Recordings Of The Year 2009
on cover image to read the full review.
FOUNDER Len Mullenger
Qt rec. 2007 NAXOS
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."
Concerto Carl NIELSEN Violin Concerto Maxim
Vengerov (violin) Chicago SO/Daniel Barenboim rec. 1996 WARNER
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.
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
RAVEL L'enfant et les sortilèges, Shéhérazade Julie
Boulianne (mezzo) Nashville SO & Ch/Alastair Willis rec. 2006/7 NAXOS
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.
Liverpool PO/Vasily Petrenko rec. 2008 NAXOS
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.
MARX Orchestral Songs and Choral Works Christine
Brewer (soprano) BBC SO & Ch/Jirí Belohlávek
rec. 2008 CHANDOS
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:
String Quartets Ilya
Ioff, Elena Raskova (violins) Lydia
Kovalenko (viola) Alexey Massarsky
(cello) rec. 2008 NORTHERN
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.
Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY Manfred
TV and Radio Grand SO/Konstantin Symeonov rec. 1960 VISTA
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.
Concerto Frank BRIDGE Phantasm William
WALTON Sinfonia Concertante Kathryn
Stott (piano) Royal PO/Vernon Handley rec. 1989 DUTTON
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
Concerto Thomas PITFIELD Concerto Lirico Richard
ARNELL Violin Concerto Lorraine
McAslan (violin); Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martin Yates
rec. 2008 DUTTON
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.
de FALLA Orchestral
and vocal music Victoria
de los Angeles (soprano), Gonzalo Soriano (piano), Philharmonia
O/Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos. rec. 1963-69 EMI
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.
RAVEL Songs Gerald
Finley (baritone) Julius Drake (piano) rec. 2008 HYPERION
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.
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony 4 Netherlands
Radio PO/Mark Wigglesworth rec. 2005 BIS
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.
ROTA Symphonies 1 & 2 Filarmonica ’900
del Teatro Regio di Torino/Marzio Conti rec. 2005/6 CHANDOS
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
GLASS Portrait Includes The
Hours suite, Mishima & Company La
Pietà/Angèle Dubeau (violin,
director) Louise-Andrée Baril (piano)
rec. 2007 ANALEKTA
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.
Nevertheless, Buena Riga,
The Last Song Gidon
Kremer, Kremerata Baltica
rec. 2005 MEGADISC
piano Nevertheless was
concertos by Hummel, Haydn,
Torelli & Neruda Alison
Balsom (trumpet) Deutsche
rec. 2008 EMI
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
Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony
Liverpool PO/Vasily Petrenko
rec. live, 2008 RLPO
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
|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
case I stopped reviewing and just listened... again and again.
In no particular order:
Panels, Emily Dickinson Songs,
Short Symphony Helene
St. Luke's O/Dennis Russell Davies NIMBUS
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.
de BÉRIOT Solo Violin Music Vol.
Hristova (violin) rec. 2009 NAXOS
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.
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.
Quixote, Also sprach Zarathustra Mstislav
Rostropovich (cello) Ulrich Koch (viola) Berlin PO/Herbert von
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.
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Complete Orchestral Works State
Academic SO/Evgeny Svetlanov
rec. 1969-93 SVET
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.
Halsey Singers/Louis Halsey
rec. 1979 BRITISH MUSIC
SOCIETY BMS 102CDH
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.
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!
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.
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.
Joseph HAYDN String Quartets op.
rec. 2008 SACCONI RECORDS no
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
Bavarian RSO/Rafael Kubelik
rec. 1970/1 ELOQUENCE 480
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.
MEYER Symphony 7, Sinfonia del Tempo che passa, Double concerto Magdalena
Rezler–Niesoilowska (violin), Julius Berger (cello),
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
Sonatas by Beethoven, Haydn & Mozart Rafal
Blechacz (piano) rec. 2008 DEUTSCHE
Rafael Blechacz is one of the most exciting pianists around today, and this disc
only serves to underline his stature.
MOZART Complete Horn Concertos Herman
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.
van BEETHOVEN Rondos, Andante favori, Seven Bagatelles, Capriccio Natalia
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.
Luther ADAMS the place we began COLD
A tremendous (if low playing time) disc from the Alaskan John Luther Adams. Hypnotic
music, and utterly individual.
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.
by Victoria, Gesualdo, White & Palestrina Nordic
Voices rec. 2009 CHANDOS
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.
van BEETHOVEN The Piano Sonatas: Vol.
VIII Sonatas 30-32 András Schiff (piano) rec.
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.
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.
Complete Symphonies Austro-Hungarian
Haydn O/Adam Fischer rec. 1989-2001 NIMBUS
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
MESSIAEN Complete Organ Works Hans-Ola
Ericsson (organ) rec. 1988-2008 BIS
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
Sebastian BACH Six Sonatas and Partitas for solo
Mullova (baroque violin) rec. 2007/8 ONYX
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’.
Quintets 1 & 2 Henschel
Sawa, Roland Glassl (viola)
rec. 2008/9 NEOS CLASSICS
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).
BRAHMS Symphonies 1-4 Berlin
PO/Sir Simon Rattle rec. 2008 EMI
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.
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.
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.
van BEETHOVEN Complete String Quartets Alexander
String Qt rec. 2008 FOGHORN
These new performances from the San Francisco-based Alexander String Quartet
are unfailingly fresh and musically compelling. I admired their splendidly matched
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.
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
Music of Dawn,
Concerto in Azzurro,
A Vision and a Journey Guy
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
| 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.
BELLINI Complete Operas rec.
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.
Capuleti e I Montecchi Elina
Garanca, Anna Netrebko, Wiener Singakademie/Heinz
Ferlesch, Wiener Symphoniker/Fabio Luisi
rec. live, 2008 DEUTSCHE
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.
Bartoli, Juan Diego Florez, Zurich Opera
House Ch; O La Scintilla/Alessandro De Marchi
rec. 2007/8 DECCA
Decca bring two of their leading artists together for this
new look at a long held bel canto favourite.
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.
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.
DONIZETTI Maria Stuarda Anna
Caterina Antonacci (mezzo) Mariella Devia
(soprano) La Scala Ch & O/Antonino Fogliani
rec. live, 2008 ARTHAUS
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.
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.
Mélodies Songs by Fauré and Poulenc Thomas
Oliemans (baritone) Malcolm Martineau (piano)
rec. 2008 ETCETERA
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.
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’.
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.
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.
2 From Rameau to Berlioz Véronique
Gens (soprano), Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset
rec. 2008 VIRGIN CLASSICS
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.
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
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.
Frideric HANDEL Concerti
grossi, Op. 6 Il
Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini rec.
2008 L’OISEAU LYRE
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
Quartets, Op. 17 London
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
PURCELL Dido and Aeneas Sarah
Connolly (mezzo) Gerald Finley (baritone)
O & Ch Age of Enlightenment/Steven Devine
rec. 2008 CHANDOS CHACONNE
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.
della Beata Vergine, Selva morale e Spirituale Taverner
Ch, Consort & Players/Andrew Parrott
rec. 1982-4 EMI CLASSICS
A ground-breaking recording using one singer to a part, which still sounds
fresh and natural today; an essential on anyone's library shelves.
ECCLES The Judgment of Paris Roderick
Williams, Benjamin Hulett, Early Opera Company/Christian Curnyn
rec. 2008 CHANDOS
Christian Curnyn rediscovers a piece of operatic history, in a
performance which makes you long to see the opera staged.
Frideric HANDEL Music for the Royal Fireworks,
Dixit Dominus Choir
of Kings College, Cambridge,
Sir Charles Mackerras,
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.
| 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).
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…”
Hellgren Staykov, Richard Morrison, National
Festival Ch & O/David Russell Hulme rec.
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.
Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY Nutcracker Elizabeth
Powell, Davit Karapetyan, San Francisco Ballet & O/Martin
West rec. live 2007 OPUS
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
Quintets 1 & 2 Cristina
Ortiz (piano); Fine Arts Qt
rec. 2007 NAXOS
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.
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.
ROMBI Angel (film
End Festival Ch, unnamed orchestra/ Philippe
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
of the romantic scores
of Franz Waxman, Max Steiner
Lied von der Erde Klaus
Florian Vogt (tenor) Christian Gerhaher (baritone)
Montréal SO/Kent Nagano
rec. 2009 SONY CLASSICAL
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.
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.
KREISLER Violin Music Oscar
Milton Kaye, William Wolfram (piano) NIMBUS
Nimbus raids the Musical Heritage Society archives for a tribute from one great
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”.
Concertos 1 & 2 Sa
Chen (piano) Gulbenkian O/Lawrence Foster
rec. 2008 PENTATONE
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!
August NIELSEN Music for Wind and Piano New
London Chamber Ensemble; Michael Dussek (piano) rec.
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.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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