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 Gramophone Choices, Gramophone Editor's Choices - February 2020

Gramophone February 2020Pick of the crop this month is John Wilson and Sinfonia of London’s colourful collection of French orchestral works, Escales, released last Friday on Chandos and a more-than-worthy successor to their superb debut disc of Korngold (one of our 2019 Recordings of the Year, and still maintaining its foothold in our January bestsellers chart) – you can read James’s recent interview with John about the orchestra and the repertoire-choices on the new album here.

Recording of the Month

Sinfonia of London, John Wilson

'Wilson has the ability to make familiar music sound wonderfully fresh and new-minted, all the while carefully judging and calibrating the sound world of each piece… The enthusiasm that [he] elicits from his orchestra is very much apparent on every track, though what really impresses is the finesse as well as the virtuosity of the playing, the refinement of detail, the subtlety of texture and colour.'

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

Editor's Choices

Johan Dalene (violin), Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Blendulf

' 'From the shaping of his solo entrance in the Tchaikovsky alone there’s a ‘presence’ about Johan Dalene’s playing that announces a musician of special sensibilities… the most striking thing about this young Swedish player is the complete absence of showiness or indeed any sense of virtuosity on display… The Barber really suits Dalene… it is testament to a maturity way beyond his years that he comes close to breaking your heart with it.'

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

Antje Weithaas (violin), Maximilian Hornung (cello), NDR Radiophilharmonie, Andrew Manze

'It’s her ability to illuminate the music’s dark corners [in the Schumann] that makes her performance among the most persuasive on disc...[In the Brahms] Weithaas is joined by the superb Maximilian Hornung, and the two play with real lyrical urgency...Manze elicits playing of remarkable clarity and rhythmic vitality from the NDR Radiophilharmonie – as crucial in the Brahms as it is in the Schumann – and the recorded balance between soloists and orchestra is close to ideal.'

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel

'There are hints of aching melody and some wondrous orchestral effects...As Sustain swirls inexorably towards its ultimate destruction, it exerts a gravitational pull that has the dramatic certitude of a Greek tragedy...The performance is utterly gorgeous as well as gripping, and stunningly captures the clear acoustic of Disney Hall. Fervently recommended.'

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Michael Collins (clarinet), Michael McHale (piano)

'A new CD from Michael Collins is like walking into a three-star Michelin restaurant: you don’t know exactly what’s on the menu but you know whatever is on offer is going to taste wonderful..One has to salute the extraordinary facility and irresistibly seductive, lyrical grace of Michael Collins’s playing, surely one of his instrument’s greatest living exponents.'

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

'At first hearing, the pianist seems to be imparting a fresh spin to these frequently recorded sonatas. Closer scrutiny, however, reveals the extent to which Osborne takes Prokofiev’s texts seriously…Osborne is at his best in Sonata No 8… no pianist in my experience has matched Osborne’s finale for acuity of touch, pinpoint transparency and airborne suppleness.'

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

Peter Donohoe (piano)

'My instant reaction on pushing ‘play’ and hearing the first bars was ‘Ah – this is going to be good’. And so it proves, perhaps the most consistently enjoyable and satisfying recording of Tchaikovsky piano solos of recent years… There’s a lightness of touch, a crisp transparency and clarity of texture that sends the opening ‘Scherzo à la russe’ spinning off into the realms of sheer delight… A very fine issue indeed.'

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

Alexandre Tharaud (piano), with Sabine Devieilhe (soprano), Justin Taylor (piano)

'He doesn’t let the fact that some of this music is inherently unpianistic get in his way…It’s a beautifully programmed disc – so much so that it begs to be heard complete. And the sense that he has lived with this music for a long time is abundantly apparent…Even for aficionados of this repertoire there are surprises to be had.'

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

Julia Kleiter (soprano), Julius Drake (piano)

'The performances here blaze with conviction. Kleiter’s tone is wonderfully even and exceptionally beautiful over a wide vocal range, and her commitment is never for a second in doubt…Drake is similarly at his best here…A marvellous disc and a great recital in its own right, this is arguably the finest instalment of the series to date. Do listen to it.'

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

Elsa Dreisig (soprano), Jonathan Ware (piano)

'One of the most purely seductive recitals to have come my way for a long time… in Dreisig’s introspective, understated performances we hear the Four Last Songs anew, each one fascinatingly set apart from the others in its new context… And thanks to Ware’s superbly dappled and delicate way with the accompaniment, they come across less as pale imitations of the orchestral originals than something like evocative, distantly remembered echoes.'

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

DVD/Blu-ray of the Month

Mauro Peter (Belmonte), Lenneke Ruiten (Konstanze), Sabine Devieilhe (Blonde), Maximilian Schmitt (Pedrillo), Tobias Kehrer (Osmin); Teatro alla Scala, Zubin Mehta, Giorgio Strehler

'Strehler/Testi handles the balance between the comic and the serious astutely…Ruiten’s superb performance – touchingly acted, fluently sung – makes you both believe and care…Devieilhe soars effortlessly into the musical stratosphere…You might not associate Mehta, or indeed La Scala, with Mozart, but the pacing – deliberate in the Act 2 finale as well as in ‘O wie ängstlich’ – seems just right, and the playing is splendid…This is a delight.'

Available Format: 2 DVD Videos

Mauro Peter (Belmonte), Lenneke Ruiten (Konstanze), Sabine Devieilhe (Blonde), Maximilian Schmitt (Pedrillo), Tobias Kehrer (Osmin); Teatro alla Scala, Zubin Mehta, Giorgio Strehler

Sound format: PCM Stereo, DTS-HD MA 5.1

Picture: NTSC, 16:9

Available Format: Blu-ray

Reissue/Archive Issue of the Month

Kathleen Ferrier (contralto), Set Svanholm (tenor), John Newmark (piano), New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Bruno Walter

'A treasure, to be sure… this performance for me gives a far clearer sense of why Walter felt he had found the ideal singer for the piece than his later Vienna recording… Walter for his part owns the pacing and phrasing of the work – as well he might – and marries space and timelessness to an impassioned urgency.'

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