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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL
Recordings Of The Year 2009

Click on cover image to read the full review.

Front Page
Reviewers A-L

MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL FOUNDER Len Mullenger

William ALWYN String Quartets Maggini Qt rec. 2007 NAXOS 8.570560

Nearly 15 years ago MusicWeb International was born as the William Alwyn website because I loved his music and wanted more to hear it. We are now well provided with recording from Lyrita, Chandos and lastly Naxos. They came late to the scene although Rob Barnett and I pushed the cause when we met Klaus Heymann some years ago. They may have been late but they have been thorough and their recordings are always superb and at superbudget price. With limited time (and a vast over-exposure to recordings) I have not listened to the chamber works often enough. From the pessimism of the second quartet, the third was his last work but was bright and energetic and with a consoling ending.

Leoš JANÁCEK Orchestral Suites from the Operas - Vol. 1 New Zealand SO/Peter Breiner rec. 2007 NAXOS 8.570555

Through the ardent advocacy of a friend I hear a lot of the Janacek opera recordings and frankly sometimes emerge feeling rather battered. I think I am one of those for whom these suites have been arranged - now into three volumes. Even my opera-loving friend admits they are much more successful than he expected. To quote Dominy Clements' review "Suites like these can release fine compositional work from their dramatic context and win new audiences as a result."

Jean SIBELIUS Violin Concerto Carl NIELSEN Violin Concerto Maxim Vengerov (violin) Chicago SO/Daniel Barenboim rec. 1996 WARNER CLASSICS 2564693673

This is one of a series of Barenboim reissues this year from Warner at budget price. You cannot go wrong with this one, provided the slightly unusual coupling is to your taste.


Arthur BUTTERWORTH Symphonies 1 & 4, Viola Concerto Sarah-Jane Bradley (viola) Royal Scottish Ntl O/Arthur Butterworth, Hallé O/Sir John Barbirolli rec. 1958-2008 DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7212

This was to have been my Recording of the Year until it was supplanted by the Bernstein Mahler. We were in real need of a recording of the Fourth symphony. I arranged a performance of this for the composer's 75th birthday (review) which the composer attended, but it happened to be the very day ClassicO were making the premiere recording of his First symphony! That recording is now in very short supply but here we have a magnificent replacement and a tremendous recording of the Fourth. The Viola Concerto was a real surprise and rounds off this perfect set, retailing at a ridiculous price of around £4 per disc.

Maurice RAVEL L'enfant et les sortilèges, Shéhérazade Julie Boulianne (mezzo) Nashville SO & Ch/Alastair Willis rec. 2006/7 NAXOS 8.660215

I was recently delighted to find a near perfect copy of The Boy and the Magic which was a book of illustrations to Colette's tale by Gerard Hoffnung. The Frogpool can be seen here. Of Ravel's opera April saw the near simultaneous release of Simon Rattle's EMI recording and the Alastair Willis above. My preference was actually the reverse of Dominy Clements on side by side comparison because the voices on the Naxos are nearer my picture of this opera, raised, as I have been, on the old Maazel recording (still available). William Hedley in his review is of the same mind. But the clincher, and really the reason for choosing this disc, is the spellbinding performance of Shéhérazade. Buy it for that alone and you will feel the money well spent.

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony 11 Royal Liverpool PO/Vasily Petrenko rec. 2008 NAXOS 8.572082

Great things are happening in Liverpool and I am so pleased that Petrenko is to record all the Shostakovich symphonies. If this debut is anything to go by it will be a major (and inexpensive achievement). Dan Morgan complained that knob-twiddling was required with this recording. I have found with all recordings that the opening of this symphony is a distant foreboding as only Shostakovich can write - David Barker in his survey of the symphony describes it as having a stark and forbidding beauty - and then the symphony suddenly leaps into life. I am sure the answer will be found in the score, not the recording. Petrenko has a fast young man's approach but is thrilling with it.

CLASSICAL EDITOR Rob Barnett

Joseph MARX Orchestral Songs and Choral Works Christine Brewer (soprano) BBC SO & Ch/Jirí Belohlávek rec. 2008 CHANDOS CHAN10505

Chandos have an unshakable signature grip on big choral-orchestral sound. Marx’s writing has a lavish extravagance that does not compromise a lucid and sharply-focused sound-picture - very much for those who love their Delius, Korngold and Zemlinsky. Irresistible exuberance, whooping confidence and a seething aureate blaze. It’s exultant stuff and redolent in its heightened exaltation of other newcomers: Bruno Walter’s Symphony in D and the Hausegger Natursymphonie, both on CPO. I have my fingers crossed that Chandos will decide to record Marx’s epic symphonic essay in nature painting: the Herbstsymphonie.

Boris TCHAIKOVSKY Complete String Quartets Ilya Ioff, Elena Raskova (violins) Lydia Kovalenko (viola) Alexey Massarsky (cello) rec. 2008 NORTHERN FLOWERS NF9964/5

Given their head these very little known quartets will embrace your emotions and form the backdrop to your life: heritage tracks indeed. Wonderful performances, not too breathy and pellucidly recorded.

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY Manfred Symphony State TV and Radio Grand SO/Konstantin Symeonov rec. 1960 VISTA VERA VVCD-00150

Aficionados of the grainy virility of the Russian orchestra in full flood must track this down. It is, in short, a volcanic Manfred. Great Tchaikovsky in the Golovanov and Mravinsky traditions.


John IRELAND Piano Concerto Frank BRIDGE Phantasm William WALTON Sinfonia Concertante Kathryn Stott (piano) Royal PO/Vernon Handley rec. 1989 DUTTON CDLX7223

An old friend returns from Conifer purgatory. The Walton is life-enhancing music that flies on lyrical sinew-driven wings whether syncopated, soughing or startlingly heroic. The first movement’s jazzily hip-swaying peroration is glorious. Excellent accounts of the Ireland and Bridge too.

Guirne CREITH Violin Concerto Thomas PITFIELD Concerto Lirico Richard ARNELL Violin Concerto Lorraine McAslan (violin); Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martin Yates rec. 2008 DUTTON EPOCH CDLX7221

Creith’s full-blooded Violin Concerto is remarkably strong with great ideas. Pitfield’s Concerto Lirico is melodic and carefree, breathtakingly beautiful. Arnell's Concerto is flamboyantly romantic. McAslan triumphs in these unknown works.

Manuel de FALLA Orchestral and vocal music Victoria de los Angeles (soprano), Gonzalo Soriano (piano), Philharmonia O/Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos. rec. 1963-69 EMI CLASSICS 2375952

Great recordings and performances taken down by EMI’s engineering aristocracy. Nothing short of sensational. Frühbeck de Burgos's El sombrero is thrilling and rapturously poetic. Those serried ranks of castanets rattle the walls to this day. The discs are slightly over and under 79 minutes in each case.

Terry Barfoot
Maurice RAVEL Songs Gerald Finley (baritone) Julius Drake (piano) rec. 2008 HYPERION CDA67728

Gerald Finley and Julius Drake cover Ravel’s breadth of style and expression, across the range of the composer’s career, from Un grand sommeil noir (1895) to Don Quichotte à Dulcinée (1934). Highly recommended, and wonderful music too.

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony 4 Netherlands Radio PO/Mark Wigglesworth rec. 2005 BIS BISSACD1553


Mark Wigglesworth and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic have given us a great performance of a symphony that can be claimed as Shostakovich’s greatest. As with any masterpiece, the best performance is always ‘the next one’, but this will do for now.
David Barker
Nino ROTA Symphonies 1 & 2 Filarmonica ’900 del Teatro Regio di Torino/Marzio Conti rec. 2005/6 CHANDOS CHAN10546

Absolutely no question that this is my Record of the Year and Surprise of the Year as well. Melody flows out of every nook and cranny of both works, but there is also wit and gravitas as well. If anyone needed convincing that there are masterworks beyond the standard repertoire, these provide overwhelming evidence.

Philip GLASS Portrait Includes The Hours suite, Mishima & Company La Pietà/Angèle Dubeau (violin, director) Louise-Andrée Baril (piano) rec. 2007 ANALEKTA AN2 8727

For the second year in a row, a Philip Glass recording makes my end of year list. This Canadian ensemble is better known for its more mainstream violin showpieces, but this collection of works for string orchestra and piano is totally convincing.

Georgs PELECIS Revelation, Nevertheless, Buena Riga, The Last Song Gidon Kremer, Kremerata Baltica rec. 2005 MEGADISC MDC7797

The concerto for violin and piano Nevertheless was written for Gidon Kremer and recorded in a Baltic music compilation more than a decade ago which is where I fell under its spell. The music of its Latvian composer has been hard to find, but here we have a new recording of the work and three others as well. His music shares a simplicity with his better known Baltic colleague Arvo Pärt, but where the Estonian favours stillness, Pelecis mixes in a rhythmic drive.

Trumpet concertos by Hummel, Haydn, Torelli & Neruda Alison Balsom (trumpet) Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen rec. 2008 EMI CLASSICS 2162130

For one person to be so talented and so good-looking is really not fair, and to be the star at this year's Last Night of the Proms as well! The two big works here - Haydn and Hummel - are given the best performances I've heard. Her trumpet sound is gloriously rich and round, the Bremen players fleet and crisp in accompaniment.

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony 5 Royal Liverpool PO/Vasily Petrenko rec. live, 2008 RLPO LIVE

This remains unreleased for general purchase, being only available from emusic as a download to subscribers. What a shame because it is quite magnificent - overflowing with passion, intensity, beauty and drive. It is far better than the Dudamel DG recording, which suffers from extreme variations in tempo.
Nick Barnard
For me discs of the year fall into one of two main categories with the common link of pleasure! So its pleasure in new discoveries or pleasure in revisiting old friends. The new discoveries can be of repertoire, performance and performers or best of all, combinations of each of these. These are all discs I reviewed and the proof of the (Christmas) pudding was that in every case I stopped reviewing and just listened... again and again. In no particular order:

Aaron COPLAND Dance Panels, Emily Dickinson Songs, Short Symphony Helene Schneiderman (mezzo) St. Luke's O/Dennis Russell Davies NIMBUS NI2545

A reissue of lesser known Copland in definitive performances - absolutely immaculate playing by the Orchestra of St. Lukes under Dennis Russell Davies. Topped off with a performance of the Eight Songs of Emily Dickinson that forces their reassessment as a major work of the 20th Century. Heart-breakingly beautiful singing from Helene Schneiderman.

Charles-Auguste de BÉRIOT Solo Violin Music Vol. 1 Bella Hristova (violin) rec. 2009 NAXOS 8.572267

A disc I had little enthusiasm for when it dropped through the letterbox to review. What a delight to be so humblingly wrong! An extraordinary disc of marvellous music full of character, virtuosity, wit and beauty. Played by the brilliant Bella Hristova - a violinist previously unknown to me - who has the personality and technique to be measured with the very very best. An excellent example of Naxos' superb exploration of little known repertoire.

Alberto GINASTERA String Quartets 1-3 Ensõ Qt; Lucy Shelton (soprano) rec. 2007 NAXOS 8.570780

Major repertoire played with white-hot commitment by a simply phenomenal quartet. Three very different quartets providing an excellent overview of this composer's work - by turns muscular, mysterious and complex. I don't find the performance of soprano Lucy Shelton quite to my taste in the 3rd Quartet but this still strolls into my top six.

Richard STRAUSS Don Quixote, Also sprach Zarathustra Mstislav Rostropovich (cello) Ulrich Koch (viola) Berlin PO/Herbert von Karajan rec. 1975/9 HIGH DEFINITION TAPE TRANSFERS HDCD174

Proof that The Berlin Philharmonic under Karajan could play like an unleashed beast when they wanted to. Performances oozing humanity and musical insight. Rostropovich in Don Quixote plays with all the warmth and beauty one would expect. Mention too to HDTT for the extraordinary work they have done restoring these live broadcasts - a life enhancing disc.

Nikolay RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Complete Orchestral Works State Academic SO/Evgeny Svetlanov rec. 1969-93 SVET 57-009-1/6

This is my "old friend" selection. Very much a case of personal taste - many find Svetlanov's direct no-holds-barred approach allied to Melodiya's less than demonstration quality recordings too much to take. I absolutely adore the death-or-glory playing of the old Soviet orchestras - so theatrical, so passionate. Part of the pleasure is the way the engineering is so often overwhelmed! NOT a set for a quiet evening's listening. Put it on when heavens need storming.

John JOUBERT Choral Music Louis Halsey Singers/Louis Halsey rec. 1979 BRITISH MUSIC SOCIETY BMS 102CDH

Multiple reasons for choosing this. Hooray for the British Music Society, double hooray for the excellent engineering and sensitive performances but triple hooray with an extra hooray for Christmas for John Joubert. Coming back to these performances after many years, it emphasised to me just what a fine and strikingly individual composer he is. There is glorious music here, much of it sacred but with a steely backbone that saves it from the pious wallowings that blights so much church music for me. Here is a composer whose music demands a serious reassessment and soon.
Bob Briggs
Dancing Cheek To Cheek with Fred Astaire: His 56 Finest: 1926–1952 Fred Astaire, Adele Astaire, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Orchestras of Bob Crosby, Johnny Green, Ray Noble, Van Phillips, Leo Reisman and Al Starita rec. 1926-52 RETROSPECTIVE RTS 4102

A fabulous collection of almost all the songs from the Fred and Ginger films and some other material. Impossible not to enjoy!

Claude DEBUSSY En blanc et noir, Jeux: poème dansé, Lindaraja Maurice RAVEL Rapsodie espagnole, La Valse Vladimir and Vovka Ashkenazy (pianos) rec. 2008 DECCA 478 1090

Astonishing performances, where the virtuosity of the performers is always at the service of the composers. En blanc et noir has never sounded so powerful nor La Valse so earth shatteringly cataclysmic.

Barbara HARBACH Volume 4: Chamber Music II Bratislava CO, Bratislava Woodwind Qnt, Ensemble Istropolis/Kirk Trevor MSR CLASSICS MS 1255

Harbach’s is a special talent; here’s a composer whose music is easy to understand and is very enjoyable. For me, this is unmissable.


Franz Joseph HAYDN String Quartets op. 54 Sacconi Qt rec. 2008 SACCONI RECORDS no number

This young quartet is a revelation, playing with a mastery which is quite stunning. These three quartets are superbly performed and brilliantly recorded. They are amongst the best ever recordings of Haydn Quartets.

Leoš JANÁCEK Taras Bulba, Concertino, Sinfonietta Rudolf Firkušný (piano) Bavarian RSO/Rafael Kubelik rec. 1970/1 ELOQUENCE 480 0643

Kubelik, together with Karel Ancerl, committed some of the most authoritative interpretations of the music of Leoš Janácek to disk. This is a timely re–issue of two of Kubelik’s greatest performances, generously coupled with the quirky Concertino.

Krzysztof MEYER Symphony 7, Sinfonia del Tempo che passa, Double concerto Magdalena Rezler–Niesoilowska (violin), Julius Berger (cello), National Polish RSO (Katowice)/Gabriel Chmura, Lukasz Borowicz DUX 9695

Krzysztof Meyer is a major Polish composer whose music is too good to miss. It has energy, urgency and is dynamic in its outlook and construction. This man is my major discovery of the year! Give him your time – he’s worth it.

Colin Clarke
Piano Sonatas by Beethoven, Haydn & Mozart Rafal Blechacz (piano) rec. 2008 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4777453

Rafael Blechacz is one of the most exciting pianists around today, and this disc only serves to underline his stature.

Leopold MOZART Complete Horn Concertos Herman Jeurissen (horn) Concerto Rotterdam/Heinz Friesen rec. 1982 MUSIKPRODUKTION DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM MDG3210095-2

A mix of the obscure with some of Mozart père’s more famous works, this is unalloyed delight. Dabringhaus und Grimm is a magnificent label and , as always, production values are of the very highest.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Rondos, Andante favori, Seven Bagatelles, Capriccio Natalia Valentin (fortepiano) rec. 2009 PARATY 109.104

A player new to me, Natalia Valentin, plays Beethoven expertly on a fortepiano. Wonderful stuff: not a record I would find myself picking up off a record shop shelf and purchasing, even on an impulse level, so it was great to have my ears opened by this disc.

John Luther ADAMS the place we began COLD BLUE CB0032

A tremendous (if low playing time) disc from the Alaskan John Luther Adams. Hypnotic music, and utterly individual.
Dominy Clements
Arvo PÄRT In principio, La Sindone, Cecilia, vergine romana etc Estonian PCh Ch; Estonian Ntl SO; Tallinn CO/Tonu Kaljuste rec. 2007/8 ECM NEW SERIES 2050

Total Pärt immersion and a complete inspiration, these are high octane works and performances, and a very moving experience. Listen all the way through Cecilia, Virgine Romana if you don’t believe me.

Lamentations Works by Victoria, Gesualdo, White & Palestrina Nordic Voices rec. 2009 CHANDOS CHACONNE CHAN0763

Impeccably recorded and performed – this is a disc with a message from which we all can learn, but is also by far the most refined vocal disc I’ve heard this year.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN The Piano Sonatas: Vol. VIII Sonatas 30-32 András Schiff (piano) rec. 2007 ECM NEW SERIES 1949

Live and dangerous, Schiff’s Beethoven cycle is compelling and contemporary, creating magic from the moments many pianists see as transitional, and providing an object lesson in interpretation from the original source.

Johann Sebastian BACH Inventionen, Sinfonien, French Suite 5 Till Fellner (piano) rec. 2007 ECM NEW SERIES 2043

Not only for this CD but also for his Well Tempered Clavier: Book I, Fellner is something special. This is Bach with genuine staying power, rivalling Richter and all comers when it comes to piano recordings.

Joseph HAYDN The Complete Symphonies Austro-Hungarian Haydn O/Adam Fischer rec. 1989-2001 NIMBUS NI1722 (MP3 Edition)

Nimbus shows the way with this Haydn celebration MP3 package of the entire symphonies and more. This is the compact one-stop way of joining one of the classical era’s most joyous composers in his best of all possible worlds – but who will follow?

Olivier MESSIAEN Complete Organ Works Hans-Ola Ericsson (organ) rec. 1988-2008 BIS BIS-CD-1770-72

Brought up to date with the last posthumously discovered works and re-packaged in an ultra-economic box, there is nothing low-budget about these recordings and their accompanying 230 page booklet. Still first choice for consistency, these are performances and recordings through a clean and undistorted lens.
Michael Cookson
Johann Sebastian BACH Six Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin Viktoria Mullova (baroque violin) rec. 2007/8 ONYX CLASSICS 4040

A special recording to treasure from Viktoria Mullova of Bach’s masterworks the 6 Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin. The chosen instrument is her 1750 Giovanni Battista Guadagnini violin with gut strings using a contemporary copy of a Baroque bow. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mullova’s disc on Onyx became one of the great ‘classics’.

Max BRUCH String Quintet Felix MENDELSSOHN String Quintets 1 & 2 Henschel Qt, Kazuki Sawa, Roland Glassl (viola) rec. 2008/9 NEOS CLASSICS 30901

The world première recording of Max Bruch’s String Quintet in E-flat major coupled with Mendelssohn two string quintets from the outstanding Henschels is cause for celebration. I reflect back to the Henschels recording of Mendelssohn’s ‘complete string quartets’ for Sony/BMG that was so outstanding that I acclaimed the set as my 2005 ‘Record of the Year’ (see review).

Johannes BRAHMS Symphonies 1-4 Berlin PO/Sir Simon Rattle rec. 2008 EMI CLASSICS 2672542

For many years I have been looking for a Brahms cycle to compete with Otto Klemperer’s Olympian 1956/57 Kingsway Hall performances with the Philharmonia. With Sir Simon Rattle’s new Berlin Philharmonic set I have found it. These urgently spontaneous performances from Rattle convey a Romantic power of immense intensity. Beautifully played and recorded.

Camille SAINT-SAËNS Complete works for cello and orchestra Johannes Moser (cello) Stuttgart RSO/Fabrice Bollon rec. 2007 HÄNSSLER CLASSIC 93.222

Arriving too late in the year for my 2008 selections the numerous merits of this release just have to be acknowledged. Displaying a tightly secure technique and a bold, rich timbre the charismatic Moser expertly mixes a generous palette of gorgeous tone colours.

Tandem Sergei PROKOFIEV Sonata for 2 violins Arthur HONEGGER Sonatine for 2 violins Eugène YSAŸE Sonata for 2 violins Frédéric Angleraux, Raphaël Oleg (violins)
rec. 1999 No label


This delightfully produced and performed recording from Frédéric Angleraux and Raphaël Oleg titled Tandem consists of three rarely heard twentieth century scores for two violins. A self-produced project undertaken nine years ago, recorded at Fontevraud Abbey in the depths of the French countryside, it was for various reasons consigned to the drawer until the enterprising performers decided to market the recording themselves. Although somewhat a wildcard choice I consider this enterprising release a remarkable artistic success.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Complete String Quartets Alexander String Qt rec. 2008 FOGHORN CLASSICS CD2005

These new performances from the San Francisco-based Alexander String Quartet are unfailingly fresh and musically compelling. I admired their splendidly matched phrasing together with an intuitive grasp of structure. With dynamics rarely overstated their choice of tempi feels just right. The exceptionally clear and dry sound is closely caught at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York City.
Hubert Culot
Ivo MALEC Epistola, Arc-en-cello Tchèquea PCh, Ilia Laporev (cello) Luxembourg PO/ Emmanuel Krivine rec. 2006/8 TIMPANI 1C1153

These recent and substantial works by a significant composer, who has now turned again to orchestral music with highly impressive results, prove strongly expressive and communicative.

David MATTHEWS The Music of Dawn, Concerto in Azzurro, A Vision and a Journey Guy Johnston (cello) BBC PO/Rumon Gamba rec. 2007 CHANDOS CHAN10487

Although deeply rooted in a broad 20th century tradition Matthews' music always succeeds in breathing fresh air into his far from academic symphonic writing at once superbly crafted and ultimately appealing. This superbly played and produced release confirm Matthews' status as one of the outstanding symphonists of his generation.

Thomas WILSON A Chamber Portrait Allan Neave (guitar) Simon Smith (piano) Edinburgh Qt rec. 2008/9 DELPHIAN DCD34079

Thomas Wilson's music has been rather neglected so far and this beautifully played disc might well be the first step towards a well-deserved re-appreciation of this composer's generous and varied output.


William MATHIAS Choral Music Jonathan Vaughn (organ) Wells Cathedral Ch/ Matthew Owens rec. 2008 HYPERION CDA67740

Mathias' knack for eminently attractive tunes and lively rhythms shines through this magnificent release especially thanks to superbly committed performances.

Elizabeth MACONCHY The Sofa, The Departure Independent Opera at Sadler’s Wells/Dominic Wheeler rec. 2007 CHANDOS CHAN10508

Maconchy's operatic diptych illustrates the composer's versatility and ability to adapt her highly personal music to two strongly contrasted short operas. These receive lively and committed performances from their young respective casts.

Magnus LINDBERG Complete Piano Music Ralph van Raat (piano) rec. 2007 NAXOS 8.570542

The complete recording of Lindberg's present output for piano provides a fair appreciation of his stylistic journey over the years. Ralph van Raat's immaculate playing and deep musicality cannot be bettered.
Robert Farr
Not since the likes of Joan Sutherland, Montserrat Caballé and Beverley Sills strutted their stuff through the recording studios, thirty or so years, ago has bel canto featured so much in this year’s operatic releases and which dominate my choices. This proliferation has been greatly aided by the issuing of live performances on DVD, often derived from Italian Festivals and recorded by Dynamic and issued by Naxos under licence.

Vincenzo BELLINI Complete Operas rec. 1955-2007 DYNAMIC CDS552/1-25

Recorded across half a century, this twelve CD set of live recordings of all Bellini’s ten operas encompasses the rarely heard early works as well two versions of La Sonnambula and Norma.


Vincenzo BELLINI I Capuleti e I Montecchi Elina Garanca, Anna Netrebko, Wiener Singakademie/Heinz Ferlesch, Wiener Symphoniker/Fabio Luisi rec. live, 2008 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4778031

Recorded live in Vienna in April 2008, but without the intrusions of applause, it will be a long time before this performance is bettered on record.

Vincenzo BELLINI La Sonnambula Cecilia Bartoli, Juan Diego Florez, Zurich Opera House Ch; O La Scintilla/Alessandro De Marchi rec. 2007/8 DECCA 478 1087

Decca bring two of their leading artists together for this new look at a long held bel canto favourite.


Gaetano DONIZETTI Lucrezia Borgia Dimitra Theodossiou (soprano) Roberto De Biasio (tenor) Bergamo Music Festival Ch & O/Tiziano Severini rec. live, 2007 NAXOS 2.110264

Whilst not perfect, this recording serves as an excellent introduction to a Donizetti work that is becoming increasingly part of the opera house and Festival scene.

Gaetano DONIZETTI Roberto Devereux Dimitra Theodossiou (soprano) Massimiliano Pisapia (tenor) Bergamo Music Festival Ch & O/Marcello Rota rec. live, 2006 NAXOS 2.110232

A very fine performance of one of Donizetti’s most dramatic operas in a traditional set and with opulent costumes.



Gaetano DONIZETTI Maria Stuarda Anna Caterina Antonacci (mezzo) Mariella Devia (soprano) La Scala Ch & O/Antonino Fogliani rec. live, 2008 ARTHAUS MUSIK 101361

With Anna Caterina Antonacci and Mariella Devia, as the Queens of Scotland and England, sparking flames off each other in the infamous scene between them, and aided by Pier Luigi Pizzi’s sets, costumes and direction as well as Antonino Fogliani in the pit, this is La Scala at its very best and is unmissable.
Göran Forsling

2009 seems to have been a recital year but as always I have qualms concerning those discs that had to be crossed out from my final list. So many have been so good.

Mirages Mélodies Songs by Fauré and Poulenc Thomas Oliemans (baritone) Malcolm Martineau (piano) rec. 2008 ETCETERA KTC1366

On this hearing Thomas Oliemans stands out as the best singer of Mélodies since Gérard Souzay and offers readings of immense insight and vocal excellence.

Songs by Chopin, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky & Mussorgsky Eva Podles (contralto) Garrick Ohlsson (piano) rec. live, 2008 WIGMORE HALL LIVE WHLIVE0027

Words like ‘dramatic’, ‘grandiose voice’, ‘magnificent’, ‘stunning intensity’ are recurrent in my notes but also ‘inward concentration’, ‘superb characterisation’ and ‘communicative’.

Erkki-Sven TÜÜR Wallenberg Jesper Taube, Priit Volmer, Estonian Ntl Opera Ch & O/ Arvo Volmer rec. live 2007 ESTONIAN RECORD PRODUCTIONS ERP1808

One of the most important contemporary operas. We should never forget the horrors of the war, nor should we forget that there were brave people who fought for humanity. Raoul Wallenberg was one such person and this opera - which is far from myopic or uncritical - should be seen, live or on DVD, by as many people as possible.

Lieder by Schubert, Beethoven, Britten, Grieg & Trojahn Daniel Behle (tenor) Oliver Schnyder (piano) rec. 2008 PHOENIX EDITION 154

Mellifluous, agile, beautiful, technically spotless and with enough heft to make his top notes ring out – and he is a fine interpreter as well. An auspicious debut disc.

Tragédiennes 2 From Rameau to Berlioz Véronique Gens (soprano), Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset rec. 2008 VIRGIN CLASSICS 2165742

She immerses herself in the predicaments and feelings of the different characters with the intensity and bravery of a performance artist. She milks the music and texts of their inherent dramatic and expressive potential using the skills and insight of a great improviser –John Coltrane or Charlie Parker. In the midst of this spontaneity she is in full control of her interpretative means. What finally makes the disc so utterly compelling is the singing as singing: the musical phrasing, the purity of tone and the intrinsic beauty of the voice.

Sacrificium Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo) Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini rec. 2009 DECCA 478 1521

There is a great deal of rather empty coloratura fireworks but several arias are masterpieces and the singing is absolutely gorgeous.

Michael Greenhalgh

William BYRD Hodie Simon Petrus: Vol. 11 - The Cardinall’s Musick Byrd Edition The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood rec. 2007 HYPERION CDA67653

No group has more experience of singing Byrd’s sacred Latin music or more sympathy in interpreting it. Here’s an innate elemental toughness, rigour of articulation and sheer resonance while 3 pieces have never been recorded before.

George Frideric HANDEL Concerti grossi, Op. 6 Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini rec. 2008 L’OISEAU LYRE 4780319

Classic repertoire can become too respectable. These performances aren’t yet this by turns daring and sunnily irreverent approach is tremendously stimulating and makes me think this is how these works might have been experienced first time round.

Joseph HAYDN String Quartets, Op. 17 London Haydn Qt rec. 2008 HYPERION CDA67722

These performances set the standard for Haydn interpretation. The use of gut strings and classical bows brings a luminous upper register and penetratingly clear lower register sound, a period instrument sound without any fragility or intonation problems. Add to this the sensitivity of the playing, sense of measure and space.

Henry PURCELL Dido and Aeneas Sarah Connolly (mezzo) Gerald Finley (baritone) O & Ch Age of Enlightenment/Steven Devine rec. 2008 CHANDOS CHACONNE CHAN0757

Within the specialization of presentation of opera in sound alone this interpretation vividly balances the expressiveness of both drama and melody. Sarah Connolly’s Dido conveys both majesty and fragility in her opening aria while her Lament has simplicity and nobility.

Robert Hugill
Claudio MONTEVERDI Vespro della Beata Vergine, Selva morale e Spirituale Taverner Ch, Consort & Players/Andrew Parrott rec. 1982-4 EMI CLASSICS 2126852

A ground-breaking recording using one singer to a part, which still sounds fresh and natural today; an essential on anyone's library shelves.

John ECCLES The Judgment of Paris Roderick Williams, Benjamin Hulett, Early Opera Company/Christian Curnyn rec. 2008 CHANDOS CHAN0759

Christian Curnyn rediscovers a piece of operatic history, in a performance which makes you long to see the opera staged.

George Frideric HANDEL Music for the Royal Fireworks, Water Music, Coronation Anthems, Dixit Dominus Choir of Kings College, Cambridge, English CO, Sir Charles Mackerras, Philip Ledger, David Willcocks rec. 1965-82 EMI CLASSICS 2643382

Buy this for the Fireworks music, Mackerras's reconstruction of the original wind-band version is stunning and well recorded in decent modern sound compared to his first recording of the work.
Ian Lace
A good year with many outstanding releases. The good news for film music fans is the forming of the Tribute label to release outstanding classic scores. I am going to cheat a little and mention a release that just missed inclusion in my list: Petrenko’s new recording of Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony on Naxos (8.570568).

Songs of Northumbria Sir Thomas Allen (baritone) Sheila Armstrong (soprano) Eric Robson (narrator and interviewer) Northumbria Concert O & Ch/David Haslam rec. 1993 MAWSON AND WAREHAM MWMVD88

This concert of Songs of Northumbria (north-east England) celebrated the 900th anniversary, in 1993, of the founding of Durham Cathedral. Sheila Armstrong and Sir Thomas Allen, both from Northumbria, sing, with gusto, these strongly rhythmic and melodic folk songs that span a wide variety of experiences and emotions, hardship and sorrow, love and loss. Songs, as Sir Thomas, remarks are “as good as anything that exists anywhere in the world of music…”

Edward GERMAN Tom Jones Marianne Hellgren Staykov, Richard Morrison, National Festival Ch & O/David Russell Hulme rec. 2008 NAXOS 8.660270-71

It is quite inexplicable why this jolly, tuneful operetta has remained unrecorded so long. David Russell Hulme is clearly passionate about Tom Jones; he leads the National Festival Orchestra and Chorus and his soloists in a wholehearted and sparkling performance with many keenly observed, animated solos.

Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY Nutcracker Elizabeth Powell, Davit Karapetyan, San Francisco Ballet & O/Martin West rec. live 2007 OPUS ARTE OA1002D

A magical production of Nutcracker, cleverly conceived with fascinating associations with San Francisco. It is set in the San Francisco of 1915, the year the City was host to the Panama Pacific International Exhibition. The sets and costumes are absolutely gorgeous. Truly magical. The ideal family Christmas present.


Gabriel FAURÉ Piano Quintets 1 & 2 Cristina Ortiz (piano); Fine Arts Qt rec. 2007 NAXOS 8.570938

What entrancing music this is: elusive and enigmatic. It demonstrates how unjust is the relative neglect of Fauré’s chamber works. Alluring performances by the Fine Arts Quartet and Cristina Ortiz.

Max STEINER She (complete film score) Moscow SO/William Stromberg rec. 2007 TRIBUTE FILM CLASSICS TFC1003

One of Max Steiner’s early groundbreaking scores for this 1935 RKO Radio’s film of the H Rider Haggard novel. The Tribute team, including John Morgan responsible for the music reconstruction and conductor William Stromberg, have produced Steiner’s complete score in a brilliant new performance delivered in excellent sound.

Philippe ROMBI Angel (film score) Crouch End Festival Ch, unnamed orchestra/ Philippe Rombi FIDELITE CST 81126.2

Philip Rombi’s recording of his score for the film Angel based on Elizabeth Taylor’s (the novelist) book, with the animated Romola Garai as the headstrong author of women’s romantic fiction. A modern score with the style of music I thought I would never hear again - music wonderfully reminiscent of the romantic scores of Franz Waxman, Max Steiner and Korngold.
Patrick Lam

Gustav MAHLER Das Lied von der Erde Klaus Florian Vogt (tenor) Christian Gerhaher (baritone) Montréal SO/Kent Nagano rec. 2009 SONY CLASSICAL 88697508212

Mahler made music speak in a language never spoken before - a link to the extremes of humanity, the passage of time, and the wonder of nature woven into the notated score.” In this latest Mahler recording from the OSM under Kent Nagano, Mahler’s bleeding Weltschmerz is brought to full expressive power, which is complemented by the full depth and breadth in the voices of Vogt and Gerhaher.

Homage James Ehnes (violin, viola) Eduard Laurel (piano) rec. 2007 ONYX CLASSICS 4038 (CD & )

James Ehnes’ Homage is a prize-winning album surveying some of the noted string instruments from centuries past, and this is an indispensable one you will find hard to part with.

Fritz KREISLER Violin Music Oscar Shumsky (violin) Milton Kaye, William Wolfram (piano) NIMBUS NI2529/32

Nimbus raids the Musical Heritage Society archives for a tribute from one great violinist to another. Shumsky may not be as well known as some of his generation, but these recordings assert his right to stand in the “Hall of Fame”.

Frédéric CHOPIN Piano Concertos 1 & 2 Sa Chen (piano) Gulbenkian O/Lawrence Foster rec. 2008 PENTATONE PTC5186341

If I was asked to select two recordings of Chopin Piano Concerti released from 2009 that champion themselves with the highest artistic and technical standards, Blechacz’s (DG) and this one by Sa Chen (Pentatone) certainly reign at the tip of the Everest. A genuine vintage recording!

Jack Lawson
Carl August NIELSEN Music for Wind and Piano New London Chamber Ensemble; Michael Dussek (piano) rec. 2005-8 MERIDIAN CDE84580

In reviewing recordings I consider the quality of the music, the performance, and the sound. Nielsen’s Wind Quintet, his most frequently recorded work, combines the composers high art with the songwriter’s folk-simplicity and catchy melodies. Meridian, a small English label, have shown that a humble CD can really can reproduce a musical event at home. The players are exceptional, having researched Nielsen’s moods and intentions from Danish sources. I suggest that this amount of preparation over more than a year deserves to be singled out from the crowd.


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