Classical: The Compact Collection

Rob Cowan on the Week's New CD Releases
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The Independent Culture
GIVEN THE right exposure, Anne Sofie von Otter's Lamenti could rocket through the charts the way Grecki Three did six years ago. The delicious contrast between von Otter's sensually alluring mezzo and the spiky sonorities of the period-instrument Musica Antique Koln creates an almost tangible frisson, especially in Monteverdi's two languorous laments (the longest being the one that Ariadne sings for Theseus). Reinhard Goebel spices the vocal mix with a delightful "Corrente Nona" by Legrenzi, while Piccinini's Chaconne (a lute solo) precedes the closing item, Purcell's gently spiralling "Oh solitude!" Goebel brings his usual pungency and rhythmic verve to Vivaldi's cantata "Cessate, omai cessate" and the programme also includes an attractive but little-known "Lament for the Queen of England" by Antonio Bertali.

Anyone who enjoys an in-store encounter with this marvellous CD is unlikely to leave without purchasing a copy.

Rarer even than Bertali's "Lament" is the 23-minute "The Birth of Venus" by Gabriel Faure, lyrical music with a mystical aspect and some quietly virtuosic piano writing, presented under the direction of Bernard Tetu in its original version for soloists and mixed chorus. EMI's World Premiere recording shares a generous programme with some of Faure's best-loved songs, including "Apres un reve", "Au Cimetiere" and "Les Berceaux", as well as the popular Pavane (in a version for mixed chorus and piano) and a reconstruction of the original score - where mixed voices are supported by organ and string quintet - of the Cantique de Jean Racine.

Faure's youthful music melds the influences of Mendelssohn and Schumann, though the spring-like aroma of his best scores remains inimitable. Tetu employs a skilful team of relative unknowns, plus his own Solistes de Lyon - Bernard Tetu and the pianist Jean-Claude Pennetier. An enchanting programme, sympathetically realised in spacious sound.

Both discs have a calming power, unlike Olli Mustonen's challenging sequence of ancient and modern preludes and fugues. At first glance, I thought that Bach and Shostakovich might share strictly alternating tracks; but no, Mustonen cleverly juxtaposes longer sequences, first by one composer, then by the other. Mustonen is a genuine original: he darts, hops, dances and races across the keys with a digital dexterity that recalls Glenn Gould. His provocative playing style is matched by a rare intelligence, something you sense from the way he varies the silences between sequences - sewing a Shostakovich prelude to the tail of a Bach fugue, or letting things rest for a while longer than usual.

If you do not already know Shostakovich's astonishingly varied Preludes and Fugues, then this should serve as an ideal introduction. Mustonen takes 12 preludes and fugues from Book I of Bach's The Well-tempered Clavier and mixes them among 12 out of 24 by Shostakovich. RCA's bright sound- frame fits the playing like a well-tailored glove.

Lamenti/ von Otter: Archiv Produktion 457 617-2

Faure/ Tetu: EMI CDC5 56728 2

Bach, Shostakovich/ Mustonen: RCA 74321 61446 2 (two CDs)