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Friday, March 31, 2023

5 classical music albums worth listening to right now

Anna Netrebko, soprano; La Scala Theater Orchestra; Riccardo Chailly, conductor (Deutsche Grammophon)

Soprano Anna Netrebko has always brought more satisfaction personally – her voice flourishes in the vast space of the opera house – than on recordings, where her ultra-wide vibrato in close-up seems less expressive than unstable. On her new solo album, she struggles to cope with the long, lush lines of “Es gibt ein Reich” from “Ariadne auf Naxos”; soft phrases fluctuate in “Ritorna vincitor” (“Aida”) and “When I lie on the ground” (“Dido and Aeneas”); “Un bel dì” from Madame Butterfly sounds shaky from start to finish; high notes are complex throughout. She endures “Einsam in trüben Tagen” (“Lohengrin”) with a steely determination, and the lush “Dich, teure Halle” (“Tannhäuser”) seems to push her to the limit as well.

But 50-year-old Netrebko still has time to play the stage version of The Queen of Spades, performed here with passion. And “Liebestod” from “Tristan and Isolde”, although evocative to her, thrilling – and sometimes enthusiastic – is consistent. In the prelude to Tristan, the Théâtre Scala orchestra, conducted by musical director Riccardo Chailly, who needed to shine in the prelude to Tristan, is otherwise soft and very detached. Sola, perduta, abbandonata (Manon Lescaut) and especially Tu che le vanità (Don Carlo) convey the relevance of Netrebko’s best live performances with generous, incendiary and largely safe singing. ZACHARI WOLF

Sabina Devyi, soprano; Pygmalion; Raphael Pichon, conductor (Erato)

This touching release of Bach’s cantatas and Handel’s arias, recorded in a Parisian church a few days after it closed in France last December, is undoubtedly one of the most impressive albums to survive the pandemic. At the beginning of the song, soprano Sabine Deveye and lute player Thomas Dunford mourn the agony of Christ on the cross in the song “Mein Jesu! was vor Seelenweh ”, and ends with flames of trumpet praise with“ Alleluja ”, which concludes the cantata“ Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen ”- the album’s narrative arc – from sinfulness and repentance to faith and joy – is immensely satisfying.

This is largely due to the high level of detail that Pichon (Devia’s husband) draws from his stellar ensemble Pygmalion, including the blessing that Dunford wraps around Cleopatra in Pyangero, her second complaint from Julio Cesare; The energetic-impulsive organ solo of Mathieu Butino in a symphony from the opera “Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal”; and Sophie Ghent’s unearthly, almost purifying violin in Tu del Ciel ministro eletto, a heartbreaking plea for mercy from Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno. Devieilhe is at the center of it all, wielding her voice with dazzling harshness one moment and crushing tenderness the next. DAVID ALLEN

Anthony McGill, clarinet; Gloria Chien, piano (Sedil)

Brahms almost decided to retire when, in the early 1890s, he became friends with clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld and was inspired to write a number of major works, including two clarinet sonatas, which have long been the mainstay of the repertoire.

Anthony McGill, Principal Clarinet of the New York Philharmonic, and the magnificent pianist Gloria Chien offer vivid and insightful performances of sonatas on their new album. These works, like many of the late Brahms’ works, may seem heavy and dense, but this duo gives the notes an amazing transparency. Even in dark, tumultuous episodes, McGill and Chien play with casual zeal and eloquence.

Particularly impressive is the way they convey the coherence of the concluding movement of the second sonata, written as theme and variation – music that often seems awkwardly complex, with curious twists and turns. The album also includes a flamboyant account of Jesse Montgomery’s soft Peace, as well as a flamboyant, dazzling, but not ostentatious rendition of Weber’s virtuoso Grand Duo Concert, which sounds quite grand here. ANTHONY TOMMASINI

Attacca Quartet (Sony Classical)

The name Attacca Quartet comes from a musical term for playing without pauses. And the band seems to take it literally: their new album, “Of All Joys”, is their second this year since the release of their debut Sony Classical album “Real Life” in July.

Real Life is an adrenaline-pumping electronic dance record that remixes music like the Flying Lotus and a refreshingly broad take on a string quartet. “Of All Joys” – a fusion of Renaissance arrangements and contemporary works by Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass – couldn’t be more different, but its conceptual departure from Real Life suits an ensemble equally comfortable with Haydn and Caroline Shaw.

The Mishima Quartet of Glass is the only true string quartet on the new album, whose title is taken from a line from John Dowland’s song “Flow My Tears”. The rest is adaptation – an insistence on the elasticity of the music, supported by rich organ sounds in pieces like Dowland’s Lament or John Bennett’s Weep, O Mine Eyes.

An album full of “Mishima” at its core also testifies to how few ingredients are needed to create emotional intensity – as, for example, in the sudden changes of musicians during the quartet’s finale, between seething arpeggios and streaks of lyricism. At the end of Pärt’s frosty “Fratres”, you may find yourself trying to combine the title of the album with its solemn sound world. But perhaps joy is something outside of mood; it might just be about making and listening to music. JOSHUA BARONE

Stuart Goodyear, piano (Bright Shiny Things)

Not many artists would put Mussorgsky, Debussy, Jennifer Higdon and Anthony Davis on one album. But pianist Stuart Goodyear intriguingly discovers in all of them – and in two of Goodyear’s own plays, inspired by his Trinidadian roots – the fundamental influence of Liszt.

Goodyear’s game here has both a virtuoso flare and a deeply thought-out feeling. Moving closer to Davis’s “Middle Passage” – following Robert Hayden’s poem of the same name – he’s crafting more improvised pieces with a fighting force owed to his own 1980s reading of Davis on the Gramavision label. But Goodyear also refers to Davis with a meditative tinge that resembles a lavish rendition of “Middle Passage,” recorded by Ursula Oppens, who commissioned the piece.

The last line of Hayden’s poem “A Journey Through Death to Life on These Shores” provides a glimpse into the emotional range of the rest of the album. Excerpts from Debussy gambol and ruminate; Higdon’s Secret Gardens of Glass went from understated interiors to bold, attention-grabbing declarations. And Goodyear’s rendition of Paintings at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky also encompasses much, including the delightful Ballet of Unhatched Chickens and the majestic Great Gate of Kiev. SETH COLTER WALLS

World Nation News Desk
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