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 March 2018
The story behind the rediscovery of Florence Price’s violin concertos is a stunner -- one that the the New Yorker, New York Times, and NPR Music have found irresistible. A couple finds a sheaf of handwritten sheet music while renovating an abandoned house in 2009. The music turns out to be the work of Price, an African-American composer overlooked because of her race and gender. Among the papers are two violin concertos, lost for decades.
The first recording of these pieces has finally arrived and it’s fantastic. Price’s two Violin Concertos deserve to outlive the hype. The Second Concerto, written in 1952, stands as a masterpiece. From the brooding opening chords, the piece surges forward with tunefulness in the violin writing. Price’s development is efficient and her themes retain the character of the spirituals that fueled many of her previous works. Soloist Er-Gene Kangh’s playing matches the virtuosic playfulness of the writing. The music is sometimes dense but always emotionally riveting.
I was nearly fooled into dismissing the new CD by Cecilia Bartoli and Sol Gabetta. The too-cute cover photo shows the musicians posing with a parasol and bicycles and lists their first names only in a large, fancy script. This disc looked inconsequential, but any concerns dissolved within moments of pressing play and hearing the delicate sweetness of the music. The “sweet duels” referenced in the title are a series of joyous baroque arias in which the solo cello line is equal in importance to the solo voice. The effervescent playing is so truly fun-filled that the cover photo makes sense. The disc celebrates virtuoso sparring between cello and voice, and the friendly spirit that pervades the music is infectious.
Pairing standard works with unknown pieces invites listeners to explore a larger musical universe. The best of these pairings strike a balance between familiarity and discovery. Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestucke and Franz Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata stand together as Romantic standards. What distinguishes cellist Kian Soltani’s new recording is following those masterworks with music of Iranian-born composer Reza Vali. His Persian Folk Songs echo the song roots of Schubert and Schumann. That similarity to the European classics builds a bridge to the Iranian sounds. Soltani’s supple tone is a delight and his total lack of bombast is irresistible.
It’s important not to lose sight of what makes Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata special, especially after hearing too many second-rate performances. This recording captures a first-rate artist seeking the true essence of Beethoven. Similar to restoring a painting by cleaning away layers of dirt and misguided changes, musicians can go all the way back to the original manuscript and attempt to rediscover the composer’s original intentions. The latest published attempt to find the authentic heart of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” and “Hammerklavier” Sonatas was edited by Murray Perahia, and this recording reflects what he learned along the way. Perahia delivers authoritative performances with his usual commanding directness.