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Recordings Of The Year 2008
Reviewers are not restricted to discs they had reviewed, but the choices must have been reviewed on MWI in the last 12 months. Click on cover image to read the full review.
Part 1: Editors & Reviewers A-L (Part 2)
CLASSICAL EDITOR Rob Barnett's CD OF THE YEAR Arnold BAX Tone Poems Vol. 2 BBC PO/Vernon Handley rec. 2006/7 CHANDOS CHAN10446
Bax’s ‘second league’ tone poems recorded in all their variously sultry, sybaritic and chilly-dynamic glory. A late harvest from the sadly departed Vernon Handley – a grievous loss. All recorded with flair and a vibrant grip on music and technology.
Len Mullenger Richard WAGNER The Ring Cycle Royal Danish Opera O/Michael Schønwandt rec. 2006 DECCA 0743264
Having been hooked for years on Arthur Rackham's illustrations and the traditional approach of the Metropolitan/Levine I have always found 'modern' interpretations of the ring unconvincing. However Kasper Bech Holten's production came as a revelation and you must read Tony Duggan's perceptive review. One of the best things he has ever written for MusicWeb International.
Richard STRAUSS Four Last Songs, Brentano Lieder, Ariadne auf Naxos Ricarda Merbeth,Weimar Staatskapelle/Michael Halász rec. 2006 NAXOS 8.570283
A little gem! Merbeth has a rich dramatic voice and, I suspect, will introduce most of us to a new set of Strauss lieder - settings of Clemens Brentano - and, at least in conception, preceding the Four Last Songs. I was so taken with An die Nacht I used it in one of the MusicWeb quizzes. What a bargain!
Jon LORD Durham Concerto Royal Liverpool PO/Mischa Damev rec. 2007 AVIE AV2145
Written for Durham University's 175th anniversary in 2007 this is a six part work with the composer on Hammond organ, Ruth Palmer violin, Kathryn Tickell Northumbrian Pipes and Matthew Barley's solo cello. I found this a wide-ranging, entrancing, varied work that exceeded my expectations. If you aren't convinced, have a listen to sound clips, available via Rob Barnett's review.
Benjamin BRITTEN Piano Concerto, Young Apollo, Diversions Steven Osborne, BBC Scottish SO/Ilan Volkov rec. 2007 HYPERION CDA67625
At last a recording worthy of replacing the aged Richter Decca version. This recording is so stunning John France says he was brought up short when he heard it playing in a crowded record store above the noise of what he describes as 'less challenging' music coming from other parts of the store. To quote John 'Surely this is a masterpiece that ought to be both popular and an essential part of the concert pianist repertoire?' But the revelation for me was Diversions. I have known this since the 60s but never listen to it. Osborne demonstrates this to be a masterpiece for the left hand.
Igor STRAVINSKY Rite of Spring, Apollon Musagète Netherlands RPO/Jaap van Zweden rec. 2006 EXTON OVCL00330
Zweden has been producing some interesting recordings recently, not least in Bruckner and a bargain box of Brahms symphonies, but none more so than this recording of the Rite. His clarity of performance, full of detail, is matched by the most stunning sound to make this the Hi-Fi buff's record of the year. SACD too for those who can replay it.
I am being cheeky here by squeezing in two recordings, but these are re-releases that should not be missed.
Gustav MAHLER Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Kindertotenlieder Robert SCHUMANN Liederkreis Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau rec. 1952-55 NAXOS 8.111300
EMI recordings from the 1950s. American readers need to find a friend in the UK who can send you this disc.
Giacomo PUCCINI La Bohème Mirella Freni, Luciano Pavarotti, Berlin PO/Herbert von Karajan rec. 1972 DECCA 4780254
Others come and go but this one remains as special as the Beecham but this opera needs the better recording afforded to Karajan. It has been newly remastered and issued in a presentation version with a de-luxe hardback book and bonus CD. This would make a wonderful Christmas present!
Rob Barnett Philippe GAUBERT Symphonie, Les Chants de la mer, Concert en fa Luxembourg PO/Marc Soustrot rec. 2008 TIMPANI 1C1135
The heartland of French late-romantic nationalism reflected in imperious and the tragic writing rooted in Franck yet strongly influenced by impressionism. Sea music with a potent magic and exotic Rimskian colours. A real discovery.
Georgy L'vovich CATOIRE Violin Sonatas 1 & 2, Elegy for violin and piano Herwig Zack (violin) Bernd Zack (piano) rec. 2007 AVIE AV2143
With a tone that reminded me of Milstein, Zack introduces us to Catoire’s rhapsodic spontaneously flowing style. This recalls Medtner in that dramatic, fantastic, poetic, free-flowing Russian way. Music of elevated romanticism. Recordings most beautifully captured by Avie.
Sir Granville BANTOCK Orchestral Music Royal PO/Vernon Handley rec. 1990-2003 HYPERION CDS44281-6
What an achievement! Twenty-one late-romantic orchestral works in one box at mid-price or better. Bantock’s lavish romanticism is superbly served by both artists and recording team. Discovery after discovery.
Jean SIBELIUS Tone Poems, Violin Concerto Jan Damen (violin), Concertgebouw O, London PO/Eduard van Beinum, Danish RO/Thomas Jensen rec. 1952-57 DECCA ELOQUENCE 442 9487
Van Beinum revealed as a towering giant among Sibelian conductors. Jan Damen’s Sibelius is a real sleeper - such concentration and such peach-deep full-lipped tone. A complete joy.
Arnold BAX Symphonies 2 & 5 London PO/Myer Fredman, Raymond Leppard rec. 1970/1 LYRITA SRCD.233
Lyrita, Fredman and Leppard recreated a Baxian tradition in the 1970s. These readings have a grip that transcends mere documentary interest. Bax whirls the listener into the action and the call is irresistible.
Igor STRAVINSKY The Works of Igor Stravinsky Columbia SO/Igor Stravinsky, Robert Craft rec. 1959-66 SONY-BMG 88697 103112
One could easily pick up the present set and choose a disc or a work to play each day for a year and be constantly surprised and rewarded by this magister of 20th century music. A lifetime's treasury of musical experience at a breathtakingly low price.
Terry Barfoot Felix MENDELSSOHN String Quintets Fine Arts String Quartet, Danilo Rossi (viola) rec. 2007 NAXOS 8.570488
The best of Mendelssohn can be found in the chamber music, and these vibrant, brilliantly played performances bring further confirmation of the rewards this repertoire can bring.
Isaac ALBÉNIZ Iberia, Navarra, Suite Espanola Alicia de Larrocha rec. 1986 DECCA 4780388
Alicia de Larrocha has always been associated with this music, has recorded Iberia three times. This version dates from 1986 and features superlative Decca digital sound that succeeds in capturing the music’s full tonal possibilities.
David Barker There is a theme that runs through my selections this year: recordings that satisfy a long-held need in my collection for definitive performances of some of the great works.
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Symphonies 38-41 Scottish CO/Sir Charles Mackerras rec. 2007 LINN CKD308
It is almost impossible to make these works of genius sound bad. However, on the basis of listening to numerous recordings and live performances, conductors and orchestras find it equally difficult to fully reveal the humour, pathos, joy and beauty. The search is over: these are perfect.
Johann Sebastian BACH Brandenburg Concertos European Brandenburg Ensemble/Trevor Pinnock rec. 2006/7 AVIE AV2119
The "historically informed performance" movement often destroys the beauty in Bach with harsh, rushed performances. Trevor Pinnock's most recent thoughts on these works hit absolutely the right note (if you'll pardon the pun).
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Piano Sonatas Vol. 4 Paul Lewis (piano) rec. 2007 HARMONIA MUNDI HMC901909-11
The triumphant and award-winning culmination of a series that represents a Beethoven sonata set for the new millenium. Not perhaps for those who like their Beethoven to storm the barricades, but the poetry and passion are totally convincng.
Robert SCHUMANN Piano Quintet Johannes BRAHMS Piano Quintet Leif Ove Andsnes, Artemis Qt rec. VIRGIN CLASSICS 3951432
I've enjoyed my old Naxos recording of these works for more than a decade, knowing there must be better. Now there definitely is! Verve, drama and wonderful ensemble playing.
Philip GLASS Piano Concerto 2, Harpsichord Concerto Paul Barnes (piano), Jillon Stoppels Dupree (harpsichord) Northwest CO/Ralf Gothóni rec. 2005 ORANGE MOUNTAIN MUSIC OMM0030
If you love the music from the movie The Hours, you will find great enjoyment in this piano concerto written around the same time. I never thought I would be extolling the virtues of a work featuring harpsichord, but this concerto is quite wonderful, with a finale that is four minutes fifty seconds of sheer fun.
Concerti Brillanti Cello concertos by CPE Bach, Hasse, Graf and M Haydn Jan Vogler, Munich CO/Reinhard Goebel SONY 88697 119972
Four very enjoyable 18th century concertos, including one from a complete unknown (Graf), in dazzling performances.
Bob Briggs Arnold BAX String Quartet 1 Edward ELGAR String Quartet Pavão Quartet rec. 2007 DISCRETE RECORDINGS DISC0701
Fresh and exciting performances of two great British String Quartets by a young quartet we shall be hearing from again.
Howard BLAKE Piano Concerto, Diversions, Toccata Howard Blake (piano), Robert Cohen (cello), Philharmonia O/Sir David Willcocks, Howard Blake SONY 88697376972
Under–rated and misunderstood, Blake’s music speaks from the heart to the heart and is a sheer joy to listen to. For me, the Piano Concerto is the most joyous since Ravel in G.
William BUSCH Cello Concerto, Piano Concerto Raphael Wallfisch (cello), Piers Lane (piano), Royal PO/Vernon Handley LYRITA SRCD.320
Music by a scandalously neglected British composer – and a real discovery in this magnificent Cello Concerto – in excellent performances conducted by the much missed Tod Handley.
Antonin DVORAK Symphonic Variations, Symphony 9 Baltimore SO/Marin Alsop NAXOS 8.570714
Having earned her spurs in the romantic Symphonic repertoire with her recordings of the Brahms Symphonies, here’s a stunning performance of an old friend by a conductor whose passion for the music shines through every bar.
Barbara HARBACH Veneration for Orchestra, Frontier Fancies, Arcadian Rhapsody, Rhapsody Jardine, One of Ours Slovak RSO/Kirk Trevor MSR CLASSICS MS1252
Fascinating and dazzling scores from an American composer whose music is hypnotically beautiful and only gradually gives up its secrets.
Gustav MAHLER Symphony 6 Melbourne SO/Mark Wigglesworth ABC 4766220
A completely satisfying and very thrilling performance of Mahler’s intense work, recorded live. Wigglesworth’s direction is superb and the orchestra is on top form.
Brian Burtt George ROCHBERG Symphony 1 Saarbrücken RSO/Christopher Lyndon-Gee rec. 2004 NAXOS 8.559214
Naxos' entire Rochberg series is to be commended for the opportunity hear an undeniable twentieth-century master of traditional forms. The first symphony, in particular, will appeal to listeners who like a large palette, who believe in Mahler's assertion that a symphony should encompass the world.
Nikolai MYASKOVSKY Complete symphonies and orchestral works
Evgeny Svetlanov rec. 1965-1994 WARNER CLASSICS 2564 69689-8
This is a must-have (budget) box for anybody who fancies themselves a fan of the twentieth century symphony. Those of us who missed out on the original issues on Olympia wept tears of joy when this appeared. Just get it, before it's gone again.
Igor STRAVINSKY The Works of Igor Stravinsky Columbia SO/Igor Stravinsky, Robert Craft rec. 1959-66 SONY-BMG 88697 103112
Another item that was out of the catalog for a while, but is now back at super-budget price. Not only is this a great way to get all of Stravinsky's orchestral works, but you just may become convinced that he wasn't such a bad conductor of his own music after all.
Dominy Clements Leoš JANÁCEK The Excursions of Mr Broucek BBC Singers, BBC SO/Jirí Belohlávek rec. 2007 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4777387
Brouček has all of the anarchic qualities of something like The Good Soldier Švejk, and as a tale could only ever really be Czech in origin. This opera has been seen rarely enough on both stage and record. After hearing this I suspect you will find this state of affairs entirely inexplicable.
Edvard Hagerup GRIEG The Complete Orchestral Music Bergen PO/Ole Kristian Ruud rec. 2002-5 BIS BISCD1740/42
A true bargain and a collection no library should be without. Performances and recordings are all state of the art.
Frank MARTIN Polyptyque, Maria-Triptychon, Passacaille Muriel Cantoreggi (violin), Juliane Banse (soprano) German Radio PO/Christoph Poppen rec. 2006 ECM 2015
Recordings, performances, but above all compositions with that elusive ‘tingle factor’, this is music which is suffused with drama, and an intangibly joyous melancholy.
Bohuslav MARTINŮ Complete works for violin and orchestra Vol. 4 Bohuslav Matoušek, Czech PO/Christopher Hogwood rec. 2001 HYPERION CDA67674
Actually I really mean the entire 4 volume set (CDA67671-74) rather just this final instalment – a superbly performed and recorded collection, and a fitting and valuable monument to the instrument which was Martinů’s own.
Michael TIPPETT Piano Concerto, Fantasia on a theme of Handel, Piano Sonatas 1-4 Steven Osborne, BBC Scottish SO/Martyn Brabbins rec. 2006/7 HYPERION CDA67461/2
Recordings and performances of great clarity and commitment. There’s pianism and virtuosity yes, but what moves is the music and the musicianship.
Michael Cookson Edvard GRIEG Violin Sonata 1 Edward ELGAR Sospiri, Violin Sonata JEAN SIBELIUS Humoresques Isabelle van Keulen (violin) Ronald Brautigam (piano) rec. 2006 CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72171
A recording of such high quality that should have been one of my selections as a disc of the year for 2007 but arriving too late to be included on my list. On this Challenge Classics release the violin and piano music of Grieg, Elgar and Sibelius is given the finest service. These are top class performances from Isabelle van Keulen and Ronald Brautigam; players at the top of their profession.
Benjamin DALE Suite for Viola & Piano, Introduction & Andante for Six Violas, English Dance, Phantasy Roger Chase (viola) Michiko Otaki (piano) rec. 2007 DUTTON EPOCH CDLX7204
The Dutton Epoch label continues to explore British late-Romantic repertoire with a new disc of Music for Viola by overshadowed English composer Benjamin Dale. This outstandingly performed and recorded disc of richly rewarding viola scores by Benjamin Dale deserves to be heard. The Viola Sextet, one of two claimed world première recordings on the disc, is a hidden gem of the chamber repertoire.
Franz LISZT Lieder Ruth Ziesak (soprano) Gerold Huber (piano) rec. 2007
BERLIN CLASSICS 0016282BC
These are highly assured and rewarding performances of Liszt’s largely neglected Lieder from the outstanding German soprano Ruth Ziesak and her impeccable accompanist Gerold Huber for Berlin Classics.
Amoureuses Arias by Haydn, Mozart and Gluck Patricia Petibon (soprano) Concerto Köln/Daniel Harding rec. 2008 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4777468
The bewitching French coloratura soprano Patricia Petibon can be justly proud of her debut recording for Deutsche Grammophon. Her choice of arias from Gluck and Haydn and Mozart operas is an inspired one. For me the highlight of the disc is Mozart’s beautiful concert aria, ‘Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio!’ ravishingly sung by Petibon with the tessitura eminently suited to her voice.
Hubert Culot Jonathan HARVEY Tranquil Abiding, Body Mandala, Timepieces, White as Jasmine, … towards a Pure Land Anu Komsi (soprano) BBC Scottish SO/Ilan Volkov rec. 2007 NMC D141
These superb recorded performances of some of Harvey’s finest works do much indeed to confirm his unquestionable status on the contemporary musical scene.
Hugues DUFOURT Le Cyprès blanc, Surgir Luxembourg PO/Pierre-André Valade rec.2004-6 TIMPANI 1C1112
The main work here, Le Cyprès blanc, bears ample proof that contemporary music may be gripping and beautiful as well.
John METCALF Paradise Haunts, Three Mobiles, In Time of Daffodils BBC Ntl O Wales/Grant Llewellyn rec.2005 SIGNUM SIGCD103
John Metcalf’s music is straightforward, strongly expressive and richly melodic without ever sounding either minimal or simplistic.
Ian WILSON String Quartets 4-6, Lyric Suite Calino String Quartet rec.2005 RIVERRUN RVRCD77
Wilson’s string quartets provide a fair survey of his stylistic progress over the years and his latest essays displays some considerable flair for the medium.
Michael JARRELL Orchestral Works Suisse Romande O/Pascal Rophé rec.2005 AEON AECD0752
Michael Jarrell is one of the most endearing composers of his generation and his music is attractive and compelling in spite of its formal complexity that never obscure expression and communicability.
Robert Farr As last year, despite the lack of studio recordings of opera, there have been several outstanding recordings, often deriving from live performances, and appearing on either CD or DVD and sometimes both.
Giuseppe VERDI La Traviata Renée Fleming, Rolando Villazón, Los Angeles Opera O/James Conlon rec. 2006 DECCA 074 3215
With the benefit of the latest picture technology, this performance of Verdi’s challenging masterpiece for sopranos goes to the top of the list for those preferring a traditional production well sung and acted.
Vincenzo BELLINI I Puritani Valerian Ruminski, Anna Netrebko, Metropolitan Opera O/Patrick Summers rec. 2007 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 073 4421
Beamed live around the world, Anna Netrebko’s acted and sung interpretation of one of bel canto’s most demanding roles in a traditional and opulent Met production is a must for all lovers of the genre.
Gaetano DONIZETTI La Fille du Régiment Natalie Dessay, Juan Diego Florez, Royal Opera Ch & O/Bruno Campanella rec. live 2007 VIRGIN CLASSICS 5190029
Natalie Dessay’s perforamnce as Marie in this production will define her career just as much as Sutherland’s Lucia did for her in this same theatre nearly fifty years ago. Florez pings out the required high Cs with elan. Memorable.
Giuseppe VERDI Stiffelio José Carreras, Royal Opera, Covent Garden O/Edward Downes rec. 1993 OPUS ARTE OAR3103D
Verdi’s long lost opera is full of mature and very dramatic music finely acted and sung in this performance.
Gioachino ROSSINI Il Viaggio a Reims Katia Ricciarelli, Enzo Dara, CO Europe/Claudio Abbado rec. 1984 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4777435
Abbado and Pesaro joined to put together an all-star cast to bring to the world a newly discovered Rossini masterpiece. This outstanding performance and recording should be in every opera lover’s collection.
Gioachino ROSSINI La donna del lago Maxim Miranov, Sonia Ganassi, SWR Radio O Kaiserslauterrn/Alberto Zedda rec. 2004 NAXOS 8.660235-36
I recommended Opera Rara’s performance of Rossini’s most romantic opera seria among my selections last year, so that this Rossini recording, unlike others from Naxos, does not fill a gap in the catalogue. However, its price differential should allow many newcomers to enjoy access to this most romantic of Rossini’s opera seria.
Göran Forsling Having written almost 200 reviews during the last twelve months I found it no easy task to select a handful. Choosing only among my Recordings of the Months I still had to pass over discs that have become very dear to me. Here though is what remains after my condensation process
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Don Giovanni Johannes Weisser, Lorenzo Regazzo, Alexandrina Pendatchanska, Freiburger Barockorchester/René Jacobs rec. 2006 HARMONIA MUNDI HMC901964-66
René Jacobs has totally rethought this undisputed masterpiece, blown away loads of cobweb and found and ideal balance between the musical and the theatrical side of the work. The singers may be little known but are worthy to rub shoulders with many of the legendary names on earlier recordings.
Richard WAGNER Tristan und Isolde Robert Gambill, Nina Stemme, Glyndebourne Ch, London POra/Jiří Bĕlohlávek rec. 2007 OPUS ARTE OA0988D
A truly beautiful staging and with stupendous singing. Nina Stemme’s Isolde is unbeatable (pace Irene Theorin, whom I heard in the role in Bayreuth this year) but Robert Gambill’s Tristan is a supreme achievement as well, almost on a par with Bayreuth’s Robert Dean Smith.
Nicolae BRETAN Sacred Songs Ludovic Konya (baritone) Phyllis Bryn-Julson (soprano) Donald Sutherland, Ronald Stalford (organ) Ferdinand Weiss, Martin Berkovsky (piano) rec. 1974-6 NIMBUS NI5584
Romanian Nicolae Bretan was my find of the year and Nimbus are must be lauded for making his deeply human and personal music available. There is such warmth and simplicity in whatever he wrote. His sacred songs, and especially the deeply moving Requiem for organ and two solo voices, are perhaps the pick of his oeuvre, but all the volumes are extremely satisfying.
Richard WAGNER The Ring Cycle Royal Danish Opera O/Michael Schønwandt rec. 2006 DECCA 0743264
The humanity of Bretan’s songs finds a parallel in Kasper Bech Holten’s Copenhagen production of Wagner’s Ring. Never before have the characters in this magnum opus come to life and become flesh and blood, never before has there been such psychologically penetrating interaction between them. Not all the singing is on the same exalted level but most of it is.
Giacomo PUCCINI La Bohème Mirella Freni, Luciano Pavarotti, Berlin PO/Herbert von Karajan rec. 1972 DECCA 4780254
Very little needs to be added about this legendary 35-year-old recording. Coming back to it after several years just confirmed that the promotion sticker for once told the whole truth. ‘One of the greatest opera recordings of all time’, it said. I couldn’t agree more.
Romantic Arias Jonas Kaufmann (tenor) Prague PO/Marco Armiliato rec. 2007 DECCA 4759966
Since so many fine opera recitals have come my way this year: I eventually settled on Jonas Kaufmann’s debut recital. He may be the finest German tenor since Fritz Wunderlich and combines a marvellous voice with great musicality and unerring sense of style.
Michael Greenhalgh Benjamin BRITTEN Peter Grimes Peter Pears, Heather Harper, Ambrosian Opera Ch, London SO/Benjamin Britten rec. 1969 DECCA 0743261
Britten took out 2 months from his schedule to make this earliest complete visual representation of Peter Grimes to preserve his perspective on its interpretation with Peter Pears for whom the role was written. The outcome isn’t just a valuable benchmark but an eloquent performance in its own right.
William BYRD Second Service & Consort Anthems Fretwork, Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford/Bill Ives rec. 2006 HARMONIA MUNDI HMU907440
One element of Byrd’s greatness as a composer is his quality across a wide range of music, well illustrated in the variety of forms and vocal and instrumental forces on this CD and including some first recordings. But most significantly these are performances of real feeling.
John DOWLAND Songs Benjamin BRITTEN Nocturnal after John Dowland Mark Padmore (tenor), Elizabeth Kenny (lute), Craig
Ogden(guitar) rec. 2007 HYPERION CDA67648
An engaging and unique contrast here of Dowland and Britten reflecting on Dowland. But it’s the Dowland songs that make this a terrific disc which demonstrates how flexibly Dowland’s line can be treated in expressing the nuances of the texts, vividly realized by Padmore and Kenny.
Joseph HAYDN Symphonies 70, 73 & 75 Heidelberger Sinfoniker/Thomas Fey rec. 2007 HANSSLER CLASSIC CD98.517
There are plenty of decent, elegant Haydn symphony recordings but Fey takes risks, provides variety and an element of showmanship, all intelligently applied, to create the most vibrant Haydn performances I’ve heard for a long time. He makes you sit up and listen.
Heavenly harmonies Stile Antico rec. 2007 HARMONIA MUNDI HMU807463
A stimulating contrast of settings of English texts by Tallis and Latin ones by Byrd. And sensitive expression of the texts is paramount. This CD is a knockout. You won’t find a better demonstration just how beautiful and yet also powerful these pieces are.
Tony Haywood Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Complete Works for Solo Piano Vol. 6 Sonatas 21-25 Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano) rec. 2007 BIS BISSACD1573
This latest in Ronald Brautigam’s wonderfully stimulating Beethoven Sonata traversal is possibly the best so far. Everything about it oozes quality –the instrument, the recording and especially Brautigam’s quicksilver, punchy and dynamically daring renditions.
Bela BARTÓK Violin Sonatas Christian Tetzlaff (violin); Leif Ove Andsnes (piano) rec. 2003 EMI CLASSICS 5181772
As Bartok re-issues go, they don’t get much better than this. Superb music, lyrical, inventive and with all the Bartokian thumbprints you would expect to hear. Tetzlaff’s tone is a joy throughout and Andsnes copes with the fearsomely difficult accompaniments as to the manor born.
Joe CUTLER Orchestral works Orkest de Ereprijs; BBC Concert O/Charles Hazlewood rec. 2004-8 NMC D134
Joe Cutler’s particular brand of minimalism – think Steve Reich crossed with Louis Andriessen and elements of punk, rock and jazz – is very infectious and toe-tapping. NMC’s overview represents virtually the ideal disc for new listeners to sample his style, and the performances really are spectacularly good
Jonathan HARVEY Tranquil Abiding, Body Mandala, Timepieces, White as Jasmine, … towards a Pure Land Anu Komsi (soprano) BBC Scottish SO/Ilan Volkov rec. 2007 NMC D141
I was particularly gratified to see this stunning disc getting Gramophone’s vote as the Contemporary Disc of the Year in their awards. Harvey is prolific, but by any standards this is special. His Buddhist philosophies are fused with Western orchestral techniques to produce ravishing tapestries of sound, and it’s very easy to find yourself hypnotised into the trance-like state that inspires so much of this music, as you’re listening. Tranquil Abiding is my personal favourite of a much-listened disc.
Mark Sebastian Jordan Johann Sebastian BACH Goldberg Variations Burkard Schliessmann (piano) rec. 2007 BAYER BR100326
German pianist Burkard Schliessmann charts new territory in the Goldbergs, characterizing musical phrases like conversations amongst warm, human characters. Far from the flair of young Gould, the serenity of old Gould, the severity of Tureck, or the drama of Perahia, this is the most humane Goldberg I’ve ever heard.
Mary Ellen CHILDS Dream House Ethel (string quartet), Neverwas (sound collage) rec. 2006 INNOVA 672
Innova has become the go-to source for the finest modern American music, featuring not arid theorists but instead, compelling, connected composers. Mary Ellen Childs takes the humdrum notion of building a house and makes it a rivetting epic. Performed with great vitality by Ethel with linking collages by Neverwas.
Joseph HAYDN London Symphonies English CO/Jeffery Tate rec. 1988-91 CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 5218552
Dapper and elegant, but with surprising reserves of strength and depth, the return of Tate’s Haydn is welcome, as he blends the best of old and new concepts to clarify this music and let it speak with both gleam and flexibility.
Leonardo BALADA Maria Sabina, Dionisio Comunidad de Madrid Ch & O/José Ramón Encinar rec. 2006/7 NAXOS 8.570425
Vital and dramatic modern music by Catalan-born Balada, who now lives in the U.S. Maria Sabina reflects the volatility of the 1960s, while Dionisio In Memoriam is a more recent piece that looks back toward that period with a visionary, if uneasy, serenity.
ETA HOFFMANN Chamber Music Beni Araki (fortepiano) Nasumi Nagasawa (harp) Hoffmister Qt, Trio Margaux HÄNSSLER PROFIL PH07063
Before inspiring Schumann, Offenbach and countless others, novelist ETA Hoffmann wrote his own music, foreshadowing the imaginative flights of romanticism to come. Not all he wrote is great, but some of it is remarkable. The Grand Trio makes one wonder why more performers don’t explore Hoffmann.
American Orchestral Song Works by Thomson, Carpenter, Harris, Griffes and Parker Patrick Mason (baritone) Odense SO/Paul Mann rec. 2007 BRIDGE 9254
Little more needs to be said about this than it is quite wonderful.
Ian Lace Nicholas FLAGELLO Missa sinfonica Arnold ROSNER Symphony 5 Ukraine Ntl SO/John McLaughlin Williams rec. 2006 NAXOS 8.559347
One of my finds of the year. Both are accessible and conceived in full-throttle neo-Romantic style. Flagello’s Missa sinfonica, combining elements of both the Mass and the symphony, is highly emotional and reminiscent of Hanson, Rubbra, Copland and Respighi. Rosner’s work has gorgeous, powerful long-breathed tunes and recalls Vaughan Williams and Hovhaness.
Giacomo PUCCINI La Bohème Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazón, Bayerischen RSO/Bertrand de Billy rec. live, 2007 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4776600
The first two outstanding recordings of La Bohème in my choices this year. Surely no-one could be unmoved by the ardency and sincerity of Netrebko and Villazón on the DG audio recording.
Arnold BAX String Quartet 1 Edward ELGAR String Quartet Pavão Quartet rec. 2007 DISCRETE RECORDINGS DISC0701
An apt coupling. The wonderful Bax work with its lament for the dead of the 1916 Easter rising at its core and the reflective, autumnal Elgar quartet composed in the woodlands of Sussex during the Great War. Excellent sensitive performances.
Ottorino RESPIGHI Humoreske, Leggenda, Sei piccoli pezzi, Rossiniana Marco Rogliano (violin) Sassari SO/Roberto Diem Tigani INEDITA PI2632
Scored for small orchestra, these are little gems. The charming and graceful Humoreske is a concerto in miniature full of artful humour and Leggenda is sweetly lyrical and elegiac; Rogliano is beguiling and beautifully expressive. Adriano’s vividly colourful transcriptions of Sei piccoli pezzi are true to the spirit of childhood and its joys.
Leroy ANDERSON Orchestral Music Vol. 4 BBC SO/Leonard Slatkin NAXOS 8.559381
Anderson’s gloriously tuneful light music delivered in vivacious performances. In reality, I'm nominating all four volumes, but that would use up most of my ration. Who could forget such hits as, Belle of the Ball, Forgotten Dreams, The Typewriter, The Blue Tango or The Syncopated Clock. All are here and more plus rarities like the Piano Concerto and works celebrating his Harvard days.
Giacomo PUCCINI La Bohème Angela Gheorghiu, Ramón Vargas, Metropolitan Opera O & Ch/Nicola Luisotti EMI 2174179
The second Bohème: Franco Zeffirelli’s setsigns for the Met DVD recording are stunning. Both Gheorghiu and Vargas shine. Their duets have a romantic intensity that sends shivers down the spine.
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