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

LibertaAugust’s often the cruellest (or at least the sparsest) month in terms of new recordings, with most of the major labels reserving their plum releases for the early autumn, but this year my only difficulty’s been in narrowing down my selection – yesterday in particular yielded some real delights, including Gounod’s 1859 version of Faust from Christophe Rousset, Les Talens Lyriques and an unusually light-voiced cast (in deference to the piece’s relatively slimline origins), a second instalment of unfamiliar British tone-poems from the BBC Philharmonic, and an absolutely enthralling pasticcio of pre-Da Ponte Mozart (with cameos from the contemporaries who inspired him) from Raphaël Pichon and Pygmalion.

Sabine Devieilhe, Siobhan Stagg, Serena Malfi, Linard Vrielink, John Chest, Nahuel di Pierro; Pygmalion, Raphaël Pichon

Pichon and a crack team of well-contrasted soloists paint an electrifying portrait of a composer on the cusp of greatness in this ingeniously-assembled trio of pasticcios based on the music which Mozart composed in the run-up to his game-changing collaboration with Lorenzo Da Ponte; ensembles from L’oca del Cairo and Lo sposo deluso crackle with energy and the more familiar concert arias are brilliantly sung, but the unaccompanied canons are the real pearls. A definite Record of the Year for me.

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

BBC Philharmonic, Rumon Gamba

Not so much as a whiff of cowpat on this second volume of early twentieth-century rarities from Gamba & Co.: the stand-outs are Patrick Hadley’s brooding, atmospheric Kinder Scout (the Derbyshire peak’s craggy grandeur conjured up by some wonderfully evocative writing for cor anglais), Arthur Bliss’s Stravinskian Mêlée fantasque, and Dorothy Howell’s weird and wonderful Lamia, premiered at the Proms when the composer was just 21.

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

Johannes Moser (cello), Alasdair Beatson (piano)

This is one of those albums which had me hooked from the very first phrase, thanks to the irresistible exuberance with which the German cellist and Scottish pianist launch into Felix’s Cello Sonata No. 2, and the pleasures never abate over the next hour-and-a-quarter; the palpable rapport between the two players is something very special, and Moser responds to the magical colours which Beatson draws from his Érard with consummate imagination and sensitivity.

Available Formats: SACD, MP3, FLAC

Alina Ibragimova (violin), Cédric Tiberghien (piano)

Ibragimova and Tiberghien exhibit a similar instinctive empathy to Moser and Beatson on their latest collaboration on Hyperion, applying the low-cholesterol approach which made their Franck Sonata earlier this year such a winner to the Brahms sonatas: clarity and transparency are the orders of the day here, with vibrato, portamenti and rubato kept to a minimum, but nothing feels undernourished or underseasoned in these illuminating, immensely invigorating performances.

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

Vilde Frang (violin), Barnabás Kelemen (violin), Lawrence Power (viola), Nicolas Altstaedt (cello), Alexander Lonquich (piano)

Two real rarities here, and both are terrific: Veress’s 1954 String Trio encompasses Shostakovichesque bleakness, jazz and extended techniques such as knocking and slapping the bodies of the instruments (deployed to hair-raising effect in the moto perpetuo second movement), after which the lush, nigh-on symphonic expansiveness of Bartók’s early Piano Quintet (1897) quite takes the breath away with its whispers of Brahms and even Elgar.

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

Marta Fontanals-Simmons (mezzo), Lana Bode (piano)

The British-Spanish mezzo emerges as a strong artistic personality and an unflinchingly direct communicator on her imaginatively-conceived debut album, her attractively wiry tone and narrow vibrato the ideal medium for these settings of texts by female writers exploring anxiety, instability and frustration; Argento’s From the Diary of Virginia Woolf is a real tour de force, from the jaded loucheness of Rome to the existential terror of War.

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

Benjamin Bernheim (Faust), Véronique Gens (Marguerite), Andrew Foster-Williams (Méphistophélès), Jean-Sébastien Bou (Valentin); Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset

The Golden Calf’s replaced by an avaricious beetle, and several of the opera’s Greatest Hits (notably Valentin’s Prayer and the Soldiers’ Chorus) are absent on this snappy, period-instrument account of Faust in its more sardonic and succinct original version, but the pay-offs are many and varied, including a tender farewell duet for Marguerite and her brother, a characterful trio for Faust and his students, and a ravishing third-act aria for the lovelorn Sièbel. Bernheim's light-voiced, Dorian Gray-ish hero is idiomatic, elegant and engaging.

Available Formats: 3 CDs + Book, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC