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MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL Recordings Of The Year 2011

Click on cover image to read the full review.

Front Page
Reviewers M-Z
Kirk McElhearn

The recording that would be my Record of the Year is one I can't nominate here, since it hasn't been reviewed on this site in the last twelves months, but more so because of its genre. What is considered "classical music" can vary greatly among listeners. Sure, we all agree on Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, but what makes, say, Gershwin classical and not Count Basie? For me, "classic" and "classical" can go together, and this year saw the release of the holy grail of Grateful Dead recordings, the complete Europe '72 concert tour. 22 concerts, 71 hours, on 73 discs, this is a complete, note-for-note record of the biggest tour the Grateful Dead did outside the United States, and at one of their most creative periods. So you know what I'll be listening to for the next good while!

Nevertheless, I've been fortunate to review several memorable discs this year that I can nominate, and the following are recordings that I will treasure for a long time.

Charles IVES A Concord Symphony (orch. Henry Brant) Aaron COPLAND Organ Symphony Paul Jacobs (organ) San Francisco Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas rec. 2010 SFS MEDIA SFS 82193600382

The Ives Concord Symphony, orchestrated from Ives' Concord Sonata for piano, is a brilliant rendition of one of the great keyboard works of the 20th century. The sound and performance on this recording are exemplary, and this orchestration makes one discover the Concord Sonata in a totally new manner.

Gustav MAHLER Des Knaben Wunderhorn Thomas Hampson (baritone) Wiener Virtuosen/Ernst Ottensamer rec. 2010 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 9289

Thomas Hampson's recording of Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn songs, with a chamber orchestra, brings out the intimate nature of the music. Hampson's voice is nearly perfect, and, in my review, I pointed out that "Hampson _owns_ Mahler’s songs."

William BYRD Complete Consort Music Phantasm rec. 2010 LINN CKD372

Phantasm's recording of William Byrd's consort music may be the best recording of a viol consort I have ever heard. The viol is one of my favorite instruments, and I melt when I hear a good, cohesive viol consort. The excellent music, wonderful performances, and near-perfect sound make this a must-have disc for fans of this type of music.

Johann Sebastian BACH Motets Collegium Vocale Gent/Philippe Herreweghe rec. 2011 PHI LPH002

Philip Herreweghe's second recording of Bach's motets is delicate and graceful, and the sound is exemplary. As I wrote in my review, "if you want a recording of Bach’s motets, this is the one to get."

Johann Sebastian BACH French Suites, Overture in the French style, Italian Concerto András Schiff (piano) rec. 2010 EUROARTS 2058134

András Schiff gives a riveting performance of all six of Bach's French Suites, playing with emotion and subtlety. As an encore, he plays the French Overture and Italian Concerto, for more than two hours of piano mastery. The video is tastefully shot and the sound is excellent.

Rob Maynard

Richard WAGNER Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg excerpts César FRANCK Symphony Gabriel FAURÉ Pelléas et Mélisande suite Boston SO/Charles Munch rec. 1959-61 ICA CLASSICS ICAD5015

Three cheers for ICA Classics's unearthing of this historic telecast, as well as many others from the same source. Charles Munch - le beau Charles to Boston audiences - knew Franck's highly charged scores inside out and offers countless revelations in these superb and very valuable accounts.

César FRANCK Symphony, Le chasseur maudit Vienna State Opera O/Artur Rodzinski rec. 1954 FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR81

Only the fact that the 1950s and 1960s saw the setting down of virtually all the classic accounts that we have of the Franck symphony can explain why this one has been shamefully overlooked. Rodzinsky has been forgotten for too long and one hopes that more reissues like this one will begin to restore his reputation.

Ludwig MINKUS Don Quixote Peter de Jong, Karel de Rooij, Dutch National Ballet Holland Symfonia/Kevin Rhodes rec. 2010 ARTHAUS MUSIK 101561

Full of Spanish high jinks, Minkus's glittering score offers dancers wonderful opportunities to show off their best moves. The Dutch company may not be the best known in this repertoire, but its enthusiasm and commitment - plus some very imaginative casting - ensure that the audience goes home with a smile on its collective face.

Ludwig MINKUS La Bayadère Altynai Asylmuratova, Irek Mukhamedov, Darcey Bussell, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House O/John Lanchbery rec. 1991 ARTHAUS MUSIK 107257

La Bayadere's Kingdom of the Shades scene is a Petipa classic, but Minkus's score rises to the occasion too. A romantic triangle a la Aida offers an usually strong – if melodramatic - storyline for those whose experience of ballet is limited to Tchaikovsky. Asylmuratova, Mukhamedov and Bussell act movingly and dance authoritatively.

Umberto GIORDANO Fedora Mirella Freni, Placido Domingo, Teatro alla Scala Ch & O/Gianandrea Gavazzeni rec. 1993 ARTHAUS MUSIK 107143

This production started something of a revival of interest in Giordano's second best known score. The principals' and the conductor's obvious empathy and affection serve to demonstrate that there is much more to it than the ubiquitous Amor ti vieta and create a genuinely theatrical occasion that, nearly twenty years later, is well worth revisiting.

Richard STRAUSS Ein Heldenleben Franz SCHUBERT Symphony 8 BBC Northern SO/Kurt Sanderling rec. 1975/8 BBC LEGENDS BBCL42622

This 1970s recording is a fine memorial to Kurt Sanderling who died earlier this year. Eschewing the bombastic, his Heldenleben demands the listener's close attention by its scrupulous adherence to the score’s finer – and subtler - details. Coupled with an equally distinguished Unfinished, it shows the BBC players in the best possible light.

Dan Morgan
On the cutting-room floor this year is the Blu-ray Audio version of Antoni Wit’s exhilarating Mahler 8, sidelined only because of technical issues with the multi-channel layer. No such qualms about the Dutch Ballet’s high-kicking Don Quichotte – although a reader has alerted me to ‘motion blur’ in some playback systems – and Lorin Maazel’s epic Wagnerfest, Ring without words. Other Blu-rays reveal a number of mastering/authoring problems, unpardonable in an expensive product whose USP is top-notch sound and picture quality. Among the CDs and DVDs that didn’t quite make the final cut are: Volume 3 in Kirsten Johnson’s disarming and delightful Amy Beach series; Jordi Masó’s magical Mompou; Claudio Abbado, Magdalena Kožená and the fabled Lucerne orchestra in Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder/Fourth Symphony; and a live Shostakovich Five from Leonard Bernstein and the LSO (1966).

American Music for Percussion - Vol. 1 New England Conservatory Percussion Ens/Frank Epstein and Gunther Schuller rec. 2004-8 NAXOS 8.559683

What a pleasant surprise this turned out to be. I certainly didn’t expect music of such consistent quality and imagination. Even more impressive is the fine musicianship of these New Englanders, whose playing is very well captured by the recording team. Another niche-filler from Naxos.

Mili BALAKIREV Piano Sonata No. 2 & other piano pieces Danny Driver (piano) rec. 2010 HYPERION CDA67806

Pianist Danny Driver is my ‘find’ of the year. This Balakirev disc manages to do two things: it showcases inexplicably neglected miniatures and demonstrates what a good artistic partnership can achieve. Sensitive, intuitive musicianship and an exemplary recording make for a most rewarding listen. More, please.

Vasily KALINNIKOV Symphonies 1 & 2 Malaysian PO/Kees Bakels rec. 2000 BIS BISCD1155

This CD has it all – astonishing music, beautifully wrought playing and top-notch sound. Listening to these elegant, soulful symphonies it’s hard to understand why Kalinnikov isn’t better known. Hats off to BIS for making it all happen, and to Kees Bakels and his band for showing us how it’s done.

Rued LANGGAARD Music of the Spheres, The Time of the End, From the Abyss Danish Ntl SO & Ch/Thomas Dausgaard rec. 2009/10 DACAPO 6.220535

Rued Langgaard is another of my recent discoveries; indeed, this Dacapo release will surely help to bring this dotty Dane to a much wider audience. These intriguing works are sometimes quixotic, even infuriating, Dausgaard and his orchestra revealing just how original these works really are. Try them if you dare!

OrganOrgan Historical Finnish organ works Ville Urponen (organ) rec. 2008 ALBA ABCD298

Despite its odd title, this collection is a veritable treasure trove of little-known music from Finland. It’s beautifully played by Ville Urponen on a ‘generous, sweet-toned Kangasala’ and atmospherically recorded by Mika Koivusalo, the man behind those pace-setting organ discs from Fuga. Most refreshing.

Sergey PROKOFIEV Romeo and Juliet Tamara Rojo, Carlos Acosta, Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Boris Gruzin rec. 2007 DECCA 0743336

This Blu-ray is sensational in every way, from the impassioned presence of the two principals – Carlos Acosta and Tamara Rojo – to the sumptuous sets and red-blooded playing from the pit. No technical nasties that I can detect, the razor-sharp picture and dynamic sound making this a truly immersive theatrical experience.

Andrew Morris

Leonid DESYATNIKOV Return, Du côté de chez Swan, Variations on the Obtaining of a Dwelling, Wie der Alte Leiermann ..., The Leaden Echo rec. 1995-2010 QUARTZ MUSIC QTZ2087

The first western disc of Desyatnikov's music includes Du cote de chez Swan, a work for two pianos that splices and reorders Saint-Saens's The Sawn to moving and profound effect.

Béla BARTÓK Sonata for solo violin Johann Sebastian BACH Partita No. 2 Ruth Palmer (violin) rec. 2008 HIDDEN ACOUSTICS NI6133

Ruth Palmer's disc is a terrific recording of two masterworks of the solo violin repertoire, packaged in a way that looks beyond the conventions of the classical market.

Gennadi Rozhdestvensky at the BBC Proms Mikhail GLINKA Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture, Three Dances from A Life for the Tsar Pytor Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY The Nutcracker – Act 2 BBC SO/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky rec. 1981 ICA CLASSICS ICAD5027

Rozhdestvensky, master of Russian ballet, in glorious performances of Russian classics from the 1981 Proms.

Margarida Mota-Bull

While back in 2010, I had many recordings of the year and was forced to make “tough” choices as to what works I was going to select; this year, I found it was actually difficult to come up with works that I thought were worthy of the title of recordings of the year 2011. So, after a bit of rummaging through CDs, DVDs and the lot that I purchased, was given or reviewed during the course of the year, I came up with the three listed below and I do believe them worthy of appearing as selections for 2011.

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

I love almost anything that Mozart wrote but this opera (or better, Singspiel) is a particular favourite of mine. This DVD was a wonderful surprise. The production is vivid, colourful and gorgeous to look at; the singers are excellent, the reading of Mozart’s music would probably have pleased even himself and the spoken role of Salim is exceptionally delivered. A beautiful, little gem!

Margaret Ruthven LANG Love is everywhere - Selected songs Vol. 1 Donald George (tenor) Lucy Mauro (piano) rec. 2009 DELOS DE3407

I had the pleasure of reviewing this one. Again, as with the Mozart DVD, it was a wonderful surprise. Lang was nearly forgotten, largely due to herself, as she destroyed many of her works but she was a fascinating woman composer who lived nearly 105 years! It was a delightful, refreshing experience to listen to her music and to talk to the performers who had the brilliant idea of making this CD. Initiatives such as these, deserve to be acknowledged in any possible manner. To me, the revelation of the year!

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Fidelio Nina Stemme, Jonas Kaufmann, Arnold Schoenberg Ch, Mahler CO, Lucerne Festival O/Claudio Abbado rec. 2010 DECCA 4782551

Nowadays, full recordings of opera are not very common. Tough economic times, perhaps? Or commercialism that relies solely on big names’ recitals? Whatever the reason, there are not enough of them. Well, this recording of Fidelio is simply outstanding. I dare say that it is possibly one of the best that I have ever heard, and if a big name is needed, then Jonas Kaufmann does deliver a true star performance.

Tim Perry

Gustav MAHLER Symphony 9 Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim rec. 2009 UNITEL/CMAJOR 703708

This is one of the finest Mahler 9s I have ever heard (or seen, for that matter). Barenboim recorded a swift, urgent account of this symphony for Warner Classics a few years ago, live in concert with the same orchestra. The interpretation here is very much the same, but timings are slightly quicker, the orchestral playing is even tighter and more refined, and the emotional still deeper. Those for whom resignation is the key note of this symphony will baulk at this live concert recording, but its passion and intensity are unique.

Gustav MAHLER The Complete Symphonies London PO/Klaus Tennstedt rec. 1977-93 EMI CLASSICS 0944932

It is wonderful to have Tennstedt's EMI Mahler recordings with his LPO grouped together in this new box. His studio cycle has been available more or less continuously since it was recorded, but this box triumphs over the previous issues. The earliest recordings have been remastered - the second in particular sounds much better than its earlier incarnation, with fuller sounding strings and a less exaggerated dynamic range - and Tennstedt's live LPO Mahler recordings for EMI have been included. While the live fifth usually gets all the attention - and it is a wonderful, intense performance - for me Tennstedt's harrowing live 1991 sixth is worth the price of the whole box. It is darker than the widely praised 1984 Proms recording that was released on the LPO label recently. Indeed it is not only Tennstedt's best Mahler 6. It is also, in my view, one of the very best ever recorded.

Franz LISZT Harmonies du soir Nelson Freire (piano) rec. 2011 DECCA 478 2728

Peerless pianism from one of the today's true masters.

Richard STRAUSS Ein Heldenleben Antonín DVORÁK Symphony 9 Royal PO, BBC SO/Rudolf Kempe rec. 1974/5 ICA CLASSICS ICAD5009

This year has seen the emergence of ICA Classics as a major independent label with access to some fascinating archive material. This DVD is one of their very best. Kempe was an expert Straussian and his live Heldenleben is, all told, as good as his famous Dresden account, making up in spontaneity anything it lacks in polish. The Dvorak 9 is a revelation - the most impetuous, red blooded performance since Dorati's famous Concertgebouw recording for Philips.

Miklos ROZSA Ben Hur, Quo Vadis, Julius Caesar National PO, Royal PO/Miklos Rozsa, Bernard Herrmann (Caesar) rec. 1974-77 DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 3790

It is wonderful to have these recordings back in the catalogue. I have been trying to get these Ben Hur tracks for years, and was overjoyed when they appeared on this Australian Eloquence twofer. If only the overture had been recorded too!

Glyn Pursglove
Circumstances have restricted my reviewing of CDs this year – and, indeed, the amount of time I have been able to give to listening to recorded music at all. So my choices are made from a narrower range of possibilities than in previous years. Still, these are very much recordings of value, recordings which reward a great many listenings. There is no significance in the order in which they are listed.

Espana Antigua - Spanish Secular Music 1200-1700 Montserrat Figueras (soprano) Hespèrion XX/Jordi Savall VIRGIN CLASSICS 6488012

Of recent years Jordi Savall’s lavishly produced and documented CDS have been very much concept-driven (and none the worse for that). This reissue of some of his earlier recordings (made between 1977 and 1983) takes the listener on a colourful and lengthy (there are 8 CDs) across the Spanish musical landscape from the early thirteenth century to the end of the seventeenth century. At every turn there are things to admire and relish; there’s an abundance of colour and instrumental textures, there’s music of love divine and secular, of the dance and the cathedral. And rarely (if ever) a dull moment.

Girolamo FRESCOBALDI Harpsichord and Virginals Vol. 3 Richard Lester (harpsichord) NIMBUS NI5870

Richard Lester’s series of the keyboard music of Frescobaldi has been a consistent joy. I could have chosen any of the volumes, since they are all characterised by playing both scholarly and expressive. I chose this one because of the particular pleasure of Lester’s reading of Frescobaldi’s Toccata Decima.

Alessandro STRIGGIO Mass in 40 parts Thomas TALLIS Spem in alium I Fagiolini/Robert Hollingworth rec. 2010 DECCA 478 2734

This is one of those recordings for which the adjective revelatory doesn’t seem altogether over the top. Alessandro Striggio’s long-lost 40-part Mass gets a world premiere recording and proves to be a fascinatingly written work full of contrasting textures and subtle effects, its complex passages complemented by ones marked by an equally effective restraint. I Fagiolini, directed by Robert Hollingworth are exemplary and the recorded sound is glorious.

Béla BARTÓK Piano Concertos 1-3 András Schiff (piano) Budapest Festival O/Iván Fischer rec. 1996 WARNER APEX 2564 674378

Another reissue – and at a bargain price. Schiff’s Bartok concerti, with Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra date from 1996, but the sound quality is fine and the work of all concerned is superb. There is passion and vigour, but also high intelligence and clarity of mind throughout. I can’t honestly think that I have heard better performances of these fascinating works.

Franz LISZT Harmonies du soir Nelson Freire (piano) rec. 2011 DECCA 478 2728

Nelson Freire is a masterly interpreter of Liszt and this recital, recorded in January of 2011, finds at the top of his game. There’s virtuosity galore and a precision and delicacy of touch too. The judgement of rhythm and the unexaggerated use of pianistic colour is thoroughly persuasive and convincing. This is quite simply outstanding.

William BYRD Complete Consort Music Phantasm rec. 2010 LINN CKD372

Phantasm seem to operate at a consistently high level and this recording finds them at their considerable best. They are powerful advocates for Byrd’s music for viols and in the subtlety of their instrumental interplay and the evident sensibility of all that they do they remind us (if we need a reminder) of one of the great beauties of English music, the compositions for consort of viols. Beautiful recorded sound, too.

John Quinn
This has been a rich year and I could easily have chosen a dozen Recordings of the Year. In the end I decided to restrict myself to CDs that I’ve reviewed myself. This meant leaving out, for example, Sir Charles Mackerras’s wonderful live version of Suk’s Asrael Symphony and the remarkable forty-part Mass by Striggio. Distinguished discs that didn’t quite make the cut included Abbado’s Fidelio and ‘In the Beginning’, the fine debut disc from Merton College Choir. The recording industry still seems to defy Norman Lebrecht’s gloomy predictions of a few years ago and let’s hope that will continue to be the case in 2012.

These half dozen discs have given me exceptional pleasure and I hope readers, if they acquire them, will enjoy them as much.

Hector BERLIOZ Grande Messe des Morts Robert Murray (tenor) Gabrieli Players & Consort, Chetham’s School of Music Symphonic Brass Ens, Wroclaw Philharmonic Ch & O/Paul McCreesh rec. 2010 SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD280

Unquestionably, this is my Recording of the Year. Paul McCreesh assembles Anglo-Polish forces similar to those specified by the composer and cleverly mixes period and modern instruments. Superb singing and playing and an authoritative interpretation are captured in magnificent sound. This is a recording which, at last, does full justice to Berlioz’s masterpiece on CD.

Diva, Divo Joyce DiDonato (mezzo) Ch & O l’Opéra National de Lyon/Kazushi Ono rec. 2010 VIRGIN CLASSICS 6419860

A delectable recital from this wonderful singer. The programme concept is imaginative – Joyce DiDonato sets out, in her words, to “bend the genders” - and the execution is superb. I described this richly entertaining disc as “simply sensational” in my original review and I haven’t changed my mind. Pure pleasure from start to finish.

Gustav MAHLER Symphony 2 Kate Royal (soprano) Magdalena Kožená (mezzo); Berlin Radio Ch, Berlin PO/Sir Simon Rattle rec. 2010 EMI CLASSICS 6473632

Sir Simon Rattle’s 1986 CBSO recording was one of his first great successes and the symphony is a work that means a great deal to him. Twenty-four years on he revisits it on CD in a thrilling version taken from live performances. Rattle’s vision of the symphony is as compelling and dedicated as ever. Superbly played by the Berliner Philharmoniker, this is a highlight of the two-year Mahler anniversary celebrations.

Johann Sebastian BACH St. John Passion Bernarda Fink (alto) Mark Padmore (tenor) Peter Harvey (bass) Monteverdi Ch, English Baroque Soloists/Sir John Eliot Gardiner rec. 2003 SOLI DEO GLORIA SDG712

This live performance has real electricity. It benefits from a superb, highly involving Evangelist in Mark Padmore. The other soloists are distinguished while the Monteverdi Choir’s singing and the playing of the English Baroque Soloists is expert. As always, Gardiner’s direction of Bach is perceptive. A dramatic and richly rewarding account of the St. John.

Johann Ludwig BACH Trauermusik RIAS Kammerchor, Akademie für Alte Musik, Berlin/Hans-Christoph Rademann rec. 2010 HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902080

This is my discovery of the year. This is an impressive and ambitious funeral piece by a distant cousin of J S Bach, which is really worth hearing. The music is conceived on a grand scale. The performance, directed by Hans-Christoph Rademann, could scarcely be bettered and Harmonia Mundi’s presentation is sumptuous.

Cantiones Sacrae 1575 Works by Thomas Tallis & William Byrd Alamire/David Skinner rec. 2009/10 OBSIDIAN OBSIDCD706

Surprisingly, this is the first time an ensemble has made a complete recording of the famous joint enterprise by Tallis and Byrd, presenting all thirty-four pieces in the original order of publication. Listening was an enthralling experience. The music is glorious and David Skinner and his flawless consort of singers perform it perfectly. The wonderful acoustic of the chapel at Arundel Castle makes its own important contribution to a very distinguished release.

Brian Reinhart

Back to Melody Works for string quartet by Kilar, Malecki & Czarnecki Opium Qt rec. 2009 CD ACCORD ACD163-2

The Polish answer to the Pavel Haas Quartet (see below), OPiUM have assembled tuneful, enjoyable new music that rewards closer listening too. Anybody who thinks that "appealing/melodic" and "expertly crafted" are now mutually exclusive should hear Czarnecki's tiny String Quartet No 2 (1997), which is both.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Piano Sonatas 30-32 Penelope Crawford (fortepiano) rec. 2010 MUSICA OMNIA MO0308

Crawford's pianism and spiritual tone are (this is not said lightly) nearly as compelling as Gilels, Pollini, and Richter, and her instrument - a Conrad Graf fortepiano from 1835 - is breathtaking. The variation movements are more striking than ever when you hear how Beethoven crafted the music to fit the instrument. An extraordinary surprise.

Havergal BRIAN Symphony 1 The Gothic Susan Gritton (soprano) Bach Ch, Brighton Festival Chorus, Huddersfield Choral Soc, London Symphony Ch, BBC National Ch & O Wales; BBC Concert O/Martyn Brabbins rec. 2011 HYPERION CDA67971/2

My own copy has yet to arrive, and my own review will be appearing in early 2012, but I was standing in the Albert Hall arena for this concert and have heard broadcasts several times since. There is simply no musical accomplishment this year to rival the Proms Gothic; if it's not the MusicWeb 2011 Recording of the Year I shall re-nominate it in 2012.

Antonín DVORÁK String Quartets 12 & 13 Pavel Haas Qt rec. 2010 SUPRAPHON SU 4038-2

I feel shy about parroting Gramophone's Album of the Year pick, but this has been on my list since March. We often talk of ensembles with great spontaneity and liveliness, or ensembles with a rich, luxurious sound; the Pavel Haas Quartet is that rare group that has both. The Thirteenth Quartet here sounds as big and bold as a symphony.

Pablo SARASATE Music for violin & orchestra - Vol. 3 Tianwa Yang (violin) Navarra SO/Ernest Martínez Izquierdo rec. 2009 NAXOS 8.572275

Tianwa Yang's best album yet, which is really saying something, given she is a 22-year-old prodigy whose technical perfection is surpassed by her technicolor sound and emotional fire. The Mozart fantasy is a bit dull (Sarasate's fault) but from 'Navarra' to album's end, the music and playing are so electric there were probably sparks flying off the violin.

Simon Thompson

For me, the best recordings I’ve come across this year have all been DVDs. Is that an indication of the way the classical market has changed in the last few years?

Benjamin BRITTEN Billy Budd John Mark Ainsley (tenor) Jacques Imbrailo (baritone) Glyndebourne Ch, London PO/Mark Elder rec. 2010 OPUS ARTE OA1051D

I said in June that this was the best opera DVD of the year so far. I’m now certain that Glyndebourne’s Billy Budd is the best opera DVD of the whole year. Outstanding in every way.

Arnold SCHOENBERG Moses und Aron Dale Duesing (baritone) Andreas Conrad (tenor) Chorwerk Ruhr Bochum SO/Michael Boder rec. 2009 EUROARTS 2058178

Very different but just as thrilling, this visually and musically splendid Moses is an ideal way into the work for first-timers, as well as a fascinating alternative for those who know the work.

Richard STRAUSS Elektra Iréne Theorin (soprano) Waltraud Meier (soprano) René Pape (bass) Wiener Staatsopernchor, Vienna PO/Daniele Gatti rec. 2010 ARTHAUS MUSIK 101559

The finest Salzburg opera offering we’ve had for a while. Singing of stunning assuredness operates inside a hellish vision of a claustrophobic nightmare. Great to watch as well as to listen to.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN The Complete Symphonies & documentaries about each symphony Vienna PO/Christian Thielemann rec. 2008-10 UNITEL/C MAJOR 705308

Christian Thielemann and the crack players of the Vienna Philharmonic argue that perhaps there is still life the old school of Beethoven interpretation, and they (mostly) succeed convincingly.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Missa Solemnis Elina Garanca (mezzo) Sächischer Staatsopernchor Dresden, Staatskapelle Dresden/Christian Thielemann rec. 2010 UNITEL/CLASSICA 705408

Worthy to set alongside the symphonies, this is a splendid interpretation of Beethoven’s great choral masterpiece, as monumental as the anniversary it celebrates.

The Grand Organ of Canterbury Cathedral John Robinson (organ) rec. 2010 PRIORY PRDVD6

A fantastic example of what a music DVD should be: makes full use of the surround facilities to produce excellent sound quality and unfussy pictures to boot. The extra films are another treat.

Johan van Veen

Lamentarium Atalante/Erin Headley rec. 2010 NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI6152

The repertoire reflects the sense of experiment and invention which is a feature of Italian music of the early 17th-century. The performances of the recently-founded ensemble of Erin Headley are just as exciting as the music. The two singers, Nadine Balbeisi and Theodora Baka, deliver impressive performances.

Alessandro MELANI Motetti Concerto Italiani/Rinaldo Alessandrini rec. 2006 NAÏVE OP30431

Alessandro Melani is an almost unknown quantity. Recent recordings of his music show that he was a truly great composer. His qualities are amply displayed in these wonderful and expressive performances by Concerto Italiano. The Litanie per la beata Vergine are the highlight of this disc.

Giovanni Benedetto PLATTI Chamber Music Ensemble Cordia rec. 2005 BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94007

There is a growing interest in the music of Giovanni Benedetto Platti which has resulted in several recordings. This disc by the Ensemble Cordia is one of the best. Alfredo Bernardini and Alberto Grazzi rank among the best interpreters in the early music scene, and they deliver authoritative performances of Platti's music. In the other members of the ensemble they have congenial partners. If you want to get acquainted with Platti's music this disc is the best possible way to start.

Heinrich SCHÜTZ Musicalische Exequien Vox Luminis/Lionel Meunier rec. 1999/2010 RICERCAR RIC311

The Musicalische Exequien is one of Schütz most impressive works which has received many performances and has frequently been recorded. This interpretation by Vox Luminis has to be considered one of the best. It is full of expression, and has the solemn atmosphere it requires. The delivery is perfect, which is essential in any music by Schütz. The rest of the programme is fitting and given equally good performances.

North German Organ Music Vol. 1 Martin Rost (organ) rec. 2010 MDG 32016242

The Stellwagen organ in Stralsund is one of Germany's most impressive and valuable historical organs. It is perfectly suited for the music of the North German organ school. Martin Rost plays a varied programme with pieces by its main representatives. His performances are of the highest order, and have been perfectly recorded. For organ aficionados this disc is indispensable.

Georg Philipp TELEMANN Kapitänsmusik 1738 Rheinische Kantorei, Das Kleine Konzert/Hermann Max rec. 2007 CPO 7773862

One of a number of Kapitänsmusiken Telemann composed as director of music in Hamburg. This piece is one of the most dramatic, connected to the political situation at the time it was written. Its special character is perfectly explored by soloists, choir and orchestra. The various roles in the serenata are sensitively and convincingly portrayed. Many arias are technically demanding and the soloists leave nothing to be desired. This work has to be considered one of Telemann's masterpieces.

Brian Wilson

The Download Roundups have escalated so much this year – now twice a month – that all my choices are taken from them. Though I can trawl the back catalogue, I’ve limited my six choices to recent releases and reissues. The selection has necessitated the omission of such fine recordings as John Wilson’s resurrection of the MGM Musicals at the Proms and for EMI, the BIS survey of Schumann’s Complete Music for Violin and Orchestra, John Neschling’s recording of Respighi’s Roman Trilogy (BIS) and Mozart Symphonies from Jukka-Pekka Saraste on a budget-price 2-CD set from Virgin Classics which I reviewed on CD.

Josquin des PRÉS Missa De beata virgine, Credo, Missa Ave maris stella Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips GIMELL CDGIM044

Alexander Agricola’s Missa in myne Zyn (Ricercar), Alamire’s Tallis and Byrd’s Cantiones sacræ and their Taverner (both Obsidian) or I Fagiolini in 40-part music by Striggio and Tallis (Decca) yield to The Tallis Scholars’ new recording of Josquin, Missa de beata virgine and Missa ave maris stella, the latest in a superb series.

Tomás Luis de VICTORIA Missa De Beata Maria Virgine, Missa Surge propera Westminster Cathedral Ch/Martin Baker rec. 2010 HYPERION CDA67891

In the quatercentenary of Victoria’s death, The Sixteen released an anthology of his Marian music (Coro). This and several Hyperion Helios reissues at budget price give way in favour of the new Westminster Cathedral recording on Hyperion CDA67891 which also stands as proxy for all their recordings of this composer which I listed in the November 2011/1 Roundup.

Johann Sebastian BACH Cantatas - Vol. 48 Hana Blažiková, Robin Blaze, Satoshi Mizukoshi, Peter Kooij, Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki rec. 2010 BIS BISSACD1881

Masaaki Suzuki’s entire traversal of the works of J S Bach is well worth having. Cantatas: Volume 48 is no exception. If you’re looking to download this or any other BIS recording, eclassical.com is the place to go for price and quality.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Complete Works for Piano and Orchestra Tasmin Little (violin) Tim Hugh (cello) Ch& O Opera North/Howard Shelley (piano) CHANDOS CHAN10695(4)

There have been some excellent Beethoven recordings this year: Emmanuel Krivine’s revelatory survey of the symphonies on period instruments (Naïve) and Riccardo Chailly’s equally fine set (Decca) but I choose his Complete Works for Piano and Orchestra from Howard Shelley and Opera North.

Jean SIBELIUS Complete Symphonies, Karelia, Lemminkäinen & Violin Concerto Leonidas Kavakos (violin) Lahti SO/Osmo Vänskä BIS (from Amazon)

My bargain of bargains has to be the complete Sibelius Symphonies, Lemminkaïnen and Violin Concerto in first-class performances with Osmo Vänskä at the helm; the downloads come at decent bit-rates.

English Music Royal PO/Sir Thomas Beecham rec. 1946-57 EMI CLASSICS 9099152

No recording of English Music overshadows the 6-CD reissue of Beecham’s (mainly) Delius with German, Bantock, Bax and Berners. Even fine new performances of Delius – Appalachia and the Violin and Double Concertos, both from Chandos - must take back seat.

Jonathan Woolf

I don’t deliberately steer clear of new recordings. In fact the majority of things I review are hot off the press. But it’s just that there is such a wealth of historic material around that this is the kind of thing that lodges most passionately in my thoughts, and memories, of a year’s reviewing. Does that sound apologetic, or defensive? Well, then, let’s put it this way: I love historic stuff.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Violin Sonata 9 Gabriel FAURÉ Violin Sonata 1 Albert Sammons (violin) William Murdoch, Edie Miller (piano) rec. 1926/37 PRISTINE AUDIO PACM072

This December 1926 recording of the Kreutzer Sonata by Albert Sammons and William Murdoch has been released before, on LP, but this excellent transfer is worthy of one of the great performances of the work on disc. It’s coupled with a remarkable rarity, a 1937 private, and yellow labelled HMV of Faure’s Op.13 Sonata played by Sammons with the little known Edie Miller. Its commercial release is a remarkable coup and reinforces Sammons’s affinities with French music via his breathtaking but unsentimental lyricism.

Arthur Catterall Vol. 4 - Violin sonatas by Beethoven, Mozart & Brahms William Murdoch, Hamilton Harty (piano) rec. 1923 HISTORIC RECORDINGS HRMP00117

One of Sammons’s leading contemporaries was Arthur Catterall, another discographic pioneer. His late acoustic sonatas here reveal his disciplined classicist strengths in their very highest form. This well transferred disc includes the first ever recordings of two of the works—the Brahms and Mozart sonatas. None of these recordings has ever been reissued until now.

The Art of Gregor Piatigorsky rec. 1924-55 WEST HILL RADIO ARCHIVES WHRA6032

This was the most important instrumental box set to come my way, without question. Six CDs and a DVD contain a plethora of performances by Piatigorsky, many heard here for the first time. Why were the studio performances never released? No idea, but thank goodness this increasingly important label has undertaken such a magnificent retrieval act.

Percy Grainger - The complete 78rpm solo recordings rec. 1908-45 APR 7501

What to say? Grainger’s complete solo piano recordings on 78 - inimitable, teasing, irresistible. True, there are frequent re-recordings of the expected favourites, but that’s no great concern when the performances are so full of life. Some major sonata undertakings are here too, so in all it's an indispensible set.

Leslie Wright

My choice of the discs I reviewed this year was as difficult as last year's and I could have included Shostakovich Cello Concertos with Raphael Wallfisch on Nimbus, Ivana Gavric's debut piano recital on Champs Hill, and Janácek’s orchestral music with Serebrier on Reference Recordings if I hadn't been limited to six. As it is, the six below are some of my current favorites.

Benjamin BRITTEN Gloriana - Symphonic Suite, Cello Symphony, Four Sea Interludes Paul Watkins (cello) BBC Philharmonic/Edward Gardner rec. 2010 CHANDOS CHAN10658

For both performance and sound I find these among the best accounts of this music on record. I was especially moved by Paul Watkins' and Gardner's interpretation of the Cello Symphony which treats the work as a symphony and not a cello concerto.

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH Piano Trios 1 & 2, Seven Blok Romances Susan Gritton (soprano) Florestan Trio rec. 2010 HYPERION CDA67834

This is especially valuable for Susan Gritton's superb rendition of the Blok cycle, but the two trios also receive vital performances.

Béla BARTÓK Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, Out of Doors, Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Andante with Five Variations Claude DEBUSSY En blanc et noir Martha Argerich, Stephen Kovacevich (pianos) Willy Goudswaard, Michael de Roo (percussion) ( rec. 1969/77 DECCA 478 2467

This reissue contains what is still for me the most exciting performance of Bartók’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percusssion, with the rest of the program including Debussy's En Blanc et noir also highly recommendable.

Luigi CHERUBINI Requiem Kammerchor Stuttgart, Hofkapelle Stuttgart/Frieder Bernius rec. 2010 CARUS 83.227

Utilizing period instruments the Kammerchor Stuttgart and Hofkapelle Stuttgart under Frieder Bernius provide a beautiful and at times powerful account of a work too rarely recorded. This even with the odd inclusion of a Gregorian Tractus inserted between the second and third movements.

Johannes BRAHMS Clarinet Trio & Sonatas Karl Leister (clarinet) Ferenc Bognár (piano) Wolfgang Boettcher (cello) rec. 1997 NIMBUS NI5600

Karl Leister and fellow artists in wonderfully mellow and idiomatic renditions of these autumnal masterpieces of late Brahms. There may be more vivid accounts elsewhere, but none that is more satisfying than these.

Benjamin BRITTEN The Prince of the Pagodas Béla BARTÓK The Miraculous Mandarin London Sinf/Oliver Knussen, London PO & Ch/Franz Welser-Möst rec. 1989/92 EMI CLASSICS 9498292

An invaluable reissue of one of Britten's most colorful scores in what may rightly be considered a definitive performance. At the reduced price this two-CD set is a real bargain even if the accompanying Miraculous Mandarin has received better recordings elsewhere.

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