Time for another CD roundup! There's a bunch of new recordings out that are gratifyingly compelling ó even the ones that include well-worn material.
First, and perhaps foremost, there's a killer new Mozart Le nozze di Figaro, with a gorgeous-sounding young cast under the incisive yet sumptuous direction of a master, Nikolaus Harnoncourt (Deutsche Grammophon). Continuing with voices, we have a new recording of songs from the still under-appreciated American turn-of the-century composer Amy Beach, sung with quiet strength by baritone Patrick Mason, with Beach specialist Joanne Polk at the piano (Bridge). EMI Classics presents a young British soprano who could be the next vocal sensation, Kate Royal, whose silvery, thoughtfully phrased voice is simply intoxicating. She has an especially winning way with French repertoire, which she renders with an erotic allure.
Onetime enfant terrible of new music Pierre Boulez continues his outstanding Mahler cycle with the gigantic Eighth, delivered with a wondrous combination of X-ray lucidity and emotional power. By letting the music speak for itself, Boulez gives us some of the finest Mahler on record, amid tremendous competition (Deutsche Grammophon). Conversely, the youthful Belcea Quartet from Britain makes the Six String Quartets of Bartók a bit less scary than usual, which may be a negative for those who relish the music's intensity, but it is nice to hear the beauty and folksiness of these masterpieces with such ease (EMI Classics). Mozart, again, with Leif Ove Andsnes conducting the superbly lithe Norwegian Chamber Orchestra from the keyboard. The 17th and 20th piano concertos are brought to life with buoyancy and dash, but devoid of sentimentality.
In the solo-instrument category, let's begin with an enchanting program of Gershwin, including a bunch of transcriptions of the great songs and brilliant arrangements of the legendary Earl Wild, played by the fine American pianist Ralph Votapek (Blue Griffin). Master lutenist Paul O'Dette gives us a luscious selection of lute music of Bach (Harmonia Mundi). Finally, a bit of an odd duck, music for solo and duo piano from Chinese-American composer Thomas Oboe Lee, a bunch of jazzy little bon-bons, inspired by Tarot cards and fireflies, not to mention Chopin and the tango (ARSIS). Try something different!