Classical CD Selections: Mark Pinto's Summertime Roundup

Aug 23, 2016

WRTI's Mark Pinto fills us in on the latest classical music CDs on (most) Saturdays at 5 pm on Classical New Releases. Here are five newly released recordings he recommends. Take a look!

Rachel Barton Pine, Testament: Complete Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin by J. S. Bach—The solo violin music of Bach is all grace and beauty in the hands of Rachel Barton Pine in this new recording of these peaks of the violin literature. She spools out Bach’s melodies and counter-melodies like strings of pearls, clearly articulating each note but never letting the momentum sag. Also impressive is the period instrument sound she achieves by using a baroque bow and vibrato-less touch on a “modern” instrument (a 1742 Guarneri del Gesu).

As Pine relates in the booklet notes, this is music from her earliest years as a violinist, which culminated at age 18 in her triumph at the International Johann Sebastian Bach Competition in Leipzig. There is an image of J. S. Bach in stained glass at Pine’s church in Chicago. So, too, this recording lovingly enshrines these towering achievements of the great master of counterpoint and harmony.

Michel Richard de Lalande: Symphonies pour Les Soupers du Roy, Simphonie du Marais, Hugo Reyne—Feast on some dinner music fit for a king! Michel Richard de Lalande (1657-1726), organist and composer of the French Baroque, and a contemporary of Lully and Francois Couperin, served at the court of King Louis XIV for more than 30 years. At Versailles, his principal responsibility was to compose church music.

His “grands motets,” which pleased Louis immensely, are viewed today as pinnacles of the form. But it was while de Lalande served as Master of the King’s Music, from about 1690 to 1713, that he composed the instrumental music for which he is best known. These twelve suites of symphonies accompanied the public dinners of Louis XIV, which served as grand entertainment for his subjects (it was an honor to watch the king eat his foie gras). 

Feast on some dinner music fit for a king!

This four-disc set, issued originally in 1990 and recently re-released, represents the first complete recording of these charming suites of dances, instrumental adaptations of songs, and pure instrumental movements. Instrumentation is uncertain in much of this music, but these period instrument performances serve up a pleasing variety of string and wind textures, with some added percussion and even vocal elements. The suites were performed regularly for nearly a half century, into the reign of Louis XV and well past the composer’s own death. Now you can savor five hours’ worth of these delightful musical morsels for your own dining and dancing pleasure.

Sol Gabetta, Peteris Vasks, Amsterdam Sinfonietta: Presence—Latvian composer Peteris Vasks takes the listener on a spiritual journey in these three pieces for cello. In his Cello Concerto No. 2 “Presence,” the instrument is a metaphor for the journey of the soul—from birth through the struggles of life to death and rebirth. It’s a beautifully conceived, tonally centered work that makes use of hymn-like chordal structures in the string orchestra accompaniment. 

In an especially ethereal moment, cellist Sol Gabetta, for whom this work was written, sings a wordless lullaby against the cello line, a haunting effect repeated in Gramata cellam (The book for solo cello), a more virtuosic piece that explores fascinating harmonics and effects. In the third work, Musique du Soir (Music of the Evening), for cello and organ, the organ generates a warm glow over which the cello sings its song. It’s a gorgeous and very moving work, evoking not only an evening, but also the twilight of one’s existence.

Despite occasional moments of agitation and discord in these pieces, the prevailing mood is one of tranquility. And in the enormously talented Argentine cellist Gabetta, Vasks has found a sympathetic voice to give expression to his spiritually infused musical ideas.        

 

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Arnold Schoenberg Choir, Concentus Musicus Wien, Beethoven: Missa Solemnis—Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s first period instrument recording of Beethoven’s late choral masterpiece is a triumphant and fitting legacy of a conductor best remembered for championing historically informed performances of Baroque and Classical repertoire. The esteemed Austrian conductor died at age of 86 this past March. His final public performances last summer at the Styriarte Festival in Graz have been captured for this recording, which finds Harnoncourt returning to his roots—conducting his Concentus Musicus Wien, which he founded in 1953 in Graz, where he was raised. 

The softer and subtler period instrument sonorities, along with the occasional fugal writing, effectively point up Beethoven’s musical link to J. S. Bach. And like Bach in his great B Minor Mass, Beethoven reverently adhered to the Latin texts in his setting, allowing them to dictate his frequent tempo and dynamic changes. Harnoncourt carefully balances his vocal and instrumental forces to give primacy to the text as well, in thrilling, untiring, and clearly enunciated performances by the Arnold Schoenberg Choir and a seamlessly blended quartet of vocal soloists. In a word: glorious!


 

Boston Symphony Orchestra, Andris Nelsons, Shostakovich Under Stalin’s Shadow: Symphonies 5, 8, 9—Riveting orchestral playing and spectacular sound add up to a knockout Shostakovich recording by the Boston Symphony. Critically acclaimed for their previous recording of the Tenth Symphony, the orchestra turns in some of the most cohesive, edge-of-the-seat playing you’re likely to experience, in these live concert performances of the composer’s triumphant Fifth, tragic Eighth, and easy-going Ninth symphonies. 

Particularly welcome here is the under-performed Eighth, an epic, volatile wartime symphony assailed by critics at its 1943 premiere, but generally regarded today as one of Shostakovich’s finest scores. Latvian-born music director Nelsons oversees these intelligently paced performances, building explosive climaxes and wringing out every ounce of drama and emotion.