5 Classical Music Albums You Can Listen to Right Now

5 Classical Music Albums You Can Listen to Right Now

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Janine Jansen, violin; Oslo Philharmonic; Klaus Mäkelä, conductor (Decca)

While the 28-year-old conductor Klaus Mäkelä makes an impact both polished and visceral in the concert hall, the recordings he’s put out thus far in his meteoric career haven’t shown him to his best advantage. There has been blunt, inert Stravinsky with the Orchestre de Paris and a politely listless cycle of Sibelius symphonies with the Oslo Philharmonic. (He will soon depart those ensembles to lead starrier ones: the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.)

Now, for the first time, the focus of one of his albums is not squarely on him, and it’s the best of the middling bunch. The violinist Janine Jansen stays in the spotlight in concertos by Sibelius and Prokofiev (his First) with Mäkelä and the Oslo orchestra. Without ever seeming indulgent, Jansen can be alternately wispily delicate and thrillingly forceful, but always songful and human. In the Prokofiev, she’s just the right mixture of playful and sinister, and suavely intimate in the urbane third movement. The players sound excellent, led by Mäkelä with a kind of passionate moderation, an effectively reined-in fire. The grandeur of the Sibelius concerto’s finale builds steadily, and the end of the Prokofiev’s first movement has the candied atmosphere of a fairy tale. ZACHARY WOOLFE

Jennifer Koh, violin; Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Gil Rose, conductor (BMOP/sound)

The pianist Vijay Iyer, an acclaimed figure in improvised music, also composes works “around” the classical tradition, as he puts it in the notes for this first recorded collection of his orchestral music. There is nothing programmatic or explicitly political, but all the pieces reflect, in some way, the tensions of the era in which they were created, from 2017 to 2019.

The largest work is the half-hour “Trouble,” for violin and orchestra, written for the brilliant Jennifer Koh. It can be heard as a meditation on the relationship of individual to collective: Unlike a traditional concerto, Koh’s nuanced and highly varied sound spinning into and away from a spacious orchestral texture. There is a collective sense of mourning in the third movement, an agonizing memorial for Vincent Chin, a Chinese American man murdered in Detroit in 1982. And in the long, final movement, “Assembly,” various musical strands come together — at first uncertainly, but ultimately in triumph.

“Crisis Modes,” for percussion and strings — which Iyer calls “an S.O.S. from this scarred planet” — boasts a ghostly middle movement rife with Bartokian night sounds. Minimalism is an audible touchpoint for the orchestral piece “Asunder,” which has a buoyancy that transcends the darkness of its time. The collection leaves you leave grateful for the Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s usual confident performances, and wanting to hear more from Iyer the composer. DAVID WEININGER

Ausrine Stundyte, John Lundgren, Nikolai Schukoff, vocalists; Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra; Marc Albrecht, conductor (Pentatone)

Alexander von Zemlinsky lived at the hinge of late Romanticism and early Modernism. While his music has languished, long after being banned in Nazi Germany, advocates have mounted a successful rediscovery campaign in recent years. One opera, “Eine Florentinische Tragödie” — a love-triangle yarn based on a German translation of Oscar Wilde’s “A Florentine Tragedy” — has emerged from that.

Marc Albrecht, the conductor on this recording from the Dutch National Opera, is a devotee of Zemlinsky’s period, and makes the most of his task here. Several other strong takes on the work have emphasized Romantic sweep. But Albrecht lingers on some of the music’s acidic qualities. Throughout, insinuating riffs for oboes, clarinets and trumpets are allowed appropriate space to offer their cutting remarks.

As the merchant Simone, the baritone John Lundgren doesn’t start out at full blast. Instead, he acts the part: At some junctures, he’s batted around effectively by his wayward wife and a calculating prince; at others, he brings a deluded air to some high notes, while saving his most sincere ardor for the goods he’s advertising, or the money he might earn. Pentatone’s booklet includes the German libretto and the English text, side by side. All in all, Wilde’s drama — once critiqued for its quick twists — thrives anew in the frothy-then-turbulent sonic baths of these forces. SETH COLTER WALLS

Paul Wee, piano; Swedish Chamber Orchestra; Michael Collins, conductor (Bis)

Say this for Adolf von Henselt’s Piano Concerto, it had a decent start: Clara Schumann was the soloist at its 1845 premiere, and Felix Mendelssohn was on the podium. There was a time, too, when the work attracted great pianists like Liszt, Busoni and Rachmaninoff. But for the past century or so, only a handful of musicians possessing an inquisitive mind and a technique equal to that of the composer — “a god at the piano,” said Clara’s husband, Robert — have given it a try. It has previously received three recordings, including one from Marc-André Hamelin.

Paul Wee’s new account is extraordinary. A lawyer who plays the piano part time, he makes the concerto’s absurd, unceasing difficulties seem entirely manageable — so much so, that only if you consult the score does its formidable hidden challenges become as imposing as its attention-grabbing double octaves. Just as in Wee’s earlier recording of Liszt’s transcription of the “Eroica” Symphony, the sensitivity of touch and the depth of characterization are as remarkable as the virtuoso thunder; note the pliant shaping of the left-hand accompaniment in the slow movement. He is scarcely less impressive in Hans Bronsart von Schellendorf’s showier, later concerto, combining to gobsmacking effect with the energetic Swedish Chamber Orchestra in its romping finale. DAVID ALLEN

Donald Berman, piano (Avie)

Like all notable performances of Charles Ives’s Second Piano Sonata, “Concord, Mass., 1840-1860,” a tribute to Transcendentalism, Donald Berman’s revels in capaciousness.

The sonata includes florid experimentalism (in the first minutes of the “Emerson” movement), as well as more inward moods of contemplation (as in the finale, “Thoreau”). Elsewhere, you can find traces of parlor-song amiability (“The Alcotts”) and ragtime-influenced abandon (“Hawthorne”). Ives even makes space for European echoes, quoting and transmuting the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and the wedding march from “Lohengrin.”

Berman, the president of the Ives Society, handles the exceptional variety of styles wonderfully; he doesn’t shrink away from difficult density, nor does he offer short shrift to melodic beauty. He also absorbs the optional part for flute, near the end of “Thoreau,” in his piano solo rendition.

Most notably, Berman celebrates Ives the tinkerer. Ives oversaw two published editions of the “Concord,” decades apart. Berman replaces the first pages of the revised “Emerson” movement with passages from the “First Transcription from ‘Emerson,’” which Ives wrote between publishing the “Concord” versions (and later noted might be preferable to both introductions). Some extremities of register and gesture may seem shocking, but to my ear, it’s a rewarding, alternate Ivesian idea, one that seems in league with the churning imagination of contemporary American jazz styles. SETH COLTER WALLS



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