5 classical music albums you can listen to right now

Gürzenich Orchestra; François-Xavier Roth, conductor (Myrios)

Anton Bruckner, pioneer of modernism? So thinks François-Xavier Roth, one of today’s most inventive conductors. Roth worked on a Bruckner cycle with his Gürzenich Orchestra in Cologne, Germany, of which this is the first recorded evidence. To illustrate the composer’s progressivism in concert, Roth performed the Third Symphony with Ligeti, the Eighth with Lachenmann and this Seventh, which was recorded live in December 2019, to music by Graciane Finzi. Pairing is not done on disk; what remains is a Bruckner quite different from the norm.

Not for Roth all those “cathedrals of sound” jokes – it’s lighter, smoother and faster than the Bruckner we hear so often, 10 minutes faster than Andris Nelsons recent account of the same piece with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Surely influenced by his work with his ensemble of period instruments, Les Siècles, Roth is less interested in grand architectural paragraphs than in shorter, accented phrases; thinning down some of Bruckner’s textures, his emphasis is not on gravity of utterance, but on variety of sonority. It will take some getting used to, but that’s the point. And if I’m not quite convinced yet, it means that I want to know more. DAVID ALLEN

ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra; Marin Alsop, conductor (Naxos)

Conductor Marin Alsop has just completed her tenure as music director of the Baltimore Symphony, the first woman to hold that position with one of America’s greatest ensembles. But it has not finished innovating, as in this powerful interpretation of the works of Hans Werner Henze.

Henze, commonly programmed in Europe, is not often played in the United States, where its reputation is shaky; it also paid for its wide aesthetic range. “Nachtstücke und Arien,” in which tonal melody coexists with dense abandon, scandalized radicals like Pierre Boulez when it premiered in 1957.

With his Viennese orchestra joined by soprano Juliane Banse, Alsop has the measure of his gloomy beauty; in the first movement, the opening melodies for the winds have a relaxed and relaxing quality, often contrasted with the more nervous writing of the strings. But this reading is still very severe in the moments of frenzy of the massive tone of the movement. All of Henze’s pieces on this set – which also includes “Los Caprichos” and, with cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan, “Englische Liebeslieder” – have been well recorded in recent years on the Wergo label. But some of those sharp takes can feel like they’re still trying to redeem Henze for Boulez’s stiffer ears. As Alsop points out, that’s not the only way to hear it. SETH COLTER WALLS

Matt Haimovitz, cello (Pentatone)

Cellist Matt Haimovitz’s playing sizzles. And yet, on a long schedule, it can be oddly easy to start forgetting about it. His talent becomes something you take for granted; it’s a humble way to present virtuosity.

His latest vehicle for contemporary music is a multi-volume series, “Primavera”, in which he invited 81 composers to respond to springtime paintings by Botticelli and contemporary artist Charline von Heyl. Following her own arrangement of Kyrie from Josquin’s Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae, we hear Missy Mazzoli’s homage to the same work — with a rhythmic move that evokes both minimalism and American folk dance.

The plunging patterns of Tomeka Reid’s “Volpaning” and the aggressive energy of its climax, seem to depict a flying object finding its preferred momentum only at the end of its journey. It’s energizing and heartbreaking at the same time. Taken alongside fellow Sky Macklay-worthy commissions Jennifer Jolley and Alex Weston, Haimovitz makes a compelling case on behalf of his chosen composers, who take center stage throughout. SETH COLTER WALLS

Benjamin Appl, baritone; James Baillieu, piano (Alpha)

Baritone Benjamin Appl’s hat trick at Schubert recitals at the Park Avenue Armory in 2019 was one of the most promising New York debuts in recent years. He hasn’t returned since – his next engagement, at Carnegie Hall, was a casualty of the pandemic – but in the meantime he’s recorded one of those Armory programs: the wistful song cycle “Winterreise.” .

As in New York, the pianist is James Baillieu, often more deferential and measured than showy, even in the galloping “Die Post”. Yet he is also capable of quiet tension, as in “Die Krähe”, and compliments the wide emotional world in the whispers of Appl’s approach. Their “Gute Nacht” has the sweetness of fresh snow, but also its dangerous cold. This is the key to Schubert’s sadly beautiful music, and the reason why this “Frühlingstraum” is both magnificent and overwhelming.

Appl handles the tight turns of the cycle with affecting control, storyteller’s grip and, above all, confidence in the text. He savors the mercurial serenity of “Der Lindenbaum” and the end in major key of the furious “Rückblick”. In “Die Wetterfahne” he’s not afraid of a bit of ugliness, which works to a barking climax.

Throughout – culminating in a chillingly simple “Der Leiermann” – you can hear the acting qualities that gave another Schubert cycle that Appl sang at the arsenal, “Die Schöne Müllerin”, the form of a true monodrama. It’s even better for him; I hope he records it next. JOSHUA BARONE

Catalyst quartet; Michelle Cann, piano (Azica)

The Catalyst Quartet “Discovered” quickly became one of the most interesting recording projects, notable not only for the earnest attention the quartet gives to deserving black composers, but also for the excellence of their playing. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was at the center of the first exit; Florence Price, of second, which offers six works, four of which are in the works, with the help of pianist Michelle Cann and violinist Abi Fayette, who joined the quartet after the recent departure of composer Jessie Montgomery. (Next up are William Grant Still, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, and George Walker.)

The two largest works here, a piano quintet and a string quartet, both in A minor, date from the mid-1930s and are in the lush epic style – weaving distinctive witty idioms into inherited forms – which have become familiar from the contemporary works of Price First and Third Symphonies. The other four works are quite different: a probably unfinished String Quartet in G in two movements (1929) which has a gripping slow movement contrasting poignant lyricism with darkly comic episodes; an undated piano quartet, concise but effective; and two final quartets, the ‘Negro Folksongs in Counterpoint’ (c. 1947) and ‘Five Folksongs in Counterpoint’ (1951), which ends with a bravura setting of ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’. It begins with something of Haydn’s ‘Emperor’ Quartet, but ends with Price’s own energy and conviction. DAVID ALLEN