This month's cover features Gramophone's Artist of the Year, the supremely talented Víkingur Ólafsson. His new album, his third for DG, brings together two composers he considers soulmates, Rameau and Debussy. The programme is faultlessly put together so I'm loathe to cherrypick, but I have included Ólafsson's own transcription of a piece by Rameau that he first encountered on Teodor Currentzis's Sony Classcial album, 'The Sound of Light'. There it goes under the title 'Entrée pour les Muses, les Zéphyres, les Saisons, les Heures et les Arts', Ólafsson's version is called simply 'The Arts and the Hours' and it forms the still central point of a thought-provoking and exquisitely executed flight of imaginative piano-playing.
A couple of violin concertos this week - both written in Los Angeles, within miles of each other, and both by émigrés from Austria: Arnold Schoenberg's, written in 1936, and Erich Wolfgang Korngold's, written in 1945. Both have received fabulous recordings recently. Jack Liebeck in the Schoenberg (superbly partnered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Andrew Gourlay) gives a performance that has buckets of personality and sends showers of sparks into the air. Jack talked to me recently for a Gramophone Podcast and he has clearly grown to love the work. Jascha Heifetz declared it unplayable, a claim that has no doubt added to the work's ferocious reputation. A work that Heifetz not only premiered but played magnificently was Korngold's concerto (and which he recorded supremely). Many have followed in his footsteps and the catalogue is fairly bursting at the seams with fine recordings. But the new Chandos recording with Andrew Haveron – who many will recognise as he has led the BBC SO, Philharmonia and The John Wilson Orchestra – immediately goes up there with the best. Joined by John Wilson and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, he give a magnificent performance and the Irish orchestra plays its heart out. And, interestingly, both Jack Liebeck and Andrew Haveron play Guadagnini violins ...
Four more violins appear in George Enescu's splendid Octet - for the new BIS recording the Gringolts Quartet is joined by Meta4. They give a very fine account of this important addition to the string octet repertoire. And a single violin appears in the solo sonata by Nicholas Maw, just out from Lyrita. Harriet Mackenzie plays his powerful work with evident passion and palpable conviction.
Music of our time comes from the Latvian Pēteris Vasks. His Plainscapes has been recorded by Graham Ross's magnificently schooled and beautifully balanced Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, part of a wonderful programme that starts with Arvo Pärt and ends with James MacMillan. And it's been stunning recorded too. As has Luigi Nono's Djamila Boupacha, that haunting setting of a poem about the Algerian woman who was tortured by the authorities during the country's struggle for independence from France. It's become something of a calling card for Barbara Hannigan and it opens her superbly conceived new album 'La Passione' from Alpha Classics. Barbara Hannigan explained the programme to me in another Gramophone Podcast.
Impressive pianism comes from Amir Katz on a new Liszt collection and Louis Lortie on a Fauré collection, and for keyboard music from an earlier age, I've a Bach harpsichord concerto played by Francesco Corti. James Jolly
Listen below or on Apple Music
Rameau/Ólafsson The Arts and the Hours
Vikingur Olafsson (DG)
Korngold Violin Concerto
Andrew Haveron; RTÉ Concert Orchestra / John Wilson (Chandos)
Fauré Nocturne No 7 in C sharp minor, Op 74
Louis Lortie (Chandos)
Gringolts Quartet; Meta4 (BIS)
Liszt Étude de concert in F minor, La leggierezza S144 No 2
Amir Katz (Orfeo)
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge / Graham Ross (Harmonia Mundi)
JS Bach Harpsichord Concerto in G minor, BWV1058
Francesco Corti; Il pomo d'oro (Pentatone)
Schoenberg Violin Concerto
Jack Liebeck; BBC Symphony Orchestra / Andrew Gourlay (Orchid Classics)
Liszt Réminiscences de Don Juan, S418
Amir Katz (Orfeo)
Maw Solo Violin Sonata
Harriet Mackenzie (Lyrita)
Nono Djamila Boupacha
Barbara Hannigan (Alpha Classics)