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 BBC Music Magazine Choices, BBC Music Magazine - Christmas 2019 Choices

BBC Music Christmas 2019Top spot in the Christmas issue goes to Czech pianist Ivo Kahánek, whose recording of the Dvořák Piano Concerto and Martinů’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with Jakub Hrůša was praised by John Allison for ‘the piano’s glinting textures and the unique warmth of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra’. The Academy of Ancient Music’s ‘formidably well-documented‘ live tercentenary recording of Handel’s Brockes-Passion (released on their own label at the beginning of last month) takes the Choral & Song palm, whilst Christmas at St George’s Windsor is the pick of the festive releases.

Recording of the Month

Ivo Kahánek (piano), Bamberger Symphoniker, Jakub Hrůša

'There is no higher praise possible than to say that the spirit of Rudolf Firkušný hovers over this new release…Kahánek’s new versions are worthy of standing in this company, and his account of the Dvořák certainly asks the question again: why does this exhilarating work remain so underrated?... Kahánek, now 40, has lived with this Martinů concerto for more than half his career…Together with Hrůša he ensures that the music lives up to its title, Incantations: there is certainly a feeling of spells being cast here.'

Available Format: CD

Orchestral Choice

James Ehnes (violin), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Andrew Manze

'The success-level here is excellently high. Collectors will savour a genuine rarity: the composer’s own orchestra-only arrangement of the Serenade to Music…the music sounds as rapturously beautiful as ever, and Manze’s conducting gets a handsome orchestral response. Variants on Dives and Lazarus can sometimes come across as a semi-routine creation, but not with the beautifully shaded string orchestra textures conjured here…Similar care has been taken, too, with the Tallis Fantasia.'

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

Concerto Choice

Daniil Trifonov (piano), Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin

'In the First, he steers the music’s dramatic ebb and flow with total conviction, while also bringing tremendous clarity of fingerwork to its elaborate piano writing. Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra are superbly attentive partners…In the Third Trifonov makes light work of the hugely challenging piano part, again driving a clear structural path through the work’s expansive and occasionally discursive design.'

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

Opera Choice

Iestyn Davies (Orfeo), Sophie Bevan (Euridice), Rebecca Bottone (Amor); La Nuova Musica, David Bates

'Bates is, like Gluck, wonderfully radical. Where other directors smooth over disjunctions, he revels in rupture…This is directorship at its most alert, and aiding Bates is an optimal cast…Davies radiates Orfeo’s impassioned tenderness, changing vocal colours as the drama demands. Sophie Bevan’s Euridice swings, with blazing bravura and increasing intensity, from anguish to narcissism…It’s the stuff of Gluck’s dreams.'

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

Choral & Song Choice

Robert Murray, Cody Quattlebaum, Elizabeth Watts, Ruby Hughes, Tim Mead, Gwilym Bowen, Nicky Spence; Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr

'This formidably well-documented project is matched by a comparably sympathetic performance, Egarr paces the piece unhurriedly, recognising Handel’s often vivid responses to Brockes’s graphic text and drawing from them deeply felt, contrasting emotions. From among a uniformly strong solo cast, Elizabeth Watts’s Daughter of Zion, a reflective conscience of the work, Robert Murray (Evangelist) and Ruby Hughes (Faithful Soul)…are especially rewarding.'

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

Chamber Choice

Marc-André Hamelin (piano), Takács Quartet

'The Takács Quartet and Marc-André Hamelin capture the freshness and vitality of this youthful work to perfection, its outer movements and Scherzo projected here with all the necessary exhilaration and rhythmic vigour…The performance [of the Second Piano Quintet] from Hamelin and the Takács is totally compelling, encapsulating a vast array of colours and textures…The Takács gives a superbly committed reading of the Second Quartet] which once again maximises the music’s textural and dynamic variety. A treasurable disc.'

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

Instrumental Choice

Francesco Piemontesi (piano)

'Piemontesi’s instinctive good taste means he never indulges in histrionics, and operates on the principle that understatement can carry more emotional power than its converse. This performance of D958 is the best I have ever heard. His D959 exhibits the same virtues…and D960, recorded live and technically immaculate, is glorious.'

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

Christmas Choice

Luke Bond (organ), St George's Chapel Choir Windsor, James Vivian

'Where recordings are concerned, the Choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle has often been overshadowed by London’s cathedral choirs and the leading college choirs of Oxford and Cambridge. But two recent royal weddings have put St George’s firmly in the spotlight, and this new disc shows its all-male choir is a force to be reckoned with…James Vivian deserves major credit for his preparation of the singers, whose dedication and artistry make this a deeply satisfying recital.'

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