New Classics reviews CDs as well as books and DVD and Blu-ray film releases. The music ranges from Americana, country and rock to jazz, blues, folk, opera and classical. DVDs on review include television, music and feature films, from box office movie hits to film noir and silent classics.
The latest reviews include SWR’s re-release of all ten of Richard Strauss’s Complete Tone Poems – as well as his musical epitaph Metamorphosen – as a collector’s item. The fine performances in this exquisite 5-album box set are conducted by Francois-Xavier Roth.
Two Retrospective releases feature icons of French popular music – the irresistibly charming Charles Trenet (La Mer) and the mellifluous Les Compagnons de la Chanson (The Three Bells) with Edith Piaf.
Francesco Cavalli’s sumptuous Baroque opera Ercole Amante (‘Hercules in Love’) features in a lavish production at the Opéra Comique in Paris for this new Blu-ray from Naxos, Cavalli’s extravagant masterpiece is brought magically to life to create a fabulous fairytale atmosphere.
Eric Craven’s Pieces for Pianists collection is the first of two volumes of world premiere recordings available on CD and in HD digital audio. Each of the 25 pieces has its individual charm and miniaturist precision, by turns reflective, ethereal, authoritative and questioning.
A splendid six CD box set from CPO of Telemann’s Grand Concertos features performances for a wide range of instrumental groupings, against the background of an accompanying string orchestra that evidently stirred the composer’s creative imagination most strongly. Michael Schneider and the soloists and musicians of La Stagione Frankfurt perform beautifully, with excellent recorded sound quality.
You could win Steve Hooker’s Stripped Down Stompin’ Band film DVD, Opium Rose, featuring intimate versions of folk devil blues The First One’s Always Free and soul stomper Sugar Devil.
Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death is based on a tale by Edgar Allen Poe and tells the story of a cruel, degenerate prince who sells his soul to the devil and terrorises a plague-ridden peasantry while merrymaking with his jaded courtiers. Vincent Price gives one of his finest performances as Prince Prospero. Studiocanal has now released this classic in an extended cut, stunningly restored and available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital.
Maurice Peress conducts the American Composers Orchestra in recordings of four of Duke Ellington orchestral suites – the sophisticated Black, Brown & Beige and his piano concerto New World A-Comin’, as well as two symphonic works not originally written for his jazz band – the evocative blues tone poem Harlem and Three Black Kings (‘Les trois rois noirs’) originally scored as a ballet for the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
Dame Evelyn Glennie’s new album, Concertos for Mallet Instruments features Glennie with the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong. The music is ambitous yet thoroughly rewarding and is played by the GRAMMY Award-winning percussion virtuoso with her usual mesmerising mastery.
A new Blu-ray release from Naxos features Sergei Prokofiev’s exciting opera, The Fiery Angel An explosive mix of fantastical realism and endless confusion of nightmares, madness, sexual impulses and cultural clashes, this acclaimed presentation of Prokofiev’s masterpiece sparkles in all its grotesque glory.
The Inner Sanctum Mysteries, a series hour-long feature films starring Lon Chaney, Jr, who plays a different character in each, usually a successful and respected member of the community with an irresistible attraction for women and a knack for becoming involved in murder, often as the chief suspect. This boxed set from Eureka contains all six of Universal’s Inner Sanctum series, available on Blu-ray in the UK for the first time. With great performances and a host of fascinating extras, this is a treat for every classic mystery and horror fan.
Retrospective’s double CD La Vie En Rose celebrates the life and work of the wonderful Edith Piaf with a fine collection of recordings made between 1935 and 1957, all skilfully re-mastered. They include classic songs like the million-selling La Vie En Rose, Hymne a l’amour, and Les Trois Cloches (with her protégés, Les Compagnons de la Chanson). Over two and a half hours of music in all, these evocative performances are timeless and the voice of this tough yet vulnerable woman continues to mesmerise. Formidable!
Joséphine Baker was a vivacious, vibrantly youthful personality who had a most extraordinary life. She became one of the most celebrated performers at the Folies Bergère in Paris, where she caused a sensation when her costume consisted of only a short skirt of artificial bananas. An idiosyncratic, elastic-limbed dancer, she became an iconic image and a symbol both of the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties. Dis moi, Joséphine is a definitive CD collection featuring 27 remastered original recordings from Baker’s 30s heyday – the perfect introduction to one of the twentieth century’s most captivating performers.
Acclaimed French-born pianist Hélène Grimaud, together with her creative and life partner, photographer Mat Hennek features in Woodlands And Beyond, an enchanting multimedia concert project that was captured at the Grand Hall of Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie. Grimaud’s virtuoso piano performance is accompanied by Hennek’s photo series Woodlands, which depicts genuine portraits of trees. With works by romantic and impressionist composers, such as Luciano Berio, Franz Liszt and Claude Debussy, Hélène Grimaud leads her audience into the enchanting world of those various Woodlands and even beyond.
This brilliant new Matchbox Bluesmaster Series explores the roots of the blues in a series of seven 6CD sets tracing the origins of American blues. The songs are sometimes raw and primitive in character, but outstanding musicianship and singing shine through the performances captured on 42 original LP albums released by Saydisc Records in the 1980s. Artists include Buddy Boy Hawkins, Bo Weavil Jackson, Texas Alexander, Skip James and Leroy Carr.
Ludwig van Beethoven was beset with mounting problems in 1802, when his progressive deafness and strong feelings of alienation. During his stay at Heiligenstadt in the summer and autumn of 1802 he wrote testaments in words, and his Kreutzer Sonata is a defining work for that year. Beethoven’s Testament of 1802 is an immaculately produced SACD featuring the exceptional young violinist Ragnhild Hemsing with Norwegian pianist pianist Tor Espen Aspaas.
His second volume of Daniel Todman’s Britain’s War (Into Battle: 1937-1941) is a triumph of narrative, empathy and research, as gripping in its handling of individual witnesses to the war as of the gigantic military, social, technological and economic forces that swept the conflict along. Hugely ambitious, thought-provoking and lucidly written, this is the definitive account of a drama which reshaped Britain and the world.
‘Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.’ – Albert Einstein.