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 Gramophone Choices, Gramophone Editor's Choices - May 2020

Gramophone May 2020The Tippett Quartet are first among equals this month for their accounts of two chamber works from either end of Henryk Górecki’s career: the 1961 Sonata for Two Violins (one of the composer’s earliest published pieces) and the String Quartet No. 3 ‘…songs are sung’, commissioned and premiered by the Kronos Quartet three years before Górecki’s death in 2010. Reviewer Ivan Moody described the performances here as ‘the most eloquent versions yet’, surpassing even the world premiere recording of the Quartet by its dedicatees.

Editor’s Choices include two of our recent Recordings of the Week: John Wilson’s Korngold Violin Concerto and Sextet with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and Sinfonia of London Chamber Ensemble on Chandos (which impressed Katherine last month with the ‘easy rapport’ on display between soloist and conductor), and the world premiere recordings of Thomas Adès’s Piano Concerto and Totentanz on Deutsche Grammophon, which James described as ‘one of the most striking discs of contemporary music that I have come across for some time’.

Recording of the Month

John Mills (violin I), Jeremy Isaac (violin II), Tippett Quartet

'The music in the Tippett Quartet’s hands really sings...but there is also a breathtaking sense of control...The recorded sound is superb, neither too resonant nor too dry, allowing the Tippetts every opportunity for the full variety of their sound to shine – and shine is exactly the word for playing of this quality...I cannot recommend this recording highly enough, and have run out of superlatives.'

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

Editor's Choices

Kirill Gerstein (piano), Mark Stone (baritone), Christianne Stotijn (mezzo), Boston Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Adès

'Gerstein and the Boston Symphony pull the piano concerto off with flair but this performance [Totentanz] is a cut above...it can hardly have sounded as focused or as forensically brilliant as in Boston, with the same structural nous, sustained tension (tempos and volume are expertly ratcheted) and pronounced undertow...for proof that Adès does what he does with mind-boggling brilliance, look no further.'

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

Andrew Haveron (violin), RTÉ Concert Orchestra, John Wilson, Sinfonia of London Chamber Ensemble

'I love that there’s a modesty about Haveron’s performance. It’s so easy to overcook this piece. His unaffected delivery is key here..[The Sextet's] passionate imperative seems hardly credible from one so young. It gets an absolutely cracking performance here from key members of Wilson’s newly reformed Sinfonia of London led by Haveron.'

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

Harriet Mackenzie (violin), BBC National Orchestra of Wales, William Boughton

'This is a terrific disc...Voices of Memory is one of the hidden gems in Maw’s output...The sheer brilliance of the compositional ingenuity...and acuity of orchestration should place it in every British orchestra’s repertoire, as this coruscating performance under William Boughton trumpets loud and clear…Harriet Mackenzie has the measure of [the solo sonata], which nods towards Baroque models but is never pastiche.'

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Behzod Abduraimov (piano), Luzerner Sinfonieorchester, James Gaffigan

'The headline-grabber is Rachmaninov’s own piano...which, when handled as intelligently as here by the young Uzbek-born, American-trained Behzod Abduraimov, allows for more subtle dialogue with the orchestral lines…The entire CD, distinguished by expert essays on the Swiss connection with Russian culture and by a panoply of photographs, feels like the product of exceptional devotion. Its outcome is new dimensions of understanding, even for those who would already claim to know this repertoire inside out.'

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

Chiara Skerath (soprano), The Mozartists, Ian Page

'Page’s projects with The Mozartists are distinguished not only by exemplary standards of performance but also by the ambition and imagination that underpin them…[Skerath] is suitably dramatic in first recordings of arias from operas by Jommelli and Traetta…What horns (Gavin Edwards and Nick Benz), and with what freedom they are encouraged to make their mark!...The playing throughout is excellent and the programme is as deeply satisfying as the project’s entire conception.'

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

Amir Katz (piano)

'In only a few of the 25 separate titles here does the Israeli pianist Amir Katz (b.1973) fall short of the very best...On the second disc are the 12 Transcendental Studies, deftly executed with robust tempos and full-bodied tone…Taken as a whole, this is a hugely impressive Liszt recital, ambitious in its scope, stylishly played and well recorded.'

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

Andrey Gugnin (piano)

'Prepare yourself for a deliciously scintillating potpourri of choice delicacies, full of character and charm...Among many factors that make Gugnin’s performances so admirable is that he’s able to imbue each piece with its own distinctively recognisable character. But even more importantly, Gugnin approaches these works on their own terms so that, far from seeming dated or brittle, they emerge fresh and full of vitality and charm.'

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

Portland State University Chamber Choir, Ethan Sperry

'Ethan Sperry’s immaculate Portland State Chamber Choir clearly relish the luscious choral textures, which often expand into 16 parts. The engineering captures with great clarity both this sense of spaciousness (helped by the resonant acoustic of the church recording venue) and the extreme dynamic range. All the solo vocal contributions are magnificent...A stunning, timely triumph, therefore, full of ravishing, transformative and deeply touching music.'

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

Podlasie Opera & Philharmonic Choir, Poznan Philharmonic, Łukasz Borowicz

'Moniuszko is a composer of great dramatic power: the evocation of the spring night with which Nijoła opens would be enough to convince one of that. This is Slavic mysticism at its best...And the performances are wonderful – soprano Wioletta Chodowicz in particular, the eponymous lead in both works, has a fabulous richness of timbre combined with great agility, but all the soloists are outstanding. The orchestra is fleet of foot and richly sonorous, and the recording excellent. Moniuszko is long overdue for wider recognition.'

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

DVD/Blu-ray of the Month

'Not all pianists in their mid-sixties are necessarily at the peak of their powers. Schiff unquestionably is. His technical and musical mastery consistently aims high and digs deep, seeming to bypass the piano and penetrating each Prelude and Fugue on its own terms...these two discs constitute The Well-Tempered Clavier’s reference video version, a winning combination of the BBC’s high production values and Schiff on peak form at full capacity in music that he profoundly cares about.'

Available Format: DVD Video

HD 16:9

PCM stereo and DTS-MA 5.1

Available Format: Blu-ray

Reissue/Archive Issue of the Month

'The soprano, the centenary of whose birth was celebrated in February, is indeed a marvel of security, honest, unerring musicality and vocal strength – and Sony Classical’s new box offers lavish evidence of the fact…It’s a superbly burnished and powerful instrument: firm in the lower registers; steely but beautiful at the top, with a terrific sheen...This box is invaluable for anyone wanting to hear one of the great voices of a generation and sample one of the great opera careers that never quite was.'

Available Format: 16 CDs