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Autumn Harvest: Five New Recordings That Say Fall

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As the leaves turn yellow and the air grows crisp, some music just suits the season. Here are five new recordings that capture the feeling of autumn to us.


Ives: Violin Sonatas
Hilary Hahn, violin
Valentina Lisitsa, piano
Deutsche Grammophon

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On the cover of their new recording, violinist Hilary Hahn and pianist Valentina Lisitsa appear rather glammed up for what looks to be a day in the country cabin. Fortunately, their formality dissipates as they dig into the four violin sonatas of Charles Ives. Each piece weaves together folk songs, hymn tunes and romantic melodies with Ives's characteristic wit and invention. It’s the Second Sonata that especially strikes a fall feeling, however. Here, Hahn and Lisitsa romp through the pungent opening movement, “Autumn,” while the high-spirited tunes and rhythmic dislocations of the other movements -- “In the Barn” and “The Revival” -- are each deftly executed.

Schoenberg: Orchestral Works
Berlin Philharmonic
Simon Rattle, conductor

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Schoenberg's music represented the twilight of a fading romanticism while Brahms couched his chamber music in autumnal, reflective hews. Yet when Schoenberg orchestrated the Brahms Piano Quartet, he went Hollywood on us. This brazen, Technicolor arrangement features instruments Brahms never used, such as glockenspiel and xylophone, and Rattle and Berlin bring out the many colorful touches with entertaining zest and clarity. The Chamber Symphony No. 1 is dense and arresting, yet essentially tonal, more looking backward to Wagner than forward to the Second Viennese School. The Berliners revel in its virtuosity.

Sibelius: Symphonies 6-7/ Finlandia
New Zealand Symphony
Pietari Inkinen, conductor

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In 1943, Sibelius wrote, "The Sixth Symphony always reminds me of the scent of the first snow.” One of the least-performed symphonies of Sibelius, it is a remarkable and even radical work in which the composer invokes pastoral warmth yet defies linear logic. This is the final installment of the New Zealand Symphony’s complete Sibelius survey, and it also includes the better-known Seventh Symphony, a cool Nordic soundscape in which the brass emerge as icebergs dissonantly pulling against each other through the string meanderings. Capping off the album is a vigorous reading of Finlandia.

Schubert: Schwanengesang
Mark Padmore, tenor
Paul Lewis, piano
Harmonia Mundi
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Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis's new Schwanengesang wraps up a Schubert cycle begun with their 2009 Winterreise and last year's Die Schone Mullerin. The 14 lieder of “Swan Song” were compiled after the composer’s death, and while it may not have the unity of the earlier two cycles, it compensates in its emotional punch. In modern terms, these are break-up songs, rooted in dark moods and heavy irony. Everything seems anthropomorphized in Schubert's weary world, from the friendly brook to the violent wave. A standout track is "Ständchen" ("Serenade"), in which Padmore brings life to lines that describe the “rustling of slender treetops in the moonlight.”

Hard Hittin’ Classics
Various composers and performers

Available at

Okay, this last selection isn’t going to win points for depth and gravitas. But if you’re looking for a starter orchestral recording for the NFL couch potato in your household you could do worse than the performances of classical jock jams like In the Hall of the Mountain King, Ride of the Valkyries and Carmina Burana (all are drawn from the vast Naxos catalog). Also included are a few relative rarities -- excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa, Beethoven’s Wellington’s Victory and Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust. Touchdown!

Weigh in: What kind of music says autumn to you?