New Releases: Mendelssohn's 'Dream,' Handel Suites and Spain's Golden Age

Sunday, July 13, 2014

FREE Download: Ensemble Plus Ultra plays Alonso Lobo's "Versa est in luctum"*

For this midsummer week, we're highlighting a new recording of Mendelssohn's complete A Midsummer Night's Dream, plus Handel's Eight Great Suites and Spanish music from the era of El Greco.

From Spain to Eternity
Ensemble Plus Ultra
Archiv Produktion
Available at Arkivmusic.com

The Spanish painter El Greco died 400 years ago this past April, an anniversary that has inspired a new retrospective at the Prado in Madrid, and this new recording by Ensemble Plus Ultra, a British vocal octet. El Greco was a true original, known for a Mannerist style that purposely emphasized wild distortions and extremes of perspective. So this collection of austere, cleanly sung sacred motets by Alonso Lobo, Cristobal de Morales and Alonso de Tejeda, doesn’t offer an exact musical analogy (perhaps Carlo Gesualdo would have been a closer musical cousin). Nevertheless, it’s beautiful repertoire that deserves a closer listen.

Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Riccardo Chailly, conductor
Saleem Ashkar, piano
Decca
Available at Arkivmusic.com

Conductor Riccardo Chailly is out on the disabled list this summer after having broken his arm in a household accident. But in the meantime, listeners can tide themselves over with this brand-new document of his performances. The Italian conductor leads the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Mendelssohn 's sparkling incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as well as his two piano concertos featuring the Palestinian-Israeli pianist Saleem Ashkar, who has performed the Piano Concerto No. 1 a number of times with Chailly and the orchestra on tour. Mendelssohn, of course, led the Gewandhaus (1835-46), and this solid, straightforward collection offers a fitting tribute, capped by the rarely-heard Overture to Ruy Blas.

Handel: Eight Great Suites
Danny Driver, piano
Hyperion
Available at Arkivmusic.com

Handel's solo keyboard works constituted a relatively small part of his output, and have often been overshadowed by those of J.S. Bach. But Danny Driver, a young British pianist, gives a boost to these somewhat overlooked set, known collectively as the “Eight Great Suites,” published in 1720. If Handel’s suites don't approach Bach's for sheer inventiveness or harmonic complexity, they're amazingly diverse in form and character. Most use the popular dance forms of the day, including the sarabande, allemande, courante and gigue. Driver conveys his passion for these works and makes a vibrant case for the music to be performed on the modern piano.

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The Albums of the Week are compelling new recordings that we spotlight every week. These include creative repertoire choices, engaging musical personalities and artistic statements that stand out from the pack. You can hear the Albums of the Week throughout the day and evening on WQXR.

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