Presto Editor's Choices,
Presto Editor's Choices - May 2019
My personal highlights from May include a deliciously sassy account of Thomas Arne’s The Judgment of Paris on Dutton, a hugely attractive album of Norwegian choral music (including a virtuosic a cappella arrangement of the Holberg Suite) from the Edvard Grieg Kor on Chandos, and an ambitious but supremely accomplished recording debut from former Young Musician of the Year Martin James Bartlett on Warner Classics.
Nancy Fabiola Herrera (Rosario), Gustavo Pena (Fernando), Lidia Vinyes Curtis (Pepa), Jose Antonio Lopez (Paquiro) BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers, Josep Pons
The piano suite which provides much of the melodic material may get regular outings, but recordings of Granados’s 1916 one-act opera are pretty thin on the ground, and Pons and his Hispanophone cast make a terrific case for it here: the flamenco-infused interludes crackle with dangerous energy, and Nancy Fabiola Herrara is magnificent as the heroine Rosario, particularly in the Act Three ‘nightingale’ aria which takes her into dramatic soprano territory.
Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC
Audun Iversen (baritone), Edvard Grieg Kor, Paul Robinson, Håkon Matti Skrede
Do-wop a cappella arrangements of orchestral favourites generally bring me out in hives, but I must make an exception for the characterful arrangement of the Holberg Suite which closes this lovely album from the fresh-voiced Norwegian choir, the sopranos blithely taking the stratospheric writing in their stride. The Four Psalms are another winner, especially the rustic, very secular-sounding Guds Søn har gjort mig fri, which sounds like it’s strayed in from the early stretches of Peer Gynt.
Available Formats: SACD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC
Martin James Bartlett (piano)
The 2014 BBC Young Musician of the Year Winner emerges as a thoughtful, poetic soul as well as a formidable technician on this imaginatively-conceived programme of Bach, Schumann, Liszt, Granados and Prokofiev – song and opera is one of the unifying threads running through the album, and Bartlett certainly knows how to make the piano really sing. Up there with Igor Levit’s Life Album, for me.
Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC, Hi-Res+ FLAC
Gabrieli, Paul McCreesh
Early days, I know, but this collage of music from four English coronations is a hot contender for one of my Records of the Year; its hair-raising impact is partly down to the vintage glow conjured by the use of authentic woodwind and brass instruments, but the record’s main glory is the full-throated exuberance of the massed choirs including the young voices of Gabrieli ROAR, clearly having the time of their lives. You’ll never hear a more electrifying I was glad on disc.
Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC
Mary Bevan, Susanna Fairbairn, Gillian Ramm, Ed Lyon, Anthony Gregory, Andrew Mahon; The Brook Street Band, John Andrews
Setting a near-the-knuckle libretto by Congreve which often reads like a Restoration harbinger of Naked Attraction, there’s not a dull moment in Arne’s sunny score; the three rival goddesses are vividly characterised by both composer and singers, but the stand-outs for me were Susanna Fairbairn’s imperious 'The glorious voice of war' (capped with a rock-solid high D) and Mary Bevan’s indolently voluptuous ‘Nature fram’d thee sure for loving’. Ed Lyon’s in virile voice as the hero, whetting the appetite for his debut solo disc on Delphian later this year.
Available Format: SACD
Sandrine Piau (soprano) Le Concert de la Loge, Julien Chauvin
The French soprano’s in lustrous voice on this almost indecently gorgeous album of orchestral songs with the period instruments of Le Concert de la Loge: Saint-Saëns’s butterfly flutters exquisitely, Charles Bordes’s Promenade matinale has a louche seductiveness worthy of Piaf, and the two songs from Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été are thrown into fascinating relief by the tracks which surround them (Massenet’s Le poète et le fantôme surely shares its DNA with Au cimitière, and both are despatched with an uncanny beauty here).
Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC
Linus Roth (violin), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Antony Hermus
22 volumes in, this is the most immediately appealing instalment of Hyperion’s venerable Romantic Violin Concerto series I’ve heard to date – the ebullient, tuneful opening of Eduard Lassen’s D major Concerto from 1888 put a smile on all my colleagues’ faces on a stuffy Friday afternoon, and the lovely cantabile slow movement of the Scharwenka (composed six years later) lodged itself firmly in my head after just one listening. Langgaard’s much later single-movement work (clocking in at just ten minutes) is also a treat, particularly the sparkling sparring between soloist and piano.
Available Format: CD