille, Alexandre Bloch

Chausson’s sensual ‘poem of love and the sea’ could have been tailor-made for Gens, whose onyx-bright soprano is capable of incredible nuance and rides the quasi-Wagnerian orchestral outbursts with ease; the lesser-known Symphony (premiered two years earlier than the song-cycle) also receives a persuasive performance from Bloch and the Lille orchestra, but buy this for the Poème.

Available Format: CD

Bojan Čičić (violin), The Illyria Consort

Giornovich himself may have been a troubled, volatile character, but these three works from the 1790s radiate sunny, open-hearted optimism, with whispers of his friend Mozart’s amiable A major concerto creeping in here and there; Čičič’s honey-sweet tone recalls Dittersdorf’s remarks about the composer’s own particular beauty of timbre, and the folksy Villageoises de Julie (based on an air from an opéra comique by Nicolas Dezède) which closes the album is a delight.

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

Collegium Vocale Gent, Reinbert De Leeuw

The spacious acoustic of Gent’s Sint-Machariuskerk provides an appropriately contemplative atmosphere for this account of Liszt’s meditations on the Stations of the Cross, written towards the end of the composer’s life but only premiered in 1929; the crystal-clear upper voices blend ideally in the Stabat Mater, and in De Leeuw’s hands the piano interludes seem to foreshadow Messiaen’s Vingt regards.

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