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 Gramophone Choices, Gramophone Editor's Choices - October 2020

Gramophone October 2020Pick of the crop this month is a ‘triumphant’ Peter Grimes from Bergen, conducted by Edward Gardner and starring Australian tenor Stuart Skelton as a protagonist driven by ‘passion, not neurosis’; the cast also includes Erin Wall as Ellen Orford, Roderick Williams as Balstrode, James Gilchrist as Horace Adams, and Susan Bickley as Auntie. Also mentioned in despatches are François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln’s ‘notably athletic’ account of Schumann’s original version of what would become his Fourth Symphony, Marc-André Hamelin’s ‘completely compelling’ recital of operatic fantasies by Liszt and Thalberg, and an incomplete but electrifying live recording of Smetana’s Libuše from 1938.

Stuart Skelton (Grimes), Erin Wall (Ellen), Roderick Williams (Balstrode); Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Edward Gardner

'The net joy of this new recording is that Skelton, now a Grimes of considerable experience and range, has found in his vocalisation of the role a well-judged mixture of obsessive professional (sometimes rough) fisherman and troubled, confused and persecuted outsider…All this is precisely framed by Gardner’s conducting and his choice of cast…An exciting, committed, necessary and brilliantly recorded version for our times.'

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

Editor's Choices

Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano), Freiburger Barockorchester, Pablo Heras-Casado

'Repeated listening has convinced me this is one of the finest, most deeply perceptive and thrilling performances of Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto on record. But make no mistake, Bezuidenhout’s triumph could only be achieved by the hand-in-glove support and interplay provided by Heras-Casado and the Freiburgers… If you love Beethoven, delight in the sound of precise and imaginative ensemble and revel in brilliant piano-playing, whatever you do, do not miss this!'

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

Sinfonia of London, John Wilson

'This is a high-voltage interpretation, virtuosically played and strong on detail and drama, in which Wilson digs deep into the complexities both of Respighi’s at times eclectic imagination and his extraordinary powers of orchestration…Wilson and his orchestra more than hold their own against their rivals, and perhaps just have the edge over them thanks to Chandos’s superbly engineered recording, which is state-of-the-art, and absolutely stunning.'

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

Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, François-Xavier Roth

'He’s far from the first to do so, but Roth makes the once-heretical case, through judicious observance of the score and an acute ear for sonority, that Schumann knew what he was doing… The slimmer scoring of this preliminary version enables a performance of notable athleticism in the outer movements…This is one of the most sheerly enjoyable Schumann symphony discs to have arrived in a while, finely played, gloriously recorded.'

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

Bor Zuljan (lute)

'This is an original, improvisatory yet often deeply introspective recital, masterfully curated, mainly of Dowland’s fantasias for solo lute, ‘remarkable masterpieces of counterpoint, rhetoric, architecture and virtuosity’… has any [recording] so accurately captured our flawed selves in this distorting infinity mirror hall of Renaissance counterpoint and variations on songs and dances which Dowland himself distorted through endless improvisation?'

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

'If I were allowed a two-word review of this disc, it would read as follows: buy it…He conjures up a rich palette of tonal colours throughout, but to particularly bewitching effect in the two Thalberg fantasies… The execution is so incredibly neat and well ordered, and yet sounds completely spontaneous, like an inspired improvisation…This is a master pianist at the height of his powers.'

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


'It’s the breadth – not just of repertoire but of sound, technique and approach – that makes it so arrestingly excellent… The musicianship here is dazzling, and nowhere more so than in Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia…Everything has been captured lovingly but truthfully, allowing us to hear the individual voices behind the group’s signature blend. The result is the best thing Voces8 have done in ages. I can’t wait to hear what comes next.'

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

Stéphanie d'Oustrac (mezzo), Ensemble Amarillis, Héloïse Gaillard

'With her wide range of colour and her care for the sound and sense of words, the French mezzo makes each character vividly distinct. She is also a risk-taker, unafraid of a harsh or whining tone where apt, yet never resorting to caricature...The concept is imaginative, the repertoire (Purcell apart) hardly familiar, and the performances both probing and enlivening. Emphatically recommended.'

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

Lucy Crowe (Vixen), Gerald Finley (Forester), Sophia Burgos (Fox), Jan Martiník (Badger/Parson), Peter Hoare (Mosquito/Rooster/Schoolmaster), Hanno Müller-Brachmann (Harašta); London Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Chorus, Sir Simon Rattle

'With pinpoint playing from the LSO and close, detailed recorded sound, this is a Vixen with sharp teeth as well as sharp ears… The sense of dramatic vividness is conveyed superbly by the cast, led by Lucy Crowe’s impulsive Vixen, brimming with joie de vivre and mischief and singing with airy ease…The generous coupling is every bit as compelling...All in all, an outstanding release, and a rewarding celebration of this wonderful composer’s art.'

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

Jodie Devos (Rosa), Tassis Christoyannis (Spiridion), Hélène Guilmette (Hélène), Edgaras Montvidas (Conrad), Yu Shao (Benedict), Raphaëlle Delaunay (Circée); Les Siècles, Accentus, François-Xavier Roth

'There are some dramaturgical wobbles and the score is uneven, though the best of it is magnificent…The recording itself is tremendous, conducted with infectious energy by François-Xavier Roth, and with Les Siècles really relishing every shift of colour in Saint-Saëns’s gorgeous orchestral palette. Edgaras Montvidas is a fine, empathetic Conrad… It’s immensely enjoyable, and one of Bru Zane’s finest achievements to date.'

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

DVD/Blu-ray of the Month

Emanuel Ax (piano), Wiener Philharmoniker, Bernard Haitink

'Rather than invoking a sacred-Wagnerian source for this music in the manner of Barenboim or Thielemann, his broader tempos, allied to some striking rhetorical cadences and the Vienna Philharmonic’s playing at its most luminous and transparent, establish a Beethovenian model of symphonic innovation taking inspiration from nature and folk culture...Like Karajan’s farewell Seventh – with the same orchestra, more fallible, more ardent, no less absorbing – it’s the work of a lifetime.'

Available Format: DVD Video

Emanuel Ax (piano), Wiener Philharmoniker, Bernard Haitink

Picture Format: 1080i / 16:9

Sound Format: PCM Stereo and DTS-MA 5.1

Available Format: Blu-ray

Reissue/Archive Issue of the Month

Marie Podvalová (Libuše), Stanislav Muž (Přemysl), Vilém Zítek (Chrudoš), Josef Vojta (Šťáhlav), Jaroslav Veverka (Lutobor), Ota Horáková (Krasava), Marta Krásová (Radmila), Josef Křikava (Radovan), Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Václav Talich

'The opera fragments are what make this CD unique, especially the intense portrayal of Libuše herself by the then-young soprano Marie Podvalová, bold, fearless singing, almost always dead in tune like a knife in the heart…There are ‘historic’ (ie old) recordings, and historic recordings (recordings of history being made). This release is most definitely in the latter category.'

Available Format: CD