As those who recently heard the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 in Helzberg Hall can attest, Riccardo Muti is a masterful conductor of Bruckner. The hall was rapt, not a cough or a ruffled piece of paper could be heard and there was no applause between movements.
After the concert, Muti told me how impressed he was with the Kansas City audience. A conductor knows when the audience is focused and paying attention, he told me.
You can have the Muti/Bruckner experience in your living room with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s new recording of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9. It’s a stunner.
The symphony, which Bruckner dedicated “to the beloved God,” opens with a mysterious atmosphere that sets the stage for the majesty to come. Soon we’re scaling epic mountain peaks, and the second movement scherzo erupts with sonic blasts from the Chicago brass that will rattle your windows.
Bruckner suggested that if he did not live to complete his Symphony No. 9, his Te Deum, which he had composed 12 years earlier, be used in place of a final fourth movement. But God works in mysterious ways, and the third movement, which Bruckner did complete, is a perfect ending to the symphony. That final, aching adagio is an intense yearning for God, and the shimmering strings and brass of the CSO give a sense of ascending into heaven.
It’s a mystic vision that is fully realized by Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
“Anton Bruckner, Symphony No. 9.” Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Muti (CSO Resound)
King’s Singers Gold
In addition to Muti and the Chicago Symphony, our beloved Harriman-Jewell Series recently presented the King’s Singers at the Folly Theater. The jaunty British vocalists have made numerous appearances on the Harriman-Jewell Series over the years because, well, audiences adore them.
How can you not? No matter what members come and go over the decades, the meticulous musicianship and light and breezy attitude are constants with this superb group of singers.
To celebrate their 50th anniversary, the King’s Singers have released “Gold,” a three-CD anthology that shows off the ensemble’s diversity and brilliance. A healthy sampling of the group’s celebrated arrangements is here, ranging from Beatles tunes to British folk songs.
But there’s also plenty for more serious listeners. The second and third discs are devoted to short works by composers that include Giovanni Palestrina, Thomas Tallis and Gabriel Fauré. “Gold” is both a memento of the King’s Singers’ remarkable history and a collection that fans of the group will return to time and again.
“Gold.” The King’s Singers (Signum)
There was a time when record labels regularly lavished huge budgets on complete opera recordings. Not so anymore: Declining revenues have meant less money to spend on these prestige projects. So kudos to Warner Classics’ Erato label for its recent release of Hector Berlioz’s massive “Les Troyens,” featuring a huge cast that includes Kansas City’s own Joyce DiDonato.
DiDonato sings the role of Dido in this sprawling, five-act opera based on Virgil’s “The Aeneid.” Few composers can match Berlioz for grandiosity, and “Les Troyens” is so overblown and unwieldy that Berlioz was required to cut the first two acts for its premiere performance in 1863.
“Les Troyens” was not performed in its entirety until 21 years after Berlioz’s death. Complete performances are now the norm, and this recording is unabridged, including every glorious note.
DiDonato, of course, is wonderful. No one plays larger-than-life, mythic characters better. The rest of the cast is up to her level, and the orchestra and choir sound marvelous.
You can follow the story with the libretto, which is included in the set, but it’s just as enjoyable to mindlessly groove to all four discs while you’re doing your fall housecleaning and reveling in the sumptuous sound. Even if you aren’t an opera buff, I heartily encourage you to give this set a try. You might be surprised how much you enjoy this extravagant art form
“Les Troyens” by Hector Berlioz. Joyce DiDonato and the Strasbourg Philharmonic conducted by John Nelson (Warner Classics)
The Danish String Quartet
Hygge is a hot trend right now. Translated as “coziness,” hygge is a quality inherent in a comfy wool sweater, a steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup or a mantel ablaze with candles. It’s a defining characteristic of Danish culture and their means of coping with a long, dark winter.
Stressed-out Americans embracing the lifestyle might want to give a listen to “Last Leaf,” the latest recording from the Danish String Quartet. To my ears, it’s the musical equivalent of hygge.
Like the quartet’s 2014 album, “Wood Works,” which was one of the best-selling classical albums of that year, “Last Leaf” is this fine young ensemble’s exploration of Danish folk music. The endearing arrangements of folk tunes on “Last Leaf,” which include an exceptionally beautiful Danish Christmas carol, are at times embellished with tasteful touches like tinkling bells.
This is music that would sound especially good while sipping a steaming cup of gløgg and meditating on the dying embers in the fireplace.
“Last Leaf,” the Danish String Quartet (ECM Records)
You can reach Patrick Neas at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at www.facebook.com/kcartsbeat.