THERE’S still time to get that special CD for a music-lover, and here are some suggestions:
Mahler: Symphony no. 9. The Hallé, conducted by Sir Mark Elder (2 CDs, HLD 7541, mid-price)
This is based on the Bridgewater Hall performance of May, 2014 – one that I’ll not forget in a long time. It was a long, long journey, beginning and ending in stillness, but with two movements of intense rhythmic life at its centre, and the whole orchestra played with sustained concentration, achingly beautiful.
Elgar: Sea Pictures, Polonia, Pomp & Circumstance Marches 1-5. Alice Coote, the Hallé, conducted by Sir Mark Elder (HLL 7536, mid-price)
The great (RNCM-trained) mezzo soprano Alice Coote is incomparably wonderful in Elgar’s Sea Pictures song cycle, as we’ve heard in Manchester before. This recording, made at Hallé St Peter’s last year, captures her artistry perfectly, and for good measure you have vintage Hallé/Elder performances of Elgar in patriotic or martial vein.
Pierné: Orchestral works, vol. 2. BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Juanjo Mena (Chandos CHAN 10871, full price)
A spin-off from the first set, which featured the fine virtuoso Jean-Efflam Bavouzet in the Pierné piano concerto, this volume rounds up three more works for piano and orchestra and includes a couple of piano solos, too. Its best is the suave Scherzo-Caprice and the Ravel-like Paysages Franciscains – an interesting by-way to explore.
Nielsen: Complete symphonies. BBC Philharmonic, conducted by John Storgårds (3 CDs, Chandos CHAN 10858(3), full price)
Storgårds’ Nielsen cycle in the summer this year at the Bridgewater Hall was one of the outstanding events of the year for me, and revelatory in performances of the less frequently encountered works, nos. 1, 3 and 5. They’re caught here in studio performances.
Donizetti: Rita. Katarina Karnéus, Barry Banks, Christopher Maltman, the Hallé, conducted by Sir Mark Elder (Opera Rara ORC50, full price)
This one-act operatic comedy is a little gem and if you haven’t discovered it before, now’s the time. It was the first by Sir Mark with the Hallé for the label of which he’s artistic director, and the star is undoubtedly the feisty and characterful mezzo, Katarina Karnéus, who (as I never cease reminding all who’ll listen) made her stunning professional operatic debut, in November 1993, in Ashton-under-Lyne.
Ryan Wigglesworth: Echo & Narcissus and other works. Claire Booth, Pamela Helen Stephen, Mark Padmore, Barnabás Kelemen, the Hallé, conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth (NMC D213, full price)
A representative selection of the Hallé’s recently appointed principal guest conductor, and works of his own composition. Among them is the violin concerto, played by the soloist, Barnabás Kelemen, who gave the UK premiere of its revised version at the Bridgewater Hall early last year.
Gounod: La Colombe. Erin Morley, Javier Camarena, Michèle Losier, Laurent Naouri, the Hallé, conducted by Sir Mark Elder (2 CDs, Opera Rara ORC53, full price)
This rarely heard comic opera, about a would-be lover who has to choose between donating his pet bird to a countess or serving it up as dinner, was produced in English at the Buxton Festival in 2013 and was great fun. Sir Mark has recorded the original French (in summer this year) with a talented cast and, though the music is delightful and the orchestral playing wonderful, it loses a little in sound only.
Roger Fisher plays the Cavaillé-Coll organ of the Parr Hall, Warrington (PHW, CD1, full price)
An issue based on a live recital from 2011, plus remastered earlier tracks, by the former organist of Chester Cathedral playing the north of England’s undoubtedly most precious pipe organ – the tonally unaltered 1870 work of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, now in Warrington’s Parr Hall. It’s all French music of the golden age, and the Choral no. 3 by Franck is absolutely superb.