This Week's Essential New Albums

Friday, January 29, 2021

This week sees the release of our the Recording of the Month in the February issue of Gramophone – Rachmaninov from The Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, plus much more...

Welcome to our brand new weekly series in which we take a look at the most compelling new classical releases and offer listening suggestions for the week ahead.

We’ve provided links to all of the albums on Apple Music where available so that you can dive straight into enjoying the best new classical albums in great sound.

So, here are six albums to listen out for this week...

1. Rachmaninov from Philadelphia

Today sees the release of the Recording of the Month from the February 2021 issue of Gramophone (on sale now): Rachmaninov’s First Symphony and Symphonic Dances performed by our current Orchestra of the Year The Philadelphia Orchestra and their Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin. 

In his review of the album, Edward Seckerson felt that ‘Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s account of the troubled First Symphony is as surprising and as thrilling as any I have heard since that much-lauded Ormandy account.’ And he was equally bowled over by the Symphonic Dances, noting of the central Waltz that ‘Somehow or other all the qualities of the Rachmaninov/Ormandy era have spirited their way back to create a kind of faded opulence.’

2. English Music For Strings

The re-founding of the Sinfonia of London under conductor John Wilson in 2018 has led to some outstanding recordings for the Chandos label over the last couple of years. Their album of French music, ‘Escales’, was our Recording of the Month in February last year, and their Korngold collection, including the Symphony in F sharp, was shortlisted in the Orchestral category for the 2020 Gramophone Awards.

Their latest release, ‘English Music for Strings’, features music by four Bs: Britten, Bliss, Bridge and Berkeley, but as Edward Seckerson observes in his review, this album is very much a tribute to another B, Barbirolli: ‘Wilson’s reverence for Sir John Barbirolli’s iconic disc of ‘English String Music’ with the now reborn Sinfonia of London (Warner, 5/63) is no great secret. In reclaiming the name and the ethos of the orchestra he could be seen as somehow repaying the gratitude. The players may have changed but the spirit has not. And the sound. Sumptuous is one word – but because this is Wilson that goes hand-in-hand with the keenest articulation.’

3. Anderszewski’s Bach

Piotr Anderszewski’s recording of Bach’s English Suites Nos 1, 3 and 5 was a Recording of the Month in February 2015 and also triumphed in the Instrumental category at that year’s Gramophone Awards. ‘This is a glorious disc’, began Harriet Smith’s review, ‘Simply glorious.’

For his new album, released today, Anderszewski has constructed his own sequence of movements from Book 2 of the Well-Tempered Clavier to create a new journey through Bach’s masterpiece. A Harriet Smith says in her review, ‘the result – as you might imagine with an artist of this calibre – is less of a box of Quality Street to be consumed slumped on the sofa and more of an invitation to a cocktail party of great sophistication.’

4. Potent Pettersson

The Norrköping Symphony Orchestra and conductor Christian Lindberg have been exploring Allan Pettersson’s symphonies for BIS Records with great success since their account of the First and Second in 2011. Their recording of the Fifth and Seventh was an Editor’s Choice album in July 2018, with Guy Rickards observing that ’this music is in their blood’. It was the orchestra’s second recording of the Seventh for BIS, the first conducted by Leif Segerstam and released in 1993.

Pettersson’s Twelfth is a choral symphony, a setting of nine poems by Pablo Neruda that premiered in 1977. Lindberg’s new recordings features the combined forces of the Swedish Radio Choir and the Eric Ericson Chamber Choir, ’A fabulous account of a remarkable work’, says Guy Rickards.

5. The Golden Renaissance

‘The Golden Renaissance’ is the first of three projected albums from Stile Antico marking the 500th anniversary of the death of Josquin des Prez this year. The album was recorded in July last year and features the popular Missa Pange lingua alongside several motets, including Ave Maria, virgo serena, Inviolata, integra et casta es Maria and the premiere recording of the chanson Vivrai je tousjours.

In his review in the February issue, Fabrice Fitch writes ’The tone is luminous, textures are admirably clear,’ and that the final laments in particular ’make a heartfelt impression indeed.’

6. Vida breve

Stephen Hough’s brilliance as a pianist is matched by his skill as a programme-builder on his new album for Hyperion, ’Vida breve’. As Michelle Assay says at the beginning of her review, ’To call this a concept album would be to diminish its power and timeliness. It is both a meditation on the fragility of life and a Bergmanesque game of chess with Death, for which Hough has laid out his pieces and pawns in a masterstroke of programming.’

Last year, Hough’s album featuring the final piano pieces of Brahms was our Recording of the Month in the January 2020 issue and went on to be shortlisted for a Gramophone Award. ’Vida breve’ includes Chopin’s Piano Sonata No 2, alongside works by Busoni, Liszt, Bach, and Hough’s own Piano Sonata No 4, ’Vida breve’.

In the latest Gramophone Podcast pianist explores the programme with Editor Martin Cullingford, in which you hear excerpts from the new album:

The Listening Room

Gramophone’s The Listening Room is an Apple Music playlist featuring hand-picked selection of the most interesting new classical releases chosen by Editor-in-Chief James Jolly. It’s the essential classical playlist. Currently in the playlist you will find Prokofiev from Nicholas Angelich, Andres Romberg from Chouchane Siranossian, Daniel Hope’s Schnittke, Hilary Hahn with Prokofiev and Pelham Humfrey from the Choir of the Chapel Royal:

Specialist Classical Chart

The Official Specialist Classical Chart Top 20 appears on the Gramophone website and is updated every Friday at 6pm (UK time). It’s another great way of exploring the new classical releases and well worth checking every week: 


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