Classical, January 2023

hfnalbum.pngIgor Levit, Leipzig Orch/Welser-Möst
'Tristan' – Liszt, Henze, Wagner, Mahler
Sony 19439943482 (two CDs or three LPs; downloads to 96kHz/24-bit res)

Topped and tailed by Liszt (an achingly gentle Liebestraum No 3 and an almost motionless 'Harmonies du soir'), this is a concept album and a half: an instrumental requiem for love, if you like, typically ambitious in scope for the imposingly gifted Levit and centred around an overdue revival of Henze's '60s masterpiece for piano, large orchestra and tape. There's a raw, unrepeatable tension to the composer's own DG recording but this is a far more polished affair. At a daringly slow pace, the desolate opening line of the Adagio from Mahler's Tenth (in Ronald Stevenson's transcription) emerges naturally from the Prelude to Tristan itself. It's testament to Levit's pianism that the orchestral original is soon forgotten. PQ


Ian Bostridge/Lars Vogt
Schubert: Schwanengesang; Einsamkeit
Pentatone PTC5186786 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

Lars Vogt died of cancer last September, aged just 51. There could hardly be a more serendipitously poignant tribute to his memory than his own, bell-like registration of the accompaniment to 'Ständchen'. The unvarnished, vulnerable qualities of Bostridge's articulation will continue to divide listeners, but few will take issue with his intense sense of identification with the texts: not only the otherworldly 'In der Ferne' but the transitory sunshine of 'Abschied', perfectly caught in the moment by both artists. Einsamkeit ('Loneliness') is no mere filler: Schubert's longest song, and his friend Mayrhofer's best poetry: the embodiment of the lost Romantic soul. PQ


Il Pomo d'Oro/Emelyanychev
Handel: Theodora
Warner 5419717791 (three discs; downloads to 96kHz/24-bit res)

Handel's gloomiest and yet most musically radiant oratorio, recast in our time as a parable of personal freedom by Sellars and others, stands or falls by its soloists. The lineup speaks for itself: Lisette Oropesa in the title role, Joyce DiDonato as her fellow Christian martyr Irene, both encouraged by Maxim Emelyanychev's bold direction to lavish greater vocal opulence on their big arias than this repertoire often attracts nowadays. Michael Spyres is likewise luxury casting as Septimius, and John Chest makes a sturdy but not one-dimensional villain out of the Roman general Valens. Handel regarded Theodora as his finest work; listening to this, I understand why. PQ


BBC CO/Bramwell Tovey
Poulenc: Sinfonietta, Les animaux modèles, etc
Chandos CHSA5260 (downloads to 44.1kHz/16-bit resolution)

Not all acts of memory need be elegiac, just as not every Poulenc orchestral piece is a picnic with fizz on the lawn. When Bramwell Tovey died of cancer in July, we lost a conductor of real gifts at the lighter end of the repertoire. He seems to gaze into the soul of the Sinfonietta, and discern the kind of heartfelt tribute to 18th-century manners that makes it an unlikely cousin to Poulenc's Carmelites. That's the main course: after a tiny trio of musical sorbets, pudding is served with a deliciously refined account of Les animaux modèles, as light and sticky as the perfect rum-baba. Astonishingly vivid Chandos engineering on a 'big-screen' soundstage. PQ