Classical, December 2023

hfnalbum.pngPierre-laurant Aimard, SFS/Salonen
Bartók: Piano Concertos Nos 1-3
Pentatone PTC5187029 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

A Hungarian passport isn't essential to pass 'Go' in this music on CD, but top-notch engineering is: we're almost under the lid of Aimard's piano, and a decent system will get the San Francisco Symphony's timpanist pounding beneath your feet. Yet the effect is never aggressive, even in the Allegro barbaro of No 1, because Aimard and Salonen make such natural and musical sense of pieces often treated as an excuse to rough up an audience. I love the lopsided night-watch marchers at the heart of No 1 as much as the sensuous nocturne in No 2 and the Mozartian simplicity of No 3's Adagio religioso. Schiff and Anda have never won me over to these concertos in all their exotic, sometimes baffling diversity, but Aimard does. PQ


Pygmalion/Raphael Pichon
Monteverdi: Vespro Della Beata Vergine
Harmonia mundi HMM902710.11 (two discs; downloads to 96/24)

First presented as a son et lumière event across southern France, this is widescreen Monteverdi, sumptuously performed and recorded. A rich continuo contingent supports a weighty string band and a thrilling battalion of winds. Pichon's grand pacing and use of space brings a refreshing reminder of the scale of the Vespers as conceived for the St Mark's Basilica. The top line of the 40-strong choir fairly pierces the air, but the soloists use their natural vibrato to project their psalms and hymns with an exquisite, madrigalesque tension between declamation and reflection. We haven't had a Vespers like it since Gardiner's in Venice, almost 35 years ago [Archiv]. PQ


Danish CO/Adam Fischer
Haydn: Symphonies Nos 93-95
Naxos 8574516 (downloads to 44.1kHz/16-bit resolution)

Fischer's Haydn cycle for Nimbus is showing its age, and outclassed by the precision, the energy and characterful phrasing of the Danish CO players. Some stylish new ideas in Fischer's direction always serve the drama and the contrast between town and country idioms in Haydn's symphonic dialogues. The RCA engineering for Paavo Järvi's Haydn is more forensic [HFN Oct '23] – you'll have to turn the dial right up at the beginning of 94(ii), and then you'll really get a surprise. The C minor 95 also crackles with purpose before finding a proto-Beethovenian pathos for (ii). All three minuets are beautifully weighted, especially the broad-shouldered (iii) of 93. PQ


Philharmonia Orch & CH/Santtu-Matias Rouvali
Mahler: Symphony No 2 'Resurrection'
Philharmonia/Signum SIGCD760 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit res)

This one-off, live RFH recording mostly belies its origins in a classically taut and meticulously score-sensitive opening trio of orchestral movements. Mezzo Jennifer Johnston raises the emotional temperature with an 'Urlicht' of grave but consoling dignity, respecting the origins of the song as a prayer for the nearly departed. When the apocalypse arrives in (v), Rouvali pulls back and out to stagey effect. The microphones favour vocal and orchestral soloists over the chorus, and the heavens finally open with gilded splendour rather than the weight of Bychkov [Pentatone] or the ecstatic fervour of Jurowski [LPO]. PQ