5 Classical Music Albums to Hear Right Now
‘Amata dalle Tenebre’
Anna Netrebko, soprano; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala; Riccardo Chailly, conductor (Deutsche Grammophon)
The soprano Anna Netrebko has always been more satisfying in person — her voice blooms in the vast space of an opera house — than on recordings, where her super-wide vibrato feels, in close-up, less expressive than unsteady. On her new solo album she struggles to sustain the long, lush lines of “Es gibt ein Reich,” from “Ariadne auf Naxos”; soft phrases waver in “Ritorna vincitor” (“Aida”) and “When I am laid in earth” (“Dido and Aeneas”); “Un bel dì,” from “Madama Butterfly,” is shaky from start to finish; high notes are difficult throughout. She endures “Einsam in trüben Tagen” (“Lohengrin”) with steely determination, and the exuberant “Dich, teure Halle” (“Tannhäuser”) similarly seems to press her to her limits.
But there is still time for Netrebko, 50, to do a staged “Queen of Spades,” excerpted with focused passion here. And the “Liebestod” from “Tristan und Isolde,” while audibly challenging for her, is movingly — and, at moments, ecstatically — negotiated. Given a meaty stretch to shine in the “Tristan” prelude, the orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, under its music director, Riccardo Chailly, is otherwise mellow and very much in the background. “Sola, perduta, abbandonata” (“Manon Lescaut”) and especially “Tu che le vanità” (“Don Carlo”) convey, with generous, fiery, largely secure singing, the urgency of Netrebko’s best live performances. ZACHARY WOOLFE
Sabine Devieilhe, soprano; Pygmalion; Raphaël Pichon, conductor (Erato)
Recorded in a Paris church days after a lockdown in France ended last December, this moving release of Bach cantatas and Handel arias is surely one of the most affecting albums to emerge from the pandemic. Opening with the soprano Sabine Devieilhe and the lutenist Thomas Dunford bewailing Christ’s agonies on the cross in the song “Mein Jesu! was vor Seelenweh,” and ending in a blaze of trumpet-topped praise with the “Alleluja” that concludes the cantata “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen,” the album’s narrative arc — from sinfulness and repentance to faith and joy — is immensely satisfying.
Much of that is because of the supreme detailing that Pichon (Devieilhe’s husband) draws from his starry ensemble Pygmalion, including the benediction that Dunford wraps around Cleopatra in “Piangerò,” the second of her laments from “Giulio Cesare”; Matthieu Boutineau’s feistily impulsive organ solo in the sinfonia from “Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal”; and the ethereal, almost cleansing violin of Sophie Gent in “Tu del Ciel ministro eletto,” the heart-stopping plea for mercy from “Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno.” Devieilhe is at the core of it all, wielding her voice with flashing sharpness one moment, crushing tenderness the next. DAVID ALLEN
‘Here With You’
Anthony McGill, clarinet; Gloria Chien, piano (Cedille)
Brahms had all but decided to retire from composing when, in the early 1890s, he became friendly with the clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld and was inspired to write a series of major works, including two clarinet sonatas that have long been mainstays of the repertory.
Anthony McGill, the New York Philharmonic’s principal clarinet, and the splendid pianist Gloria Chien offer vibrant and insightful performances of the sonatas on their new album. These works, like much of late Brahms, can come across as weighty and thick-textured, but this duo brings wonderful transparency to the scores. Even in dark, stormy episodes, McGill and Chien play with unforced fervor and eloquence.
Particularly impressive is the way they convey the coherence of the final movement of the second sonata, written as a theme and variations — music that often seems awkwardly intricate, with curious turns and twists. The album also includes a glowing account of Jessie Montgomery’s mellow “Peace,” as well as an ebullient, dazzling yet unshowy performance of Weber’s virtuosic Grand Duo Concertant, which here sounds aptly grand. ANTHONY TOMMASINI
‘Of All Joys’
Attacca Quartet (Sony Classical)
The Attacca Quartet’s name comes from the musical term for playing without a pause. And the group seems to be taking that literally: Their new album, “Of All Joys,” is their second this year after releasing their Sony Classical debut, “Real Life,” in July.
“Real Life” was a shot of adrenaline, an electronic dance record that remixed music by the likes of Flying Lotus and took a refreshingly broad view of the string quartet form. “Of All Joys” — a juxtaposition of Renaissance arrangements and contemporary works by Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass — couldn’t be more different, yet its conceptual swerve from “Real Life” is fitting for an ensemble equally comfortable in Haydn and Caroline Shaw.
Glass’s “Mishima” Quartet is the only proper string quartet on the new album, which takes its title from a line in the John Dowland song “Flow My Tears.” The rest is adaptation — an insistence on the elasticity of music, borne out with rich, organ-like sonorities in pieces like the Dowland or John Bennet’s “Weep, O Mine Eyes.”
With a teeming “Mishima” at its heart, the album is also a testament to how few ingredients are needed to inspire emotional intensity — as in the players’ sudden shifts, during that quartet’s final movement, between churning arpeggios and streaks of lyricism. At the end of Pärt’s frosty “Fratres,” you might find yourself trying to reconcile the album’s title with its solemn sound world. But perhaps joy is something beyond mood; it may simply lie in the making of, and listening to, music. JOSHUA BARONE
Stewart Goodyear, piano (Bright Shiny Things)
Not many artists would place Mussorgsky, Debussy, Jennifer Higdon and Anthony Davis on the same album. But the pianist Stewart Goodyear intriguingly locates in all of them — as well as in two pieces by Goodyear himself, inspired by his Trinidadian roots — the fundamental influence of Liszt.
Goodyear’s playing here has both virtuosic flash and deeply considered feeling. When approaching Davis’s “Middle Passage” — after the poem of the same name by Robert Hayden — he handles the more improvisatory sections with a pugilistic force indebted to Davis’s own 1980s reading on the Gramavision label. But Goodyear also treats Davis with a meditative touch that calls to mind the lush rendition of “Middle Passage” recorded by Ursula Oppens, who commissioned the piece.
The final line of Hayden’s poem, “Voyage through death to life upon these shores,” gives a sense of the emotional range of the rest of the album. Selections from Debussy gambol and ruminate; Higdon’s “Secret and Glass Gardens” moves from a guarded interiority to brash, attention-grabbing declarations. And Goodyear’s performance of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” likewise covers much ground, including a delightful “Ballet of Unhatched Chicks” and a stately “Great Gate of Kiev.” SETH COLTER WALLS