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Musical gift ideas: for the romantic

December 4, 2009 | 12:45 pm

A lot of attention has been given lately to the 19th century’s three dominant virtuosos. Topping the slate of recent recordings of Chopin’s late piano music is Marc-André Hamelin’s brilliantly deft accounts of the second and third sonatas. Maria Joao Pires fluently surveys late Chopin on a two-CD Deutsche Grammophon set that also includes the Cello Sonata with Pavel Gomziakov.

Wang The young Chinese pianist Yuja Wang has a winningly energized account of the Second Sonata on her debut recital disc (DG), and she also dazzles in Liszt’s B-Minor Sonata. Vladimir Horowitz is, of course, synonymous with dazzle, and Sony Classics has released for the first time two sets of live recordings of the Russian keyboard wizard from Carnegie Hall concerts given during his prime. On one there, a 1949 recording of the B-Minor sonata sounds as though it were played by a dozen fingers or more. On another, Chopin’s Barcarolle and a Liszt “Legend” from 1947 magically sparkle.

Two new sets of Paganini’s 24 solo violin caprices have come along in competition. Tanja Becker-Bender’s (Hyperion) conveys old-school flair; Thomas Zehetmair’s (ECM) is impressively sophisticated. Meanwhile, a riotous novelty, “Paganini Plus” (MDG), features saxophone arrangements of Paganini by various composers. Raaf Hekkema is the startlingly good soloist.

A lesser-known late 19th century and early 20th century violin virtuoso and composer, the Hungarian Jenö Hubay, fits in historically between Liszt and Bartok. Chloë Hanslip, a radiant young British violinist, has recorded the first two of Hubay’s four violin concertos on Naxos, and they are sumptuous works.

Those who love Mahler’s Ninth Symphony hear it as perhaps the most eloquent farewell to life in all music. Alan Gilbert, the New York Philharmonic’s new music director, offer’s Buddhist-like level-headedness to these supreme death feelings with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic (BIS). Jonathan Nott turns up the heat in his slower, more emotional version with the Bamberg Symphony (Tudor). Both new releases are recorded in outstanding Super Audio CD sound. 

-- Mark Swed

More picks:

Musical gift ideas: for the classicist

Musical gift ideas: for L.A. lovers

Musical gift ideas: for opera mavens

Musical gift ideas: for new music fans

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