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Classical - Released March 5, 2012 | Alpha

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Classical - Released February 7, 2012 | Alpha

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Diapason d'or - Choc de Classica - Hi-Res Audio
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Classical - Released January 24, 2012 | Alpha

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Concertos - Released October 13, 2011 | Alpha

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Diapason d'or de l'année - Diapason d'or
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Classical - Released September 29, 2011 | Alpha

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Classical - Released April 28, 2011 | Alpha

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Choc de Classica - Choc Classica de l'année - Exceptional Sound Recording - Hi-Res Audio
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Classical - Released March 31, 2011 | Alpha

Hi-Res Booklets Distinctions 5 de Diapason - Choc de Classica - Hi-Res Audio
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Classical - Released March 17, 2011 | Alpha

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Hi-Res Audio
This release stands out from among both the dozens or hundreds of available recordings of Mozart's Requiem in D minor, K. 626, and from among the recordings in the catalog of France's Alpha label. On the latter count, while most of Alpha's recordings have been historically oriented, this one falls into glorious Russian tradition of luxurious expression, and the usual art-historical essay included with Alpha's discs is missing here (although the packaging does bear some gorgeous Byzantine iconography). The recording pairs four western European soloists, who traveled all the way to Novosibirsk for the lengthy recording sessions, with the New Siberian Singers and the chamber orchestra MusicAeterna under its conductor, Teodor Currentzis. This is not a large choir (33 singers), but it has the rich sound associated with Russian opera choruses, which is what this group does as a general rule. If you're thinking this sounds a bit like Mozart as conducted by Rachmaninov, you're about right, especially in the sections where the dying Mozart seems to gaze into the fires of hell. The considerably more delicate soloists, especially alto Stéphanie Houtzeel, make a vivid contrast with the choir in this deeply colored, almost raw performance, which is nevertheless very carefully done in its details and sonically matched to the Novosibirsk opera house where it was recorded. By any measure this choir is a striking new talent. © TiVo
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Classical - Released February 17, 2011 | Alpha

Hi-Res Booklets Distinctions Hi-Res Audio
The handsome releases of France's Alpha label, pairing music with directly or indirectly relevant artworks that are analyzed in detail in the booklet, offer listeners an opportunity to reflect on the connections between art and music at a given time. Sometimes they also simply serve to evoke a historical moment authentically and vividly. Mozart and the artist involved here, Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Le Brun, were almost exact contemporaries. The subject of Vigée-Le Brun's painting, Russian Countess Skavronskaya, had an eventful life that included a stint as mistress of Grigori Potemkin, the notorious courtier of Catherine the Great. The historical-instrument performances of Mozart's violin and piano sonatas by fortepianist Rémy Cardinale and violinist Hélene Schmitt are spacious, dramatic, and a bit unsettled, emphasizing Mozart's incipient transformation of the traditionally female genre of the piano sonata accompanied by violin into something new. Beethoven's Violin Sonata No. 1 in D major, Op. 12/1, makes the perfect conclusion; in many genres Beethoven followed Haydn, but in the violin sonata he followed Mozart in brilliance, beauty, and restless elaboration on existing forms. An exceptional performance of this repertory, splendidly presented and recorded. © TiVo
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Classical - Released January 20, 2011 | Alpha

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Classical - Released January 20, 2011 | Alpha

Hi-Res Booklets Distinctions Hi-Res Audio
French label Alpha has devoted itself mostly to historical performances of Baroque and Classical works, including in each album a reproduction, together with detail shots, of an artwork that may be directly or at least tangentially related to the music being performed. The format is equally suited to Romantic music and even music of the 20th century, into which Alpha ventures here. The label brings together various performers in the music of Lucien Durosoir, a composer and World War I veteran (he studied counterpoint in the trenches) whose music was largely forgotten but has been revived through the efforts of his son. It's well worth a fresh hearing, with a sort of post-Impressionist language that allows for a good deal of experiment. Durosoir, in fact, is at his best in pieces like the wholly original Le Balcon (track 1), composed in 1924. The work offers a sort of polyphonic reading of a Baudelaire poem, with a setting of the text for a bass soloist accompanied by wordless choral sounds and strings. Durosoir's designation is "for bass solo, cordes vocales, et cordes instrumentales": bass solo, vocal cords, and instrumental cords. Poetry or other extramusical inspiration seems to lurk in the background of several of these works. The purely abstract Piano Trio in B minor is equally interesting, with its jagged surfaces and excursions into non-tonal harmonic zones; much of Durosoir's music was written for chamber ensembles, a canvas that allowed him to try out new structures on a small scale. The painting accompanying the recording (with essays in French and English) also represents a balcony: it is by Manet, and Quebec art historian Dénis Grenier points to an experimental spirit, an ability to think out blocks of a new language, as common to both artists. A very nice find for lovers of French music of the early 20th century. © TiVo
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Concertos - Released January 6, 2011 | Alpha

Hi-Res Booklets Distinctions Diapason d'or de l'année - Diapason d'or
The ensemble Café Zimmermann, lead by violinist Pablo Valetti, is one of the new breed of Baroque groups offering lean, high-energy performances on historical instruments. The name refers to a Leipzig coffeehouse where Bach's Collegium Musicum instrumental ensemble might have performed in the 18th century. Imagined in that setting, the one-instrument-per-part performance here is plausible, although evidence that such performances occurred in Bach's time does not indicate that such performances were desirable. Bach himself requested an orchestra of 24 players from the Leipzig city council, and a piece like the Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068, echoes French ensembles of that size. For those down with the small-group approach, this release offers a very high level of musicianship and some fresh readings from Valetti. Tempos are quick, with the suite's famous Air on a G string taken at an unusually brisk clip, but the textures remain unusually transparent, and the overall feel is lively and clear. The Brandenburg Concerto No. 6, BWV 1063, the most troublesome of the set of six with its unusual double-viola scoring, gets a rich, complex reading. Another attraction comes from the Alpha label's practice of pairing musical works with detailed art-historical essays on a painting of the period; the work by Antwerp artist Peter Jacob Horemans, though only tangentially related to Bach, is full of fascinating details such as a cup of coffee or tea being dumped into a bowl, perhaps to be given to one of the four dogs appearing in the painting. As always, buyers of Alpha's series can give themselves a decent grounding in art history at no additional cost. Notes are in French and English. © TiVo
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Concertos - Released November 4, 2010 | Alpha

Booklet Distinctions Gramophone Editor's Choice
Recordings of Vivaldi's flute concertos have tended to concentrate on a few vivid, crowd-pleasing works from the composer's Op. 10 collection, like the Flute Concerto in F major, RV 433 ("La tempesta di mare"). The flutist who wants to venture beyond these is faced with a collection of works that exist only in manuscripts and come with a variety of editorial challenges. Some of those are laid out in the unusually extensive booklet that accompanies the CD version of this release on the Alpha label, which also comes with one of the label's trademark art reproductions and its own accompanying essay (this one covering a scene of Venice by Antonio Visentini, from close to the time Vivaldi would have known it). The payoff is that, as with Vivaldi's concertos for other genres, there are plenty of unknown gems to discover. This release by flutist-conductor Alexis Kossenko and the small Polish early music group Arte dei Suonatori combines some of the lesser-known Op. 10 concertos with manuscript works, and any Vivaldi lover will find some fresh delights here. The group obtains some of its best results with some of the thorniest interpretive challenges. Hear the slow movement of the Flute Concerto in E minor, RV 430 (track 11), a work with a complex manuscript history; here the slow movement gets a heavily ornamented and quite haunting treatment from Kossenko, accompanied only by a continuo theorbo. The ensemble tones down some of the slashing attacks favored by the leading Italian groups, but is plenty innovative stylistically; check out the unusual string crescendos in the last movement of the Flute Concerto in G major, RV 438 (track 16). All the music is freshly and sensitively done, and the collection of Baroque flutes played by Kossenko is another attraction. Highly recommended. © TiVo
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Classical - Released November 4, 2010 | Alpha

Booklets Distinctions 5 de Diapason - 4 étoiles Classica
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Classical - Released October 21, 2010 | Alpha

Hi-Res Booklets Distinctions 5 de Diapason - 4F de Télérama - Choc de Classica - Exceptional Sound Recording - Hi-Res Audio
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Classical - Released October 21, 2010 | Alpha

Booklet Distinctions 4F de Télérama
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Classical - Released October 7, 2010 | Alpha

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Classical - Released September 23, 2010 | Alpha

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Diapason d'or - Choc de Classica - Hi-Res Audio
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Masses, Passions, Requiems - Released September 20, 2010 | Alpha

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Gramophone Editor's Choice - Hi-Res Audio
This is one of a pair of albums devoted to Bach's Missa Brevis settings by French ensemble Pygmalion. Both are strongly recommended. These settings, with Kyrie and Gloria only, were repurposed by Bach from various earlier works, mostly cantatas; they're not among his unquestioned monuments, but they do bespeak his genius. The presentation here by France's Alpha label is compelling. The label packages works from the 16th to the 19th centuries inside high-quality reproductions of paintings that related to the given music in some way, explained by an art-historical essay. Here the painting is The Sermon of Saint John the Baptist by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, of 1566; it is not chronologically matched to Bach, but the correspondences are nevertheless fascinating. Both drew religious scenes out of the cultural materials of ordinary folk. And both were, in the words of essayist Denis Grenier, "ecumentical": Bach was a Protestant who was at the very least influenced by styles of Catholic regions and wrote Latin masses, while Brueghel lived in the Catholic-controlled Habsburg Netherlands but depicted religious events in the down-to-earth way that would emerge under Protestant belief systems. The appeal of the music lies partly in the ways Bach adapts Protestant cantatas for the Catholic mass. The Gloria in excelsis movement of the Missa Brevis in G major, BWV 236, is based on the opening chorus of the Cantata No. 79, "Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild" (God the Lord is Sun and Shield), BWV 79: not a total stretch, but also not precisely the same thought, and Bach reworks the music rather than simply resetting it. Similar processes occur in several other movements, and they're fascinating for those well acquainted with Bach's choral music. The general listener may prefer to simply luxuriate in Pygmalion's coolly elegant sound, in the singing of a consistently strong group of soloists headed by soprano Eugénie Warnier, and in the superb Kyries of both masses, each embodying Bach's contrapuntal perfection on a modest scale. The program is rounded out by a short work sometimes known as a cantata but designated by Bach himself as a motet: O Jesu Christ, meins lebens Licht, BWV 118, a funeral work with two parts written for instruments designed by Bach with the name lituus. The booklet goes into a good detail about efforts to decide just what these were supposed to be; the players make the unadventuresome choice of a pair of oboes, but the musical execution is gorgeous. An exceptional Bach release. © TiVo
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Classical - Released August 26, 2010 | Alpha

Booklet Distinctions Choc de Classica - Choc Classica de l'année

The collection

Alpha in the magazine