Welcome to Hyperion Records, an independent British classical label devoted to presenting high-quality recordings of music of all styles and from all periods from the twelfth century to the twenty-first.
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There are no new Hyperion recordings this month; our January releases will be available from Friday 7 January 2022.
2021 marks the centenary of Camille Saint-Saëns’ death, on 16 December. A prolific and long-lived composer—‘I produce music as an apple tree produces apples’, he is reputed to have said—his productivity and compositional fluency haven’t always been appreciated by those critics who prefer an oeuvre which reflects its creator’s struggles and suffering. (Not that Saint-Saëns’ personal life was devoid of suffering; quite the opposite.) His centenary therefore provides an opportunity to reassess a posthumous reputation which now rests on just a handful of works, while the bulk of his very considerable output remains consigned unfairly to oblivion. Over the years, Hyperion has assembled a Saint-Saëns discography which is unrivalled in its excellence and breadth, a discography which goes some way to rescuing a lot of music from that oblivion. What follows lists some of our favourites …
The ‘Organ’ Symphony (No 3) is justly one of the most famous of nineteenth-century symphonies. But if there are three, must there not be at least another two? In fact, Saint-Saëns wrote five symphonies in all; although No 3 was the last, there are two early unnumbered works. All are heard to best effect in sympathetic accounts from Thierry Fischer and the Utah Symphony, who include an inspired assortment of fillers ranging from the famous—and no survey of the orchestral music would be complete without The carnival of the animals—to the shamefully neglected: the three ‘tableaux symphoniques’ from La foi will have you wondering where this music has been for the last century.
Hyperion’s recordings of all the concertos also easily merit the ‘library recommendation’ tag. Many pianists have the Piano Concerto No 2 in their repertoire—some even investigate No 4—but those who take on all five are a rare breed indeed. Stephen Hough is one such: in 2008, this set of Saint-Saëns’ complete works for piano and orchestra was voted by readers of The Times as the finest classical recording of the last thirty years. Recordings of the concertos for violin (with Philippe Graffin) and cello (Natalie Clein) prove equally desirable acquisitions.
Culminating in a series of sonatas for wind instruments which date from his final years, Saint-Saëns’ chamber music is a joy, and it’s difficult to imagine more life-affirming versions than these from The Nash Ensemble (praised by Gramophone as ‘a set of sheer delight’). An album of piano trios from The Florestan Trio makes an ideal supplement.
Despite religious misgivings, Saint-Saëns spent some twenty years of his professional life as organist at La Madeleine in Paris, and no less a figure than Liszt thought him the greatest organist in the world. Three volumes of the organ music from Andrew-John Smith are a real find, as is Piers Lane’s album of the complete Études for piano. And lastly, François Le Roux and Graham Johnson include a wonderful selection of twenty-seven songs in the volume of our French Song Edition devoted to Saint-Saëns.
And here are the most recent new releases from Hyperion …Any new release from the Takács Quartet promises to be something special, and November's magnificent Record of the Month—String Quartets by Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn—is no exception. In comparison to Felix's last and greatest quartet, often regarded as a requiem for his sister, the couplings appear scarcely less fine in the Takács' idiomatic interpretations: these are astonishing performances which fully recognize all three works' strength and seriousness of purpose. The flowering of Romanticism throughout the first half of the nineteenth century is also much in evidence in the Chopin Nocturnes, and Stephen Hough's glorious new set effortlessly captures the emotional and poetic radiance of works which increasingly transcend the modest domestic origins of the genre, culminating in the twin masterpieces of the final Op 62 set.
With Josquin's legacy, Owain Park and The Gesualdo Six bid farewell to the composer's quincentenary year. This is typically imaginative programming from the group; a selection of motets bringing together Josquin with his contemporaries, with luminous performances to match.
Hildegard of Bingen's Ordo Virtutum is the earliest known musical drama. Composed some 900 years ago for performance at the Abbey of Rupertsberg, now on the 1equalmusic label and recorded as part of a semi-staged Australian tour, The Song Company presents Hildegard's story of a struggling Soul—with the eponymous seventeen Virtues on one side and the Devil on the other—in a powerful new interpretation by Leonie Cambage and Antony Pitts.
An unashamedly celebratory album, The tree from St John's College Choir Cambridge marks milestone birthdays of former directors Christopher Robinson and David Hill (who share conducting duties with current incumbent Andrew Nethsingha), in the process bringing together present and past choir members and friends—literally hundreds of them for some tracks. Also for Signum Classics, Bridget Cunningham has recorded Handel's Eight Great Harpsichord Suites, the programme also including first recordings of some superb arrangements of operatic overtures and arias as reworked for the instrument by Handel himself. And in Labyrinths the Orchestra of the Swan further explores the delightful, if sometimes surprising, connections to be enjoyed between culturally disparate and musically contrasting time periods.
A new double album from LSO Live brings together vibrant new recordings of Mozart Wind Concertos (Timothy Jones the soloist in Horn Concerto No 2, Olivier Stankiewicz in the C major Oboe, and Andrew Marriner in the A major Clarinet) with the extended Sinfonia concertante, lost for a century after its first performance in 1778. Jaime Martín conducts the London Symphony Orchestra. Also included is the acclaimed 2015 recording of the 'Serenade for 13 wind instruments' by the LSO Wind Ensemble.
Two new releases from Collegium Records this month bring us I sing of a maiden, a sequence of five new carols by John Rutter stunningly performed by The Cambridge Singers and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under the composer's baton, and Lead, kindly Light, a brief new setting of John Henry Newman's famous words.
It was in 1581 that Robert Dow began to write out all his favourite music into five partbooks—designed for his dinner guests to sing and play from, as they enjoyed his wine and his company. Entitled Vinum et Musica (quoting from Dow's own emphatic inscription beginning each partbook), a new 1equalmusic recording from the ever-innovative Tonus Peregrinus sets out to see how this would have worked in reality, the highly experimental and very enjoyable result being almost certainly the only album of Renaissance polyphony to feature table tennis cheek by jowl with the most unexpected harmonic false relations …
On the choir's own label, In the bleak midwinter is a warming sequence of twenty carols from King's College Choir Cambridge. Following the familiar musical progressions of the world-renowned Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols—for which in 2020 much of this recording was intended to be a fall-back only—glorious old favourites as ever sit happily alongside new arrangements and carols less well known. Daniel Hyde conducts.
A new collaboration between Irish National Opera and Signum Classics bursts onto the scene with the premiere recording of Alice's adventures under ground by Gerald Barry, a mini opera which takes Lewis Carroll's fantastical imaginings into entirely new realms of anarchy. Claudia Boyle heads up a dizzyingly virtuosic ensemble, André de Ridder conducting a rambunctious Irish Chamber Orchestra. Jabberwocky in Russian, anyone?