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 Gramophone Choices, Gramophone Editor's Choices - June 2020

Gramophone Magazine June 2020 Polish tenor Piotr Beczała takes top honours this month for his debut recording on Pentatone, featuring arias from operas by Mascagni, Cilea, Puccini, Leoncavallo and Giordano; the album was one of our May Recordings of the Week, and I know Katherine spent a lovely half-hour chatting with Piotr last Tuesday, so stay tuned for his thoughts on moving into this heavier repertoire and the great tenors of the past who’ve inspired him along the way...

Editor’s Choices include ‘deeply moving’ Elgar from Nicola Benedetti, Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra on Decca (available now to download, and released physically on 10th July), ‘magnificent’ Bach lute suites from her compatriot Sean Shibe on Delphian, and a fascinating survey of the history of the English organ courtesy of Daniel Moult and Fugue State Films.

Recording of the Month

Piotr Beczała (tenor), Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, Marco Boemi

'Just listen to the luminous ring to Beczała’s tenor in the open-hearted ‘Recondita armonia’...In an age when many singers are persuaded to take on heavier repertoire far too soon, it’s refreshing to read of an artist armed with patience. And it’s refreshing to hear a tenor tackle this repertoire with such apparent ease, for this is a simply wonderful disc...Beczała never needs to force unduly, yet there’s plenty of emotion to these readings.'

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

Editor's Choices

Nicola Benedetti (violin), London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski

'Thoughtful is how I’d describe Jurowski’s conducting...Perhaps the most moving aspect of this performance – also testimony to Benedetti’s knack of getting under the skin the piece – is the finale’s haunting accompanied cadenza...Benedetti shines a beam on [the Concerto's] reigning quality: sincerity. Nobility too…Although other digital versions have also moved me, none that I can recall has made me more keenly aware of just what a great work this is.'

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

Mark Bebbington (piano), Jan Latham-Koenig, John Roberts (oboe), Jonathan Davies (bassoon); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

'A recording rich in sensual gratification and intellectual nourishment….Bebbington, Latham-Koenig and the RPO players are so focused on pointing up every expressive moment of these richly allusive concertos, the first and last Poulenc would write, that both emerge as strikingly vivid, despite their myriad subtleties.'

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

Gulrim Choï, Philippe Grisvard, Johannes Pramsohler

'Their readings bring such poetic vibrancy to the sonatas’ luxurious ornamentation and richness of articulation that it’s unarguable that this music’s value stretches well beyond the historic performance pearls they bestow. Pramsohler on a 1713 Rogeri is a treat, bringing all manner of colours and shadings and delicious curves to the violin’s often highly virtuoso lines, peerless evenness to the double-stopping and beautiful weighting of parts to the contrapuntal writing.'

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

The Counterpoints & Friends

'This debut disc is, hands down, some of the best recorded Telemann out there, and I am ready to go fist to fist with anyone who disagrees…Indeed, the disc teems with what must surely be the sounds of four people who simply love making music together: there is something wonderfully coherent and cohesive about their ensemble-playing.'

Available Format: CD

Sean Shibe (guitar)

'Shibe applies the musical and interpretative qualities that characterise its predecessors – energy, reflection, eclecticism, integration and emotional candour – to remind us that Bach might have been singular but he contained multitudes…Has the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro [of BWV997] ever sounded so contemporary in its nostalgic sweetness and, in the final movement, sheer unabashed joy?'

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

'What makes it work is not just the dazzling precision and clarity of Pienaar’s finger technique (though that is certainly a vital factor), but the intelligence that has gone into his interpretations...he also communicates an individual and convincing vision for each piece, enough for every one of them to give delight.'

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC

Roderick Williams (baritone), Iain Burnside (piano)

'Williams sings German as a non-native speaker in the best sense, harnessing the words with a sense of discovery of how much closer they bring him to the archetypes within the various verses... And it’s on this front that his reading of the Beethoven cycle shines...Williams fires on all cylinders here, including some I didn’t know he had, and his longtime admirers won’t want to miss this.'

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

Le Banquet Céleste, Damien Guillon

'Paul-Antoine Benos-Djian has a beautiful countertenor voice, full and even at both ends of his range, which he uses to superbly expressive effect...Alicia Amo as Herodias the Daughter (Salome) is quite wonderful in her final aria, ‘Sù, coronatemi’, where she exults in John’s death with dazzling coloratura...newcomers should try this present version under the excellent direction of Damien Guillon. The important thing is to get to know this ravishing piece.'

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

Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Anna Dennis (soprano), Mhairi Lawson (soprano), Roderick Williams (baritone), Ashley Riches (bass-baritone), Gabrieli, Paul McCreesh

'The flexible interactions between nine soloists (with three additional singers in choruses) is impeccable...Sampson’s gossamer-like ‘Ye gentle spirits of the air’ is accompanied with imagination and tact by harpsichordist Jan Waterfield...Even if a splash more extrovert energy and tauter speeds here and there might have yielded more theatrical fizz, McCreesh’s labour of love has abundant nuances and transcendent beauty.'

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

DVD/Blu-ray of the Month

'Guiding us through the convoluted history of the English Organ is Daniel Moult, who does so with all the eagerness of a true enthusiast…However, Moult is no mere enthusiast, but someone with an obvious passion for the subject, and he draws us into the saga of the English organ through his own manifest fascination with it…[Fugue State Films] has supported this one man’s odyssey with a hugely impressive visual and audio package.'

Available Format: 4 DVD Videos + 3 CDs

Reissue/Archive Issue of the Month

Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Berliner Philharmoniker et al, Paul van Kempen

'Various of these recordings were previously available as part of Philips’s long-defunct The Early Years series but the current collection is superior in all respects, a masterpiece of careful planning, in fact...Beethoven is represented by an Eroica that is truly among the greatest of the period – of any period, I’d say...testimony to a genuinely great conductor who up until now has rarely been acknowledged as such.'

Available Formats: 10 CDs, MP3, FLAC