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MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL Recordings Of The Year 2011

Click on cover image to read the full review.

Front Page
Reviewers A-L

I has been suffering from distorted hearing this year that takes all the pleasure out of listening to CDs. Oddly, live performances do not suffer the same distortion which particularly affects horns, piano, upper strings and soprano voice. Consequently no Recordings of the Year have been chosen by me this year. I have been told by the ENT specialist that it is tinnitus however I have been suffering a similar problem with my eys which seems to be do with medication. Changes in medication improve my eyes and appear to improve my hearing so I am hopeful this problem can be resolved and I can continue to enjoy listening to classical recordings.


Life’s too short – so the expression runs. At any other point in time has mankind had accessible to it as much music as now? Has the gap between the amount of music we can select from and the amount of life available to us been so wide? MWI is here to help you in your choices – to guide your hand to this CD and that download. Each of us is limited to six so I am sorry to have had to leave out the Arnold cello Concerto (Naxos), the Rozycki Piano Concerto (Acte Prealable), the Nystroem Sinfonia del Mare (BIS), the Rachmaninov concertos with Lill (Nimbus), Mackerras’s Suk Asrael (Supraphon), Elder’s Bax Spring Fire (Halle), Postnikova’s Tchaikovsky (Newton) and Beermann’s Schumann symphonies (CPO). Ultimately you must decide for yourself not least because each one of us experiences music through the diffusion and focus of our own preferences and judgements: degustibus non est disputandum. Here are my recommendations from a vast array of music heard over the last 12 months where once again we have striven to bridge the chasm between the written word and the experience of listening to music.

Bernard HERRMANN Film Classics National PO, London PO/Bernard Herrmann rec. 1970-75 ELOQUENCE 480 3784

This double CD set takes the listener back to the heady days of the early 1970s and treats the superlative cinema music of Bernard Herrmann to Decca Phase 4 honours. As a recording ‘philosophy’ Phase 4 caused dismay, even horror in some classical quarters but for film music it came along at just the right point in time. Larger than life orchestral effects blossom and coruscate set alight by Herrmann’s fertile imaginative fancy. If you like the aural equivalent of glorious technicolor waste not a moment and order this inexpensive fantasy celebration from a twentieth century master of the orchestra who happened to work in film.

Arthur BLISS, Henry WALFORD DAVIES & York BOWEN Violin sonatas Rupert Luck (violin) Matthew Rickard (piano) rec. 2010 EM RECORDS EMRCD001

This label is not short of well-placed confidence and acumen when it comes to sifting repertoire and choosing gifted musicians. An extension of the English Music Festival steered by Em Marshall-Luck, EM Records launched with this disc of three British sonatas: the vehemently heroic Walford Davies, the pastoral ecstasy of the Bliss and the stormily Tchaikovskian Bowen. Where will they turn next?

Frank MARTIN Der Sturm Robert Holl, Christine Buffle, James Gilchrist, Netherlands Radio PO & Ch/Thierry Fischer rec. 2008 HYPERION CDA67821/3

Frank Martin’s characterful opera on The Tempest is brought stylishly to disc by Hyperion. Rather like Chandos they consistently strike the right note. This opera is full of unworldly and even unnerving invention and supernatural intimations (sax and harpsichord!) and is well recorded and documented. Who better to launch this opera into the catalogue and onto listeners’ MP3s and CD players everywhere. Immerse yourself in a new 20th century opera this Christmas.

Edvard GRIEG Peer Gynt Suite 1 Jean SIBELIUS Lemminkäinen Suite Philadelphia O/Eugene Ormandy rec. 1947-51 PRISTINE PASC 299

A remarkable 1950s mono reading of Sibelius’s four tone poems. Do not neglect the other two Pristine Ormandy Sibelius CDs. You think Ormandy’s 1979 Philadelphia digital recording was good? Try this! You’ll lament that CBS did not record more while the flame burned this fiercely. The Grieg suite is no less passionate – I cannot recall Morning having been played with such full-on drive and emotional engagement. Very special music-making.

William MATHIAS Piano Concertos 1 & 2 Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Fantasy Mark Bebbington (piano) Ulster O/George Vass rec. 2011 SOMM SOMMCD 246

Over the last four years Somm have risen several steps up the league table of classical labels. This disc is a provocative example of their work with a number of pianists. Defying convention Somm and the finely gifted and valiant Mark Bebbington track their way through early RVW and 1950s Mathias. All the pieces here are world premieres. I am pleased to see Somm working with rising star George Vass and the very same Ulster Orchestra that proved itself early on with its Bax and Harty discs for Chandos in the early 1980s. The feathery Celtic poetry of Mathias contrasted with the surging Brahmsian thunder of 1890s RVW.

Alexander GLAZUNOV Complete Concertos Rachel Barton-Pine (violin) Alexander Romanovsky (piano) Wen-Sinn Yang (cello) Marc Chisson (saxophone) Alexey Serov (horn) Russian Ntl O/Jose Serebrier rec. 2010 WARNER CLASSICS 2564 679465

After a knockout cycle of the nine Glazunov symphonies Serebrier, the RSNO and a handful of elite soloists collaborated with Warner in recording the complete concertos. Glazunov’s music can be stubbornly leaden in the wrong hands. However, when the planets are aligned - as they are here – base metal is transformed to gold. The alchemical reaction in Serebrier’s case delivers just that well judged blend of Russian sentimentality and Slav passion. The invention is very much to the point – works that are often moving and always concise.

David Barker

Astor PIAZZOLLA Las estaciones porteñas Astoria FUGA LIBERA FUG603

For the second year in a row, Piazzolla's Four Seasons feature in my selection. Last year, it was performed by a piano trio, this year a more traditional ensemble with accordion. Which is better? I can't say - they are both so good that trying to pick one over the other is pointless.

Vincent d’INDY Orchestral Works - Vol. 4: Poème des rivages, Symphonie italienne Iceland SO/Rumon Gamba rec. 2010 CHANDOS CHAN10660

Chandos has a number of Orchestral Music series underway - I doubt any are better than this. I'm sure I'm not alone in hoping there is a Volume 5 (and 6 and 7 ...).

Gustav MAHLER Symphonies 1-7 Lucerne Festival O/Claudio Abbado rec. 2003-9 EUROARTS 2058574

Two of the individual releases from this budget boxset - symphonies 1 & 3 - were my first dip into the world of Blu-ray. The picture quality is quite extraordinary, to the point where you can almost make out the maker's name engraved into the French horns. However, sharpness of picture would count for nothing if these weren't absolutely outstanding performances.

Dietrich BUXTEHUDE Scandinavian cantatas Theatre of Voices, The TOV Band/Paul Hillier rec. 2010 DACAPO 6.220534

An eye-opener for me. Johan van Veen, in his review, found fault with certain aspects, and I certainly wouldn't attempt to argue with his far greater knowledge. However, perhaps in this case, ignorance is bliss, as I found immense pleasure in this.

Note by Note - The making of Steinway L1037 Directed by Ben Niles. Interviews with Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Hélène Grimaud, Lang Lang & Harry Connick Jnr. rec. 2007 DOCURAMA FILMS NNVG146510

This illuminating and inspirational documentary tells the story of the production of one Steinway grand piano through the words of the people who made it, and the performers who might one day use it. The only downside is that it only seems to be available on a Region 1 disc, and many people outside the US won't be able to watch it.

Nick Barnard

Any special disc must fulfill 3 criteria; Musical/technical excellence, High quality engineering/production; the sense of the revelatory whether introducing the listener to new music or revealing hidden facets of old favourites. I have stuck to discs I have directly reviewed for the simple reason that these are the recordings I given my most considered attention. One performance nearly made the list - Adele Anthony's superlative playing of the Sibelius Concerto, remarkable technique and spellbinding artistry. In the order in which I reviewed them during the year:

Havergal BRIAN Orchestral Music Vol. 1 BBC Scottish SO/Garry Walker rec. 2009 TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0110

Music encompassing just about all of Brian's remarkable composing life including the stunning Burlesque Variations. Garry Walker proving to be an inspiring guide and the BBC Scottish SO pulling out the stops.

Earl WILD Piano music Xiayin Wang (piano) rec. 2010 CHANDOS CHAN10626

Extraordinarily empathetic playing from pianist Xiayin Wang - out wilding Wild and playing the ferociously hard Gershwin arrangements with devil may care ease. A wonderfully inspiring disc.

Kenneth LEIGHTON Et Resurrexit, Fantasies on Hymn Tunes, Missa de Gloria Greg Morris (organ) rec. 2009 NAXOS 8.572601

Overdue exposure for the marvellous music of Leighton. Organist Greg Morris an assured and exciting guide to this inspired music. Superb Naxos engineering catches the Blackburn Cathedral organ in full throated glory.

Capricho Latino Rachel Barton-Pine (violin) rec. 2009/11 ÇEDILLE RECORDS CDR90000124

The ever-wonderful Rachel Barton-Pine producing a disc of typically brilliant unusual programming played with her remarkable technical ease and musical insight. A performer of exceptional intelligence and ability.

Modest MUSSORGSKY Piano music Anthony Goldstone (piano) rec. 2011 DIVINE ART DDA25100

The second year in a row an Anthony Goldstone disc has made my list. As with Barton-Pine a performer of huge technical gifts but allied to an inquisitive questing musical mind. Brilliant performances of the familiar and unfamiliar.

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH New Babylon Basel Sinfonietta/Mark Fitz-Gerald rec. 2011 NAXOS 8.572824-25

To my mind one of Naxos' finest ever discs. Superb music making allied to a seriously impressive scholarly reconstruction of a very important score. Topped off with ideal engineering and as interesting a booklet as you will currently read. Petrenko might be taking the Shostakovich headlines just now but this is ultimately the more important release.


So many high quality recordings to choose from this year. Very near misses: Ittai Shapira's Concierto Latino, played by Shapira himself, on Champs Hill (CHRCD 020); Ginastera's two Cello Concertos, performed by Mark Kosower, on Naxos (8.572372); Haskell Small's Lullaby of War, a true 'American Classic' on Naxos (8.559649); either or both of Hyperion's latest instalments (3&4) of Christopher Herrick's account of Buxtehude's complete organ works (CDA67855, CDA67876); Penderecki's String Quartets on DUX (0770), featuring the DAFÔ Quartet; Scheidemann's organ Magnificats, performed by Karin Nelson, on an Intim Musik double-disc (IMCD 116), and Pieter Bustijn's Suittes pour le Clavessin, played by Alessandro Simonetto on Brilliant Classics (94187).

Aaron Jay KERNIS Goblin Market, Invisible Mosaic II The New Professionals/Rebecca Miller rec. 2008 SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD186

Not quite a faultless recording technically, but intoxicating, outrageous and unforgettable: Kernis's Goblin Market is one of the great musical works of art for theatre of the 20th century. Sample: "Laughed every goblin when they spied her peeping" - a truly awesome, epicurean crescendo of sensual poetry and orgiastic sounds - surely one of the most spellbinding passages in all music.

Sven-David SANDSTRÖM Nordic Sounds Swedish Radio Choir/Peter Dijkstra rec. 2009 CHANNEL CLASSICS CCSSA29910

The expressiveness and imagination of Sandström's virtuosic but instantly accessible choral music, of which these works are typical, is outstanding. Beautifully performed by the Swedish Radio Choir. Sound quality on this SACD is superlative, even in normal stereo, and sends a message to the many labels that cut too many corners.

Carson COOMAN Chamber music for strings rec. 2010 MSR CLASSICS MS1387

Hearing this music, all of which Cooman wrote in his 20s - together with more than 800 other published works - the listener can only begin to wonder what Cooman will have achieved musically in another twenty years. Sound quality is almost as good as it gets. All the performers, most of whom are leading Slovakian musicians, sound at their best. Outstanding in every regard.

Claude LE JEUNE Dix Pseaumes de David Ludus Modalis/Bruno Boterf rec. 2010 RAMEE RAM1005

These innovative Calvinist/Huguenot settings of the psalms were written for four vocal parts in a rich, serious, sonorous style moving between polyphony and homophony. Beautifully crafted, texturally full-bodied and deeply expressive from beginning to end. The seven voices of Ludus Modalis are magically blended and balanced, and their French pronunciation is delightfully authentic and very clean of articulation. Their varied choice of tempi and rhythms may well be the result of divine instruction.

Sonatas and Scenes Danish Works for Solo Cello John Ehde (cello) rec. 2009-10 CDKLASSISK CDK1061

An outstanding disc on every level, from Swedish cellist John Ehde's breathtaking virtuosity to the phenomenally inventive music of the five featured Danish composers; from the superb quality of the recording to the hi-fi booklet.

Charles DESMAZURES Pièces de Simphonie Vespres d'Arnadí/Dani Espasa rec. 2008 MUSIÈPOCA MEPCD001

Beautifully designed debut disc for new Catalan label Musièpoca. The music is exhilarating, superbly recorded and performed with consummate musicianship by Vespres d'Arnadí, whose members are drawn from the likes of Les Talens Lyriques, Le Concert des Nations and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. Their choices of instruments - mainly violins, flutes and oboes, tastefully augmented with an array of period continuo, percussion etc - are not just authentic but inspired, allowing them to imbue Desmazures' music with vivid colour and striking texture.

Dominy Clements

As ever I’m torn between numerous choices, and my double A-list would also include the Schubert Piano Duets with Paul Lewis and Stephen Osborne on Hyperion CDA67665 and that label’s must-have re-release of Lambert’s Summer’s Last Will and Testament (CDH55388), Andrew Litton’s Stravinsky Petrouchka and Rite of Spring on BIS-SACD-1474, Edward Gardner’s Chandos Lutoslawski (CHAN 10688) or James Ehnes’ Bartók concertos (CHAN 10690), Heinz Holliger’s lovely Bach concertos on ECM 2229, ARS Produktion’s colourful Franz Schreker Der ferne Klang (ARS 38 080), Joanna MacGregor’s lovely Art of Fugue on Warner Classics... Who was it said Classical Music is dead?

Johann Sebastian BACH Keyboard Concertos 1-5 Ramin Bahrami (piano) Gewandhaus O/Riccardo Chailly rec. 2009 DECCA 478 2956

This is the kind of recording which just makes me glad to be alive, and gets my vote on that count alone. The Bahrami/Chailly chemistry works at every level, from fun-loving boisterousness to the most touching of sensitivity. Bach gives us everything, and these musicians give him their all.

Jan Dismas ZELENKA Officium defunctorium, Requiem Collegium 1704 & Vocale/Václav Luks rec. 2010 ACCENT ACC24244

Once in a while a recording comes along which nudges your world into a different orbit, and this is the one which did it for me in 2011. This is a superb performance and a magnificent recording of some remarkable and constantly surprising music.

Minimal Piano Collection, Volume X-XX Jeroen van Veen (pianos) rec. 2007-10 BRILLIANT CLASSICS 9171

Contemporary music crusader Jeroen van Veen shows us how wide a spectrum of expression and dynamism can be found in the catch-all word ‘minimalism’. This is a Pandora’s box which will infect your appetite for things new and exciting, showing us that there is more to the minimal than New York grids and West Coast fog.

Ottorino RESPIGHI Fontane di Roma, Pini di Roma, Feste Romane São Paolo SO/John Neschling rec. 2008 BIS BISSACD1720

Respighi’s glorious ‘Roman Trilogy’ scores are given a very special atmosphere in this spectacular recording, in which we are invited to live the experience instead of being mere passive listeners. Every moment takes on an utterly convincing character, from the most magical to Respighi’s most cheesy – this is simply irresistible.

Harrison BIRTWISTLE Night’s Black Bird, The Shadow of Night, The Cry of Anubis Owen Slade (tuba) Hallé O/Ryan Wigglesworth rec. 2010 NMC D156

Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s work can be forbidding, but it always sounds ‘right’, and in this case transport us to dark realms which will long stick around in your consciousness, and may lurk in your unconscious forever. Tremendous performances and recording make this release stand out from this years’ contemporary crowd.

Johann Sebastian BACH Goldberg Variations (arr. Dmitry Sitkovetsky) Leopold String Trio rec. 2010 HYPERION CDA67826

Something of a surprise chamber music find, this version of the Goldberg Variations opens up new dynamic perspectives. The Leopold Trio’s performance is a genuine tour de force, and with Hyperion’s recording a delight from start to finish this is a disc which crackles with energy and real emotion.

Michael Cookson

Manfred TROJAHN String Quartets 3 & 4, Fragments for Antigone, Song to Insomnia III Henschel Qt rec. 2009 NEOS RECORDS 11017

Contemporary German born composer Manfred Trojahn has his own unique sound-world. These works for string quartet are challenging contemporary scores yet they are rewarding and are certainly within the compass of the average listener. Scrupulously prepared as always the Henschel Quartet demonstrate an impeccable unity to their expressive playing. Here the Henschel give the scores their world premiere recordings. I cannot speak highly enough of these outstanding accounts.

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH Violin Concertos 1 & 2 Arabella Steinbacher (violin) Bavarian RSO/Andris Nelsons rec. 2006 ORFEO C687061A

Arabella Steinbacher’s expressive playing is irresistible, delivering strong and forthright interpretations that feel much in accord with Shostakovich’s unique sound-world. With the elite Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra Andris Nelsons’s firm control of tempo, pacing and dynamics is highly successful. This impressive and beautifully recorded release deserves considerable praise.

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (soundtrack) Igor STRAVINSKY The Rite of Spring Gabriel YARED Original music Berlin PO/Sir Simon Rattle Film O/Jeff Atmajian rec. 2003/9 NAÏVE V5223

This disc contains the soundtrack to the 2009 Jan Kounen film Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky. I loved the film and the music from start to finish. However, the main attraction is the stunning 2003 Berlin performance of the complete The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du printemps)from Sir Simon Rattle and the great Berlin Philharmonic. This exciting account is now my first choice version of Stravinsky’s masterwork. I don’t believe this superb performance is available anywhere else on CD.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Symphony 9 Tilla Briem, Elisabeth Höngen, Peter Anders, Rudolph Watzke, Bruno Kittel Ch, Berlin PO/Wilhelm Furtwängler rec. 1942 PRISTINE AUDIO PASC250

Furtwängler’s 1942 Berlin performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minorChoral’, has gained legendary status. It is said to be an example of Furtwängler’s rebellious response to the stresses of working with the Berlin Philharmonic as cultural propagandists for Hitler’s Third Reich. Whether this is a true reflection of the situation or not this is certainly a heartfelt account of astonishing tension from Furtwängler’s tortured soul. Recorded in the Alte Philharmonie in Berlin just under two years later the concert hall was raised to the ground by allied bombing. Restoration engineer Andrew Rose has done wonders with the sound quality which is much improved. A truly great performance of real historical significance.

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) A London Symphony, Oboe concerto Stéphane Rancourt (oboe) Hallé O/Sir Mark Elder rec. 2010 HALLÉ CDHLL7529

Vaughan Williams’s London Symphony much loved by Sir Mark Elder has become something of a specialisation for him. Sir Mark proves an inspirational guide in the symphony and the Hallé respond to his direction with enthusiasm and assurance. I attended the actual concert at the Bridgewater Hall and found it a gloriously convincing depiction of a pulsating and multi-faceted metropolis. The pastoral nature of Vaughan Williams’s engaging three movement Oboe Concerto seems tailor-made for principal oboe Stéphane Rancourt who plays magnificently supported by the glowing Hallé strings.

Gustav MAHLER Symphony 1 Pittsburgh SO/Manfred Honeck rec. 2008 EXTON EXCL-00026

Something wonderful is happening at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under the stewardship of Austrian born conductor Manfred Honeck. As part of the 2011 Berlin Musikfest I attended a concert in September at the Berlin Philharmonie on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks for the Pittsburgh orchestra’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No.5. It was a musical tour de force with awe-inspiring playing from a truly magnificent orchestra. I enjoyed every minute of this 2008 performance that was recorded live at the Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh. Everything was entirely convincing and the overall effect was remarkable.

Hubert Culot

Frank MARTIN Der Sturm Robert Holl, Christine Buffle, James Gilchrist, Netherlands Radio PO & Ch/Thierry Fischer rec. 2008 HYPERION CDA67821/3

This magnificent – and long awaited – performance of Frank Martin's opera fills a great gap in this composer's discography. Everyone involved in this unique enterprise deserves full praise and gratitude for his/her wholehearted commitment to one of Martin's greatest scores.

Francis ROUTH The Well Tempered Pianist Charles Matthews (piano) rec. 2009/10 REDCLIFFE RECORDINGS RR021

Francis Routh's music is far too little known indeed and deserves wider exposure, which some rare recordings clearly show. This superbly committed and beautifully played set of Preludes is thus most welcome and should be heard by anyone willing to investigate some lesser-known byways of contemporary British music.

Jukka TIENSUU Vie, Missa, False Memories I-III Kari Kriikku (clarinet) Helsinki PO/John Storgårds rec. 2009/10 ONDINE ODE11662

Until fairly recently Tiensuu's music was regarded as complex and rather avant-garde. His most recent works, however, as the ones recorded here show a greater stylistic freedom and a new compositional trend in his music making characterised by a real enjoyment of the orchestra's full register.

Gabriel PIERNÉ Piano music Laurent Wagschal (piano) rec. 2009 TIMPANI 1C1178

Pierné's mature piano works as recorded here amply demonstrate the real status of this often underrated composer. The performances and recordings are excellent and serve the music in the best possible way.

Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA Kaivos Tampere PO/Hannu Lintu rec. 2010 ONDINE ODE11742

Rautavaara's first opera Kaivos is a compact, though powerful work that communicates in the most direct way through its strongly expressive music and tight dramaturgy. Kaivos may well be Rautavaara's finest opera.

Régis CAMPO Les Heures Maléfiques, Ombra Felice, String quartet 2, The Life and Soul of His Imagined Landscape Quatuor Diotima rec. 2009 RADIO FRANCE SIGNATURE SIG11070

Régis Campo is probably one of the most endearing composers of his generation and his music, though far from being lightweight, does not always take itself all-too-seriously as the four strongly contrasted works in this fine release clearly demonstrate.

Robert Farr

The last two years my opera selections have included many quality recordings of works from the primo ottocento, the Italian bel canto period of the first half of the nineteenth century, the focus being very much on the works of the three great masters of the period, Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti. That glut of quality performances seems to have dried up with many offerings marred by avante garde, often way out, productions that seem the rage on the European mainland and at composer Festivals. Although in 4:3 presentation, earlier recordings are emerging on DVD that really will stand the test of time.

Gioachino ROSSINI Petite Messe Solennelle Leipzig Gewandhaus Ch & O/Riccardo Chailly rec. 2008 EUROARTS 2057428

In making this a DVD of the month, I suggested that the performance it receives under Chailly elevates this rarely heard work not only to stand alongside the composer’s better-known Stabat Mater, but also the great Mass by his fellow Italian opera composer, Verdi.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Die Entführung aus dem Serail Eva Mei, Rainer Trost, Patrizia Ciofi, Ch & O Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Zubin Mehta rec. 2002 ARTHAUS MUSIK 107109

With its high picture and sound quality this well cast and elegantly staged production from Florence, recorded in 2002, becomes a first choice for me in this opera.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Così fan tutte Margaret Marshall, Anne Murray, Kathleen Battle, Vienna State Opera Ch, Vienna PO/Riccardo Muti rec. 1983 ARTHAUS MUSIK 101219

Albeit in old style 4:3 format, this1983 Salzburg Festival traditional production of Così fan tutte, with its elegant costumes and set alongside quality singing realises the intention of Da Ponte’s story and Mozart’s music as few other more modern ones do.

Lauro ROSSI Cleopatra Dimitra Theodossiou, Alessandro Liberatore, Marchigiana PO/David Crescenzi rec. 2008 NAXOS 2.110279

Not a composer we hear much about today. Even if in this opera he was overshadowed by Verdi’s Aida, Pier Luigi Pizzi’s set, alongside a reasonably sung and acted performance, gives a rare chance to see and hear what has been long neglected.

Giuseppe VERDI Simon Boccanegra Placido Domingo, Marina Poplavskaya, Joseph Calleja, Ch & O Royal Opera House/Antonio Pappano rec. 2010 EMI 9178255

Forget that Verdi wrote the title role for a baritone and enjoy Domingo’s penetrating acted assumption of the role in 2010 from Covent Garden and despite the minor compromises this involves.

Sospiri Cecilia Bartoli DECCA 478 2558

An interesting collection of Cecilia Bartoli’s diverse recorded repertoire over the last sixteen years.

Göran Forsling

Every year there are a number of discs that fail to be included in the final list with a hairbreadth. This time I would have liked to find room for Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s classic operetta recital as well as the lovely Elisabeth Schumann box in the ICON series. Magdalena Kozena’s Lettere Amorose was another that I reluctantly excluded. Maria Forsström’s delightful Kaleidoscope should also be mentioned and the Arthaus Traviata with Maazel was another favourite that dropped down on the finishing line.

Giacomo PUCCINI La rondine Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna, London SO/Antonio Pappano rec. 1996 EMI CLASSICS 6407482

Last year a DVD with Gheorghiu and Alagna in La rondine was one of my Recordings of the Year. Only a couple of months later EMI reissued their 15-year-old studio recording and much as I admired the DVD I felt even more attached to this oldie. Ideally one should have both.

Franz SCHUBERT Schwanengesang Thomas Oliemans (baritone) Malcolm Martineau (piano) rec. 2010 ETCETERA KTC1420

Thomas Oliemans here presents a Schwanengesang with a difference. Between the Rellstab and the Heine songs he inserts four songs to texts by Schulze. This works excellently and Oliemans readings of the cycle is worthy to stand beside any of the established favourite versions.

Edvard GRIEG Violin Sonata 1 Béla BARTÓK Sonata for solo violin Richard STRAUSS Violin Sonata Vilde Frang (violin) Michail Lifits (piano) rec. 2010 EMI CLASSICS 9476392

The young Norwegian Vilde Frang is among the most thrilling new violinists and with this rather unusual coupling she has produced a real winner. The Grieg sonata compares favourably even with my old favourite Henning Kraggerud’s, and both the Bartok and Strauss works are excellently played.

Franz SCHUBERT Winterreise Natalie Stutzmann (contralto) Inger Södergren (piano) rec. 2003 SAPHIR LVC1153

I wasn’t familiar with Natalie Stutzmann’s Winterreise and was truly amazed by her reading. Her dark contralto voice may be an acquired taste but it is her way of colouring the texts that made me listen to both lyrics and music with new ears. This is now my preferred version.

Johannes Möller - Guitar recital rec. 2010 NAXOS 8.572715

When I reviewed Johannes Möller’s debut recital some years ago I felt that he was already very advanced. With the new disc he establishes himself among the front-runners. What characterises his playing is that his formidable technique never becomes an end in itself. He is a true musician.

Franz SCHUBERT Die Schöne Müllerin Daniel Behle (tenor) Sveinung Bjelland (piano) rec. 2009 CAPRICCIO 5044

Jan Kobow’s Müllerin has been my favourite for some years, but here is a version that challenges his hegemony. They have a lot in common, though Kobow is accompanied by a fortepiano. A bonus is also the inclusion of the rarely heard Auf dem Strom with excellent horn playing by Ab Koster.

Michael Greenhalgh

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Symphonies 2 & 8 Royal PO/Hermann Scherchen rec. 1954 PRISTINE AUDIO PASC198

Here’s proof that recordings nearly 60 years old can still perform the vital interpretive function of bringing the works to us fresh. Scherchen’s performances have the transparency of texture and rhythmic force we nowadays associate with period instruments. They also have an inspiring sense of focus and conviction.

Benjamin BRITTEN Phaedra, A Charm of Lullabies, Lachrymae, Two Portraits, Sinfonietta Sarah Connolly (mezzo), Maxim Rysanov (viola) BBC SO/Edward Gardner rec. 2010 CHANDOS CHAN10671

Gardner, Connolly and Rysanov all have a gripping understanding of both the explicit and latent drama in all these pieces, as well as the ability to present them naturally and thus not over playing the drama. The result is a vivid witness of Britten’s depiction of fragile but also loving humanity.

Richard WAGNER Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg Prelude Edward ELGAR Cello Concerto Johannes BRAHMS Symphony 1 Alisa Weilerstein (cello) Berlin PO/Daniel Barenboim rec. 2010 EUROARTS 2058064

This provides a fascinatingly different Barenboim in Elgar and Brahms than in his earlier recordings. Weilerstein’s cello has more emphasis on the lyrical Elgar, less on the dramatic than Du Pré. Barenboim’s Brahms Symphony 1 is now more classically controlled but its emotional range is well detailed and very satisfying.

George Frideric HANDEL Water Music, Rodrigo Overture and dances Les Musiciens du Louvre, Grenoble/Marc Minkowski rec. 2010 NAÏVE V5234

Minkowski dusts away the cobwebs of respectability of the Water music and shows us its brass scoring as bracing, open air music. Here are period instruments which can’t be mistaken for modern ones and yet have an affinity with jazz. With confident, celebratory playing you appreciate the piece’s original sparkle.

Franz Joseph HAYDN Piano Trios Trio Goya rec. 2008 CHANDOS CHACONNE CHAN0771

How well the incapability of period instruments is exploited here. You can be more forceful than with modern instruments without going over the top. These performances pack considerable punch and spice within their urbane frame and have great vivacity as a result. Music doesn’t have to be all smoothness to be cultivated.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Horn Concertos Alessio Allegrini (horn) Orchestra Mozart/Claudio Abbado rec. 2005-7 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 8083

I’m just bowled over by the quality of Allegrini’s playing. Among its chief attributes are joyful rounded tone, smoothness of phrasing and generally benign but sometimes, as appropriate, more circumspect flowing line. From Orchestra Mozart Abbado secures a nimbly deft articulation to provide an elegant backcloth. Every moment is a pleasure.

Christopher Howell

After some time away from reviewing I returned to the fray about half-way through the year. And as it happens, three issues stand out in my mind from this half-yearly batch so I’ll just stay with those.

Claude DEBUSSY Piano Music - Vol. 5 Noriko Ogawa (piano) rec. 2000 BIS BISCD1405

Noriko Ogawa’s fifth volume of Debussy piano music completes her survey. By a small margin hers would now be my favourite of modern cycles – ahead of Bavouzet and, as a whole, ahead of older cycles too, Gieseking’s Preludes and some single pieces notwithstanding. Volume 5 brings ravishingly beautiful performances of the earlier works.

Charles Villiers STANFORD Piano Trio 1, Legend, Irish Fantasies, Piano Quartet 2 Gould Piano Trio, David Adams (viola) rec. 2009 NAXOS 8.572452

Not a cycle as such, but all of Stanford’s chamber music for more than one stringed instrument and piano has now been recorded. The première recording of the unpublished Second Piano Quartet reveals a major work and the new version of Piano Trio no.1 is at least the equal of its predecessor by the Pirasti Trio. The three beautiful pieces for violin and piano are premières too.

Anton BRUCKNER Symphonies 4 & 7 Basle SO/Mario Venzago rec. 2010 CPO 777 615-2

From cycles ending to a cycle beginning. I stuck my neck out by suggesting Venzago’s Bruckner may become as iconic for the 2020s as Wand’s was for the 1990s. A lot of big challenges will have to be met before that can come about, but whatever happens, this pairing of 4 and 7 will remain an inspiration, a breath of pure mountain air.

Ian Lace

There have been outstanding reissues this year including, in Liszt’s centenary year, Leonard Bernstein’s outstanding reading of Liszt’s Faust Symphony; and all RCA’s ground-breaking Classic Film Score albums originally released in the 1970s (see my Raksin choice below but I could equally have included the albums devoted to scores by Max Steiner, Korngold, Tiomkin, Rózsa and Herrmann). If I was allowed another choice, it would have been another new Chandos Delius album – of the Violin, Cello and Double Concertos performed by Tasmin Little and Paul Watkins with the BBC SO conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.

Sir Arnold BAX Piano Quintet Frank BRIDGE Piano Quintet Ashley Wass (piano)Tippett Qt rec. 2009 NAXOS 8.572474

Exceptional performances of two outstanding British chamber works. The Bax work is epic in scope, tumultuous and wild; lyrical and nostalgic. Bridge’s early lyrical yet occasionally turbulent Quintet includes some gorgeous melodies.

Frederick DELIUS Appalachia, The Song of the High Hills BBC SO & Ch/Sir Andrew Davis rec. 2010 CHANDOS CHSA5088

Two Delius masterpieces. The sublime Song of the High Hills is not only vivid sonic nature painting, its mystical climax, as the mountain’s summit is reached, touches the very soul. Appalachia is another heartfelt, lyrical work based on the black farm labourers’ songs Delius heard when he was living in Florida

John FOULDS Keltic Overture and other light orchestral works BBC Concert O/Ronald Corp rec. 2010 DUTTON EPOCH CDLX7252

One of two very welcome 2011 Dutton releases devoted to the lighter works of neglected British composer, John Foulds. Ronald Corp delivers vivid committed performances of music comparable to the best of Eric Coates, Edward German, Haydn Wood.

Denis LEVAILLANT La Petite Danseuse de Degas l’Opéra national de Paris O & ballet/Koen Kessels EUROARTS 108 026

A wonderful new ballet inspired by Degas’s famous sculpture of a young dance student. Every aspect of this production impresses. Levaillant’s music is an arresting mix of styles ranging from the baroque to modernism and jazzy figures via Late Romanticism and Impressionism.

Mario PILATI Orchestral Works Moscow SO/Adriano rec.02007/8 INEDITA PI2757

Delightful, undemanding little gems by a largely forgotten Italian composer; music that is elegant and witty. Conducted with unrestrained enthusiasm by Adriano, champion of worthwhile but little-known music.

David RAKSIN Film Scores New PO/David Raksin rec. 1975 SONY RCA RED SEAL 88967 812682

One of my favourite albums in RCA’s celebrated Classic Film Scores series once again available in refurbished sound. This collection brims with glorious Hollywood Golden Age scores and comprises music from Laura, Forever Amber and The Bad and the Beautiful.

Oleg Ledeniov

Johannes BRAHMS Cello sonata 2 Franz SCHUBERT Arpeggione sonata Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Cello sonata 3 Thomas Carroll (cello) Llyr Williams (piano) rec. 2009/10 ORCHID CLASSICS ORC100016

It could seem that nothing new can be said about such standard repertoire, but Carroll and Williams put so much life and enthusiasm into each note that the listening is a source of constant enjoyment, as if the sonatas were newly born and heard for the first time. Excellent partnership, clear and beautiful cello sound, excellent recording quality – a winner!

Come Away, Death Marianne Beate Kielland (mezzo) Sergej Osadchuk (piano) rec. 2009 2L 2L064SACD

An interesting structural concept that works very well; a rich mixture of known and unknown music of very different styles but highest quality, performed with consummated artistry and devotion; the dark velvety voice of Marianne Beate Kielland, so powerful yet always beautiful; a most memorable performance of Songs and Dances of Death; the stunning recording quality: all this leads to a profound listening experience. I think I still am under its spell from the first listening.

Nikolay RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Sheherazade, The Tale of Tsar Saltan Suite Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz rec. 2010 NAXOS 8.572693

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade is a colorful and powerful score, and many conductors have done it well, but this one goes over and beyond. Each phrase grabs you. The orchestra is technically and emotionally superb. This is a real sonic feast for the ears – spectacular, explosive, electrifying! The pairing is equally vivid and expressive. This is a proof that the great names of the past still can be beaten!

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