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

Mysliveček Adamo ed EvaMy personal highlights from June include an heroically-sung Diary of One Who Disappeared from Scottish tenor Nicky Spence (fast on his way to the bigger Wagner roles, and on promisingly ringing form here), an arresting oratorio on The Fall of Man by the Czech-born composer Josef Mysliveček which couches thorny theological discussion in unashamedly operatic vocal writing, and feather-light Mendelssohn and Grieg miniatures from 2006 Leeds Piano Competition winner Denis Kozhukhin.

Peter Van Heyghen, Il Gardellino

What a find this is, and what great advocacy it receives from all concerned here: unlike the sunny second part of Haydn’s Creation (composed two decades later), the Italian-domiciled Czech composer’s 1771 oratorio focuses on the immediate aftermath of The Fall, exploring Adam and Eve’s psychological anguish and conflict in vivid detail. If the libretto is perhaps overly exegetical in places (particularly in the long recitatives for two opposing Angels), the music is unabashedly operatic: tenor Valerio Contaldo is especially impressive in Adam’s often ferociously florid arias.

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC, Hi-Res+ FLAC

Roderick Williams (baritone) & Iain Burnside (piano)

There was a slight sense of the translation itself taking centre-stage on Williams’s first recording of a complete Schubert song-cycle (Winter Journey, in a new English version by Jeremy Sams), so what a pleasure to have this original-language Schöne Mullerin a year on; now in his early fifties, the baritone sounds as fresh-faced and open-hearted as they come as Schubert’s unlucky-in-love apprentice, ornamenting the early songs with happy-go-lucky charm, and more in sorrow than in anger once his hirsute rival arrives on the scene in the second half of the work.

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

Nicky Spence (tenor), Julius Drake (piano), Václava Housková (mezzo), VOICE, Victoria Samek (clarinet)

He may spend the first eight songs lusting from afar like Schubert’s journeyman, but there the similarity ends: the protagonist of Janáček’s 1921 song-cycle actually gets the girl midway through the sequence, with Julius Drake’s uninhibited account of the Intermezzo Erotico leaving us in no doubt of what that entails. Spence is in absolutely glorious voice, cresting the top Cs with ease – and unlike most of his predecessors on disc genuinely sounds like he could plough a field and marshal a team of oxen.

Available Format: CD

Given that Kovařovic was primarily known as an opera conductor (he spent most of his career at the helm of the National Theatre in Prague), it’s perhaps no small wonder that there’s an almost vocal quality to the numerous memorable melodies in these immediately appealing works; No. 2 in A minor pays obvious homage to its dedicatee Dvořák (particularly in its folksy scherzo), but my personal favourite is the earlier D major quartet, its exuberant opening oddly reminiscent of Mendelssohn’s youthful Octet.

Available Format: CD

I can’t get enough of this young British pianist’s explorations of nineteenth-century composer-virtuosos, and this second volume of Thalberg’s operatic paraphrases more than lives up to the expectations set by its predecessor (released in 2015): Viner’s ability to spin a long cantabile line rivals that of the finest sopranos on record in Casta diva, and he throws off the pyrotechnics in the Auber and Meyerbeer fantasies with breathtaking élan. It left me avid to hear Halévy's Charles VI in full, though I suspect I may have quite a wait on my hands...

Available Format: CD

Having only previously heard this Russian pianist in relatively heavyweight and/or austere repertoire, I was pleasantly taken aback by the gentle charm of this lovely, intimate recital of Grieg and Mendelssohn miniatures, which has the warm, confiding atmosphere of an impromptu performance given among friends; like Viner, he phrases like a singer when required, and livelier pieces such as the Spinnerlied and Kinderstück have an irresistible buoyancy and clarity.

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

Richard Uttley (piano), Goldfield Ensemble, Richard Baker

Born in 1936, this is Fox’s first major recording, and on this showing one can only hope that other ensembles and artists take up the baton and run with it; through her innovative writing for percussion and violin in particular, she has such an extraordinary knack for creating quasi-orchestral sound-worlds from slender forces that I had to check the booklet to confirm the instrumentation for several of the works. Everything here’s worth hearing, but the elegiac, klezmer-inflected Café Warsaw was the stand-out for me.

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

Vivica Genaux (mezzo), Lawrence Zazzo (countertenor) Lautten Compagney, Wolfgang Katschner

This is a fascinating concept on several levels if you’ve even a passing interest in the highways and byways of eighteenth-century opera: as well as offering an opportunity to compare and contrast various composers’ responses to two of Metastasio’s ‘most fortunate children’ (Semiramide and Siroe), the programme explores the fluidity of gender-identity on the baroque stage and occasionally plays fast and loose on its own terms (Zazzo, for instance, taking on an aria for Handel’s Bradamante - a female contralto who spends part of the opera en travestie).

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC