New Releases: Handel's Belshazzar, James Levine's Comeback and More

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FREE Download: The Met Orchestra plays Wagner’s Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin*

We kick off the New Year with three recent and very distinct releases, including a Handel oratorio (and not Messiah), James Levine's Met Orchestra comeback gig, and some miniatures for violin and piano.

Handel’s Belshazzar
Les Arts Florissants; William Christie, conductor
Allan Clayton, Rosemary Joshua, Caitlin Hulcup, Iestyn Davies and Jonathan Lemalu
Available at Arkivmusic.com

If you’re feeling a little Messiahed-out after the holiday season, Les Arts Florissants have something else to sink your teeth into: Handel's Belshazzar, another one of the composer’s majestic oratorios that merits greater attention. It’s the first release on the early-music ensemble’s in-house label, and the physical CD version is certainly as handsome packaged as one expects from the French early-music group. It includes a 100-page booklet with the complete lyrics as well as an essay on Babylon by the French novelist Jean Echenoz. The music itself contains lots of colorful, cinematic moments, from grand choruses to sublime and intimate arias, delivered by a strong quintet of soloists.

 

James Levine: Live at Carnegie Hall
The Met Orchestra
Evgeny Kissin, piano
Deutsche Grammophon
Available at Arkivmusic.com

Conductor James Levine’s return to the podium on May 19, 2013 after a two-year sick leave was one of the most discussed comeback performances in recent years. It was not a full-length opera at the Met, where Levine would be essentially unseen in the pit, but a highly visible (and carefully choreographed) Carnegie Hall appearance with the Met Orchestra. The programming was conservative – Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with Evgeny Kissin; Schubert’s Ninth Symphony and Wagner’s Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin – but the playing bristles with enthusiasm. As host Naomi Lewin wrote in her review, “Levine was in command, with sweeping arms and firm gestures.” The DG engineers get credit for capturing the Carnegie Hall acoustic faithfully.

 

Duo Intermezzo: Works for Violin and Piano
Ralf Mathias Caspers, violin
Tamaki Tekeda-Caspers, piano
Available at Arkivmusic.com

The husband and wife duo of Ralf Mathias Caspers (violin) and Tamaki Takeda-Caspers (piano) play together as the Duo Intermezzo. As described in the liner notes, the two musicians focus their programs on short pieces and miniatures. After the 2010 set of “delicacies and desserts” comes “Intermezzo,” a collection of miniatures by Brahms, Kreisler, de Falla, Godowsky/Heifetz, Dvorak, Saint-Saens and more. The two artists have a nice give-and-take rapport and Ralf Caspers does a fine “Latin lover” approximation in Manuel Ponce’s Estrellita and applies some brilliance to Sarasate’s Gypsy Airs.

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