It’s been a particularly pleasing month or so for listening to music, with some very good new albums available – and of course, they’re just hitting the marketplace at the right time for Christmas.
But while there’s much lightness around – and how welcome is that in such uncertain times? – to start with, a very serious work.
Half a century on from the Aberfan disaster that killed 116 children and 28 adults, Welsh language TV channel S4C commissioned Karl Jenkins to write a piece for the anniversary.
A recording of the finished work, Cantata Memoria: for the children, was released in time for the anniversary itself on 21 October just gone.
A large-scale choral piece, including children’s choirs, it’s sung in Welsh, English and Latin – with phrases in other languages, that are aimed at giving the work a sense of meaning beyond the valleys.
The first part, Pitran, Patran – a Welsh-language reference to the sound of the rain – has the children in assembly, singing All Things Bright and Beautiful, while in the background the rumble of the impending disaster can be heard.
In that black silence
Not a sound.
It is given voice by Bryn Terfel – a poignant, haunting cry of Wagnerian power.
Throughout, as Jenkins develops his themes, we hear the lightness of young voices, reworking of Welsh songs, schoolyard bragging and nods to the requiem mass.
It is a powerful work; profoundly moving and entirely appropriate.
Now available on Deutsche Grammophon.
A very large number of people in the UK will be familiar with Grieg’s Piano Concerto (he only wrote one) – or at least, they’ll have heard the first few bars, because they were key to the iconic Morecambe and Wise sketch with André ‘Preview’.
In Wonderland, Alice Sara Ott gives us a wonderful reading of the work: so light on the one hand, yet also so full of power and passion on the other. It is simply sublime, with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks giving excellent backing to the soloist.
It is, though, a brief entry in the history of concerti, and the rest of this disc contains various lyric pieces by the same composer. The playing remains consistently excellent throughout, but the music itself never reaches the heights of the concerto.
However, that alone makes it very much worth adding to a collection.
Available now on Deutsche Grammophon.
On very different note, Jonas Kaufmann has a new album out. Dolce Vita gives the great tenor the chance to enjoy an Italian sound, including that old classic, Volare.
It’s the sort of selection over which some purists might scoff – but set them to one side. This is Kaufmann and it’s a light delight. And I absolutely dare you not to love that Volare!
Now available on Sony Classical.
And so to something completely different – recorder virtuoso Lucie Horsch’s debut album, a selection of Vivaldi pieces, including four concertos.
The music has the familiar zip and lightness of Vivaldi and, still only 17, Horsch reminds us that the recorder is far, far more than that boring instrument many of us were forced to try at school.
Lucie Horsch: Vivaldi is now available on Decca.
Daniil Trifonov has been hailed as the finest young pianist of our age. His latest recording – a two-disc selection of Liszt piano music, under the title Transcendental – gives us the 12-part Transcendental Etudes, the Two Concert Etudes, the Three Concert Etudes and the six Paganini Etudes.
Liszt, of course, demands virtuosity and it’s here by the bucketload, but Trifonov also brings a lightness of touch as well as firmness to his playing, and a beautiful sweep to this music.
Now available on Deutsche Grammophon.
Also providing a display of solo virtuosity is Albrecht Mayer, with Vocalise, a selection of pieces arranged for the oboe.
Ranging across four centuries, from Bach to Marcello, highlights include an exquisite reading of Debussy’s Claire de Lune, music that beautifully evokes the moonlight of the title.
An album of beautiful tone: now out on Deutsche Grammophon.
Not all my recent listening has been of such new recordings, though.
Having decided that there was a ludicrous gap in my collection in Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, I took the time to check out Gramophone’s article on the best recordings available.
Now I love Suzie Templeton’s 2009 animated version of the piece, which has no narrator, but the Gramophone article was invaluable, since everybody and their aunt seems to have recorded it.
In the end, I opted for a recording that gives us very much an eccentric aunt as narrator in the wonderful Hermione Gingold, with exemplary playing from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under Karl Böhm.
It is a delight, with Gingold providing an excellent storyteller.
Read the full Gramophone article here.
The recording also includes Carnival of Animals by Saint-Saëns – also with Gingold in fine form as narrator, relishing the easy rhyme of this piece.
All in all – pleasure.
Available on Deutsche Grammophon (although the price has increased by more than double since I got it: I presume it’s only available as an import).