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Presto Editor's Choices, Presto Editor's Choices - July 2023

Stuart MacRae: Earth, thy cold is keenPersonal favourites from July's crop of new releases include a matchless Mahler recital from Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton on Signum Classics, a starkly beautiful collection of new works by Stuart MacRae from mezzo Lotte Betts-Dean & Sequoia on Delphian, a stylish Spanish album from violinist Francesco Fullana and pianist Alba Ventura on Orchid Classics, and the start of a terrific new Mendelssohn series from French period-instruments ensemble Les Ambassadeurs ~ La Grande Écurie and Alexis Kossenko on Aparté.

Sarah Connolly (mezzo), Joseph Middleton (piano)

This series of Mahler's complete Lieder for voice and piano gets off to an impeccable start, with performances of three great song-cycles that stand comparison with Janet Baker's benchmark set with Barbirolli and the Hallé: Middleton summons such a range of tones and textures that you'll barely miss the orchestral colours, and Connolly is at the top of her considerable game, especially in a searing 'Um Mitternacht' and the distraught, guilt-ridden final song of Kindertotenlieder.

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

Les Ambassadeurs ~ La Grande Écurie, Alexis Kossenko

Pleasantly astringent strings and soft-grained woodwinds grab the attention from the opening bars of the Italian on this first instalment of a projected series from the French ensemble, with tautness and clarity the order of the day throughout. There's a real sense of chamber music writ large as motifs are playfully tossed from one section to another, and the period instruments lend an appropriately stark quality to the Reformation (the opening passage sounds for all the world like it's played by a viol consort). Definitely a project to watch.

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

Lotte Betts-Dean (mezzo), Sequoia

MacRae wrote the majority of the music on this album especially for Betts-Dean (the daughter of Hamlet composer Brett) after hearing her perform his The Lif of this World a few years ago, and it's easy to see why her distinctive, plangent voice and insightful way with text proved such a wellspring of inspiration. Scottish folk influences abound, especially in the opening The Captive and the purely instrumental Haroldswick, and the overall mood is one of spare, chilly beauty. Do try it.

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

Francisco Fullana (violin), Alba Ventura (piano)

I love the sense of light and space which the puckish Spanish violinist brings to this recital of music from his homeland - there's a fundamental sweetness to Fullana's tone which never crosses the line into sentimentality, and his willingness to step off the gas where others might be tempted to drive the sound too hard makes even the more familiar pieces sound fresh as paint. Sarasate's obstacle-course of left-hand pizzicati, harmonics and triple-stops is dashed off with insouciance, and Joan Manén's Catalan Caprice is a great find.

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

Niederrheinische Sinfoniker, Mihkel Kutson

Kalinnikov's short composing career was dogged by ill health (he died of tuberculosis aged just 35), and the late symphonic poem Le Cedre et le Palmier which opens this album comes across as a poignant yet clear-eyed farewell. The Symphony No. 1, by contrast, is full of bushy-tailed exuberance, the first movement's sunny melodies developed with imaginative flair and the Finale transforming them still further; the Andante commodamente, with striking use of harp ostinato and cor anglais, is a gem.

Available Format: SACD

Silesian String Quartet, Karolina Stalmachowska (oboe), Piotr Salajczyk (piano)

The Warsaw-born Mendelson spent much of his early career in Paris, and it shows - particularly in the delightful String Quartet No. 1 (one of only five surviving scores by a composer murdered in the Warsaw ghetto), where the harmonic language and textures sound like they could have sprung from the pen of Ravel. Two unpublished works by his compatriot Grażyna Bacewicz (both withdrawn by the composer) spring plenty of surprises: a short early student work positively teems with ideas, whilst the unsettled and unsettling Quatuor from the 1960s makes striking use of extended string techniques.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Martin Owen (horn), with Chris Parkes (horn), Alec Frank-Gemmill (horn), Sarah Willis (horn), BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, John Wilson

The principal horn of the BBC Symphony Orchestra audibly relishes every moment in the spotlight on this collection of Romantic horn concertos, taking the considerable technical challenges of the Weber Concertino (written for natural horn and featuring fiendish multiphonics and wide-ranging passagework) entirely in his stride. He's joined by three distinguished guests for Schumann's madcap Konzertstück, where the ebullience and razor-sharp precision of all four soloists is a joy.

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

Francesco Corti (harpsichord)

On paper, an exploration of the fusion of Northern and Southern Italian influences in the keyboard music of Frescobaldi might sound more like an academic treatise than a compelling recital-programme, but Corti brings it all to life with such colour and character that you'll be spellbound for the full 84 minutes. Stand-outs include the all-guns-blazing Capriccio sopra la Battaglia, some disconcertingly contemporary-sounding pieces by Giovanni de Macque, and a swaggering Gagliarda by Francesco Lambardo.

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