Classical, August 2023

hfnalbum.pngAlexander Melnikov
Fantaisie: JS Bach, Mendelssohn, Schnittke, etc
Harmonia mundi HMM902702 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

Seven composers, seven keyboards: this becomes an absorbing journey through two centuries of keyboard colour and repertoire. Melnikov's relaxed, French articulation of JS Bach's Chromatic Fantasy suits its placement at the head of the album, before he tightens the screw a touch for CPE on a twangy tangent piano. The D minor Fantasy of Mozart becomes a private meditation on grief, on a Walter fortepiano; the more sonorous tones of a later Viennese model drape dark velvet curtains around Mendelssohn. On it goes: Érard for Chopin, Bechstein for Busoni – Bach reimagined in creation and recreation – and finally Steinway for Schnittke, imparting a mountainous majesty to a 1965 Improvisation And Fugue. PQ


Les Talens Lyriques/Rousset
Spontini: La Vestale
BruZane BZ1051 (two discs, downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

The vestal-virgin opera that inspired Beethoven, Berlioz and Wagner, famous as a Callas event, in horrible sound. How does it stack up in a first-class modern studio recording? Altogether stronger than in the unevenly cast live Muti set [Sony]: Rousset never lets the temperature drop in or between the set-pieces (terrific chorus work), and the period-French band always complements the singers. They are led by Marina Rebeka in the title role, heroic and affecting despite a 'covered' chest register. As her lover, de Barbeyrac makes up in agility what he lacks in vocal heft; there's plenty of that to go around from the splendidly named Aude Extrémo. PQ


David Le Page, Orch of the Swan/ Philip Sheppard
Signum SIGCD732 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

Two previous 'mixtape' albums from this source are fixtures on my replay list. As curator, David Le Page is your nerdy teenage mate – 'listen to this, it'll change your life'. Not everything has to grab you – alas, Frank Zappa will never change my life – but Le Page's bluegrass-squeezebox cover of Lou Reed's Venus In Furs is a triumph, followed by a sensuously laid-back take on Portishead's Glory Box (vocals from the early-music singer Clara Sanabras). Jessie Montgomery's Starburst picks up the tempo before a Delius Aquarelle in the lounge style winds it down towards, of all things, the final 'Salutation' from Finzi's Dies Natalis. PQ


Huelgas Ensemble/Paul Van Nevel
Daser: Polyphonic Masses
DHM 196587933326 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit res)

A notable first on record for major works by the predecessor of Lassus as Kapellmeister to the Bavarian court. Ludwig Daser (1526-89) moved on to a similarly prestigious post in Stuttgart, but both these Masses are opulently contrapuntal showpieces from his Munich period. The six-voice Missa Praeter Rerum Seriem (taking its title and material from a Josquin motet) exults in its flamboyantly Venetian spatial disposition of parts and glittering cadences. The more modestly proportioned Missa Fors Seulement appropriately draws more sombre and restrained singing from the 12 mixed voices of the Huelgas Ensemble in an airy Antwerp church acoustic. PQ