Album: Handel: Messiah (Tafelmusik)
Why we care: Here's a new Messiah, and it's a good one, by Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir. The quartet of soloists for the two-CD release includes Karina Gauvin, one of the world's best baroque sopranos, and an exceptional bass, Brett Polegato.
Why we like it: Conducted by Ivars Taurins, Tafelmusik's performance of Handel's 270-year-old oratorio is a seasonal tradition in Toronto. As this live recording demonstrates, the group is a paragon of period style, bringing rhythmic buoyancy and a nimble vocal touch to the perennial favorite.
Reminds us of: Holiday sings down through the years
Download these: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; All we like sheep have gone astray; Hallelujah; The trumpet shall sound
Album: Drama Queens (Virgin Classics)
Why we care: Mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato was a highlight of the Metropolitan Opera's Baroque pastiche The Enchanted Island a year ago. Now she has a CD that gathers together regal divas in operas ranging from Monteverdi to Handel to Haydn.
Why we like it: I'm not familiar with many of the operas the Kansas City mezzo draws from — Berenice by Giuseppe Maria Orlandini? Fredegunda by Reinhard Keiser? — but her recital with Il Complesso Barocco, conducted by Alan Curtis, is a marvelous sampler.
Reminds us of: The gold to be found in obscure baroque opera
Download this: Disprezzata regina, an aria for Monteverdi's Queen Ottavia in The Cornonation of Poppea that memorably likens her weeping to a "stream of liquid mirrors"
Album: Piano works of Ligeti and Beethoven (Nonesuch)
Why we care: It can be annoying when an artist links widely disparate composers on the same disc — where do you file it alphabetically? — but pianist Jeremy Denk has a point to make in playing Gyorgy Ligeti's fiercely modern, miniature Etudes and Beethoven's two-movement Sonata No. 32. "We're still catching up to Beethoven," he writes. "Ligeti's Etudes seem at times like a sequel to late Beethoven mania."
Why we like it: Denk is an adventurous spirit, and his compare and contrast approach to Ligeti and Beethoven illuminates both.
Reminds us of: Brainy pianists like Glenn Gould and Richard Goode
Download these: Desorde and Galamb borong (both by Ligeti) and Beethoven's Op. 111 Sonata in C minor
Album: Works of Prokofiev for Violin (Decca)
Why we care: I first heard Janine Jensen several years ago when she played the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra on tour, and she made a lasting impression. Now the Dutch violinist has a fine recording of Prokofiev works: Violin Concerto No. 2, with conductor Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra; the Sonata for two violins, with Boris Brovtsyn; and the F-minor Sonata, with pianist Itamar Golan.
Why we like it: The concerto and the sonatas were all completed in the 1930s and provide insight into Prokofiev before and after he ended his exile to return to the Soviet Union.
Reminds us of: Prokofiev's ballet Romeo and Juliet, composed around the same time
Download this: Violin Concerto