Happy birthday Christa Ludwig, Prokofiev from Marin Alsop, Martha Argerich and Sergei Babayan, Bach for two pianists, Beethoven from Lars Vogt and Easter music by Michel Lambert
Today, March 16, is Christa Ludwig’s 90th birthday. One of the greatest singers of our age, and recipient of Gramophone’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016, we send her many happy returns and enormous gratitude for the many recordings and decades of supreme live music-making – I still cherish memories of her in Bernstein’s Candide at London’s Barbican. I’ve include a couple of pieces by Brahms which seem to sit perfectly for her rich mezzo, the Alto Rhapsody and those two haunting songs with viola.
Lars Vogt’s Beethoven piano concerto series with the Royal Northern Sinfonia continues and I’ve opted for the Second Concerto, a beautiful example of soloist and orchestra in perfect accord. And Marin Alsop offers a kind of postscript to her Prokofiev symphony cycle for Naxos with a new recording of the complete ballet music for Romeo and Juliet, and for it she’s in charge of her other orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony, beautifully recorded. I've included Act 3.
A couple of curiosities/novelties: a recording of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos arranged for piano four hands, following Max Reger’s example. Eleonor Bindman, who made the transcription, is joined by Jenny Lin. From Yutaka Sado and Vienna’s Tonkünstler Orchestra comes an album of string serenades. Nestling between Tchaikovsky and Respighi comes a Triptyque by Yasushi Akutagawa (1925-89) – no, I’d not heard of him either. There’s shades of Bartók about the music and it’s well made, and stylishly played, too.
With Easter on the horizon, I’ve chosen a section from a new Harmonia Mundi recording of music by Michael Lambert, his Leçons de Ténèbres. Marc Mauillon’s slightly guttural voice strikes me as perfect for this heart-felt and powerful music.
From our time, a work from 2010 by David Lang which uses as its text a Statement to the Court by Eugene Debs when he was being tried for sedition for speaking out against American involvement in the First World War. Scored for four-part choir, bass drum and strings, it’s a direct, punchy piece that really caught my ear (and imagination). Crisp and ‘heavy, measured and weighty like political speech intense throughout’ as the score says – fine performances by Yale forces.
Taster tracks this week: Prokofiev from Martha Argerich and Sergei Babayan; Vivaldi from Julia Lezhneva and Diego Fasolis; Byrd from King’s College, Cambridge and Richard Strauss’s Morgen from the cellist Ophélie Gaillard and the mezzo Béatrice Uria-Monzon.
Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet – Act 3
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra / Marin Alsop (Naxos)
Bach Cantata No 82a, 'Ich habe genug' - excerpt
Juliette Hurel; Maïlys de Villoutreys' Ensemble Surprises / Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas (Alpha)
Bach (arr Bindman) Brandenburg Concerto No 4
Eleonor Bindman; Jenny Lin (Piano Classics)
Brahms Zwei Gesänge, Op 91
Christa Ludwig; Herbert Downes; Geoffrey Parsons (Warner Classics)
Tonkünstler Orchester / Yutaka Sado (Tonkünstler Orchester)
R Strauss Morgen
Béatrice Uria-Monzon; Ophélie Gaillard; Vassilis Varvaresos (Little Tribeca)
Lang Statement to the Court
Yale Choral Artists; Yale Philharmonia / Jeffrey Douma (Naxos) ONLY IN SPOTIFY AND APPLE MUSIC
Beethoven Piano Concerto No 2
Royal Northern Sinfonia / Lars Vogt (Ondine)
Lambert Premiere Leçon du troisième jour
Marc Mauillon; Myriam Rignol; Thibaut Roussel; Marouan Mankar-Bennis (Harmonia Mundi)
Vivaldi Nulla in mundo pax, RV630 - 'Nulla in mundo pax'
Julia Lezhneva; I Barocchisti / Diego Fasolis (Decca)
Prokofiev (arr Babayan) Romeo and Juliet – Montagues and Capulets
Martha Argerich; Sergei Babayan (DG)
Byrd Motets – Laudibus in sanctis
Choir of King's College, Cambridge / Stephen Cleobury (Choir of King's College, Cambridge)
Brahms Alto Rhapsody
Christa Ludwig; Wiener Singverein; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra / Karl Böhm (DG)