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 Gramophone Choices, Gramophone Editor's Choices - February 2021

Gramophone February 2021An ‘absolutely thrilling’ account of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 1 from Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra (coupled with an interpretation of the Symphonic Dances which lays bare what Edward Seckerson describes as ‘a substratum of regret and despair beneath the surface sparkle and rhythmic buoyancy’) takes the top honours this month; it’s the first instalment of a projected series which will be completed in 2023 to mark the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

Editor's Choices include Mark Simpson's Geysir and Mozart's Gran Partita from a crack team of wind soloists (including Simpson himself) on Orchid Classics, and English Music for Strings from John Wilson and Sinfonia of London on Chandos - more on this latter from us towards the end of the week!

Recording of the Month

The Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin

'There can be no underestimating the extraordinary legacy surrounding Rachmaninov and Philadelphia...[Nézet-Séguin's] ability to dig into that legacy while renewing its startling innovation makes for an exciting newness. Indeed, [his] account of the troubled First Symphony is as surprising and as thrilling as any I have heard since the much-lauded Ormandy account...An altogether stunning album.'

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

Editor's Choices

Sinfonia of London, John Wilson

'The players may have changed [since Barbirolli] but the spirit has not. And the sound. Sumptuous is one word – but because this is Wilson that goes hand-in-hand with the keenest articulation. There’s a rosiny immediacy about it all, like being on the podium, or better yet inside the sound...Wilson’s way with strings has come a long way from Hollywood – but the lustre is inescapable.'

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

James Ehnes (violin), Andrew Armstrong (piano)

'It’s captivating to hear what Andrew Armstrong does with his spotlight. He has a wonderful ability to create an atmosphere in an instant, as if he’s pulling the music out of the air...The conversation is spontaneous, the storytelling is packed with character, and both sonatas are played with an alertness that might feel impatient if it wasn’t so affectionate...A a wonderfully positive conclusion to a life-enhancing cycle.'

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Mark Simpson (clarinet), Nicholas Daniel (oboe), Ben Goldscheider (horn) et al

'In a teeming catalogue, this new Gran Partita more than holds its own. But the clinching factor for many will be Mark Simpson’s companion piece: a tour de force of wind colour and carefully controlled tension that makes an immediate impact and reveals more and more on repeated hearings...His elite players do him proud, in a performance of risk-taking virtuosity.'

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

Pierre Hantaï (harpsichord)

'His performances are clean-cut and thought-out, full of pert little trills and mordents, tasteful rhythmic dislocations and a variety of spread-chord formulations...Last, but not least, there is his busy and brilliant range of ornamentations, which can swell the sound, emphasise an individual moment or transform disjointed harpsichord notes into violin-like swirls and flourishes.'

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

Stephen Hough (piano)

'To call this a concept album would be to diminish its power and timeliness. It is both a meditation on the fragility of life and a Bergmanesque game of chess with Death, for which Hough has laid out his pieces and pawns in a masterstroke of programming...Two of Hough’s own arrangements, of a Korean traditional song and of Gounod/Bach, are at once transcendental and defiant: checkmate Death.'

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

Georg Nigl (baritone), Olga Pashchenko (fortepiano/piano)

'The voice – a distinctive instrument offering a hint of Christian Gerhaher’s refined artlessness and some of the pleasingly acidic tang of Wolfgang Holzmair – changes according to the accompaniment: feathery and intimate with fortepiano, declamatory and full with piano...All in all, this is a beguiling, intelligent and supremely sensitive recital, which continues to resonate long after its last note has died away. Highly recommended.'

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

Latvian Radio Choir, Sigvards Kļava

'These pieces have been recorded multiple times before, but the unforced natural expressivity of the singing as well as the accuracy of the intonation at all dynamic levels puts this new version very near the top of the list. Among the finest of the performances is that of Tota pulchra es, which communicates a feeling of ineffable timelessness at the opening as well as a sense of tremendous majesty at the organ-supported climax.'

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

Ensemble Les Surprises, Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas, Eugénie Lefebvre, Etienne Bazola

'The theme is love, but there’s nothing coy or sugary about either music or performances that embrace extremes of emotion and expression...Much of this is theatre music, and in the absence of a stage Les Surprises supply all the drama...There’s delight after delight here, both in repertoire – which includes plenty of lesser-known treasures – and performances. This is one French invasion to welcome with open arms.'

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

Nicole Chevalier (Leonore), Eric Cutler (Florestan), Gabor Bretz (Don Pizarro), Christof Fischesser (Rocco), Melissa Petit (Marzelline), Benjamin Hulett (Jaquino), Karoly Szemeredy (Don Fernando); Arnold Schoenberg Chor, Manfred Honeck, Christoph Waltz

'Manfred Honeck and Christoph Waltz show nothing but absolute faith in the dramaturgical success of the results...All the leads look and sound the part...Nicole Chevalier and Eric Cutler both excel, she in the even trickier fioriture of ‘Komm Hoffnung’ than the 1814 version, he in the more shaded, less black-and-white heroism of Florestan...the pacing throughout is taut and sure, including a good, old-fashioned quick pulse for ‘O namenlose Freude’. Don’t miss it.'

Available Format: DVD Video

Nicole Chevalier (Leonore), Eric Cutler (Florestan), Gabor Bretz (Don Pizarro), Christof Fischesser (Rocco), Melissa Petit (Marzelline), Benjamin Hulett (Jaquino), Karoly Szemeredy (Don Fernando); Arnold Schoenberg Chor, Manfred Honeck, Christoph Waltz

Picture format: 1080i / 16:9

Sound format: PCM stereo 2.0 & DTS-MA 5.1

Available Format: Blu-ray

'Performance-wise virtually nothing falls beneath a minimum high standard, Szerying’s tone warm yet refined, his phrasing musically sympathetic and his way with the faster music articulate and energetic rather than frenetic...Quite a few of the transfers here fall short of SWR Classic’s best for clarity but such is the magnificent quality of the music-making that I would recommend you employ a degree of tolerance.'

Available Formats: 5 CDs, MP3, FLAC