These new recordings have brought me a lot of pleasure over the past few months. May they do the same for you.
Here are a few gift suggestions for the lovers of classical music in your life. (The recordings are available as downloads and, merciful God, as CDs.)
Brahms: The Symphonies
Andris Nelsons conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra
The four symphonies by Johannes Brahms are an aural high-calorie delight — richly orchestrated with often more than one melody working its way through.
For years, the Boston Symphony, my hometown band, was marketed as "The Aristocrat of Orchestras." (Would such a brand be possible in these more cynical times?)
Certainly, they sounded sublime; the term "elegant" comes to mind in the acoustically glorious Symphony Hall. These recordings of live performances capture the hall’s acoustic splendor — a perfect setting for an orchestra sill aristocratic, but unafraid to be a bit raucous when the music so demands.
Boston Symphony conductor Andris Nelsons doesn't forget that Brahms loved the country dances and tavern songs he heard during his daily walks through Vienna. This treasure is a three-CD set from the Boston Symphony’s own label.
Palestrina: Missa Papae Marcelli and Motets
The Sistine Chapel Choir conducted by Massimo Palombella
This time last year, CBS' 60 Minutes did a segment on the Sistine Chapel Choir. The point was made that music-making in the most beautiful, august space in the world had gone downhill for years.
A new conductor, Massimo Palombella, and a college of cardinals — many of whom manage to stay awake during its concerts — have revitalized the choir. The result is a lovely new recording of music by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594).
In 1551, Palestrina was named maestro di musica of the Vatican’s Cappella Giulia. Today’s Sistine Chapel Choir descends from the composer’s career within the Vatican.
Included on the recording is the famed Pope Marcellus Mass. This splendid mass earned its namesake, Pope Marcellus II, one of his two footnotes in history. (The other one is the fact of his death three weeks after being named Pope in 1551.)
Never mind. His holiness rejoices in heaven for this splendid new recording. The Sistine Chapel has been a miracle since Michelangelo painted its ceiling in 1512. In 2017, the Sistine Chapel Choir is back.
Sibelius: Kullervo and Kortekangas: Migrations
Minnesota Orchestra, YL Male Voice Choir, soprano Lilli Paasikivi, baritone Tommi Hakala, conducted by Osmo Vanska
For years, I’ve been trying to convince the Columbus Symphony to collaborate with the Ohio State University Men’s Glee Club, the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus and the gentlemen of the CSO Chorus to present the Kullervo symphony by Jean Sibelius.
Sibelius repudiated Kullervo later in his life, considering it juvenilia. But being a great composer doesn’t mean you are always right.
The Minnesota Orchestra and conductor Osmo Vanska with the YL Male Voice Choir give a thrilling performance of this story taken from the Kalevala. It’s a tragedy, a brother-and-sister couple who doesn't know about their relation.
The orchestra gallops and sings. The vast expanse of Sibelius' musical loneliness blends with a quasi-operatic telling of the story. Columbus Symphony et al, pay attention!
Pretty Yende: Dreams
South African soprano Pretty Yende is on her way to becoming opera’s No. 1 box-office attraction.
It's a compact, dazzling, light soprano, with just enough metal to sustain the drama of Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Vincenzo Bellini’s La Straniera and Charles Gounod's Romeo et Juliette. For contrast, we get the razzle-dazzle coloratura of Giacomo Meyerbeer's Dinorah and all of the above in the splendor of Bellini's La Sonnambula.
Sometimes it's nice to wallow in a beautiful voice. Wallow here.