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Classical 101

Something Old, Something New: Favorite Releases from the Past Year

Looking into our music library and sampling some of the recordings we received during the past year, I was happy to find something old and something new to enjoy. Naxos is reissuing the symphonies of American composer Howard Hanson.  These originally appeared on Delos Records in the late 1980's with the Seattle Symphony conducted by Gerard Schwarz.  I liked them then, and its great to have them available again.  Hanson was much influenced by Jean Sibelius, and the first disc with the Nordic Symphony (1922) strongly suggests that comparison.  The other piece on the recording is a fascinating choral work, The Lament of Beowulf from 1925 (yes, from that medieval epic many of us had to read in high school).  The second and third discs I've heard are just as enticing, the Second Symphony, "Romantic" (from 1930 and his most popular), paired with Lux Aeterna and Mosaics, and the Third Symphony (1938), coupled with music from his opera Merry Mount. And speaking of Jean Sibelius, Naxos has also released a series of new recordings of his symphonies with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and its acclaimed young Finnish conductor Pietari Inkinen.  The ones I've heard, and enjoyed, are the big and Romantic Second Symphony, with the Karelia Suite as fill, and the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies paired on one disc, a fascinating set.  The Fourth Symphony, Sibelius's most austere, icy, but powerful music, contrasts with the warmth and sunshine of the finale of Symphony No. 5, one of his most popular (and my favorite). Back to something old:  Newton Classics (a label I had never heard of before) has done us a great favor by reissuing some wonderful old recordings of orchestral music of Ottorino Respighi.  The two-disc set includes some of my favorites.  The first disc has the famous 1957 recording of all three suites of the Ancient Airs and Dances with the Philharmonia Hungarica conducted by Antal Dorati.  Dorati also conducts the performances on the second disc, which include The Birds, Brazilian Impressions, Roman Festivals, and The Pines of Rome.  I enjoyed the second disc, too, but the first is an absolute treasure.  I still have the LP I bought many years ago. A new Mozart recording from Decca with Mitsuko Uchida and the Cleveland Orchestra:  Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, and No. 27 in B flat major.  One of the great Mozart pianists, Uchida has recorded these two concertos before, in the late 1980's  with Jeffery Tate conducting the English Chamber Orchestra.  Here, she leads the orchestra from the keyboard in very well-recorded performances of two great masterieces from Mozart's last years in Vienna. Finally,  like Mitsuko Uchida, Sir Simon Rattle has done it again:  a fine new recording of Gustav Mahler's , "Resurrection Symphony."  Rattle made a big splash in the mid 80's with his recording of this titanic work with the City of Birmingham Symphony, and now he has topped himself.  This new release from EMI Classics is with the Berlin Philharmonic and features the Berlin Radio Chorus, soprano Kate Royal, and mezz0-soprano Magdalena Kozena.  With beautifully clear sound, this dedicated performance is not to be missed. http://youtu.be/BXumoWSFXm0