Classical: Sibelius | Andriessen | Herz

Classical CDs: Sibelius, Orchestral Songs | Andriessen, Writing to Vermeer | Herz, Piano Concertos

Sibelius Orchestral Songs
Soile Isokoski (soprano); Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Segerstam
(Ondine ODE 10805) £13.99

Not sufficiently recognised as a composer of elegant songs, Sibelius orchestrated many of these 19 pieces himself. The 1913 tone poem, 'Luonnotar' ('Daughter of Nature'), is the outstanding track. It is hard to imagine a more accomplished interpreter than Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski, a 2002 Gramophone award-winner for Strauss's Four Last Songs, here in her natural element, both vocally and spiritually, with the Helsinki Philharmonic under Leif Segerstam.

Andriessen Writing to Vermeer
Susan Narucki, Barbara Hannigan (sopranos), Susan Bickley (mezzo), Schoenberg Ensemble and Asko Ensemble/de Leeuw
(Nonesuch (2 CDs) 7559-79887-2) £18.99

Louis Andriessen's opera is set in 1672, his native Netherlands' 'Year of Disaster', when French, English and German invaders forced it to the extreme defence of destroying its dykes. Via letters to Vermeer from three women in his life, Peter Greenaway's libretto contrasts his serene domestic world with those national upheavals. Premiered in Amsterdam in 1999, this is one of the more beautiful of contemporary scores, performed with dedication by fine soloists under Reinbert de Leeuw.

Herz Piano Concertos
Howard Shelley (piano), Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra/Shelley
(Hyperion CDA 67537) £12.99

Fresh from his landmark recordings of Hummel and Moscheles, Howard Shelley had to go to the other end of the earth - Tasmania - to record these delightful works, as well as chasing down details in the British Library. Unlike most of his contemporaries, German composer Henri Herz (1803-1888) professed no aspirations towards high art; he thought of himself as an entertainer. But these charming concertos, the second of three volumes conducted by Shelley from the keyboard, are just the thing to set feet tapping.


Anthony Holden

The GuardianTramp

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