Here are four of the best recent discs we're featuring this month on CPR Classical. See what else we've loved recently. Stream some of our current favorites on Spotify, and subscribe to the playlist for updates.
4 Classical Picks For January 2018
Contemporary choral music has evolved over the last few decades into a surprisingly homogenous genre. Many composers use the same lush, stacked harmonies to create predictably beautiful moments. Those stunning sonorities help drive the huge popularity of the genre. So what sets a recording apart in the midst this wash of warm tone clusters? Denver’s Kantorei and Norwegian composer Kim Andre Arnesen show us the power of emotional connection and subtle moments. About halfway through “Even When He is Silent,” a small but surprising harmonic shift occurs. Kantorei has spent the first half of the piece slowly building to that achingly gorgeous moment. The result leaves the listener thrilled and deeply moved. Another standout piece is “Infinity” which again combines unexpected harmonic shifts with eloquent musical execution for spine-tingling results. (Full disclosure: I sang with Kantorei more than a decade ago. My familiarity with the group leaves me even more impressed with this recording.)
The historical context of Franz Schubert’s Trout Quintet still seems astonishing. Schubert was only 22 years old and writing for a non-standard chamber ensemble in the last days of the Classical period. That’s not exactly the established path to creating a big hit, yet the piece has become one of the most famous chamber works from its time. The two big stars on this recording, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and pianist Daniil Trifinov, both play with a muscular Romantic virtuosity. Their performance balances that power against the playfulness of the Quintet writing. The result bursts with a joyful energy that is flat out fun to hear.
The Attacca Quartet has previously recorded stellar discs of John Adams’s complete string quartet music and Joseph Haydn’s monumental “The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross.” Those two bodies of work are very different, yet both composers deliver works of sophistication laced with wit and humor. Michael Ippolito’s pieces here are also a great fit for the ensemble. Although intense and often complex, these pieces also sound coherent and frequently tuneful. The performances crackle with emotional directness, especially in the darkly haunting String Quartet No. 2. This disc arrived a few months ago but it’s worth a listen if you haven’t gotten around to it.
Hear Ippolito's latest string quartet, performed by the Altius Quartet in the CPR Performance Studio, on the CPR Classical podcast Centennial Sounds.
The 450th anniversary of Claudio Monteverdi’s birth in 2017 inspired some wonderful new recordings of his music. Baroque specialist ensemble Les Arts Florissants began recording an overview of Monteverdi’s Madrigals in 2011. This release collects the complete recordings on three discs. The commitment involved in a project of this scope pays off in illuminating and vital performances. These recordings showcase Monteverdi’s innovative mastery of harmonic surprise and deft counterpoint. His music can still speak to the hearts of listeners after more than four centuries.