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MusicWeb reviewers select their Recordings of the Year
Reviewers were allowed a totally free choice. They were not restricted to discs they had reviewed.
Click on cover to read a full review

Kirk McElhearn

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Sonatas for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord, Preludes and Fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier Book I Alison Crum, viola da gamba; Laurence Cummings, harpsichordRec: November 1999. SIGNUM SIGCD024 [55.12]

This recording was a discovery that made me reconsider these pieces, which I had often considered to be minor works. Not only is the playing outstanding, but the recording quality of this disc is among the finest I have ever heard of these instruments. As I said in my review, "This is perhaps the best recording available of Bach's Sonatas for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord. Beautiful performances by both musicians, instruments that sound fresh and alive, and an excellent recording make this an essential disc for any Bach lover." KM

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Trio Sonatas London Baroque Ingrid Seifert, violin; Richard Gwilt, violin / viola; Charles Medlam, violoncello; Terence Charlston, harpsichord / organ. Rec: October - November 2001, St. Martin’s, East Woodhay, Hampshire, England. BIS CD-1345 [74.38]

London Baroque have already proven their uniqueness in the past, but they reach a new summit here. In my review, I had already considered this one of the best discs of 2002: "This fine recording is certainly one of the best Bach discs of the year. London Baroque confirm their qualities as not only sensitive and well-balanced, but also creative in these fine transcriptions. This is an essential recording for Bach lovers, who will find new worlds of feeling in music that is certainly familiar." KM

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I BWV 846-869 Rosalyn Tureck, piano Rec: September and October 1975, April 1976, BBC Concert Hall Studios, London. BBC MUSIC BBCL 4109 2 [131.21]

Roslyn Tureck is one of the finest Bach performers on the piano, and her mono recording of the Well-Tempered Clavier, from 1953, stands as one of the finest versions of this monument. What a surprise to discover that the BBC had tapes of a 1975-76 recording of these preludes and fugues, made for radio broadcast. It's hard to say whether this recording will dethrone her older set - time will tell, as will repeated listenings. But this set stands as one of the great surprises of this Bach year, and perhaps her final testament.KM

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) St. John Passion BWV 245 Ingrid Schmithusen, soprano Yoshikazu Mera, counter-tenor Gerd Türk, tenor (Evangelist) Chiyuki Urano, bass (Jesus) Peter Kooij, bass (Petrus, Pilatus) St. Matthew Passion BWV 244 Nancy Argenta, soprano Robin Blaze, countertenor Gerd Türk, tenor (Evangelist) Makoto Sakurada, tenor Peter Kooij, bass (Jesus) Chiyuki Urano, bass Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki Rec: April 1998 (St. John), March 1999 (St. Matthew), Kobe Shoin Women’s University, Japan. BIS CD-1342/1344 [274.11]

Okay, I cheated. I have to mention a fourth, which was not originally released in 2002, but which saw a budget re-release this year.
As I said in my introduction, Masaaki Suzuki has been recording what is probably the finest set of Bach's sacred cantatas. His recordings of Bach's passions are also excellent. This re-release of the two passions, in a less expensive set, is certainly a must for anyone who does not already own it. The St. John has been widely - and justly - praised as the finest version available. The St. Matthew passion, while not quite as excellent as the St. John, features the inspired singing of Robin Blaze, one of the finest countertenors singing Bach today. But together with the brilliant choir and Suzuki's impassioned direction, this recording is one of the finest. Together, the two passions in this set are perhaps the best example of a conductor's unique vision of this great music.
Finally, I would like to stress that all four of these recordings were brought to us by the smaller, independent labels (though the BBC is not exactly independent), showing that the finest music, at least for composers such as Bach, is released not by the multinational companies who abruptly end contracts with great performers and conductors for not being marketable enough, but by the small labels who work to share their love for music.KM

John Phillips

Morten LAURIDSEN (b.1943 - ) Lux Aeterna (1997) World Premiere Recording Les Chansons des Roses (1993) Ave Maria (1997) World Premiere Recording Mid-Winter Songs Orchestral Version (1990) World Premiere Recording O Magnum Mysterium Los Angeles Master Chorale and Sinfonia Orchestra/Paul Salamunovich Recorded June 9, August 29, 1997, and January 9 & 20 1998, in Sacred Heart Chapel, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles. DDD RUBEDO CANIS MUSICA RCM 19705 [76.23]

When I reviewed the disc which I am recommending as my disc of the year it was as far back as April, and as I predicted then, this would probably be my disc of the year. To be honest, I have not heard a disc since this date which has give me as much pleasure as this RCM disc of the music of Morten Lauridsen, entitled O Magnum Mysterium, performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Sinfonia conducted by Paul Salamunovitch, RCM 19705. Not yet available in the UK, it can be obtained from and would make the perfect Christmas present for any of your music loving friends. JP

Peter Quantrill

Gérard GRISEY (1946 – 1998) Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil (1997/8) Catherine Dubosc (soprano); Klangforum Wien; Sylvain Cambreling Recorded: WDR Funkhaus, October 2000 KAIROS 0012252KAI [41:34]

The eerily prescient swansong of one of the last century's most individual voices. Gerard Grisey could hardly have foreseen the aneurism that would kill him at the age of 42 when writing 'Four Songs on Crossing the Threshold', but nor could he have left a more powerful or appropriate artistic testimony. I well remember the frisson which spread round the Queen Elizabeth Hall after its world premiere there. For at least half of us in the hall, it was the first time we had heard a note of the Canadian composer's music, so little had it been publicised or played outside Francophone countries. Even more unusual was the certain sense that we had heard a masterpiece, a sense which repeated listenings to this fine performance only confirm. The work uses fragmentary texts of Egyptian papyri to meditate on the passing of life into death and in its breath, patience and imagination constitutes a late-20th-century answer to Das Lied von der Erde. PQ

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1907-1975) Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11 in G minor Op. 103, The Year 1905 (1957) London Symphony Orchestra/Mstislav Rostropovich Recorded live March 2002, Barbican, London. LSO LIVE LSO0030 [72’24"]

OK, there is an element of the 'I was there' nose-thumbing about this choice as well. But having heard Slava's earlier Washington recording and three previous live performances of his, I'm pretty confident that this is his finest interpretation to date of a symphony for which he appears to hold a special affection. And why not? Until as recently as a decade ago, it was rarely heard live: discophiles talked of performances by Mravinsky, Stokowski and Pritchard with awe. The first two, at least, stand the test of time. But the combination of the LSO at full throttle and Rostropovich's broad tempi give the Eleventh a cinematic breadth, which, in truth, it always had: it's just that its detractors used 'film music' as a term of derision. What could be more atmospheric and unsettling than the endless quiet timpani tattoos in the first movement, more garish than the trombone glissandos at the height of the massacre depicted in the second movement (and rendered with quite breathtaking presence by the LSO's engineers), more weepy than the string threnody of 'Eternal Memory' or more haunting than the long cor anglais solo before the final bell-capped frenzy? This is the soundtrack to living history, and with Rostropovich you don't need pictures. PQ

Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-92) Complete organ works Jennifer Bate Recorded in Beauvais Cathedral 1980-82 and Eglise du Saint-Trinité, Paris, May 1987 REGIS RRC1086, 1087, 2051, 2052 (available separately or as a 6-disc boxed set)

If you don't already know the music of the greatest composer for organ since Bach, this is the place to start. Or maybe you're already familiar with the imagery, by turns saccharine and stark, of La Nativite du Seigneur, in which case Livre d'Orgue's hieratic outer reaches are a mind-expanding world away. As one of Notre Dame's three titular organists, Olivier Latry knows his way around this often intransigent instrument as well as anyone alive. His knowledge of its possibilities for tone colour is matched by DG's feat of multi-miked engineering to produce performances that truly sound more detailed and balanced than they ever could live. PQ

John Quinn

Leontyne Price Rediscovered: Arias by HANDEL, BRAHMS, GIORDANO, POULENC, BARBER, HOIBY, PUCCINI, CILEA and Spirituals Leontyne Price (soprano) David Garvey (piano) Recorded ‘live’ at Carnegie Hall, New York City on 28 February, 1965 RCA RED SEAL 09026 63908 2 [66’36]

This is a live recording of Leontyne Price's belated solo debut recital at Carnegie Hall, New York on 28 February 1965. Inexplicably, most of the contents have never been issued before.Rarely have I heard a disc which more strongly gives the listener the feeling of being present at An Event. Miss Price's programme, in which she is brilliantly supported by David Garvey, is marvellously varied. Her singing is vividly communicative throughout and by leaving in a judicious amount of applause RCA allow us to experience the rising tension and excitement in the audience. A disc to enthrall the listener.[JQ]

Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896) Symphony no 8 in C Minor (Original version, ed. Haas) Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Günter Wand Recorded live in the Philharmonie, Berlin, 19-22 January 2001 BMG RCA Red Seal 74321 82866-2 [87’07"]

This was the last in the series of live Bruckner recordings which Gunter Wand made with this orchestra in the final few years of his life. Recorded live in the Philharmonie between 19 and 22 January 2001 it is a remarkable testament to Wand's mastery as a Brucknerian.The composer's great symphonic edifice is unfolded with what seems like a natural inevitability. Wand is in full command of the structure and is aided by sumptuous playing from the Berlin players. A magnificent achievement. JQ

Zygmunt STOJOWSKI (1870-1946) Piano Concerto No 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 3 [35.01] Piano Concerto No 2 in A flat major (Prologue, Scherzo and Variations), Op. 32 [33.01] Jonathan Plowright (piano) BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Martyn Brabbins Recorded in the Caird Hall, Dundee, 6-7 June 2001 The Romantic Piano Concerto: Volume 28 HYPERION CDA67314 [68.12]

Another issue of neglected repertoire from Hyperion and another in the label's long (and ever-lengthening) list of winners.These ripely romantic concertos by Stojowski (1870-1946) fell into complete negect after his death but now find a worthy champion in Jonathan Plowright. They are rewarding, hugely enjoyable pieces and Plowright grasps the many opportunities for boith virtuosity and poetry which they contain. His playing is absolutely superb. He receives magnificent support from Brabbins and his players.Excellent sound and notes. These most refreshing alternatives to the usual 'warhorses' deserve to be much better known. JQ

Paul Serotsky

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 - 1975) The Symphonies (Complete) WDR Symphony Orchestra/Rudolf Barshai, with WDR Chorus (Nos. 2, 3), Sergei Aleksashkin (bass, No. 13), Moscow Choral Academy (No. 13), Alla Simoni (sop., No. 14), Vladimir Vaneev (bass, No. 14) Brilliant Classics 6324-1/11

After several months of concentrated exposure, my brain was reeling. You can pick nits 'til the cows come home, but in the final analysis this is a stupendous set. The earthily communicative WDRSO is a sound for sore ears, Barshai oozes "idiomatic" from every pore, and the recording - a dynamically squashed Eleventh apart - will earn you the undying gratitude of your equipment. Considering that you can buy this set for little more than the change from a round of drinks (I'm exaggerating, but only just!), you've really no excuse. Go for it. PS

Paul Shoemaker

Francis POULENC (1899-1963) Dialogues Des CarmélitesOpera in three Acts and Twelve Scenes Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg Choeurs de l'Opéra National du Rhin Conducted by Jan Latham-Koenig ARTHAUS DVD 100 004 With subtitles in English, German and Dutch [149 mins]

Opera du Rhin production, DVD. Video opera staging where the excellent singers are also not merely superb actors but also dancers as well. One of the most effective ever dramatic productions on opera video, and musical performance and sound so good it could be listened to by itself as an audio cd. A perfect opera is an unattainable goal, but this comes as close as we're ever likely to get. PSh

Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Symphonic Poems Complete Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Árpád Joó Recorded Budapest 1984/5 DDD Super bargain price! - also available on HUNGAROTON HCD1267781 at full price BRILLIANT CLASSICS 99938 [5CDs: 297.16]

. This recording is a sign that these works have finally achieved their rightful place in the repertoire, they are taken seriously and are worthy of being performed in their own style on their own terms, using the highest possible technical and artistic standards. A new criterion for the future. PSh

l'orfeo to come
Kevin Sutton

Ignaz PLEYEL (1757-1831) Symphony opus 3, number one in D (B. 126) Symphonie Concertante number 2 in F for piano and violin (B. 115) Sixth Symphonie Periodique in F (B. 140)   Jakub Dzialak, violin Riccardo Bovino, piano Zurich Chamber Orchestra/Howard Griffiths Recorded in the Kirche Neumünster, Zurich, July 27-30, 2000. DDD  CPO 9997592 [55:09]

Splendid music by a sadly neglected master. This is one of the most elegant performances that I have heard in years and the music is completely engaging. CPO's production is outstanding. KS

Love Letters Martin Scott KOSINS (b.1947) Love Letters, A dialogue for flute and piano; Winter Moods, for unaccompanied flute, Francois BORNE (1840-1920), Fantasie Brilliante (on themes from Bizet’s Carmen, Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin, Theobold BOEHM (1794-1881), Variations Brillantes sur un Air Allemand, Grigoras DINICU (1889-1949), Hora Staccato. David Shostac, flute Anita Swearengin, piano Recorded 1984 and 2001. [ADD and DDD] CRYSTAL RECORDS CD314 [48:55]

Fresh and origingal new music, splendidly played. This is one of the finest recitals that I have heard in some years. For lovers of great chamber music, this is a must-have. KS

Leo ORNSTEIN (1892?-2002) Piano Works: A Morning in the Woods, Danse Sauvage (Wild Men’s Dance), Piano Sonata Number 4, Impressions of the Thames, Tarantelle, Piano Sonata Number 7, A Long Remembered Sorrow, Suicide in an Airplane. Janice Weber, Piano Recorded June 2-5, 2001, Toronto, Canada, [DDD] NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559104 [67:00]

An excellent account of one of America's most ecclectic and undiscovered masters. Piano playing of the first order. Music that well meets the criteria to be called great. KS

  Christopher Thomas

Leonard SALZEDO (1921-2000) String Quartet No.2 Op. 3 (1942-43, revised 1995) Sonata for Violin and Viola Op.132 String Quartet No.7 Op.76 Archæus Quartet Ann Hooley and Bridget Davey-violins Elizabeth Turnbull-viola, Martin Thomas-cello Recorded Henry Wood Hall, London, April 2001 DUTTON CDLX 7113 DDD [61:52]

The first recording of two fine quartets by Leonard Salzedo, the good news being that there are another eight yet to come. It is hard to believe that a cycle of this quality, ranking potentially alongside the likes of Daniel Jones and Elizabeth Maconchy, has been so badly overlooked but at last Dutton aim to put the record straight. Coupled with the fine Sonata for for Violin and Viola the Archaeus Quartet give authoritative, committed performances. CT

Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951) Gurrelieder Tove - Karita Mattila (soprano) Waldtaube - Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano) Waldemar - Thomas Moser (tenor) Klaus-Narr – Philip Langridge (tenor) Bauer, Sprecher – Thomas Quasthoff (bass-baritone) Rundfunkchor Berlin MDR Rundfunkchor Leipzig Ernst Senff Chor Chorus Director Simon Halsey Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Sir Simon Rattle Recorded September 2001, Philharmonie, Berlin EMI Classics 7243 5 57303 2 9 [DDD]

Rattle's interpretation of Schoenberg's towering masterpiece may not be for everyone but this emotionally wrought performance brings out the true genius of Schoenberg's masterful orchestration, complimented by soloists of all round quality. For my money Thomas Quasthoff is in a league of his own as the speaker in the Wild Hunt of the Summer Wind and Anne Sophie von Otter is an eloquent Wood Dove. CT

Harrison BIRTWISTLE (b. 1934) Pulse Shadows (1996) Meditations on Paul Celan for Soprano, String Quartet and Ensemble Claron McFadden (soprano) Arditti Quartet Nash Ensemble Reinbert De Leeuw Recorded at The BBC Hippodrome, London TELDEC WDR 3 3984-26867-2 DDD [63:33]

I would urge anyone who has struggled to be won over by Birtwistle (and I know there are still many) to give this disc a go. Pulse Shadows is an extraordinary, personal response to the poetry of of Paul Celan. Emotionally charged with a deep vein of lyricism (yes, I said lyricism!), it is a work that leaves a lasting and haunting impression.CT

  Jonathan Woolf

Adolphe BIARENT (1871-1916) Piano Quintet Cello Sonata Marc Drobinsky, cello Diane Andersen, piano Danel Quartet Recorded Sint Truiden, Academiezaal January 2001 (Piano Quintet) and Studio Dada, Brussels September 2001 (Sonata)

Two unknown works by the almost unknown Charleroi born Biarent. Admired by Ysaye and De Greef, he shared something of the Franckian hothouse but one that showed strong awareness of Russian influence, which added colour to his palette. The Piano Quintet is marginally the stronger of the two, full of density and exhausted calm, a fascinating, profoundly complex work. The Cello Sonata highlights his intimacy, obsessive writing and gift for the succint. Two major works in other words and model presentation as well. JW

Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Douze Études d’exécution transcendente S139 Sergio Fiorentino, piano Recorded Conway Hall, London 14 February 1955 and Civic Hall, Guildford 16 February 1966 CONCERT ARTIST CACD 9201-2 [63’04]

A master Lisztian returns to the catalogue in this never-before-released set of these fiendish Etudes. Articulate, deeply musical without ostentation, virtuosic without preening, nobilty courses throughout his performance illuminating everything he does. JW

Roy HARRIS (1898-1979) Symphony No 7 Epilogue to Profiles in Courage – J.F.K. Symphony No 9 National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine Theodore Kuchar Recorded Grand Concert Studio, Kiev, Ukraine June 1999 NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559050 [57’49]

The wit, the kick and the bite of the Seventh in this fine recording is harnassed to a Ninth of strength, vocalised song and punchy lyricism. Once more the American Classics series from Naxos has borne fruit - not to be missed. JW

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Violin Sonata No 9 Kreutzer Piano Concerto No 3 Andante Favori Benno Moiseiwitsch, piano Jascha Heifetz, violin Philharmonia Orchestra Malcolm Sargent Recorded 1949-50 APR 5610 [73’50]

Predating their commercial recording by two years this far from immaculate but stimulating meeting documents the two Russian musicians in the Kreutzer Sonata. Moiseiwitsch is joined by one time pupil Sargent for a traversal of the Third Concerto that has poetic elevation and lyricism in profusion. JW

Leo ORNSTEIN (1892?-2002) Piano Works: A Morning in the Woods, Danse Sauvage (Wild Men’s Dance), Piano Sonata Number 4, Impressions of the Thames, Tarantelle, Piano Sonata Number 7, A Long Remembered Sorrow, Suicide in an Airplane. Janice Weber, Piano Recorded June 2-5, 2001, Toronto, Canada, [DDD] NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559104 [67:00]

I was fortunate enough to review both Ornstein discs - Hamelin's on Hyperion and this one by Janice Weber on Naxos; nothing to choose between them really but Weber and Naxos range as widely as Hamelin and catch the essence of Ornstein. Call it proto-Futuristic, call it unforgiving, barbarous with its crushing assaults but there's impressionist poetry and depth as well and it's unignorable even, perhaps especially, when at its most fractious. JW

  Don Mather

Charlie Haden with Michael Brecker American Dreams Gitanes 064 096-2

This disc represents Michael Brecker's best work to date and I somehow always felt that we had not heard everything he was capable of previously on record. DM

'A Jazz Odyssey' Oscar Peterson with Collective Personnel Verve 589 780-2

This album released to coincide with the publishing of his book of the same name, contains some of the best work of the greatest pianist that jazz has produced. DM

Clifford Brown and Max Roach At Basin Street VERVE 589 826-2

This 1956 recording shows how many blind alleys jazz has explored in the last 50 years! It still sounds just as clean and pristine as when it was recorded. DM

  Jack Ashby

JOE LOVANO ‘Viva Caruso’ Blue Note/Capitol 7243 5 35986 2 4

As one biographer put it "‘Viva Caruso’ is a roots project, Lovano the ethnic Folklorist." I couldn’t agree more! JA

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