Selections to delight a die-hard classical music lover and broaden the horizons of a novice.
Opera virgins, choir nerds, teenagers who think classical music is profoundly uncool... We have you covered from every angle for classical music Christmas gifts. For more ideas, read the complete guide in the December issue of Limelight or consult our iPhone app of the 100 Greatest Classical Recordings ever reviewed in the magazine.
For even more adventurous selections for the black sheep on your Christmas list, see our "other" gift guide. There's no Christmas catalogue around that will advise you on what classical music to buy for a Satanist, a masochist and a Glee fanatic!
For the newcomer to classical music
Piano Concerto No 2; Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
Yuja Wang p; Mahler Chamber Orch/Abbado
Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto is routinely voted the most popular work of all time in radio and magazine surveys. And why not? It’s dripping with romantic rapture and memorable tunes (which the classical novice may recognize from Rach-based pop songs such as Celine Dion’s All By Myself). Yuja Wang has the clarity, lyrical sense and sheer heft to bring out all the swoon factor of the Piano Concerto and the Rhapsody (see Limelight's 5-star review).
Weep, Shudder, Die: A Guide to Loving Opera
Harper Collins ISBN: 9780061941313
The goal of Robert Levine in his book Weep, Shudder, Die is “to make listening to and understanding opera an easier and less Byzantine experience.” The author chooses 50 of the most frequently performed operas and explains their significance in an engaging, chatty style – from the story of the composer to what to listen out for. If you’re opera-curious and wondering where to start, here is your guide.
For the teenage rebel
Zane Banks g
Any teens turned off by the apparent geekiness of classical music will have to rethink their position after listening to Ingwe. In this hour-long electric guitar solo by Australian composer Georges Lentz, shrieking amplified sound clashes with the vast emptiness of the Australian desert. It’s like Jimi Hendrix out in the wilderness playing to the stars. And Zane gives Jimi a run for his money.
THE PIANO MAN
James Rhodes p
Madman DVD SBS1425
James Rhodes is the hip, young ambassador for piano music. Sporting tattoos, long hair and skinny jeans, Rhodes brings rock-star charisma to telling the stories behind the classics of standard repertoire. And his playing isn’t half bad either. This DVD charts Rhodes’s own exploration of the artform, taking a refreshingly fun and non-academic approach.
For the choir nerd
A Tender Light
Tenebrae; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Nigel Short
Young Welsh composer Paul Mealor was catapulted from obscurity to stardom when 2.5 billion people heard his motet Ubi caritas sung at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. (Not a bad gig!) This little jewel outshone John Rutter’s offering and generated at least as much talk as the guests’ outrageous hats. Now Ubi caritas gets another welcome hearing alongside other choral works the composer describes as coming “straight from the heart”, including luminous settings of Stabat Mater and Ave Maria texts.
For the under-12
Peter and the Wolf
Philharmonia Orchestra/Mark Stephenson
Magnolia DVD 10164
Suzie Templeton’s Academy Award-winning animated film of Peter and the Wolf, crafted lovingly and painstakingly using stop-motion techniques, will send former claymation top dog Gromit away with his tail between his legs. Accompanied by Prokofiev’s enchanting orchestral score, the remarkably detailed imagery renders a faithful adaptation of this children’s classic without a word of narration or dialogue. All your favourite characters are here; so too is a hint of darkness lurking under the surface.
For the opera buff
COMEDY & TRAGEDY
Classic Opera Productions from the Glyndebourne Festival
Opus Arte OA1059BD (6 DVDs)
The next-best thing to buying an opera buff passage to Glyndebourne is this wide-ranging DVD boxed set of five complete productions from the English countryside’s opera Mecca. Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore and Verdi’s Falstaff start us off in good spirits; Anne Sofie von Otter is at her most daring in the title role of David McVicar’s Carmen; maestro Vladimir Jurowski charts greed and obsession in the brooding score to Rachmaninov’s The Miserly Knight; and Puccini’s one-act opera Gianni Schicchi rounds off with a spot of scheming and deceit in the name of love. A superb Glyndebourne primer.
In Search of Animals in Handel’s Operas
Random House ISBN: 9780434021529
When best-selling crime and mystery author Donna Leon isn’t cranking out her latest whodunit, she’s indulging another passion: opera. Her compendium of Handel arias approaches the music from an unusual angle, delving into the history and mythology of the animals that wander through the libretti. Inspired by medieval bestiaries – illustrated collections of animal stories – Leon’s imaginative study is brought to life with charming artwork and a CD of 12 arias, each exploring the traits of a different animal and performed by Handel specialist ensemble Il Complesso Barocco.
For the completist
The Piano Music
Leslie Howard p
Hyperion CDS44501/98 (99 CDs)
In what is perhaps history’s most impressive feat of marathon recording, Australian pianist Leslie Howard has recorded all known extant works by Liszt for solo piano. All 7,255 minutes and 25 seconds of it. Liszt tends to be known only for a few warhorses (the first Mephisto Waltz, the Sonata) but here is a chance to sample the extraordinary wide range of his work. Among the gems are the Liszt transcription of the Beethoven symphonies.
For Christmas Day
THE CHRISTMAS STORY
Byrd; Gade; Grandi et al
Theatre of Voices; Ars Nova Copenhagen/Hillier
Harmonia Mundi HMU807565
Allow Paul Hillier and his two pure-voiced ensembles to provide your Christmas morning dose of carols, heard anew in Hillier’s own stunning arrangements. Theatre of Voices and Ars Nova Copenhagen will be your guides through Yuletide sung tradition, from Advent to the nativity. Solemn chant, sublime motets… And let’s not forget the figgy pudding!
For more classical gift ideas, read Limelight's complete guide in the December issue.
The Limelight 100 Greatest Classical Recordings app for iPhone presents the finest albums reviewed in the magazine over almost a decade of classical music coverage.
This selection of definitive and pioneering recordings ranges from the Lorraine Hunt Lieberson recital that made the host of ABC's Just Classics weep uncontrollably on first hearing, to startlingly original interpretations of Chopin (Maurizio Pollini, Stephen Hough), Rachmaninov (Vladimir Ashkenazy, Iván Fischer) and more. Artists include singers Renée Fleming, Andreas Scholl and Cecilia Bartoli; violinists Julia Fischer and Joshua Bell; the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra.
Users of the app can browse the collection and read complete reviews as published in Limelight; view the original album artwork; sort by Title, Artist, Composer and Genre; listen to excerpts and purchase tracks and full albums via the iTunes store.
Available now for just 99 cents, the Limelight Classic 100 is one of the only apps of its kind devoted to classical music reviews. It makes for great reading and listening for a long commute or leisurely afternoon at home. It's also the ideal digital stocking-filler for serious record collectors, or for those wishing to broaden their listening experience. Take this handy classical music guide record shopping with you this Christmas!
This article appeared in the December, 2011 issue of Limelight Magazine.
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