Error processing SSI file

Recordings Of The Year 2007

Reviewers are allowed a totally free choice. They are not restricted to discs they had reviewed.
Click on cover image to read a full review.

Part 1: Editors & Reviewers A-L (Part 2)

Len Mullenger
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934) The Planets, St Paul's Suite, Brook Green Suite Ambrosian Singers/John McCarthy, Royal PO/Vernon Handley rec. 1993/4 ALTO ALC1013

This recording was released nearly 20 years ago but had an ephemeral life on an obscure label. I recall visiting shop after shop in the UK eventually tracking down a cassette copy of it. That cassette contained a truly exciting performance of The Planets by Vernon Handley. I welcome its re-release in spectacular digital sound and on a budget label.
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-75) Cello Concertos 1 & 2 Rafal Kwiatkowski, Polish Radio O/Wojciech Rajska rec. 1999/2000 DUX 0549

With such established works you 'know how they go' ... but not any more. We have a new generation of Shostakovich interpreters who make you re-listen and rediscover these works. Last year in the violin concertos we heard from Daniel Hope, Baiba Skride and Ruth Palmer. These are now joined by the startling young cellist Rafal Kwiatkowski.
Alexander ZEMLINSKY (1871-1942) Six Songs Erwin SCHULHOFF (1894-1942) Menschheit, Landschaften Randi Stene (mezzo) Trondheim SO/Muhai Tang rec. 2004 SIMAX PSC1249

Three singers have entranced me this year. The first, Randi Stene, is magnificent in a coupling of Schulhoff and Zemlinsky songs. Neither of these composers are in the mainstream but if you like full-blooded romantic music these are for you. As Rob Barnett put it "Die drei schwestern which is nothing less than a dramatic scena reeking with petrol-vapour flammability". You can listen to her riding the orchestra in a short extract from Schulhoff's Einblick here.

Richard STRAUSS (1864–1949) Salome, Capriccio (final scenes), Vier letzte Lieder Nina Stemme (soprano) Royal Opera House, Covent Garden O/Antonio Pappano rec. 2006 EMI CLASSICS 3787972

MusicWeb reviewers have been following the career of soprano Nina Stemme summarised in Göran Forsling's review of this disc. What struck me here was how she can vary her voice to suit a role. Contrast the dark voice she uses in Salome with the much lighter voice for Capriccio and then an almost contralto Frühling. Another feature of this disc is the powerful conducting of Pappano.

Ottorino RESPIGHI (18-1924) Roman trilogy, Il Tramonto Christine Rice (mezzo), Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Antonio Pappano rec. 2006 EMI 3944292

Antonio Pappano again but in orchestral guise. Respighi's Roman Trilogy is a colourful score. Because it is uneven in quality it requires a virtuoso conductor and orchestra if we are not to suspend belief by the time we get to Feste Romane and that is exactly what we are given here. The EMI recording is superb (and, unlike Edward Greenfield, I have no difficulty in hearing the nightingale).

Kate Royal Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Edward Gardner EMI CLASSICS 3144192

Many hundreds of discs pass through my hands in a year. I can only sample a few before passing them on to colleagues for review so it takes something special to make me linger and hear an entire disc: which brings me to my third singer. Each track on this varied recital disc was a delight and I did not want to leave it. Kate Royal was a new voice to me although her name had appeared several times in the Seen&Heard concert reviews on this site. I am sure we will be hearing a lot more of her.
Rob Barnett
Patrick HADLEY (1899-1973) The Trees so High Gerald FINZI (1901-1956) Intimations of Immortality Thomas Allen (baritone), Ian Partridge (tenor) Guildford PCh & O, New PO/Vernon Handley rec. 1970s LYRITA SRCD.238

Too deep for tears …. An outstanding achievement by composers, performers and technicians. Two remarkable Lyrita recordings rescued from vinyl oblivion. Unmatched versions of two deeply moving major works by Hadley and Finzi.
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957) Kullervo Charlotte Hellekant (mezzo), Nathan Gunn (baritone), Atlanta SO & Men's Ch/Robert Spano rec. 2006 TELARC CD-80665

The first recording of Kullervo with an English-speaking chorus. They idiomatically carry off their role with all the barking resonance, massed weight and thudding attack that you could wish for. Few have conveyed as well as Spano, the arching tragedy of this work.
Ernest John MOERAN (1894-1950) Sinfonietta, Symphony, Overture for a Masque London PO, New PO/Sir Adrian Boult rec. 1968-75 LYRITA SRCD.247

Resplendently lively, resonant with detail and full-lipped in romantic address. You will look in vain for the same splendour in any of the other versions. Boult’s Moeran Symphony bears the crown with eager majesty. Astonishingly fine.
Brenton BROADSTOCK (b. 1952) Good Angel's Tears - Journeys through light and dark: Symphonies 1-5 Krasnoyarsk Academic SO/Andrew Wheeler rec. 1999 ETCETERA KTC 2026

Broadstock does not place elitist obstacles between himself and the listener. His music speaks direct from the heart to the heart. Stunning golden work radiating a sense of kindly exaltation with a blazing kinetic forward pulse. Not newly released but a magnificent and vividly living achievement which I urge you to hear. If you like to be sparing with your musical adventures then make this the set you buy in the near future.
Sir Arnold BAX (1883-1953) Symphony 6, Irish Landscape, Rogue’s Comedy Overture, Overture to Adventure, Overture: Work in Progress New PO/Norman Del Mar, Royal PO/Vernon Handley rec. 1966-94 LYRITA SRCD.296

Del Mar’s violent and heartbreakingly poetic Sixth Symphony is essential to any Bax collection. Its impact has not dimmed with forty passing years. Del Mar takes hold of this work and your attention - his grip is relentless.
Edgar BAINTON (1880-1956) Symphony 3 Rutland BOUGHTON (1878-1960) Symphony 1 Roderick Williams (bar) BBC Concert O/Vernon Handley rec. 2006 DUTTON CDLX7185

Bainton's Third is a work of potently sustained atmosphere and impressionistic textures: phantasmal and refulgent yet delicately orchestrated and alive with sea imagery. If you are looking for a large-scale visionary-impressionistic Baxian symphony then look no further. This is a treasurable work full of ineffable beauty and wild insight.
Sir Granville BANTOCK (1868–1946) Omar Khayyám Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Toby Spence, Roderick Williams, BBC S Ch & O/Vernon Handley CHANDOS CHSA5051(3)

A magnificent project – fearless and splendid in its planning, documentation, pricing and presentation. Bantock demands emotional engagement from his listeners and his performers – and gets it. This set at last presents one of the musical treasures of early twentieth century late-romanticism.
Steve Arloff
Terezín/Theresienstadt songs & chamber music Anne Sofie von Otter, Bengt Forsberg DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4776546

My CD of the year has to be Anne Sofie von Otter’s wonderful Terezin/ Theresienstadt, project that emerged out of an invitation she received to sing at the International Forum on the Holocaust in Stockholm in 2000. The music is variously tragic, ironic, satirical, humorous and deeply moving. All the songs are beautifully sung and the violin sonata wonderfully played. This disc is a testimony of the strength of the human spirit to resist even the most despicable conditions and the almost certain knowledge that death was close at hand.
Terry Barfoot
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Egmont Overture, Violin Concerto Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Violin Sonata 3 Wolfgang Schneiderhan (violin), Carl Seeman (piano), London SO/Istvan Kertész rec. 1956/64 BBC LEGENDS BBCL4217-2

The Egmont Overture and the attendant concerto recording feature some of the best sound to be encountered in this important BBC Legends series. All credit to the original recording engineers, as to Tony Faulkner’s remastering. It seems scarcely credible that the performances took place 43 years ago.
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Cantatas, Vol. 36 (Leipzig, 1725): BWV 6, 42, 103 & 108 Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki rec. 2006 BIS SACD-1611

The closing chorale movements are simply delivered in all four of these cantatas, making the musical and expressive point all the more effectively. This is another splendid achievement by Masaaki Suzuki and Bach Collegium Japan.
David Barker
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881) Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel) Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Symphony 4 Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse/Tugan Sokhiev rec. 2006 NAÏVE V5068

Taking on the great names of the past, the young Russian and his French forces emerge triumphant. Vibrant, crisp peformances of these repertoire staples, the Mussorgsky is particularly outstanding.
George BUTTERWORTH (1885-1916) Two English Idylls, The Banks of Green Willow, A ‘Shropshire Lad’ Rhapsody Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930) An Old Song Patrick HADLEY (1899-1973) One Morning in Spring Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) Procession, Merry-eye, Elegy, Music for a Prince London PO, New PO/Sir Adrian Boult rec. 1970-79 LYRITA SRCD.245

English pastoralism does not come much better than this. A splendid mix of brio, calm and melancolia, gloriously played and sounding as fresh as a daisy.
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Fantasia on Christmas Carols, On Christmas Night, The First Nowell Sarah Fox (mezzo-soprano), Roderick Williams (baritone) Joyful Company of Singers, City of London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox rec. 2005 CHANDOS CHAN10385

The Christmas music that was so beloved to Vaughan Williams, including a first recording of the work he had on his desk when he died (The First Nowell). Excellent performances all round, and the usual, rich Chandos sound.
The British Light Music Collection I Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Kenneth Alwyn; Gavin Sutherland rec. 1998/9 RESONANCE CDRSB205

Almost two and a half hours of sheer joy. Calling it light music is to damn with faint praise, but this is marvellous music, and whilst it may not plumb great depths, that doesn't diminish its worth. As Rob Barnett said in his review (thank you for alerting me to this treasure), roll on volumes 2 & 3!

Johann Wenzel KALLIWODA (1801-1866) String Quartets Quatuor Talich rec. March 2005 CALLIOPE CAL9357

This is beginning to be a habit. Last year, Kalliwoda - a complete unknown to me beforehand - featured on my Records of the Year list with two wonderful symphonies on the CPO label. Now we have three quartets, which equal anything written in the 19th century for this medium post-Beethoven & Schubert. They are full of inventiveness, humour, melody and rhythm, and if you have any interest in chamber music, you owe it to yourself to hear them.
Bob Briggs
Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006) Arnold conducts Arnold: Symphonies 1, 2 & 5, Overtures, Concerto for Two Pianos EMI CLASSICS BRITISH COMPOSERS 3821462

A welcome re-issue of three major British Symphonies, and other pieces, in indispensable composer-led performances.

Daniel JONES (1912-1993) Symphonies 4, 7 & 8 Royal PO/Sir Charles Groves, BBC Welsh SO/Bryden Thomson LYRITA SRCD329

Superb works from a still much under-rated composer. Fine, committed performances.

Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Symphonies 1-3, Isle of the Dead, Symphonic Dances St Petersburg PO/Mariss Jansons EMI CLASSICS 5008852

Thrilling performances of all Rachmaninov's major orchestral works.

Alan RAWSTHORNE (1905-1971) Piano Concertos 1 & 2, Symphonic Studies Malcolm Binns, London PO/Sir John Pritchard, London SO/Nicholas Braithwaite LYRITA SRCD255

While we still await a re-appraisal of Rawsthorne's music in the concert hall, disks like this keep reminding us of his stature. As usual, everything is up to Lyrita's usual high standards.

Peter SCULTHORPE (b.1929) Cello Dreaming, Quamby, Nourlangie, Music for Bali Sue-Ellen Paulsen (cello) Karin Schaupp (guitar) Tasmanian SO/Richard Mills ABC CLASSICS 4767627

Fine addition to the growing catalogue of recordings of works by Australia 's leading composer. Since discovering his Australian roots, Sculthorepe's music has just got better and better.
Colin Clarke

Havergal BRIAN (1876-1972) Symphony 2, Festival Fanfare Moscow SO/Tony Rowe rec. 1996 NAXOS 8.570506

Recordings of the music of Havergal Brian are always to be welcomed. The Havergal Brian series on Naxos is a cause for celebration, therefore, bringing to the super-budget catalogue the music of this fascinating composer.

Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904) Symphonies 7 & 8 Czech PO/Václav Talich rec. 1935/8 NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.111045

Also on Naxos, this time representing the Historical side of things, is a coupling of Talich in 1930s recordings of Dvořák Symphonies Nos. 7 and 8

Leoš JANÁCEK (1854-1928) String Quartets 1 & 2 Panocha String Quartet rec. 1995 SUPRAPHON SU3906-2

The coupling of Janáček's string quartets on home label Supraphon, despite its low playing time, is a welcome addition to the mid-price side of things, with the Panocha Quartet presenting the composer's red-raw emotionality unashamedly.
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Fidelio Anja Silja, Richard Cassilly, Hamburg State Opera Ch, Hamburg Phil. State O/Leopold Ludwig rec. 1968 ARTHAUS 101275

Finally, a DVD that in nostalgia value had me pining for decades past: the Arthaus issue of a film of Fidelio from 1968 whose cast includes such luminaries as Lucia Popp (perfactly část as Marzelline) and Anja Silja (Fidelio/Leonore).
Dominy Clements
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) The Cello Suites Stephen Isserlis HYPERION CDA67541/2

Steven Isserlis brings a timeless lightness of touch and rich depth of spirituality to these works. Recorded in stunning detail, these are truly discs to treasure. This really is the best of the best in this most personal of all musical worlds.
Neue Alphornmusik Arkady Shilkloper MUSIQUES SUISSES MGB CD 6246

My fun disc of the year: 45 minutes of alphorn music might not seem much of a prospect, but just let Arkady Shilkloper persuade you otherwise. This is an imaginative, well produced and seriously attractive programme. From atmospheric modernism, to sheer jazzy dance thrills and even romantic melody; this will itch your body and mind and scratch it at the same time.
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) Il Cimento dell'Armonia e dell'Inventione Accademia Bizantina/Ottavio Dantone rec. 1999 ARTS 47564-8 & 47565-8

A re-release of a 1999 recording, this is Vivaldi as it should be played but so rarely is. Yes, it’s The Four Seasons again, but not as comfortable and familiar as your old armchair. Struggle against and be buffeted by the elements, join in with peasant revelry, dance, sing for joy and fall in love with these remarkable recordings. Do make sure you get the whole Op.8 set though, otherwise you’ll always be wondering what else you might have missed.    
Jacob REGNART (c.1540-1599) Missa Super Oeniades Nymphae Cinquecento HYPERION CDA67640

Richness of sonority and expressive musicality characterise Cinquecento’s performance, and their few voices always sound like many more in this recording of some rare and special vocal repertoire. Jacob Regnart’s music is as intoxicating as are these recordings.
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 – 1827) The Nine Symphonies Russian Ntl O/ Mikhail Pletnev DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 6409

Pletnev’s view of Beethoven might be individual, sometimes even controversial, but the spirit of the composer is always to the fore. Whatever anyone might say about these recordings they are most certainly never beige or boring – and that goes for the Bonn Festival piano concerto recordings out on DG as well. The Russian National Orchestra is a crack team and plays out of its collective skin for its founder, who draws you back to Beethoven every time: often when you least expected it, and always by giving you more than you asked for.    
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) Symphony 1, Organ Sonata BBC Ntl O Wales/ Richard Hickox CHANDOS CHSA5049

This is a real chance to blow the trumpet for some of the best of British music played by one of Britain’s leading orchestras, and a disc which draws me back for a patriotic fix on a regular basis. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Chandos’s excellent SACD technology really brings the gorgeous Brangwyn Hall resonance to life, and Elgar never sounded so good.
Michael Cookson
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957) Violin concerto Samuel BARBER (1910-81) Violin concerto William WALTON (1902-1983) Violin concerto James Ehnes (violin) Vancouver SO/Bramwell Tovey rec. 2006 ONYX 4016

My choices for last year’s ‘Records of the Year’ had already been made before receiving this release toward the end of 2006. This generous Onyx recording of three late-Romantic violin concertos from Korngold; Barber and Walton is superbly performed by James Ehnes, marvellously recorded and deserving of the highest possible praise.
Sir Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006) Wind Chamber Music East Winds rec. 2006 NAXOS 8.570294

A valuable release from Naxos for Malcolm Arnold collectors as it comprises twelve wind chamber scores, five of which it seems are world premičre recordings. Many readers will be aware of the deep personal difficulties that Arnold experienced throughout his often troubled life and with his highly melodic, dance influenced music combining both wacky humour and biting sarcasm; tears, pain and anguish are never far away.
Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Complete Piano Music Vol. 24: Mephisto Waltzes, Elegies, Grosses Konzertsolo Giuseppe Andaloro rec. 2005 NAXOS 8.557814
Volume twenty-four in the Naxos series of Liszt’s complete piano music contains a mixture of the known and the relatively unknown. Performed by Italian pianist Giuseppe Andaloro, for me the highlight of the release is one of Liszt’s ventures into larger forms, namely his substantial Grosses Konzertsolo, S176. Giuseppe Andaloro is indeed an inspired choice as soloist. One senses his complete involvement with the significant demands of Liszt’s challenging music.
Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Complete Piano Music, Vol. 25: Verdi Concert Paraphrases and Transcriptions Alexandre Dossin rec. 2005 NAXOS 8.557904
Volume twenty-five in the Naxos series of Liszt’s complete piano music contains seven highly attractive Verdi operatic paraphrases and transcriptions performed by the superb Brazilian-born soloist Alexandre Dossin. Naxos has really shifted into overdrive with this magnificent series.
Látigo Quartet San Francisco rec. 2005 VIOLINJAZZ RECORDINGS JCCD104
Entitled Látigo this release comprises tango and jazz infused arrangements from the Quartet San Francisco joined on some tracks by Latin percussionist John Santos. There are some real jewels to discover here and the players are on magnificent form with these exciting and colourful Latin scores. Látigo was honoured with double 2007 Grammy nominations for best ‘Best Classical Crossover Album’ and ‘Best Engineered Album, Classical’.
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936) Five Novelettes, String Quintet Fine Arts Quartet, Nathaniel Rosen rec. 2005 NAXOS 8.570256
I strongly believe that Glazunov’s substantial output of music is not as well known as it deserves to be. This admirable Naxos release of the Five Novelettes and the String Quintet will help to redress the balance and not just appeal to chamber music lovers. Recorded in New York the sonics are to demonstration standard. For my money the delightful and substantial Five Novelettes is a hidden gem worthy of discovery.
Robert Costin
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957) The Essential Sibelius BIS CD-1697-1700

With Osmo Vanska's fine interpretations of the symphonies at its centre, this can confidently claim to include the essential Sibelius. The performances have a conviction and a sense of authenticity which is immensely compelling (start with Kullervo). This coupled with consistently fine engineering makes for a genuine bargain.
Charles-Valentin ALKAN (1813-1888) Concerto for solo piano, Troisième recueil de chants Marc-André Hamelin rec. 2006 HYPERION CDA67569

Hamelin's second recording of this immense work promises to bring a new audience to this masterpiece. Staggering pianism which is totally at the service of the music.

Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) Sir Patrick Spens, Hymnus Paradisi James Gilchrist, The Bach Choir, Bournemouth SO/David Hill rec. 2006 NAXOS 8.570352

A very fine budget recording of Howells's radiant masterwork coupled with the first-ever recording of Sir Patrick Spens, an important addition to his discography. The performers excel themselves - a deeply moving disc.
Hubert Culot
Tristan MURAIL (b. 1947) Winter Fragments, Ethers, Le Lac Erin Lesser (flute), Argento Chamber Ensemble/Michel Galante rec. 2003/4 AEON AECD0746

Although it is often linked to the so-called French ‘spectral school’, Murail’s music often draws its inspiration from Nature, and may be regarded as some sort of updated Impressionism without ever being programmatic or descriptive. This superb release is the best possible introduction to Murail’s highly personal sound world.  
John JOUBERT (b. 1927) Symphony 1 London PO/Vernon Handley LYRITA SRCD322

This magnificent performance of Joubert’s impressive First Symphony, issued to mark the composer’s 80th birthday, crowns a most welcome series of recent substantial recordings of this long-neglected composer.

Edith CANAT de CHIZY (b. 1950) Les Rayons du jour Ana-Bela Chaves (viola), Quatuor Ebèneac Orchestre de Paris/Christoph Eschenbach rec. 2005 SOLSTICE SOCD234

Edith Canat de Chizy’s superbly crafted music is of a consistently high musical value; and possesses a remarkable expressive strength that I find hard to resist to. Beautiful contemporary music, often rather demanding but ultimately immensely rewarding.  
Peter SCULTHORPE (b.1929) Cello Dreaming, Quamby, Nourlangie, Music for Bali Sue-Ellen Paulsen (cello) Karin Schaupp (guitar) Tasmanian SO/Richard Mills ABC CLASSICS 4767627

A splendid and generous double-CD set offering the first recording of Sculthorpe’s gripping large-scale choral-orchestral Requiem as well as a desirable survey of some of his more rarely heard orchestral works.

Jan CARLSTEDT(1926–2004) String Quartets 1-6 Lysell Quartet rec. 1993-2004 ACOUSTICA ACCD1013 & ACCD1015

Jan Carlstedt’s string quartets are amongst the finest works that he ever penned, and represent a sizeable body of substantial works that may not be in the same league as, say; Shostakovich’s or Bartok’s, but that generously repay repeated hearings. 
Robert Farr
Despite the lack of studio recordings of opera from the majors, there have been several outstanding recordings, often deriving from live performances, and appearing on either CD or DVD and sometimes both. As with my choices last year, recordings by Opera Rara and live performances of Pesaro Rossini Festival productions feature prominently. I found it quite difficult to bring my choices down to the specified six, and had to leave out Giulini's Falstaff on Warner Vision and Bartoletti's Thieving Magpie on Arthaus.
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868) Tancredi Daniela Barcellona, Raul Giménez, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Ch & O/Riccardo Frizza rec. live 2005 TDK DVWW-OPTANC

This fine staging, first seen at Pesaro, of Rossini’s first great success is matched by the singing of Barcellona in the eponymous role.

Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868) Torvaldo e Dorliska Francesco Meli, Darina Takova, Orchestra Haydn di Bolzano e Trento/Víctor Pablo Pérez rec. live 2006 DYNAMIC 33528

This production of Rossini’s semiseria opera was its premiere at Pesaro in 2006, and where it received superb direction and set, wholly matched by the singing and acting (also available on CD: Dynamic CDS528/1-2).

Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868) La donna del lago Kenneth Tarver, Carmen Giannattasio, Edinburgh Festival Ch, Scottish CO/Maurizio Benini rec. live 2006 OPERA RARA ORC34

Rossini’s opera was the first based on a Scott novel. This performance was rapturously received in Edinburgh in 2006. Opera Rara have removed the applause, and cheering, and the outstandingly sung performance can be enjoyed in all its glory. 

Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) Stiffelio Placido Domingo, Sharon Sweet, Metropolitan Opera Ch & O/James Levine rec. live 1993 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 0734288

Thought lost until the late 1960s, this performance finds Domingo in stunning form as singer and actor in Verdi’s 16th opera, his last before the big three of Rigoletto, La Traviata and Il Trovatore.

Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) Luisa Miller Luciano Pavarotti, Gilda Cruz Roma, Sinfonica RAI di Torino Ch & O/Peter Maag rec. live 1974 ARTS MUSIC ARCHIVES 43088-2

This well recorded live performance has the young Pavarotti in excellent voice and with a good all round cast under Peter Maag’s idiomatic baton.

Giuseppe Saverio MERCADANTE (1795-1870) Maria Stuarda regina di Scozia (highlights) Judith Howarth, Jennifer Larmore, Geoffrey Mitchell Ch, Philharmonia O/Antonello Allemandi rec. 2005 OPERA RARA ORR241

A superb recording and performance with Opera Rara getting into bel canto beyond the big three of Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti and revealing hidden treasure.
Göran Forsling
Having written close to 200 reviews during the previous 12 months, many of them positive, it isn’t easy to limit the choice to six, but by leaving out a considerable number of historical reissues and also skipping all non-vocal issues, the task became a little easier.
Richard STRAUSS (1864–1949) Salome, Capriccio (final scenes), Vier letzte Lieder Nina Stemme (soprano) Royal Opera House, Covent Garden O/Antonio Pappano rec. 2006 EMI CLASSICS 3787972

With singing that is both dramatically thrilling and sensitively vulnerable Nina Stemme peers deeper than most others into this marvellous music from different periods of Strauss’s life.
Russian Album Anna Netrebko (soprano) Mariinsky Theatre Ch & O/Valery Gergiev rec. 2005/6 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 6384

Anna Netrebko has conquered the operatic world during the last few years and here, singing in her native Russian, she catches all the various moods in the songs and arias to perfection. And apart from Tatiana’s Letter Scene the repertoire is un-hackneyed.
Arleen Augér - Lieder Dalton Baldwin (piano) rec. live 1987 BBC LEGENDS BBCL4214-2

One of the most communicative of Lieder singers in a live recital that had me sitting absolutely enthralled.

Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924) Tosca Fiorenza Cedolins, Marcelo Alvarez, Ruggero Raimondi, dell’Arena di Verona Ch & O/Daniel Oren rec. live 2006 TDK DVWW-OPTOV

Filming opera at the Arena di Verona is no easy task but here the team has managed to concentrate the drama in expressive close-ups without missing the grandeur and the three principals are splendid both dramatically and vocally.

Jean SIBELIUS (1865–1957) Songs Jorma Hynninen (baritone) Tampere PO/Leif Segerstam rec. 1994 ONDINE ODE823-2

Few singers have had the ability to convey the austerity and beauty of Sibelius’ songs as convincingly as Jorma Hynninen. In this recital with orchestra from 1994 he was at the height of his powers.

Nicole Cabell (soprano) London PO/Sir Andrew Davis rec. 2005 DECCA 475 7661

The Cardiff Singer of the World winner in 2005, Nicole Cabell, shows great promises of an important career in her debut recital. This is a truly thrilling voice.

Michael Greenhalgh

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Messiah (Dublin version) Susan Hamilton (soprano) Annie Gill, Claire Wilkinson (contraltos) Nicholas Mulroy (tenor) Matthew Brook (bass) Dunedin Consort & Players/John Butt rec. 2006 LINN RECORDS CKD285

This recreation of the first performance in Dublin in 1742 features only a dozen strings and singers, the soloists singing in the chorus. The outcome is a focus on the spirituality of the text, revealed with great freshness, fervour and flexibility, matched by clear and immediate surround sound. 

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) The Wasps overture, A Sea Symphony Susan Gritton (soprano) Gerald Finley (baritone), London SCh & O/Richard Hickox rec. 2006 CHANDOS CHSA5047

Soloists, chorus and orchestra blend as a team and recording balance to make this the most satisfying of recent recordings with great variation and sensitivity in the articulation of Whitman’s text. Hickox maintains cohesion in the lengthy finale and boldly attempts to convey its visionary experience.
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Clarinet Quintet and other works by Mozart, Glazunov and Sweeney Lesley Schatzberger, Fitzwilliam String Quartet rec. 2005 LINN RECORDS CKD278

The Brahms quintet sounds newly minted through the use of a copy of the original clarinet, gut strings, contemporary style bows and the evident commitment and spontaneity of the playing. This is complemented by an engaging Mozart reconstruction, exotic Glazunov evocation and lively Sweeney aubade.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Symphony 8, Overtures, Wellington’s Victory Swedish CO Örebro/Thomas Dausgaard rec. 2002-5 SIMAX PSC1282

At last Beethoven’s Eighth is able to take centre stage in a performance of outstanding clarity and bite, always crisp accents and a finale of close kinship with Beethoven’s Seventh. Add to this some less well known celebratory pieces displayed with equally engaging freshness.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Symphony 3 Deutsches SO Berlin/Kent Nagano ARTHAUS MUSIK 101429

This dares to be different and succeeds. There’s a stimulating concert performance with some unusually volatile camera work but also a documentary in which Nagano gently but cumulatively reflects on his approach and some players comment. This makes you consider both performance and work afresh.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Symphony 41 Deutsches SO Berlin/Kent Nagano ARTHAUS MUSIK 101427

The formula that worked so well for Beethoven’s Eroica also suits Mozart’s Jupiter. Here’s a concert performance where the sudden greater intensity of the finale is particularly telling. Here’s a documentary which offers interpretive insight in an unpretentious manner while rehearsal extracts reveal the careful preparation that underpins the success.
Tony Haywood
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Diabelli Variations Piotr Anderszewski rec. 2000 EMI CLASSICS 5034062

A Diabelli Variations to really live with for many a year; superb pianism and virtuosity but all at the sevice of the composer.

Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949) Die Frau ohne Schatten Peter Seiffert (tenor), Luana DeVol (soprano), Bavarian State Opera Ch & O/Wolfgang Sawallisch rec. 1992 TDK DVWW-OPFROS

Despite some vocal shortcomings in places - and they do not spoil the whole - this has grown more and more on me. Sawallisch's conducting is sublime, the production intelligent and magical, doing full justice to what could be regarded as Strauss's greatest achievement.

Christopher ROUSE (b.1949) Trombone Concerto, Gorgon, Iscariot Joseph Alessi (trombone) Colorado SO/Marin Alsop rec. 1997 PHOENIX PHCD167

Terrifying in its impact, yet subtle and superbly crafted, this is a great introduction to Rouse's sound world and a good example of approachable modernity
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951) Herzgewächse, Pierrot Lunaire, Four Orchestral Songs, Chamber Symphony 1 Eileen Hulse, Anja Silja, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, London SO, Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble, Phil O/Robert Craft rec. 1994-98 NAXOS 8.557523

Despite a lack of all-important texts, this is about as good a representation of Schoenberg's expressionist years as we are likely to get. Superb conducting, excellent vocalists and wide-ranging sound ensure a gripping listening experience.
Gary Higginson
John JENKINS (1592-1678) Five Part Consort Music Phantasm rec. 2006 AVIE AV2120

Superb and little known music, by as fine an English composer as there has been, this is music about music; in addition some of the best viol playing ever committed to disc.
John JOUBERT (b. 1927) Symphony 1 London PO/Vernon Handley LYRITA SRCD322

A much underrated composer, his early works especially, like this symphony, are exciting, wonderfully constructed and original. Fantastic performance.

William BUSCH (1901-1945) Cello Concerto, Piano Concerto Raphael Wallfisch, Piers Lane, Royal PO/Vernon Handley LYRITA SRCD320

An unknown composer to me and a real discovery. Passionate music, challenging for listener and performer, a man with something to say.

Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) Symphonies 1 & 2 London PO/Sir Adrian Boult rec. 1970-79 LYRITA SRCD.221

Much underrated performances because of the way Boult was pressurised to set out the violins. He brings the full drama of the scores into focus. Very illuminating recordings, superb on percussion and brass.
Christopher Howell

Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849) Preludes Rafal Blechacz rec. 2007 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 6592

Just in time for inclusion: the start of what I trust will be a fruitful relationship between DG and the winner of the 2005 Warsaw Chopin Competition.

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Ah! Mio cor! & other opera arias Magdalena Kožená, Venice Baroque O/Andrea Marcon rec. 2006 ARCHIV 477 6547

I admired Kožená from the beginning but here she seems to reach new heights to become a great singing actress.

Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856) Das Paradies und die Peri Roma della RAI SO & Ch/Carlo Maria Giulini rec. 1974 ARTS ARCHIVES 43076-2

A 1974 live performance of Giulini at his inspiring best in a work he never recorded commercially.

Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924) Cello Concerto, Piano Concerto 3 Alexander Baillie, Malcolm Binns, Royal PO/Nicholas Braithwaite LYRITA SRCD.321

This is not the only Stanford premičre this year, but for the revelation of the Third Piano Concerto as a late masterpiece this disc has to have pride of place. The early Cello Concerto is well worth knowing too.
Pyotr TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Swan Lake (highlights) Concertgebouw O/Anatole Fistoulari rec. 1961 DECCA ELOQUENCE 442 903

It may seem perverse to choose a shortish 1961 recording of just extracts from a much-recorded work, but the combination of Russian-school conducting at its finest, the Concertgebouw (orchestra and hall) and 1960s Decca engineering is unforgettable.

César FRANCK (1822-1890) Symphony Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899) Symphony Suisse Romande O/Marek Janowski rec. 2006 PENTATONE CLASSICS PTC5186078

New performances of the Franck tend to send me back to the old masters, particularly Munch and Boult. Here at last is one to match any of them, and in state-of-the-art sound. The Chausson is very fine too.
Robert Hugill
Sir Michael TIPPETT (1905–1998) Choral Images Iain Farrington (organ) BBC Singers/Stephen Cleobury rec. 2005 SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD092

An essential for any Tippett lover. But with these dazzlingly vibrant performances, if you love good choral music, then you should buy it.
Antonio SACCHINI (1730–1786) Oedipe a Colonne Francois Loup, Nathalie Paulin Opera Lafayette Ch & O/Ryan Brown rec. 2005 NAXOS 8.660196-97

A striking find, for anyone who loves Gluck's French operas.


Brian FERNEYHOUGH (b. 1943) Choral Works BBC Singers, Lontano/ Odaline de la Martinez rec. 2003-5 METIER MSV28501

Not the easy option, but Fernehough's brand of maxmalism is a striking antidote prevalent minimalism and post-minimalism, especially in the fearless performances from the BBC Singers.
Ian Lace
Sir Granville BANTOCK (1868–1946) Omar Khayyám Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Toby Spence, Roderick Williams, BBC S Ch & O/Vernon Handley CHANDOS CHSA5051(3)

The most ambitious and successful British secular cantata is recorded at last - not quite complete, alas, but who could grumble when there are 3 hours of such magnificent, colourful music, a joyous, voluptuous, hedonistic paean to sensuality and indulgence: “Come fill the cup…the Bird is on the wing!”
Patrick HADLEY (1899-1973) The Trees so High Gerald FINZI (1901-1956) Intimations of Immortality Thomas Allen, Ian Partridge, Guildford Phil Ch & O, New Phil O/Vernon Handley LYRITA SRCD.238

Rob Barnett says it all in his review of these exqisite performances: “Matchless versions of major works by Hadley and Finzi. An outstanding achievement by composers, performers and technicians.” A real ‘Desert Island’ choice and my Recording of the Year – even if it is a reissue!
John IRELAND (1879-1962) Orchestral Works John Carol Case (baritone) Eric Parkin (piano) London PO & Ch/Sir Adrian Boult LYRITA SRCD.241

There have been so many magnificent Lyrita reissues this year but this one, for me, is something special. A magnificent heart-stopping performance of These Things Shall Be, Ireland’s setting of John Addington Symond’s utopian vision of an ideal world comes with an equally peerless performance of Ireland’s Piano Concerto.
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) Symphonic Syntheses by Leopold Stokowski Bournemouth SO/José Serebrier NAXOS 8.570293

Ravishing performances of Stokowski’s sumptuous take on Wagner. His view of Das Rheingold’s final scene is gutsy and spectacular – out-Wagnering Wagner; and Stokowski’s expressive Tristan symphonic synthesis accents all the lovers’ despair and ecstasy. The Liebesnacht is a lovely nocturnal evocation of trees swaying gently in the sylvan woodlands underlining the lovers’ awakening and mounting passion. Serebrier invests a fragrant and voluptuous sensuality to match the unbridled passion of the celebrated Liebestod that follows where its mounting excitement is literally edge-of-the-seat stuff.
The History of the Musical by Richard Fawkes read by Kim Criswell NAXOS NON-FICTION HISTORIES NA422712

This 4-CD set, liberally illustrated with excerpts from both vintage and modern recordings, traces the History of the Musical from its origins in light opera and operetta in Paris, Vienna and London through to its transformation in the hands of the great American song composers and lyricists. The works of: Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim; Ivor Novello, Lionel Bart and Andrew Lloyd-Webber – they’re all here.
Bax - A Composer and his Times by Lewis Foreman; Boydell Press

My final choice and something of a cheat for it is a book. I read many composer biographies; a very few I read again and again. This is one of them: a big, not-too-technical tome covering the life and works of one of the most colourful of English composers – a self-styled brazen romantic. Poet and writer (especially on things Irish) as well as composer, Bax never really grew up. Loved by a number of women including the concert pianist, Harriet Cohen, he refused to settle down into normal domesticity but chose to escape to scruffy flats above hotels in the remotest parts of Ireland and Scotland where he drew inspiration for six symphonies and many other romantic and atmospheric works, wondrously orchestrated. This new edition – it was first published in the composer’s centenary year 1983 – is bigger and better.

Error processing SSI file


Error processing SSI file