Today marks the release of three major recordings by pianist Leif Ove Andses, baritone Benjamin Appl and cellist Paul Watkins.

Chopin: Leif Ove Andsnes

On Chopin: Ballades & Nocturnes, Leif Ove Andsnes intersperses the Romantic master composer’s four Ballades – works immense in the range and power of their expression – with three of his nocturnes. The pianist explains:

“My new Chopin album features music I’ve loved since I was twelve years old, and over time I’m just getting closer and closer to this world. This is very elusive music! It’s so confessional, and it speaks to me like no other. It’s not only the amazing melodies and harmonies – though already that’s ingenious – but how Chopin goes in a split second from one emotion to another – from something simple and superficial into a very deep, sorrowful place. This is particularly the case with the four Ballades, which are so incredibly rich and surprisingly epic for pieces that only last between seven and eleven minutes each. This is the peak of Romanticism for the piano. That’s why I consider this a Mount Everest recording for me: I have always thought this the greatest piano music we have.”

The four Ballades are widely recognized as Chopin’s crowning achievement. On the new album, Andsnes performs them all: No. 1 in G minor, a work known, as he puts it, for one of “the most haunting melodies in the whole of piano literature;” No. 2 in F, which is dedicated to Schumann and captures the two extremes of the composer’s personality; the gentle and elusive No. 3 in A-flat; and No. 4 in F minor, which the pianist considers Chopin’s “most complex masterpiece,” and has only recently started performing in public.

To create breathing space, Andsnes intersperses the Ballades with three of Chopin’s nocturnes. Drawn from different periods of the composer’s life to show their range and diversity, the three he has chosen are the Nocturne in F, Op. 15, No. 2, which he describes as “very innocent with a dark stormy middle section;” the tragic Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48, No. 1; and the Nocturne in B, Op. 62, No. 1, “a serene, beautiful piece, typical of Chopin’s late style, … reflecting his love for Bach.”

The new recording is the latest addition to Andsnes’s already extensive and distinguished discography. Now an exclusive Sony Classical artist, he is a Gramophone Hall of Fame inductee whose output has been recognized with six Gramophone Awards, eight Grammy nominations, an unprecedented ten Norwegian Spellemannprisen, and BBC Music magazine’s “Recording of the Year.” His most recent solo title, Leif Ove Andsnes: Sibelius, was released by Sony Classical last September to a fanfare of approval, breaking the top ten on Billboard’s traditional classical chart and reaching the number-two spot in France.

 

Finzi: Paul Watkins, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis

A broad and meticulous selection of orchestral works and concertos by Gerald Finzi is here matched by a first-class cast of soloists, supported by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Sir Andrew Davis, expert in British repertoire and conducting this year’s Last Night of the Proms. Paul Watkins displays exhilarating virtuosity in the Cello Concerto, a central work on this album, composed in the wake of the devastating news that Finzi was terminally ill, but yet filled with ‘vigorous, almost turbulent thematic material’, as he wrote in the programme note for the work’s premiere at the Cheltenham Music Festival in 1955. Louis Lortie, for his part, tackles the high-spirited and majestic Grand Fantasia and Toccata, the Fantasia originally conceived as part of a concerto for piano and strings and first performed on two pianos. This contrasts with the more restrained Eclogue for Piano and Strings, timeless, and blessed with a mood of benediction. This album also features the orchestral Nocturne (subtitled ‘New Year Music’), dark, misty, and at times ironic.

 

Bach: Benjamin Appl, Concerto Koln

German baritone Benjamin Appl is Gramophone ‘Young Artist of the Year 2016’ and one of the stars of the European ‘Echo Rising Stars’ concert series.

Appl is a former chorister of the famous German choir Regensburger Domspatzen, and now one of the most interesting artists of the new generation, with a great voice, charming personality and great stage presence.

The new album presents wonderful music by Johann Sebastian Bach from famous as well as less known cantatas but also from the St Matthew Passion.

It was recorded with the renowned Ensemble Concerto Köln, one of the leading ensembles for historically-informed performance practice.