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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 2010

Click on cover image to read the full review.

Front Page
Reviewers M-Z
Rob Maynard

Léo DELIBES Coppélia Ludwig MINKUS Don Quixote Théâtre Ntl l’Opera Paris O/Jean-Baptiste Mari, Elizabethan Trust Melbourne O/John Lanchberry rec. 1972/7 EMI CLASSICS 9677232

Jean-Baptiste Mari’s idiomatic reading of Delibes’s much-loved score, sumptuously recorded, trumps the competition and sets the feet tapping. The Minkus highlights are performed with little distinction but the superb Coppélia alone justifies the purchase of this double disc set.

Léo DELIBES Sylvia, La Source Ludwig MINKUS Paquita pas de six Théâtre Ntl l’Opera Paris O/Jean-Baptiste Mari, Royal Opera House O/Sir Charles Mackerras, Sydney SO/John Lanchberry (Minkus) rec. 1956-83 EMI CLASSICS 9677162

Audiences at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, have delighted in recent revivals of Sir Frederick Ashton’s production of Sylvia. Mari demonstrates a mastery of its darker hues to match his outstanding Coppélia (see above) while Sir Charles Mackerras offers a convincing reminder of the quality of Delibes’s contribution to La Source.

Sergei RACHMANINOFF Symphony 1, Isle of the Dead Moscow State SO/Pavel Kogan rec. 1990 ALTO ALC1032

Part of a superb cycle of Rachmaninoff’s symphonies, this performance demonstrates Kogan’s skillful ability to tease out felicitous detail in a superficially rather dense score. An equally impressive account of Isle of the Dead gives the Moscow orchestra even more of an opportunity to demonstrate its musicality and virtuosity. At its highly attractive price, this is an unmissable bargain.

Jules MASSENET Thaïs Renée Fleming, Thomas Hampson, Metropolitan Opera O, Ch & Ballet/Jesus López Cobos rec. 2008 DECCA 0743355

After a rather slow and dour opening scene, Massenet’s score gathers pace and it is rapidly apparent that there is far more to it than just the ubiquitous Méditation. Fleming and Hampson had already recorded Thaïs on CD before this New York performance was filmed and, utterly at home in their roles, more than justify their superstar status.

Pietro MASCAGNI Cavalleria Rusticana Ruggero LEONCAVALLO I Pagliacci José Cura, Paoletta Marrocu, Fiorenza Cedolins, Zurich Opera House Ch & O/Stefano Ranzani rec. 2009 ARTHAUS MUSIK 101489

Striking performances of opera’s Siamese twins, with Cura in superb voice whether as love rat (Cav) or deluded drunkard (Pag). Both his leading ladies give as good as they get, both vocally and dramatically, and the supporting roles are also well filled. These filmed performances more than hold their own in a very competitive field.

Anton BRUCKNER Symphonies 4 & 7 Munich PO/Christian Thielemann rec. 2006/8 UNITEL CLASSICA/C MAJOR 701908

Filmed live at Baden-Baden, these two performances demonstrate Thielemann’s intensity and skill at communicating effectively with his players. On the basis of these filmed live concerts, one can see why his admirers rate him the leading Brucknerian of his generation. The interpretation of the fourth symphony is especially involving, but both it and the seventh demonstrate the Munich players’ empathy with the music, technical abilities and sheer artistry.

Dan Morgan
Picking just six recordings from a good crop is difficult enough, but when it’s a bumper one it’s well-nigh impossible. Reluctantly discarded in the final round were: Sibelius’s complete organ works, played by Kalevi Kiviniemi (Fuga); Between Life and Death, a compendium of Romantic songs from Christoph Prégardien (Challenge); Mahler’s First Symphony from Klaus Tennstedt (BBC Legends); Shostakovich’s Fourth from Mark Wigglesworth (BIS); Casella’s Second from Francesco La Vecchia (Naxos); Dmitri Kitaienko’s Manfred (Oehms); and Marc-André Hamelin’s 12 Études in all the minor keys (Hyperion). Of special merit was the 24bit/96kHz Chandos download of Casella’s Second Symphony, with Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic, which finally opened my eyes – and ears – to the virtues of high-res downloads. Especially pleasing, though, is the growing number of SACDs in the catalogue; indeed, they make up five of my six picks for 2010.

Osvaldo GOLIJOV La Pasión según San Marcos Schola Cantorum de Venezuela, Orquesta La Pasión, Simón Bolívar Youth O Venezuela/María Guinand, Robert Spano rec. 2007/8 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4777461

This is a work of great originality and power, the Passion relived through the rhythms of South America and retold with the authentic accents of its streets. Behind the carnival mask is a profoundly moving narrative, superbly sung, played, acted and recorded. Even more compelling is DG’s bonus DVD of a live performance from the 2008 Holland Festival.

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony 11 Netherlands Radio PO/Mark Wigglesworth rec. 2006 BIS BISSACD1583

Mark Wigglesworth’s Shostakovich cycle just gets better and better. After a searing Fourth comes this equally intense Eleventh. Spacious, insightful and ultimately overwhelming, this performance is also very well recorded.

Gustav MAHLER Symphony 2 Bayerische Symphoniker Ch, Bamberger Symphoniker & Bayerische Staatsphilharmonie/Jonathan Nott rec. 2008 TUDOR 7158

This first of two centenary years has produced a mix roster of Mahler recordings, but Jonathan Nott’s Bamberg ‘Resurrection’ is the pick of the bunch. It’s taut, well-shaped and superbly recorded. A must-have for all Mahlerians.

Visions Works by Britten, Patterson, Byrnes, Yun & Takemitsu Lavinia Meijer (harp) rec. 2009 CHANNEL CLASSICS CCSSA29709

Lavinia Meijer is a prodigious talent, yet her virtuosity is never paraded at the expense of the music. This well-chosen programme, which demonstrates the harp’s astonishing range and versatility, is a joy from start to finish. The recording is rather special too, setting new standards for this repertoire.

Per NØRGÅRD Der göttliche Tivoli (The Divine Circus) Hoptiquaxes/Dorian Keilhack rec. 2008 DACAPO 6.220572-73

Schizoid fantasies don’t come weirder or more whimsical than this. A celebration of ‘outsider art’, The Divine Circus dips into the double world of Swiss artist and asylum inmate Adolf Wolfli. It’s a richly rewarding work, presented by a small band of singer/dancers and percussionists. Oddly life-affirming; top-notch performance and sonics.

Richard STRAUSS Eine Alpensinfonie London SO/Bernard Haitink rec. 2008 LSO LIVE LSO0689

I nominated Kent Nagano’s DVD of this symphony as one of my picks for 2007. That’s a virtuoso performance, headstrong and fraught with risk; Haitink is altogether loftier and more considered, but no less thrilling. He scales this peak with an ease born of long experience, the LSO hurdling each obstacle with equal aplomb. One of this label’s most sumptuous SACDs, and a fine tribute to a distinguished Straussian.

Margarida Mota-Bull

This was the year where I went for the mezzos, after giving my favourite list of CDs a lot of thought. Initially, I had also included Renée Fleming's "Verismo" and Jonas Kaufmann's "Verismo Arias" but, in the end, I dropped both for Joyce DiDonato's award winning Rossini recital and Elina Garanca in the role of Carmen. To be honest, I am not a great fan of Verismo and excellent though Fleming's and Kaufmann's offers are, personally, the performances of these two outstanding mezzos, listed below, really tower above the rest.

Gioachino ROSSINI Colbran the Muse Joyce DiDonato (mezzo) Ch & O Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Rome/Edoardo Müller rec. 2009 VIRGIN CLASSICS 6945790

For me, the record of the year! A superb recital of arias from operas that Rossini composed specifically for Isabella Colbran, his first wife. It is one of those rare CDs where everything is exactly right. DiDonato's singing is as beautiful as it is accomplished. From the sparkling coloratura to the delicate legato lines, she makes us think that Rossini wrote the pieces for her and not Colbran. Glorious from beginning to end! A CD to listen to over and over and over again!

Georges BIZET Carmen Elina Garanca (mezzo) Roberto Alagna (tenor) Teddy Tahu Rhodes (bass-baritone) Metropolitan Opera Ch, O & Ballet/Yannick Nézet-Séguin rec. 2010 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 0734581

Superb production from the Met and personally, the best Carmen I have ever seen. Garanca is supreme in the title role: Seductive, sexy, moving, dark and with a fabulous voice. What an incredible mezzo! What a splendid performance!

Glyn Pursglove
I wouldn’t want to claim that any of the recordings I have chosen constitute landmarks in the history of recorded music. What I would claim – from experience – is that they are all of them recordings that enticed and stimulated at first hearing and have gone on to reward repeated listenings way beyond the professional necessities of reviewing. I am confident that I shall still be listening to all of them come the end of 2011.

Francisco GUERAU & José MARÍN Songs Laberintos Ingeniosos rec. 2007 ZIG-ZAG TERRITOIRES ZZT090301

Songs and guitar music full of the pains and ecstasies of seventeenth century Spain, equally full of the weight of experience and of the lightness of musical invention.

Aribert REIMANN Lear Wolfgang Koch (baritone) Frankfurter Museums O/Sebastian Weigle rec. 2008 OEHMS CLASSICS OC921

That rare thing – an operatic version of one of Shakespeare’s tragedies that doesn’t sound reductive or trivial. As fierce and challenging as Shakespeare’s play, Reimann’s music is just as ‘uncomfortable’ (i.e. devoid of easy or illusory comfort) as Shakespeare’s text is. Wolfgang Koch is outstanding as Lear (and escapes from the shadow of Fischer-Dieskau’s original interpretation of the role), Martin Wölfel indelibly memorable as Edgar.

Lorenzo PALOMO Dulcinea Ainho Arteta (soprano) Ch & O Deutsche Oper Berlin/Miguel Angel Gómez Martínez rec. 2006 NAXOS 8.572577

A live recording of the 2006 premiere of a work its composer describes as a ‘Cantata-Fantasy for a Knight in Love’; it is based on poems by Carlos Murciano derived – of course – from Don Quixote. Ainhoa Arteta is an entrancing Dulcinea and Arutjun Kotchinian an heroically bewildered Don Quixote. Humorous, profound and beautiful by turns (and frequently more than one of these at any one moment).

Francesca & Giulio CACCINI O vive rose and other songs Shannon Mercer (soprano) Luc Beauséjour (hpsd, org) Sylvain Bergeron (gtr, theorbo), Amanda Keesmaat (cello) rec. 2009 ANALEKTA AN29966

The Canadian soprano Shannon Mercer proves an outstanding interpreter of the songs of Francesca Caccini, attentive to musical and textual aspects alike, without ever becoming bogged down in mere detail. The instrumental support she gets from her colleagues complements her work perfectly and the whole is a consistent delight.

Rosso - Italian baroque arias Patricia Petibon (soprano) Venice Baroque O/Andrea Marcon rec. 2009 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 8763

Singing arias by Sartorio, Stradela, Handel, Vivaldi, Scarlatti, Porpora & Marcello, Patricia Petibon dazzles and delights; the voice has enormous range and the control of tone is impeccable. The coloratura runs are mesmerising. But all is in the service, it seems, of a psychological and dramatic imagination, a power of emotional empathy, that makes the listener ‘believe’ immediately (and lastingly). There have been more than a few good recital discs of baroque arias in recent years; I am not sure that I have heard one to top this.

John Quinn
This has been an extraordinarily rich year with many fine recordings either coming my way for review or receiving appraisals from colleagues that have tempted me into buying. With some difficulty I whittled down what I regarded as the best recordings to a short list of twelve. Further culling then accounted for The Prince Consort in songs by Ned Rorem; Haitink’s Chicago recording of Ein Heldenleben; James MacMillan’s The Sacrifice; and, most regretfully of all, Sir Mark Elder’s recent very fine account of Elgar’s The Kingdom.

Sergei RACHMANINOV Symphonic Dances, The Isle of the Dead, The Rock Royal Liverpool PO/Vasily Petrenko rec. 2008/9 AVIE AV2188

Several excellent recordings of Russian music by this team have come my way during the year but this superb Avie disc is head and shoulders above them all. The recording itself is in the demonstration class and reports idiomatic and highly impressive readings of these thrilling scores. The RLPO’s playing is out of the top drawer and their gifted conductor directs them with passion but always maintains firm control. An exceptional disc in every way.

Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN The Complete Piano Concertos Paul Lewis (piano) BBC Symphony Orchestra/Jirí Belohlávek rec. 2009 HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 902053.55

Paul Lewis follows up his widely admired cycle of the Beethoven piano sonatas with a notable set of the piano concertos. Throughout all five works Lewis offers playing that’s at the very highest level of accomplishment and he’s fully in tune with Beethoven’s idiom and style. Some critics felt that when he played the cycle with a variety of orchestras and conductors at the 2010 Henry Wood Promenade Concerts he got better support than Jirí Belohlávek and the BBC Symphony Orchestra provide on these discs but I found their contribution to be fully satisfactory. This is a notable set from a distinguished Beethoven pianist.

Songs by Schubert, Faure, Ravel & Poulenc Simon Keenlyside (baritone) Malcolm Martineau (piano) rec. 2008 WIGMORE HALL LIVE WHLIVE0031

This disc perpetuates a magnificent 2008 live recital from the Wigmore Hall. Keenlyside is hugely impressive in groups by Schubert and Wolf. He then proves himself to be equally accomplished in mélodies by Fauré and Ravel, finishing with a memorable Poulenc encore. Malcolm Martineau’s pianism is a delight. No lover of fine singing should miss this exceptional recital disc.

Gustav MAHLER Symphony 2 Yvonne Kenny (soprano) Jard van Nes (mezzo) London PO & Ch/Klaus Tennstedt rec. 1989 LPO LIVE LPO0044

This 1989 live performance of Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony shows Klaus Tennstedt at his visionary best. His inspired conducting draws a performance of shattering intensity from the LPO and the singers. Some of the tempi are very broad but this is a great interpretation caught, unrepeatably, on the wing. During this immense performance we find Tennstedt working in a white-hot interpretative crucible. This isn’t a safe library choice but it’s a great listening experience.

David BEDNALL Requiem and other choral works Chamber Choir of St, Mary’s, Calne/Edward Whiting David Bednall (organ) Philip Dukes (viola) rec. 2009 REGENT REGCD327

This is my Discovery of the Year. I described this 55-minute Requiem by the young British composer, David Bednall as “one of the most beautiful, imaginative and moving pieces of modern choral music that I have heard for quite some time.” I haven’t changed my mind. It’s beautifully performed by the Chamber Choir of St, Mary’s School, Calne. Bednall’s imaginative use of a solo viola works really well and he himself plays the organ part magnificently. This is a very significant addition to the choral repertoire and its first recording is a notable event.

Puer natus est - Tudor Music for Advent and Christmas Stile Antico rec. 2010 HARMONIA MUNDI HMU807517

Right at the end of the year I encountered this luminous disc of Tudor polyphony for Advent and Christmas. This 12-strong group of young British singers perform without a conductor but their performances are superbly disciplined. The disc includes wonderful performances of music by Byrd, Tallis and Sheppard and all the singing is deeply impressive. Since the music itself is of the highest possible quality this superb disc should give great pleasure this Christmas – and throughout the year.

Brian Reinhart

Avner DORMAN Mandolin Concerto, Piccolo Concerto, Concerto Grosso, Piano Concerto Metropolis Ens/Andrew Cyr rec. 2007 NAXOS 8.559620

Is it hyperbole to call this my favorite disc of music by a living composer? No, because I play it more often, and enjoy it more happily, than any other. Avner Dorman's concertos are a winning combination of modern, "neo-baroque," jazz, and folk idioms which never sounds forced or weird, and they are written with those rarest of compositional gifts: grace and wit. I particularly love the piccolo concerto and the homage-to-Ravel slow movement of the piano concerto. In a decidedly humorless new-music climate, Dorman is a breath of fresh air. Outstanding performances, too.

Antonín DVORÁK The Water Goblin, The Noon Witch, The Golden Spinning Wheel, The Wild Dove Czech PO/Sir Charles Mackerras rec. 2001-9 SUPRAPHON SU40122

These are outstanding, maybe definitive recordings of Dvorak's late fantasies, "The Golden Spinning-Wheel" getting especially exciting treatment. At the end of my review, I wrote that Charles Mackerras was "an 85-year-old conductor who shows no sign of ceasing to be one of the greatest classical artists of our era." Sadly, MusicWeb had to publish his obituary only a few weeks later. This disc (along with the Mozart symphonies album which also came out in 2010) is a fitting tribute to the long, insightful career of one of the best musicians of our time.

Gershwin by Grofé: Symphonic Jazz Rhapsody in Blue, I Got Rhythm Variations & other works Lincoln Mayorga (piano) Al Gallodoro (clarinet/bass clarinet/alto sax) Harmonie Ens/Steven Richman rec. 2004-7 HARMONIA MUNDI HMU907492

I am afraid my full review exhibited the kind of naked enthusiasm that a colleague calls "tail-wagging." What can I say? This was hands-down my favorite CD of 2010, an utter joy of an album with stomping rhythms and dazzling solos, a pristine Rhapsody in Blue, the atmosphere of Saturday night in the local jazz club, and great contributions by Al Gallodoro, a 93-year-old clarinetist and saxophonist who first played the Rhapsody clarinet slide in Gershwin's lifetime. If you like Gershwin, or if you have ever heard of Gershwin, or if you have ever even had fun, this disc is for you.

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony 10 Royal Liverpool PO/Vasily Petrenko rec. 2009 NAXOS 8.572461

Just released, and an instant classic. The deep, rich, vibrant, clear sound quality is enough to make this reading a must-have, but Vasily Petrenko's ingenious direction and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic's world-class playing forced me to make this Tenth a last-second addition to my Recordings of the Year. Listen for special moments like the swooping violin portamenti at 00:26 in the scherzo, the spunkily klezmer-influenced clarinet solo at the start of the allegretto, or Petrenko's superb balancing of orchestral sections in the last four bars. Perfect!

Visions of Beyond - Late and last piano works by Liszt, Brahms, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, Debussy & Schumann Edward Rosser (piano) rec. 2007 CONNOISSEUR SOCIETY CD4260

Sadly this intelligently programmed and played recital is already becoming hard to find. But try to seek it out: Edward Rosser's tone and light touch make for beautiful renderings of Schubert, Debussy, and others, and his knowledge of the repertoire guarantees that the recital bypasses all the usual "romantic piano" hits. His liner notes are an unusually fascinating companion, as well, explaining the thesis behind his selections from famous composers' last works. Piano recitals like this simply do not come along very often, and this does not deserve the obscurity to which it seems fated.

Simon Thompson

Gustav MAHLER Complete symphonies Royal Concertgebouw O, New York PO, Vienna PO/ Leonard Bernstein rec. 1974-88 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4778668

It’s a reissue, but it’s a glorious one and one of the most important Mahler sets of all time. Blistering performances at a budget price, whatever your view of Mahler Bernstein demands to be heard.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Symphonies 29, 31, 32, 35 & 36 Scottish CO/Sir Charles Mackerras rec. 2009 LINN CKD350

Mackerras’ final recording with the SCO is one of their best, following up on his equally fantastic recording of Mozart’s final symphonies. Bursting with life and rigour, it sets the seal on an excellent legacy from a much missed conductor.

Richard WAGNER Götterdämmerung Jennifer Wilson, Lance Ryan, O de la Comunitat Valenciana/Zubin Mehta rec. 2008 UNITEL CLASSICA 701108

I choose this as a symbol for the whole of the Valencia Ring, the best DVD cycle to come our way since Copenhagen. It’s a production that skilfully combines 21st Century video technology with the ancient myths that inspired the composer. With first rate singing and outstanding orchestral playing, it’s a Ring to treasure, marred only by some infuriatingly fragmented camera work at times.

Richard WAGNER Lohengrin Jonas Kaufmann, Anja Harteros, Ch & O Bayerische Staatsoper/Kent Nagano rec. 2009 DECCA 0743387

The second great Wagner DVD of 2010 was, if anything, even more successful, though it’s a much more radical production. Not everyone loves it, but I was utterly convinced, and Kaufmann and Harteros are absolutely outstanding leads.

Richard WAGNER Lohengrin Jess Thomas, Elisabeth Grümmer, Christa Ludwig, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Vienna PO/Rudolf Kempe rec. 1962-3 EMI CLASSICS 4564652

The reappearance of Kempe’s classic Lohengrin is a good complement to Kaufmann’s DVD. Excellent singing, fabulous conducting and an orchestral performance that has never been beaten. Good to have it cheaper and in less packaging too.

Gioacchino ROSSINI Stabat Mater Anna Netrebko, Joyce DiDonato, Ch & O Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Antonio Pappano rec. 2010 EMI CLASSICS 6405292

A full-blooded, take-no-prisoners approach to Rossini's sacred masterwork that burns with Italian passion from beginning to exhilarating end. A top-notch quartet of soloists seals the deal.

Johan van Veen

It isn't that easy to pick and choose the records of the year. At first I thought there weren't enough to choose, but when I looked into the reviews I have written myself I ended up with about 10 discs which could become record of the year. Some were then excluded for various reasons, for instance because the booklet didn't contain English translations of the Italian lyrics (Cantate Contarini - Enchiriadis EN2027). No musical reason, but this really spoils the enjoyment for listeners who don't understand Italian - and I assume most readers of this site don't. Zelenka's Missa Votiva (Carus 83223) was recording of the month in October, but I dropped it for the yearly list because of the less than ideal contributions of the bass soloist. So here is my list of discs which passed the test.

George Frideric HANDEL Brockes-Passion Nele Gramß, Johanna Winkel, Kölner Kammerchor, Collegium Cartusianum/Peter Neumann rec. 2009 CARUS 83.428

Not one of Handel's best-known compositions; there are very few recordings, and that makes the Carus recording all the more worthwhile. It is a performance which sets a standard that will be difficult to surpass. There is an impressive coherence between soloists, choir and orchestra - it is a performance without a weak link. A highly important addition to the catalogue of Passion music.

Lobt Gott ihr Christen allzugleich - Baroque bass cantatas by Kegel, Wolff, Roemhildt, Hoffmann, Donati & Telemann Klaus Mertens (bass-baritone) Accademia Daniel/Shalev Ad-El rec. 2007 CPO 7772982

Seven cantatas by composers from the German baroque; none of them has been recorded before. With one exception, the composers don't even appear in music encyclopedias. But the music is really good, and is given immaculate performances by Klaus Mertens and the Accademia Daniel. A disc for curious minds.

La Voce di Orfeo Furio Zanasi (baritone) Giulio Casati (narrator) La Chimera/Eduardo Egüez rec. 2009 NAIVE E8925

This is definitely one of the best discs with early 17th-century Italian music I have ever heard. The ideal of the time - 'recitar cantando' or speech-like singing - is practised here to the full. Furio Zanasi is simply brilliant in his exploration of the 'affetti' of the various pieces by Monteverdi and his contemporaries. Not to be missed by anyone who likes this kind of music and a model to follow for Zanasi's colleagues.

The Mystery of Sign. Mouthon Concerti à 5 Ars Antiqua Austria/Gunar Letzbor rec. 2009 CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72336

The mystery in the title of this disc refers to the identity of the composer. It can hardly be the French composer of lute music. It is probably some Austrian composer we have never heard of before. These Concerti are very good stuff and an important addition to the catalogue. Ars Antiqua Austria delivers brilliant performances, technically and stylistically. A disc to treasure.

Christoph GRAUPNER Orchestral Works - Vol. 3 Nova Stravaganza/Siegbert Rampe rec. 2004/9 MDG 34116282

There is a growing interest in the music of Christoph Graupner, one of the greatest composers of Germany in Bach's time. He is very much a man of his own, whose style is hardly comparable to anything which was written in his time. This disc contains a canon, two sonatas with flute and an overture with recorder. It is all highly original music, beautifully played by Nova Stravaganza. This disc offers an excellent opportunity to get acquainted with Graupner's music.

Lodovico GIUSTINI Sonate da Cimbalo di piano e forte Wolfgang Brunner (fortepiano) rec. 2009 CPO 7772072

This disc is interesting in every respect. Wolfgang Brunner plays the copy of a Cristofori, one of the earliest fortepianos ever built, and performs sonatas which were specifically written for it. Instrument, music and performer fit like a glove. This disc is a musical and historical document, and a worthy tribute to a man who with his invention of the 'gravicembalo col piano e forte' changed the course of music history.

Brian Wilson

William BYRD Infelix ego: The Byrd Edition - Vol. 13 The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood rec. 2009 HYPERION CDA67779

More than half of what I review is of downloads and it’s one of these that I choose first this year: the final volume of a distinguished set, which I reviewed in my February 2010 Download Roundup. Michael Greenhalgh also made it a Recording of the Month (and Year). Don’t overlook the earlier volumes, including those made by ASV before Hyperion took over: Volume 6, Music for Holy Week and Easter (CDGAU214) was my Download of the Month for November 2010.

Gustav MAHLER Symphony 8 City Birmingham SO/Simon Rattle rec. 2004 EMI 6317902

Simon Rattle’s Mahler has not been without controversy, but the second reissue in such a short time of his recording of the Eighth Symphony, made while he was still with the CBSO is a winner, running neck and neck with Solti on Decca. Fine though the ADD Decca still sounds, EMI’s digital recording copes even better with the large-scale forces.

Sacred Music in the Renaissance Vol. I Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips rec. 1980-89 GIMELL GIMBX301

More early music and another reissue, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Gimell’s recordings of the Tallis Scholars, four bargain discs, reviewed in my November 2010 Download Roundup. John Quinn was equally enthusiastic about the CDs. Volumes 2 and 3 (GIMBX302 and 303) feature in my December Roundup. Hyperion have also offered us some fine reissues of late medieval and renaissance music this year, but the Gimell box must have the honour.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Symphonies 29, 31, 32, 35 & 36 Scottish CO/Sir Charles Mackerras rec. 2009 LINN CKD350

Linn have given us a superb follow-up to their earlier Mackerras set of Mozart’s last symphonies, from 2009. Sadly, he won’t now fill some of the remaining gaps, but his new Supraphon recording of Dvorák Tone Poems (SU4012-2) is some compensation. I reviewed the Mozart in CD-quality download in April 2010: 24-bit versions are also on offer. This just ousts another fine Linn recording, of Handel’s Concerti Grossi, performed by the Avison Ensemble under Pavlo Beznosiuk (CKD362, 3 CDs).

Georges BIZET Symphony, Jeux d'enfants, La jolie fille de Perth Suisse Romande O/Ernest Ansermet rec. 1960 HIGH DEFINITION TAPE TRANSFERS HDCD185

24-bit sound also brings to vibrant new life an elderly Decca recording which bowled over Dan Morgan and myself in the November 2010 Download Roundup. HDTT and Beulah have both reissued some surprisingly good vintage recordings this year – not least Beulah’s Clifford Curzon/Vienna Octet Trout Quintet – but none sounds more miraculously renovated than the Bizet.

Claudio MONTEVERDI Il Ritorno d’Ulisse Les Arts Florissants/William Christie rec. 2009 DYNAMIC 33641

Of the opera recordings that I’ve reviewed on DVD and Blu-ray, many have been marred by directorial nonsense. Though I forgive Ivor Bolton’s Cavalli Ercole Amante for the overall quality of the performance and the spectacle, my choice must rest with William Christie’s Monteverdi: take your pick between this Dynamic version and the older, plainer production on Virgin Classics (4906129).

Jonathan Woolf

Szymon Goldberg Centenary Edition: Vol. 1: Non Commercial Recordings rec. 1951-70 MUSIC & ARTS CD-1223

This is an 8 CD set of almost all non-commercial recordings. From Bach to Babin via Haydn, Dvorák and Stravinsky, and many others, the box presents a starry collection of mostly previously unreleased material. True, some of the recordings are a little murky and duplicate his existing studio discography, but this must be my ‘Historic’ choice, amongst so many this year, for the sheer communicative spirit that animates these live performances. Goldberg’s unshowy artistry is for all times.

Fernando SOR Early Works William Carter (guitar) rec. 2009 LINN CKD343

In these captivating recordings of Sor’s early guitar works, Willam Carter, superbly recorded into the bargain, displays exceptional imagination and dexterity. He brings this music to life through the use of his finger tip, not nail, the complexities of which playing make fascinating reading in the booklet. I guarantee you an aural feast.

Silvius WEISS Lute Sonatas Vol. 10 Robert Barto (Baroque lute) rec. 2008 NAXOS 8.572219

I’ve been following lutenist Robert Barto throughout his Naxos campaign on behalf of Weiss’s sonatas. Each volume is full of marvels; the music and the playing. My admiration therefore for Volume 10 stands for the series as a whole, but Barto’s ability to suspend time, phrasally speaking, reaches heights here in the C major. This is indeed distinguished music making.

Leslie Wright

When confronted with having to select up to six discs that I reviewed for inclusion into this year’s Records of the Year, I thought I would be choosing no more than four based on my memory of what I had reviewed during the past twelve months. Now when looking over my list of reviews, I find it again difficult to limit myself to six. Among those I did not include, but might have, are Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony with Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony (Naxos), Roussel’s Symphony No. 1, etc with Denève (Naxos), and Dalbavie’s Janácek Variations (Ame SON). The six chosen are in the order I wrote and submitted them:

Carl NIELSEN Music for Wind and Piano New London Chamber Ens rec. 2005/8 MERIDIAN CDE84580

Wonderfully idiomatic performances, well recorded, of Nielsen’s music for winds and piano and also his solo Piano Pieces, Op. 59. The Wind Quintet is in the new critical edition and the disc includes three additional quintet extracts from Nielsen’s manuscript.

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH Symphonies 5 & 9 Royal Liverpool PO/Vasily Petrenko rec. 2008 NAXOS 8.572167

Petrenko’s Shostakovich series continues with stunning accounts of these two popular symphonies and at bargain price, too. The Ninth is especially fine and for me goes to the very top of the preferred versions.

György LIGETI String Quartets 1 & 2, Andante and Allegretto Parker Qt rec. 2007 NAXOS 8.570781

This young quartet has nothing to fear from the competition in these works, either in the Bartókian first quartet or the more radical second. The early Andante and Allegro is a balm to the ears after the quartets and a good way to conclude this bargain.

Albert ROUSSEL Symphony 4, Rapsodie flammande, Petite Suite, Concert pour petit orchestre, Sinfonietta Royal Scottish Ntl O/Stéphane Denève rec. 2006-8 NAXOS 8.572135

This conclusion to Denève’s Roussel symphony series may well be the best of all, as it contains five works from the composer’s maturity in outstanding performances at a low cost to the consumer. I can think of no better introduction to the composer.

Thomas ADÈS Tevot, Violin Concerto, Three Studies from Couperin, Overture, Waltz and Finale Anthony Marwood (violin) CO Europe/Thomas Adès, Berlin PO/Sir Simon Rattle, Ntl Youth O Great Britain/Paul Daniel rec. 2007/9 EMI CLASSICS 4578132

Quite possibly the highlight of my reviewing year. This important release contains some remarkable music. Both the colorful Tevot and the Violin Concerto are deserving of the greatest exposure, and the other works make for fine fillers. All the performances are superb.

Gustav MAHLER Symphony 4 Miah Persson (soprano) Budapest Festival O/Iván Fischer rec. 2008 CHANNEL CLASSICS CCSSA26109

Among the plethora of recordings of this symphony, Fischer’s stands out for its utter naturalness and warmth. Of the many versions I have heard over the years, this belongs at or near the top of the list. Miah Persson is the perfect soloist, too - childlike, but not affected.

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