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The Critic's Chair series ended in March 2015.

This week on The Critic's Chair, Peter Mechen reviews a blend of recordings of different genres, beginning with an Italian song recital from New Zealand soprano Anna Leese and her pianist countryman Stephen de Pledge. The latest disc from Naxos of Ferdinand Ries's piano concertos has pianist Christopher Hinterhuber supported by the NZSO and Uwe Grodd. Vincent D'Indy's familiar Symphony on a French Mountain Air is presented with a group of his lesser-known orchestral works by Rumon Gamba and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra that premiered two of Richard Strauss's most popular works now records them over a hundred years later, and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and Thomas Dausgaard blow some fresh Nordic air through some of Wagner's most well-known orchestral pieces, besides accompanying the wonderful Nina Stemme in the Wesendonck Lieder.

The Critic's Chair for 19 May 2013

This week on The Critic's Chair, Peter Mechen reviews a blend of recordings of different genres, beginning with an Italian song recital from New Zealand soprano Anna Leese and her pianist countryman Stephen de Pledge. The latest disc from Naxos of Ferdinand Ries's piano concertos has pianist Christopher Hinterhuber supported by the NZSO and Uwe Grodd. Vincent D'Indy's familiar Symphony on a French Mountain Air is presented with a group of his lesser-known orchestral works by Rumon Gamba and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra that premiered two of Richard Strauss's most popular works now records them over a hundred years later, and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and Thomas Dausgaard blow some fresh Nordic air through some of Wagner's most well-known orchestral pieces, besides accompanying the wonderful Nina Stemme in the Wesendonck Lieder.

Champs Hill Records CHR CDItalian Love Songs
Music by BELLINI, PUCCINI, DONIZETTI, TOSTI
Anna Leese (sop), Stephen de Pledge (pno)
(Champs Hill Records CHR CD050)

Here are some of the greatest of Italian opera composers - Bellini, Puccini and Donizetti - trying their hand at non-theatrical vocal music. The result is delightful, even though Anna Leese's lovely voice isn't captured as truthfully as it might be by the engineers. Once the listener's ear adjusts to an acoustic that's just a shade too reverberant, Bellini's bel canto lines begin to glow, and Donizetti's lyricism charms and delights, even though Puccini remains unmistakably the Puccini of "La Boheme". The disc also contains a couple of songs by Tosti, and a delightful "bonus track" - a duet by Savioni, sung by Leese and tenor Torsten Büttner.

NaxosRIES: Piano Concerti in E-flat Op.42, and G MInor Op.177
Christopher Hinterhuber (pno), New Zealand SO/Uwe Grodd (conductor)
(Naxos 8.572742)

Here are two more sparkling concerti performances from pianist Christopher Hinterhüber, this time accompanied by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under Uwe Grodd.  The performers make the strongest possible case for this unjustly-neglected music's regular inclusion in concert-hall programs.

Chandos CHAND'INDY:  Symphony on a French Mountain Air Op.25, Prelude to "Fervaal", Saugefleurie, Suite from "Médée"
Louis Lortie (pno), Iceland SO/Rumon Gamba
(Chandos CHAN 10760)

The composer's "signature-tune", accompanied by some lesser-known orchestral works, beautifully recorded and expertly played. Pianist Louis Lortie helps make the "French Mountain Air" Symphony sparkle, and Rumon Gamba and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra give committed performances of the other works, especially the eminently listenable-to Suite from "Médée".

Hyperion CDASTRAUSS:  Don Quixote, Till Eulenspiegel
Alban Gerhardt (cello), Lawrence Power (vla), Gürzenich Orchestrre Köln/Marcus Stenz
(Hyperion CDA 67960)

Star soloists Alban Gerhardt and Lawrence Power enhance the performance-glamour of this disc, recorded by the Gürzenich Orchestra of Cologne, the ensemble that gave the premiere of both of these works. Under Marcus Stenz, the ensemble turns in sharply-characterised playing, wholly matching the musical personalities recreated by the two soloists. Clear, dry-ish sound from Hyperion, that lays bare the textures of the music to an ear-opening degree.

BIS SACDWAGNER:  Wesendonck-Lieder, "Träume" for Violin and Orchestra (arr. Wagner), Siegfried Idyll, Overture "The Flying Dutchman", Prelude to "Die Meistersinger"
Nina Stemme (sop), Swedish Chamber Orch/Thomas Dausgaard
(BIS-SACD-2022)

Richard Wagner's music is given a bracing dose of fresh Nordic air by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, spiritedly conducted by Thomas Dausgaard. With faster tempi than one is used to the result is exhilarating, if, in places, a little breathless. Not so the superb Nina Stemme, whose beautifully-realised soprano lines capture all the intensity one could ask for in the "Wesendonck-Lieder". Tender and intimate performances of the "Siegfried Idyll' and the composer's own violin-and-orchestra version of the song "Träume" complete the disc.