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 Presto Editor's Choices, Presto Editor's Choices - March 2021

Isolation SongbookPersonal favourites from this month's releases include a rich and varied collection of new songs commissioned during lockdown by mezzo Helen Charlston and baritone Michael Craddock (featuring music by composers including Owain Park, Héloïse Werner and Kerensa Briggs), an electrifying Charles Ives cycle from Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Florence Price's complete Fantasies Nègres from pianist and musicologist Samantha Ege.

Helen Charlston (mezzo), Michael Craddock (baritone), Alexander Soares (piano)

Witty and touching in equal measure, this personal but deeply relatable lockdown project from a young husband-and-wife-to-be stemmed from Owain Park’s appropriately bitter-sweet setting of a poem which Charlston wrote for her fiancé to mark what would have been their wedding-day last year. Other highlights include Joshua Borin’s darkly funny Nature is Returning (sung with savage brilliance by Charlston), and Stephen Bick’s setting of Milton’s On His Blindness, which resonates powerfully in this period of ‘standing and waiting’.

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

Featuring the first complete recording of Price’s Fantasies Nègres, this exuberant, enormously enjoyable recital was born out of Ege’s fascinating research into the music of Black female composers working in and around Chicago in the 1930s, and her love and understanding of these pieces shines through every phrase. Price’s fusion of African-American spirituals with late-Romantic style is heady, compelling stuff, with the original, near-symphonic version of the Fantasie No. 1 making for an arresting opener.

Available Format: CD

Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Gustavo Dudamel, Marta Gardolińska

Ives’s four symphonies encompass a dizzying array of styles, and Dudamel and his LA players respond to their Protean challenges with easy aplomb: whilst there’s plenty of Hollywood gloss where required, the folk-inspired Americana episodes have a properly homespun, outdoorsy charm. And the organised chaos of the Fourth’s ‘Comedy’ is so well-balanced (in every respect) that you could take dictation from the recording were you so inclined.

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

Danny Driver (piano)

Driver’s clarity and brilliance across the whole dazzling gamut of these three sets of studies (composed between 1985 and 2001) will take your breath away – so much so, in fact, that you might want to take a couple of intervals along the way to let it all sink in! His technical wizardry in pieces like L'escalier du diable and Der Zauberlehrling (both from Book 2) is knock-out stuff, but he’s equally beguiling in the more lyrical moments, such as the lovely Arc-en-ciel toward the end of Book 1.

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

Sophie Rosa (violin), Ian Buckle (piano)

Viotti’s sunny A major sonata gets this thoughtfully-programmed (and beautifully played) recital off to an engaging start, but the real revelation is the Montgeroult, published in 1800: most of the heavy lifting here falls to the pianist rather than the violinist, and Rosa proves an adept, self-effacing accompanist to Buckle’s fireworks in the Scherzo in particular. Weber’s little sonata for amateur musicians makes for a super coda, with plenty of Spanish swagger in the opening movement and some striking low piano writing in the Polonaise-finale.

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

Katharina Konradi (soprano), Daniel Heide (piano)

This sparkling Kyrgyzstan-born light-lyric soprano recently scored a palpable hit as Sophie in the Bavarian State Opera’s live-streamed Der Rosenkavalier, and that same combination of crystalline delicacy and youthful sensuality pays huge dividends in this lovely programme of lieder by Mozart , Strauss and Schubert: the former’s ‘Warnung’ is despatched with knowing wit that sits just the right side of archness, and she brings a tender fragility to Strauss’s ‘Leises Lied’.

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

Steven Isserlis (cello), Connie Shih (piano)

Isserlis and Shih really capture the intimacy of the salon in this programme commemorating Proust’s 150th birthday and featuring music by his friends and favourites: Fauré’s Élégie has rarely sounded so fresh and multi-faceted, and the Variations chantantes sur un air ancient by Proust’s lover Hahn has an appropriately early music-ish feel to it. Gloves come off, though, for the electrifying finale of the Saint-Saëns sonata and the second movement of the Franck, where both players summon enormous reserves of energy and colour.

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

Janusz Wawrowski (violin), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Grzegorz Nowak

The slightly buttoned-up account of the Tchaikovsky may not stand out in a crowded field, but fans of works like the Korngold concerto (which would have made for an interesting pairing) will want to hear this for the world premiere of Ludomir Rózycki’s Violin Concerto, written in 1944 and discovered in a suitcase in the garden of the composer’s abandoned house in Warsaw; there’s a gorgeous cinematic sweep to the opening Andante, whilst the quirky, scintillating Allegro deciso includes some exhilarating sparring between soloist and tuned percussion.

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