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.
We almost lost the Minnesota Orchestra with a lockout in 2012 that led music director Osmo Vänskä to resign in 2013. Now the labor issues have been resolved and Vänskä returned to the podium. The ensemble is back to making some of the finest recordings from any American orchestra. Earlier this year, they released a wonderful recording of Sibelius’s “Kullervo” as a postscript to their acclaimed cycle of his symphonies. Now they are embarking on a cycle of Mahler symphonies, and this recording of Symphony No. 5 sets a high bar for the rest of the series. The tempos are unrushed and the intensity is never overwhelming, leaving the listener with the opportunity to discover new emotional subtleties in Mahler’s expansive soundscapes.
As today’s Baroque ensembles explore a larger range of the music of the past, we get a clearer picture of the staggering depth and variety of music from the Baroque period. This excellent recording shows off some French and German chamber music for woodwinds. The ensemble’s name means “small chamber music” and the intimacy of this music is incredibly effective. The playing is graceful and engaging, with the double reed instruments taking on warm vocal characteristics. The French repertoire is especially fun, with a joyous dancing quality that inspires repeated listening.
When we see a new chamber music configuration emerge (take the lineup of yMusic, for example, or the ensemble for Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire”) it can be hard to predict if we are seeing the beginning of a new standard grouping. Joseph Haydn began focusing on the string quartet a little over 250 years ago. He established the artistic and expressive prominence for the ensemble that continues to this day with his Opus 20 set from 1772. Along with Volume 1 from last year, this recording from the Chairoscuro Quartet presents the whole of Opus 20 with a particular attention to authenticity that transcends technical attention to historical detail. These performances embrace Haydn’s playful innovations in the spirit of a new music performance.
We receive many recordings of new piano talent, each usually with a long list of competition wins and performance engagements. The problem is that a listener can be so overrun with high-caliber recordings that all of those pianists seem interchangeable. The most memorable discs come from players who find the right combination of repertoire to highlight their strengths. Nikita Mndoyants has the requisite stack of competition wins and international performance bona fides, but his connection with the pieces on this release sets this recording apart. He exploits the sharp wit of Sergei Prokofiev’s "Sarcasms," but also finds the tenderness in Beethoven’s late "Six Bagatelles." His ability to connect with the humanity of the music shines in his characterizations of Robert Schumann’s varied dances.