Classical picks for holiday listening

By William Dart

German tenor Jonas Kaufmann's new CD is a terrific achievement.
German tenor Jonas Kaufmann's new CD is a terrific achievement.

German tenor Jonas Kaufmann's new CD is a terrific achievement. These 10 albums will provide hours of exceptional music to last you well into the year aheadNew Zealand's classical community might have been sidelined in last month's Tuis, but don't worry; in terms of quality and quantity, there have never been so many temptations on classical CD shelves. Here are 10 that will continue to give pleasure long after the pine needles on the Christmas tree have fallen.

Gillian Whitehead Alice (Atoll)

New Zealand composer Gillian Whitehead transforms the life of colonial battler Alice Adcock into a tale of Everywoman, magnificently brought to life by mezzo Helen Medlyn, for whom it was written. Orchestral bonuses, with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marc Taddei, include the exhilarating, improbably ordered dance.

Anne Sofie von Otter Douce France (Naive)

The Swedish mezzo takes two discs to do elegant and breezy justice to a selection of French classical songs (Debussy, Ravel, Faure, etc) and the cabaret of Charles Trenet, Michel Legrand, Joseph Kosma and others.

Significantly, knowing the Gallic respect for culture on the light-but-not-lightweight side, composer Reynaldo Hahn makes both lists.

Stravinsky Complete Music for Piano and Orchestra (Hyperion)

Steven Osborne is one of Hyperion's headliners, with his indispensable recordings of Ravel and Rachmaninov. He thrilled Aucklanders last month in recital and playing Falla with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. Let's hope he comes again and perhaps brings one of the three gripping "concertos" on this mighty salute to the great Stravinsky.

Lilburn Duos for Violin and Piano (Atoll)

The first thing you notice about this new Atoll recording is the handsome packaging, sturdy enough to hold its own in a bookcase.

Musical rewards come with the thoughtful performances of Justine Cormack and Michael Houstoun, who catch, with a real tenderness, Lilburn's strangely stoic brand of poetry.

Piers Lane Goes to Town (Hyperion)

The Australian pianist, a familiar figure in our concert halls, takes a nostalgic trip back to the music that made him what he is. He deals out sweet, artless lyricism, crowned by Percy Grainger's arrangement of Danny Boy. The versatile Lane also includes a toccata by his dad, some arrant pranksterism by Dudley Moore and survives Zes Confrey's Dizzy Fingers without digital damage.

Bach St Matthew Passion (Harmonia Mundi)

Harmonia Mundi has done Rene Jacobs proud with this attractive boxed set (two CDs plus DVD) of what many feel is Bach's supreme choral achievement. A roster of first-class soloists is headed by Werner Gura's Evangelist, and the dramatic recording of the sparring choruses may make you feel that you are in the middle of the fray.

Beethoven Quartets Opus 18 (Vivat)

The Allegri Quartet's first instalment of what promises to be a complete Beethoven cycle whets the appetite. The English musicians dispense just the right dash and fire in their playing; you can sense a composer tired of powdered wigs and eager to set off a new Romantic insurgency.

Jonas Kaufmann The Best Of (Decca)

At 44, German tenor Jonas Kaufmann is by no means in the twilight of his career. There will be much more to come, but this collection charts a terrific achievement across a wide range of styles, opening with stirring Verdi and closing with Walther's noble Prize Song from Die Meistersinger. Some hearts will melt or at least flutter in what must be one of the sexiest Flower Songs on disc.

Anna Netrebko Verdi (Deutsche Grammophon)

Anna Netrebko goes for the darker side of Verdi with selections from Macbeth, Giovanna d'Arco, I Vespri Siciliani, Don Carlo and Il Trovatore. The occasional challenging cabaletta has been relinquished, but the Russian soprano has just the right dramatic weight for this repertoire, caught in the plushest of Deutsche Grammophon recordings.

Bela Bartok Violin Concertos (Harmonia Mundi)

Isabelle Faust has enchanted us playing Bach Partitas and pairing Beethoven and Berg Concertos. Her Bartok concertos provide another benchmark, combining sensitivity and scholarship, being effortlessly lyrical yet catching that compulsive rhythmic energy that is at the heart of the Hungarian's music.

- NZ Herald

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