The Best of the Fall Season: Classical New Releases

Dec 12, 2016

WRTI's Mark Pinto fills us in on the latest classical music CDs on Saturdays after the opera on Classical New Releases. Check out five newly released recordings he recommends!

Trio Solisti: Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. Intense, passionate performances by "the most exciting piano trio in America" (The New Yorker) elevate these memorial works by two great Russian composers.

Tchaikovsky's only piano trio was written "to the memory of a great artist," his teacher, mentor, and close friend Nikolai Rubinstein. Its exuberant music, particularly in the theme-and-variations second movement, is more a life celebration than a funeral.  This movement boasts one of the busiest and most difficult piano parts Tchaikovsky ever composed. 

Rachmaninoff's early Trio élégiaque No. 2 was written to memorialize Tchaikovsky. By turns impassioned, melancholy, angry and mournful, the work wholly encapsulates in music the stages of grief.

Love Story: Piano Themes from Cinema's Golden Age. Pianist Valentina Lisitsa will leave you waxing nostalgic for the "golden age" of motion pictures with her performances, not to mention the period-evoking cover and booklet photos, on her marvelous new recording with the BBC Concert Orchestra. 

Lisitsa—a star of the Internet's "small screen"—gives nuanced and sensitive performances of the dreamier aspects of this romantic music, but also has plenty of opportunities to flash her dexterous technique.  Soaring strings, surging brass, and thundering piano characterize the Rachmaninoff-like sonorities of these gorgeously played scores, drawn mainly from British films of the '40s through the early '60s.

In between familiar favorites like Addinsell's Warsaw Concerto and Bath's Cornish Rhapsody are such welcome surprises as Shostakovich's pulse-pounding Assault on Beautiful Gorky from The Unforgettable Year 1919, some lively solo piano Americana from Dave Grusin's music to On Golden Pond, and Carl Davis's airy, suitably Mozartian theme from Pride and Prejudice.

Mahler: Symphonie No. 1. Our Yannick Nézet-Séguin works orchestral magic with the Bavarian Radio Symphony in a recording one critic has called "the most perfect Mahler First Symphony since [Rafael] Kubelik's recording 49 years ago." (BBC Music Magazine).   

It's a fresh and thrilling reading of Mahler's colorful score. Yannick elicits the most cantabile string and wind playing from the ensemble. He delicately pushes and pulls tempos, to great expressive effect, without sacrificing the music's propulsiveness. 

Mahler's atmospheric effects—bird calls, trumpet fanfares, etc.—merge vividly from the orchestral backdrop and with a sense of spontaneity. Tutti playing is tight, with every solo moment imbued with significance and an almost improvisatory feel. And with its spacious and spectacular recorded sound, you'll definitely want to crank this one way up and savor its delights.

Third Coast Percussion: Steve Reich. The compositional style known as minimalism still sounds so new that it's hard to believe one of its pioneers—New York City's Steve Reich—has just turned 80. This album, by Chicago-based Third Coast Percussion, celebrates Reich's milestone with smooth, spirited, and precise performances of four works for tuned percussion: marimbas, vibraphones, pianos, and even slats of purpleheart wood. 

Composed between 1973 and 2009, these works showcase Reich's trademark style. Steady, complex, interlocking rhythmic patterns create jazzy melodies and harmonies as they evolve subtly in their rhythms, textures, instrumentation, and dynamics. The effect is fascinatingly kaleidoscopic, allowing for multiple entry points into this dynamic and uniquely American music.

Atterberg Orchestral Works: Neeme Järvi. Chandos has released a fine series of recordings of the captivating and delightful orchestral music of 20th century Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg, recorded during and following Neeme Järvi's long tenure as chief conductor of Sweden's Gothenburg Symphony. 

Except for a brief period of study at Stockholm's Royal College of Music—while he also obtained a degree in electrical engineering—Atterberg was largely self-taught as a composer. The confident, mature style of his orchestral works is manifest in big, bold strokes highlighted by colorful instrumental solos, clearly stated and developed themes, and an innovative, often striking use of harmony. 

This particular volume features stirring and evocative works from three different points of his career. His early, evocative Symphony No. 3 "West Coast Pictures" has a film score sweep to it, with epic horn outbursts and lovely solo moments from the harp and celesta.

Listen to Classical New Releases on WRTI, every Saturday after the opera with host Mark Pinto.