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Classical Choices: December 2022 - Curated by Charlotte Gardner

Charlotte Gardner's latest pick of outstanding classical releases includes works from Vienna Philharmonic, Leif Ove Andsnes, Philippe Jaroussky & Thibaut Garcia.

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Welcome to the final Only the Music of 2022, which I’m using not to trumpet new releases, but instead to mop up some of the albums I didn’t manage to squeeze in this year closer to their release dates, but which are still giving me pleasure months later. I hope they strike a chord with you too.

Wagner: Die Walkűre (remastered 2022),

Vienna Philharmonic


First though, an extract from one of Decca’s most exciting re-release projects in some time, in the form of a high-definition transfer of the original master tapes of Sir George Solti’s most celebrated recording – the first ever stereo studio production of Wagner’s complete Ring Cycle, recorded in Vienna between 1958 and 1965 with the Vienna Philharmonic, its cast boasting such names as Birgit Nilsson, Hans Hotter and Kirsten Flagstad. Decca’s new transfers of the 38 original studio master tapes – being released in instalments between November 2022 and May 2023 – have been made at 24 bit/192kHz resolution.

They also stand as the first complete Wagner Ring cycle available in Dolby Atmos. Their level of detail and dynamic range is thus tremendous, as you’ll hear from the Die Walkűre extract I’ve given you. Plus, those of you who still like a physical product in your shelves will be interested to know that the cycle is also being released in vinyl – half-speed mastered at Abbey Road Studios and pressed on 180g audiophile vinyl – and on Hybrid SACDs.

Mozart Momentum 1776,

Leif Ove Andsnes, Mahler Chamber Orchestra


Anyone can put together a pair of enjoyable Mozart piano concertos, but few artists have done so with such multi-coloured musicological intelligence and artistic sparkle as Leif Ove Andsnes has done in his two Mozart Momentum programmes with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. 

Recorded with warm clarity at the Vienna Musikverein and the Bremen Sendesaal, Mozart 1736 presents a snapshot of a year in which Mozart was at the peak of his fame and powers, settled in piano-crazy Vienna, where he operated as much as a keyboard soloist as composer, composing some of his finest piano concertos and chamber music for the instrument – although this was also the year in which he was just on the cusp of changing focus towards opera, premiering The Marriage of Figaro in the city in May. Andsnes’s programme’s contrasting outer pillars are two of his finest piano concertos, each full of brilliantly sharply delineated gear-changes, vivid emotional portrait painting and woodwind magic.

First, serenely sunny No 23 in A major K488, its outer movements a story of crisply elegant, lucidly luminous-textured nimble spring from everyone, before they completely change the dial for their long-breathed, softly tragic Adagio. Then at the other end of the album, a dramatically bristling, momentum-filled reading of monumental No 24 in C minor K491, initial unison strings tautly shaped and darkly deep-rooted, soon contrasted by the heartrending crystalline fragility of Andsnes’s entry; and yet another wonderfully shaped and grown, dramatically compelling slow movement. 

Between those two is a feast of further variety in the form of delicately intimate readings of the Piano Trio No 3 K502 and Piano Quartet No 2 K493 – Andsnes joined by violinist Matthew Truscott, cellist Frank-Michael Guthmann and viola player Joel Hunter – along with the solo piano Rondo in D major K 485 (ravishingly pure, limpid simplicity from Andsnes) and the concert aria ‘Ch’io mi scordi di te?’ for soprano, piano obligato and orchestra, featuring Christiane Karg. All in all, if ever an album were a keeper then it’s this one.

 I’ve given you the later part of the album: the Rondo, the Piano Trio and Concerto No 24.

À sa guitare

Philippe Jaroussky, Thibaut Garcia


What a combination this was. Long-established star countertenor Philippe Jaroussky joining forces with one of the youngest generation’s brightest new talents, guitarist Thibaut Garcia, for a song recital encompassing everything from Dowland’s ‘Come Again’ to Mozart’s ‘Abendempfindung’, Schubert’s ‘Erlkönig’ to Barbara’s ‘Septembre’. In other words, a programme whose demands in the realms of stylistic versatility, textural engagement and tightly bonded chamber partnering are sky-high – but also smartly met. 

The abiding impression this recital gives in the hearing, and leaves in the memory afterwards, is of utter in-each-other’s-pockets chamber intimacy. Within this, there’s also the gently immediate capturing, Jaroussky’s ability to grasp onto and pull out a text’s storytelling power – sometimes a multi-voiced one, as we hear in ‘Nel cor più non mi sento’ –, Garcia’s equal narrative prowess and the closeness of his guitar support, and the naturalness with which Jaroussky’s voice takes on each new stylistic mantle.

They have also made these songs very much their own. ‘Erlkönig’ is a necessarily a softer beast here than in its original piano and non-countertenor voice incarnation – still tense, still with the different voices finding their separate characters in Jaroussky’s tones (particularly the increasingly shrill voice of the terrified child as the Erl-King closes in), but perhaps carrying more the flavour of a shadowy nightmare than of dropping you directly into Goethe’s rain-lashed life and death horseback chase.

It’s then incredibly effective to follow it with Poulenc’s Scarabande pour guitar, the doleful sobriety sounding like an elegy for the dead youngster. On to Dowland’s ‘In darkness let me dwell’, and Jaroussky’s tremendous vocal control and dynamic range is striking as much as the overall poetry. Bonfá’s ‘Manhã de Carnaval’ meanwhile shines an especially strong light on the closeness and equality of the exchanges between guitar and voice.

For the playlist, I’ve given you the first five tracks: by Poulenc, Dowland, Giordani, Caccini and Granados.

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