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THE NEW YORK TIMES HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE 

features titles from harmonia mundi and its distributed labels.

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BACH. Goldberg Variations

Fretwork

harmonia mundi HMU 907560

Not long ago the idea of arranging the “Goldberg” Variations for an ensemble seemed outlandish, but Richard Boothby, who made this lively edition for Fretwork, the British viol consort (of which he is a member), points out that even a piano version is an arrangement. Mr. Boothby’s thoughtful scoring plays to Fretwork’s considerable strengths, but its principal joy is a transparency that lets every strand of counterpoint ring out.

 

ALLAN KOZIN

Schubert: Piano Sonatas D.840850

& 894, Impromptus, Klavierstücke

Paul Lewis

harmonia mundi HMC 902115

Mr. Lewis, the superb English pianist who has spent much of the last decade performing and recording Beethoven, is now focusing on Schubert. In this set he offers richly nuanced, soulful renditions of the Sonatas in C (D. 840), D (D. 850) and G (D. 894), the Impromptus (D. 899) and the Klavierstücke (D. 946), all fine examples of his compelling artistry.

 

VIVIEN SCHWEITZER

J.L.BACH. Trauermusik

RIAS Chamber Choir

Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin

Hans-Christoph Rademann

harmonia mundi HMC 902080

Bach’s cousin in Meiningen, Germany, wrote this “Music of Mourning” on the death of his patron, Duke Ernst Ludwig of Saxe-Meiningen, in 1724, but the title doesn’t remotely cover the ground. Here is a wealth of music — some somber; much jubilant, occasionally to the point of giddiness; and all delectable — in a brilliant performance.

 

JAMES R. OESTREICH

Rose of Sharon

Joel Frederiksen

Ensemble Phoenix Munich 

harmonia mundi HMC 902085

From a seemingly unlikely source — the Munich-based Ensemble Phoenix, directed by an American, Joel Frederiksen — this was the gem among recordings of Americana this year. Mr. Frederiksen sings the Shaker spiritual “Lay Me Low” soulfully and leads a sprightly version of “Simple Gifts.” Three numbers by William Billings include the title cut, “I Am the Rose of Sharon.” There are songs of the Civil War and more.

 

JAMES R. OESTREICH

LULLY. Atys

Les Arts Florissants

William Christie

FRA Musica FRA006 (DVD)

FRA Musica FRA 506 (Blu-Ray)

Mr. Christie and his visionary troupe made a classic audio recording of Lully’s masterpiece in 1987, soon after they had first performed it. But we now have a visual record of Jean-Marie Villégier’s essential, unsurpassedly elegant production, captured in Paris during the revival tour this year. It is simply one of the wonders of the world.

 

ZACHARY WOOLFE

Berlioz: Nuits d'Ete; Handel: Arias 

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

Nicholas McGegan

Philharmonia Baroque PBP 01

Our most important artists are great because their work is strong enough to wrestle with. Captured live on this disc, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s radiant, sober take on Berlioz’s song cycle “Les Nuits d’Été” is not the only possible interpretation, but she makes you rethink the work. And in the stately long lines of Handel she is unmatched.

 

ZACHARY WOOLFE

HAYDN. Symphonies Nos.88, 101, 104

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

Nicholas McGegan

Philharmonia Baroque PBP 02

These excellent performances were recorded live, as becomes evident especially in the Symphonies Nos. 88 and 101, with mounting excitement toward the end. The playing sounds spontaneous throughout, yet dynamic contrasts are beautifully judged to capture Haydn’s playfulness and mystery.

 

JAMES R. OESTREICH

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