Classical CDs of the week: Brahms, Arnold and more

Brahms: Complete Piano Trios; Piano Quartet No 1 in G minor

Trio Wanderer, Christophe Gaugué (viola), Harmonia Mundi HMC 901915.16, 2 CDs, £19.99

Painfully self-critical as ever, Brahms later drastically overhauled his youthful B major Piano Trio. Yet, even in its revised version, the work exudes the soaring Romanticism of the "young eagle" whose genius had so overwhelmed Robert and Clara Schumann.

In the C major Trio of 1882 the themes are just as glorious, but their development far tauter, while the C minor Trio – described by a friend of the composer as "better than any photograph, for it shows your real self" – is quintessential late Brahms in its mingled cussedness and nostalgic lyricism.

The Wanderers, ardent, refined and scrupulously balanced, stand up well against formidable competition. When required, in the first movements of the C major and C minor, they muster an authentic Brahmsian trenchancy. They are wonderfully pointed and delicate in the crepuscular scherzos.

Most memorable of all is the way they combine subtle, fluid phrasing of the lyrical melodies with an unerring sense of the long Brahmsian line. An impassioned performance of the G minor Piano Quartet crowns a superb Brahms recital. Richard Wigmore

Arnold: Beckus the Dandipratt; Suite from 'The Inn of the Sixth Happiness'; Flourish for a 21st Birthday; Symphony No 6; Philharmonic Concerto

London Philharmonic Orchestra, cond Vernon Handley, LPO – 0013, £8.99

Malcolm Arnold, who died last week aged 84, made his name as a composer in the 1940s; before then, he was the London Philharmonic's principal trumpeter, and he maintained links with his old orchestra through the intervening decades. This recording of a concert of his music at the Festival Hall in London in September 2004 celebrates that association under the guidance of one of British music's most venerated advocates, Vernon Handley.

It demonstrates the seriousness and range of Arnold's music as much as its undiminished freshness, with highlights including the suite from his magnificent film score to The Inn of the Sixth Happiness and the often dark, even Shostakovich-like Sixth Symphony. The recording team has wrought marvels in making the Festival Hall sound warmer and more immediate than it is, enabling the full range and richness of the LPO's playing to come across. Handley reveals his skill in the way he makes even unfamiliar music sing the first time you hear it, and yet he is not afraid of playing to Arnold's rhythmic robustness when required. Matthew Rye

Rossini: Matilde di Shabran

Juan Diego Flórez (Corradino), Annick Massis (Matilde), Hadar Halevy (Edoardo), Bruno de Simone (Isidoro) Prague Chamber Choir, Orquestra Sinfónica de Galicia, cond Riccardo Frizza, Decca 475 7688, 3 CDs, £22.99

Premièred in makeshift form during the 1821 Roman carnival, Matilde di Shabran is a real Rossinian rarity. The plot is a sort of Taming of the Shrew in reverse: the macho misogynist Corradino is eventually softened by the wily Matilde after trying to have her thrown off a cliff. Other characters include an itinerant poet – a surefire affront to Corradino's bully-boy values – a viperish Countess, and the lachrymose Edoardo, son of Corradino's mortal enemy.

Rossini treats the whole thing as an extravagant buffo parody. If the occasional number seems written on autopilot, Matilde fizzes with inventiveness, above all in the composer's trademark ensembles of manic mayhem.

This recording from the 2004 Pesaro Festival is expertly, if sometimes slightly ruthlessly, conducted, and in the main brilliantly sung. From the sabre-rattling coloratura of Corradino's first entry to his chastened conversion, Flórez gives a stunning performance which no tenor today could match. Annick Massis is almost his equal in virtuosity, and characterises Matilde with brio. Bruno de Simone makes a resourceful poet, while mezzo Hadar Halevy sings smoothly and warmly in the breeches role of Edoardo. RW

Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

John Treleaven (Tristan), Christine Brewer (Isolde), Apollo Voices, BBC Symphony Orchestra, cond Donald Runnicles, Warner 2564 62964-2, 4 CDs, £24.99

The BBC Symphony Orchestra's account of Wagner's opera, performed an act at a time over three concerts in its 2002-3 season, now comes to CD courtesy of the BBC's original broadcast recording.

The performance was acclaimed at the time not only for Donald Runnicles's conducting, which brought new insight into Wagner's orchestral tapestry, but also for the Isolde of Christine Brewer. She laid out her Wagnerian credentials with a gleaming soprano voice that brings out all the passions of the Irish princess.

Though his singing is not quite as effortlessly beautiful, John Treleaven is a Tristan with plenty of expressive range as well as vocal power. The two lovers are supported by a strong Brangäne and Kurwenal from Dagmar Pecková and Boaz Daniel, and a sonorous King Mark from Peter Rose. MR

Bruckner: Symphony No 8

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, cond Herbert von Karajan, DG/Penguin Rosette Collection B00020QWDC, £12.99

Herbert von Karajan revered Bruckner's Eighth more than any other symphony, according to his biographer, Richard Osborne. It's fitting, then, that this should have been his last studio recording. In November 1988, the frail, death-obsessed conductor set down a reading of the work that was Olympian, sublime, note-perfect – all the usual Karajan qualities – but also, thanks to the Vienna Philharmonic's strings, touched by an almost creepy intimacy.

Above all, it hangs together, as if a single phrase-mark arched across the four movements. You could not, for example, listen to Karajan's scherzo on its own, as you could perhaps with Harnoncourt and the Berlin Philharmonic (Teldec, B000059QWH). The relentless fanfares of the Vienna brass, answered by menacing whispers from the violins, create the least jokey scherzo on record – yet one that makes perfect sense in the context of the whole.

This is not a Bruckner Eighth for connoisseurs of orchestral colour: for that, try any of Günter Wand's recordings of the work. The purity of sound that Karajan expects (and receives) from every section underlines the composer's unbelievable mastery of structure and counterpoint at this late stage in his career.

The symphony is the most demanding that Bruckner wrote, for musicians and audience alike – and never more so than in this 84-minute performance. Maybe it is best kept for special occasions. Music-lovers who undervalue Bruckner – and there are too many of them – will probably miss the point. But other listeners will encounter one of those recordings that suggest that this eccentric Austrian church organist was the greatest of all symphonists. Damian Thompson

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