Noteworthy: Reviews of new classical music

Among recent releases, Elina Garanča hits stratospheric notes while Andrea Bocelli's voice wobbles.

Elina Garanča – Aria Cantilena (Deutsche Grammophon): Opera fans eagerly awaiting Elina Garanča's American debut at the Metropolitan Opera next February have reason to be excited about the young Latvian diva's take on Rossini. On her first album with Deutsche Grammophon, two numbers by the Bel Canto composer make the strongest impression. In the finale from "La Cenerentola," she creates swirling corkscrews of sound, exhibiting reedy top notes and sterling technique, while a cavatina from "L'Italiana in Algeri" reveals the darker shades of her mezzo voice. The rest of the album is a grab bag, but a luxurious (bordering on overproduced) one. This season's Met debut-darling, Diana Damrau, also guests on two tender tracks from "Der Rosenkavalier." Grade: B+

Maxim Vengerov and the UBS Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra – Mozart Violin Concertos (EMI Classics): The Siberian violinist Maxim Vengerov can be electrifying in the concert hall. Why then is this disc (the first in a series exploring Mozart's work for violin and orchestra) so lacking in electricity? Some of it is the "unplugged" nature of the endeavor: Vengerov and the UBS band (all musicians under the age of 30) used period instruments and a communal atmosphere (they rehearsed at an Israeli kibbutz) in an attempt to "evoke" a '70s "flavor" – the 1770s, that is. Vengerov also conducts with the bow (chamber music-style) producing interesting textures but little drama. The "Sinfonia" concertante (featuring violist Lawrence Power) fares better than Concertos 2 & 4. Grade: B–

Andrea Bocelli – Cavalleria Rusticana (Decca): In Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana," tenor Andrea Bocelli opens the opera by singing offstage. In some recordings, this effect is achieved by adding a little echo – here, it sounds as if he's singing in a tunnel. Yet no amount of reverb can hide the fact that Bocelli's voice is at least a size too small for the role of Turiddu. His crooning flatters cool, microphone-friendly pop tunes; however, in this red-blooded tale of Sicilian revenge, the international superstar sounds like an amateur: Awkward breathing, poor phrasing, and a voice audibly straining to sustain many of the notes. Paoletta Marrocu is a screechy Santuzza while the orchestra and other singers perform dutifully – if without much passion. Grade: D

Collegium Vocale Gent and Philippe Herreweghe – Bach's Mass in B Minor (Harmonia Mundi): While not everyone could attend Collegium Vocale Gent's Easter Sunday performance of Bach's "St. John's Passion" in New York earlier this month (reportedly, multitudes were turned away at the renowned ensemble's sole American appearance), its "Mass in B-Minor" has just been reissued in a deluxe edition (and at a lower price). This album rightly has a devoted following among early music aficionados. Individual tracks dazzle – the majestic "Sanctus," for example, or Andreas Scholl's heartbreaking "Agnus Dei" – but what elevates this recording is Belgian conductor Philippe Herreweghe's grasp of the work as a whole. Never rigid or rushed, Bach's music flows naturally, even as the Collegium meticulously adheres to the deeper architecture of the score. The cumulative effect after 108 minutes is profound. Grade: A

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