Classical/Opera

 

Boulez conducts Stravinsky (Deutsche Grammophon)

Stravinsky is often quoted to the effect that music expresses nothing other than itself, but that doesn't mean that abstract pattern-making ruled all outside influences from his music. Take the three works here, in which Pierre Boulez conducts the Berlin Philharmonic. The "austere ritual" of the Symphonies of Wind Instruments originated in a piece written in memory of Debussy. The Symphony of Psalms set texts the composer described as "poems of exaltation, but also of anger and judgement, and even of curses". The war-time Symphony in Three Movements was "written under the impression of world events". Boulez secures performances teeming with interior colour and life, the layering of contrapuntal strands alone a minor miracle of spatial realisation.

- Michael Dervan

Norwegian 20th-Century String Quartets. Oslo Quartet (Naxos)

The four Norwegian quartets here fall into two pairs roughly half a century apart, Klaus Egge's First and Fartein Valen's Second from around 1930, Johan Kvandal's Third and Alfred Janson's sole quartet from around 1980. There are similarities in the pairings, too. Egge and Kvandal are far more influenced by nationalist, folk-music concerns than the more outward-looking Valen and Janson. It's the ruggedly independent Valen who's undoubtedly the major figure here. His Second Quartet is cast in that intense form of atonal polyphony which made him such a unique and widely-misunderstood figure in the Norway of his time. Finely-judged idiomatic performances from the Oslo Quartet, who start a short Irish tour in Waterford next Thursday.

- Michael Dervan

The Well-Tempered Clavier. Rosalyn Tureck (piano) (Deutsche Grammophon, 4 CDs)

After Edwin Fischer and before Glenn Gould, Rosalyn Tureck (who turned 85 in December) was the player who made the greatest impact on disc as an exponent of Bach on the piano. One of the fruits of her new contract with Deutsche Grammophon and the Bach celebrations of the year 2000 is the reissue of her classic early 1950s recording of the Well-Tempered Clavier on four well-filled discs at full price. Her aim is to "regard each work according to its own drama of form and structure and allow each figure to speak out clearly by shaping it according to its own will, rather than imposing a shape upon it". In truth, of course, the will is Tureck's, and her playing is minutely detailed, articulate, devotional, and almost provocatively single-minded.

- Michael Dervan

La traviata: opera paraphrases. Frank Bungarten (guitar). (MDG)

The late 20th-century mania for authenticity relegated paraphrases to the musical ha'penny place, but with dozens of recordings of every mainstream opera you care to name sloshing around the marketplace, music-lovers of the future may well turn to them for comfort; something easily recognisable, yet subtly different. On the face of it the guitar - intimacy personified - is a million miles from the high-pitched histrionics of grand opera, but Bungarten has chosen his transcriptions carefully, and this is a mellow meeting of worlds; the familiar melodies emerge in a soothing, dark-hued stream. If that sounds dull, it isn't. An opera-lover's delight.

- Arminta Wallace