Five of the best new releases we're featuring this month on CPR Classical.
The Colorado Symphony and Chorus appear here in their first recording with Music Director Andrew Litton. Vaughan Williams' cantata "Dona Nobis Pacem" is a moving and powerful entreaty for peace written in 1936 when the tensions of impending war were already casting a shadow over Europe.
This recording captures a performance that is emotionally urgent and stunning in its beauty. Stephen Hough's "Missa Mirabilis" is an excellent complement to the Vaughan Williams. Typical of Hough's music, the piece is attractively engaging, rhythmically vibrant and full of melody. Litton and the CSO have delivered a winner.
Mahan Esfahani is a staggeringly gifted player who pairs virtuosic technique with a deep musical sensitivity. This disc of solo harpsichord music is a delight. His showcase performance of C.P.E. Bach's 12 Variations on "Les Folies d'Espagne" is a highlight. The composition itself is packed with a variety of invention and is a wonderful example of why C.P.E. stands on his own as a composer outside of his father's shadow.
But Esfahani embodies more than just sheer virtuosity. He really makes the harpsichord sing and wrings a surprising amount of color and texture from his instrument. That skill really pays off in his performances of Gorecki and Reich, where the textures and shading of his playing add a new dimension to the minimalist scores originally written for piano.
CPR Classical listeners were lucky to get a preview of this release last Winter when pianist Orli Shaham played much of this material in a live broadcast from her Aspen Music Festival winter concert series recital. Shaham frames three of Brahms' late piano sets -- Opus 117, 118, and 119 -- with works by Schubert, Schumann and Chopin that inspired Brahms, as well as contemporary works from Bruce Adolphe, Avner Dorman, and Brett Dean.
Her playing across the board is warm and intelligent, shading the music with a range of emotions and creating some very special moments. Dorman's "After Brahms" is a standout, especially the thoughtful, intimate and beautiful final movement. If you want to hear just how great Shaham is, check out her performance on the Schoenberg. She imbues these brief atonal expressionist movements with personality and charm, and that is not an easy task.
The Seattle Symphony continues to be one of the more interesting American orchestras recording today. Last year they released John Luther Adams' Pulitzer Prize-winning "Become Ocean," a piece they also commissioned. Their follow-up is a pairing of two pieces that show European composers reacting to America with their music.
Edgard Varese's sound masses and intricate percussion seem quite removed from the Romantic luster of Dvorak's symphonic masterpiece, but the two pieces were written less than 30 years apart ("New World" in 1893, "Ameriques" in 1921).
What makes this disc great is pairing the two pieces. In context with each other, Dvorak brings out the Romantic underpinnings of Varese's modernist language, while Varese underscores the drama and brings a freshness to the Dvorak.
Paul Lansky's new chamber canata "Contemplating Weather" is a surprise if you are expecting dense and academic music from a Princeton professor best known for computer music.
After decades focused on electronics, Lansky has spent most of the last 10 years writing again for acoustic instruments. With "Contemplating Weather," he has created a very human piece about our interaction with clouds, rain, snow, and storm. The music is at turns funny and tragic, but always proceeds with a grace and beauty that is compelling and endearing.