Classical, May 2022

hfnalbum.pngLes Siècles/François-Xavier Roth
Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande
Harmonia Mundi HMM905352.54 (three discs; downloads to 96kHz/24-bit res)

Conversational intimacy is the key signature of this studio but live-sounding production. A French-native cast – diction so clear that the libretto is almost superfluous – is headed by Alexandre Duhamel's impulsive Golaud, unusually but convincingly youthful as an older brother to the artless Pelléas of Julien Behr. The intense fragility of Vannina Santoni's Mélisande makes a perfect foil to them both, like a butterfly in the swirling mist of Maeterlinck's symbolism. Even more striking and impressive is the palette of glowing colours from the period instruments of Les Siècles, shaded so lovingly by Roth's direction and paradoxically revealing the influence of Wagner. It's an ideal starting-point for an endlessly absorbing score. PQ


Le Concert des Nations/Savall
Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 6-9
Alia Vox AVSA9946 (three SACDs)

Jordi Savall grasps the music beyond the notes: the spiritual calm after the Storm in No 6, the almighty din to launch No 9's finale, the earthy but elevated spirit of the contredanse to end No 7. The notes themselves are hardly less impressive: rustic clarinet, incisive timpani and a good-strength string section all making perfect sense of the composer's metronome marks, even in the flowing love-song of the Ninth's Adagio. Reticent trumpets in the 'Ode to Joy' are the only drawback to a crisp and resonant studio production made in the stone chapel of a Catalonian hill-fortress. Savall joins Mackerras and Brüggen at the top of the pile for a Beethoven cycle. PQ


Elisabeth Leonskaja
Mozart: Complete Piano Sonatas
Warner Classics 0190296457807 (six discs)

The first fruits of a new contract with Warner find the Georgian-born Viennese pianist on sovereign form, with finesse, power and musical instincts at the keyboard undimmed in her late 70s. They set her apart from fashionably artful imitations of vocal legato and thistledown passagework in this music: even the teenage early pieces and 'Sonata facile' K545 benefit from a surprising depth of touch and a long, pearly finish to the tone. The tempestuous A minor is taken in a broad, Schubertian cantabile and the long variation movements of K284 and K331 offer reflective rewards. It's 'late' Mozart playing, but Leonskaja always knows how to make the piano smile. PQ


Todos los Tonos y Ayres
Music from 17th & 18th century Beijing
IBS Classical IBS142021 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

Anyone who encountered Joseph-Marie Amiot's Mass for the Jesuits in Beijing will have hoped for a sequel. Here it is: 17th-century sacred motets and romances composed for and/or sung by Christian communities in the Chinese capital. The present of a spinet to the Emperor apparently sparked a cordial exchange between local and missionary musicians, encapsulated here by Amiot's Chinese-language Sanctus for soprano, erhu and bells, and a lovely Divertissement of instrumental airs: Rameau meets Chinese opera. Easygoing performances, airy sound and full annotations support this example of east-meets-west globalisation. PQ