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MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL Recordings Of The Year 2012

Click on cover image to read the full review.

Front Page
Reviewers A-L
MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL FOUNDER Len Mullenger

As I recorded this time last year I had started getting hearing problems with tinnitus and distortion. This has continued throughout the last 12 month with the tinnitus whistling getting louder. So once again I do not think it appropriate for me to select any discs as being the best of the year.

CLASSICAL EDITOR Rob Barnett

Frederick DELIUS 150th Anniversary Edition rec. 1929-1999 EMI CLASSICS 0841752

It was a close call between two big EMI British Composer Edition boxes. The other one was the Holst. Given the riches and allusive power of the Delius and because it is 150 years since the composer’s death the honours must go to this remarkable set. It encompasses every aspect of the composer’s output and often in close to exhaustive and certainly satisfying detail.

Johannes BRAHMS Violin Concerto Jean SIBELIUS Violin Concerto Efrem Zimbalist (violin) Boston SO/Serge Koussevitzky, Cleveland O/Rudolf Ringwall rec. 1944/6 PRISTINE AUDIO PASC307

Pristine are another powerhouse of reissue activity. Their sheer industry and productive diligence tells against them when discs like this are swamped by one monthly avalanche of reissues after another. The Zimbalist disc offers very special performances and the recordings have been made to sound very healthy indeed. Zimbalist’s silky and friction-less legato is combined with a juicy succulence of tone. If there is a touch of Hollywood limelight it has a wonderfully seductive glow. Violin aficionados need to hear these Brahms and Sibelius concertos. It was a close run thing between this and the Hanson-conducted Americana series.

Frank BRIDGE Orchestral works BBC Ntl O Wales/Richard Hickox CHANDOS CHAN10729(6)X

Chandos have been surprisingly abstemious when it comes to reissuing from their princely back catalogue. Bucking that trend is their Richard Hickox Legacy series. Of this series (surely a lot more to come) their unprecedented six CD Frank Bridge orchestral set comes at a good price and in a single well documented and space economical box. It reminds us of the mastery and inspiration of the late Richard Hickox. It also further makes the case for Frank Bridge’s standing alongside that of Walton, RVW and Elgar.

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY Tchaikovsky Edition: Symphonies, tone poems, suites, ballets, operas, chamber works, piano pieces, songs, a cappella choral works BRILLIANT CLASSICS 93980

Just when you think you have a handle on Brilliant Classics they shake themselves free with yet another unique big bargain box. Much of my teenage conversion to classical music was down to Tchaikovsky; not Bach, Beethoven or Brahms. This 60CD set ranges far and wide among every facet of this passionate composer’s oeuvre. It also strikes into comparative listening territory with a selection of historic Russian recordings. Interesting that for the symphonies they did not use the Muti cycle which the label have issued in previous years. Still, their choice of the Rozhdestvensky/LSO last three is deeply satisfying. There’s a lifetime of discovery here and many fine performances that do full justice. It was a close-run thing with their other big composer box: Richard Strauss and I am still at work on their latest Rimsky-Korsakov Edition.

The Merrymakers – British light classics Concert Orchestra/Iain Sutherland rec. 1983/8 ALTO ALC1192

Sutherland's craft and inspiration irradiates this crashingly exuberant and poetic collection. This is really splendid – the epitome of life-enhancing British light music standing out in a crowded market. Alto and Musical Concepts can take a well-deserved bow.

Frederick DELIUS The Delius Collection Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Thomas Allen, Felicity Lott, Julian Lloyd Webber, Eric Parkin, Ambrosian Singers, Royal PO/Norman Del Mar, Eric Fenby, Vernon Handley rec. 1972-90 HERITAGE HTGCD700

Would I include this or not? Yet more British music on a list already dominated by it and by the EMI Delius set? Sorry but it has to be included. These properly acclaimed and refined early digital Unicorn recordings of works are conducted by masters of the Delian idiom: Eric Fenby, Norman Del Mar and Vernon Handley with soloists of similarly exalted empathy. Fabled recordings at last available at a remarkably low price and in a single well presented edition. I hope that Heritage will be able to license other Unicorn originals if this is anything to go by.

Terry Barfoot

Anton BRUCKNER Symphony 9 Berlin PO/Simon Rattle rec. 2012 EMI CLASSICS 9529692

This important addition to the catalogue brings the completed version of the Ninth Symphony to the forefront of attention in the musical world. Bruckner left more of his finale than Mahler did of his Tenth Symphony, and it is well worth hearing in this fine performance by one of the world’s leading orchestras and conductors.

Johannes BRAHMS Schicksalslied, Alto Rhapsody, Warum ist das Licht gegeben, Begräbnisgesang, Gesang der Parzen Ann Hallenberg (mezzo) Collegium Vocale Gent Champs-Élysées O/Philippe Herreweghe rec. 2011 PHI LPH003

Brahms was always at the height of his powers when writing for chorus, but the choral music is not among his best known. These marvellous performances will bring rich rewards for anyone wanting to explore the composer’s genius to the full.

David Barker

Antonín DVORÁK String Quartet 12 'American' Bedrich SMETANA String Quartet 1 Josef SUK Meditation on the Old Czech Hymn Saint Wenceslas Sacconi Quartet rec. 2010 SACCONI RECORDS SACC104

So far and away the best recording I heard this year, I could have left it as my only selection for the year, and not felt that I was shortchanging myself (though as you can I see, I didn't). The Dvorák is given an emotionally charged reading, while the Smetana is so good, you might be forgiven for thinking that it belongs in the masterpiece category along with the American quartet.

Arcangelo CORELLI Concerti Grossi The Avison Ensemble/Pavlo Beznosiuk rec. 2011 LINN CKD411

Too often, the beauty in baroque music is lost by an apparent belief that tempos must be rapid, dynamics extreme and emotion absent. The Avisons get the mix for this set of famous concerti absolutely right. The dance movements in concertos 9-12 are particular standouts.

Nordic Violin Favourites Henning Kraggerud (violin) Dalasinfoniettan/Bjarte Engeset rec. 2011 NAXOS 8.572827

An imaginative selection that avoids the usual suspects, expertly played with just the right sense of playfulness and feeling. The music may not demand too much of you, but it will make you smile, and in these troubled times, that is a pretty good outcome.

Ermanno WOLF-FERRARI Triptychon, Arabesken, Divertimento, Venezianische Suite Munich RSO/Ulf Schirmer rec. 2008 CPO 777567-2

CPO has been slowly releasing Wolf-Ferrari's little-known orchestral works, and each release has been good, but this one is a real standout. The four works all date from the mid 1930s, when they would have seemed very outdated. Hindsight reveals them to be little gems.

Franz SCHUBERT String Quartets 13-15 Artemis Qt rec. 2009 VIRGIN CLASSICS 6025122

A very good year for string quartet recordings, then. A few years ago, I was very impressed by the Artemis recording of the Schumann and Brahms piano quintets (with Leif Ove Andsnes) and with this new release containing my favourite quartet (Death and The Maiden) it was a compulsory purchase. Their Maiden is a very good one but it was the performances of the other two works which were absolute eye-openers.

Nick Barnard

As in previous years - stand-out discs for me need to present interesting repertoire well performed and finely engineered. Two discs stood out but did not make my final six for the simple reason that the artists had featured in previous years and I wanted to highlight other performers too! So with a heavy heart Xiayin Wang's superb recital of Rachmaninov on Chandos and the ever-interesting programme of transcriptions "Magical Places - Evocative Symphonic Poems for Piano Duet" from Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow on Divine Arts do not make the final six. In no particular order:

A Song of Farewell – Music of mourning and consolation The Gabrieli Consort/Paul McCreesh rec. 2009 SIGNUM RECORDS SIGCD281

The first line of my review says it all - "This is a disc of staggering beauty and effortless sophistication". The tradition of British Choral singing at its best.

Josef SUK A Summer’s Tale, Prague BBC SO/Jirí Belohlávek rec. 2012 CHANDOS CHSA5109

Suk is being reappraised slowly but the main work here is still far too little known or appreciated. This stunning performance should help redress the balance - helped by some of the best Chandos engineering I have heard in recent years this is also a fine farewell to Belohlávek as he steps down as the BBC SO's principal conductor.

Johann Sebastian BACH/Ignaz MOSCHELES 5 Studies in melodic counterpoint Ludwig van BEETHOVEN/Carl CZERNY Kreutzer Sonata Paul HINDEMITH Cello Sonata Jelena Ocic (cello) Federico Lovato (piano) rec. 2011 CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72524

An artistic team who do merit a second top six finish in two years. Moscheles' melodic studies based on Bach's Well-tempered Clavier is one of the year's discoveries for sure. Stunningly passionate but assured advocacy throughout from Ocic and Lovato.

Johannes BRAHMS By Arrangement – Volume 1: String quintets Zebra String Trio, Krysia Osostowicz (violin) Richard Lester (cello) James Boyd (viola) rec. 2011 TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0066

Another triumph for a small independent label. Brilliant thought provoking re-evaluations of 'standard' works by Brahms. The double viola version of the clarinet quintet in Brahms' own arrangement is especially rewarding featuring some of the most beautiful viola playing I have ever heard from Steven Dann. Life-enhancing stuff.

Anthony RITCHIE A Bugle Will Do, Symphony 3, French Overture, Revelations New Zealand SO/Tecwyn Evans rec. 2010 ATOLL ACD741

Music of instant appeal and considerable depth and power. Played with real commitment and flair by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Of particular impact was Revelations - a work that resonates in the memory long after the music stops.

British Clarinet Concertos by Stanford, Finzi & Arnold BBC SO/Michael Collins (clarinet) rec. 2012 CHANDOS CHAN10739

Michael Collins has a long and distinguished discography - but I'm not sure even he has produced anything finer than this. Exceptional versions of the Stanford and Arnold 2nd concerti flank an interpretation of the Finzi concerto which raises it to the status of one of the finest British concerti of the 20th Century regardless of instrument.... and Collins conducts proceedings too. A major achievement in beautiful sound.

Byzantion

Giovanni VALENTINI Musiche Concertate 1619 La Capella Ducale, Musica Fiata/Roland Wilson rec. April 2009 CPO 777533-2

Many-sided, expressive, ambitious and aesthetically delectable love songs of considerable originality that deserve to be heard alongside those of Gabrieli and Monteverdi. La Capella Ducale's performances here, often requiring considerable virtuosity, are sensitive, communicative and persuasively authentic-sounding, with ensemble singing as harmonious as the soloists are assured. The period instruments sound splendid, their individual contributions delineated with admirable transparency. Excellent sound.

NEIDHART A Minnesinger and his 'Vale of Tears' - Songs and Interludes Ensemble Leones rec. 2010 NAXOS 8.572449

This superb CD proves that time travel is possible. To listen to these outstanding performances by Ensemble Leones of Neidhart's beautiful music and witty, sophisticated, sometimes outrageous poetry is to be transported back eight hundred years to an incredible period in the history of music and civilisation in general. All who care about that heritage should hear this recording.

Bellerofonte CASTALDI Ferita d'Amore Evangelina Mascardi (theorbo) Mónica Pustilnik (theorbino) Marco Beasley (tenor) rec. 2010 ARCANA A368

Anyone seeking sanctuary from the stresses of modern life could do much worse than to listen to Castaldi's beautiful music and be wafted back to a time long before mobile phones, cars, pop stars and billions of people all competing with each other for attention and the planet's resources. This recital provides an hour's worth of direct nourishment for the soul and the senses. Fine performances, excellent recording.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN/Franz LISZT Symphonies 2 & 6 Yury Martynov (piano) rec. 2011 ZIG-ZAG TERRITOIRES ZZT301

Martynov's performance on an 1837 Erard is little short of sensational, particularly in the Sixth where he tackles the phenomenal difficulty of the 'Storm' movement with a stunning virtuosity that would have had Liszt the performer nodding in approval, and the sublime serenity of the 'Scene beside the Stream' with a spiritual expressiveness that would have moved Liszt the abbé. In Liszt's words, he and Martynov "help to propagate knowledge of the masters and the appreciation of the beautiful" with flying colours.

Tomás MARCO 22 Tarots, Sonata de Fuego Marcello Fantoni (guitar) rec. 2010/11 DYNAMIC CDS708

All three of Marco's works on this bountiful CD are brimming with interest and attractiveness, with memorable melodies, atmospheric harmonies, suave surges of animation and nostalgic moods, all adding up to an irresistible recital by Marcello Fantoni.

Spring Sounds, Spring Seas James Nyoraku SCHLEFER Haru No Umi Redux, Shakuhachi Concerto Daron HAGEN Genji James Nyoraku Schlefer (shakuhachi) Yumi Kurosawa (20-string koto) Orchestra of the Swan/Kenneth Woods, David Curtis rec. 2011 MSR CLASSICS MS1429

An accessible introduction to the timbral and expressive capabilities of the traditional shakuhachi and the 20-string koto, as interpreted by contemporary, but decidedly audience-friendly, American composers also employing normal occidental forces. Recordings as arresting and entertaining as either composer could wish for. Sound quality throughout very good indeed, warm and well balanced.

Dominy Clements

Johannes OCKEGHEM Missa pro defunctis Bengt SØRENSEN Fragments of Requiem Ars Nova Copenhagen/Paul Hillier rec. 2006/11 DACAPO 6.220571

One of those recordings which haunts the memory and brings you back, wondering, ‘was it really like that..?’ Earworm alert for the sensitive – this may end up inhabiting your dreams more than you expected.

Claude DEBUSSY Orchestral Works Royal Scottish Ntl O/Stéphane Denève rec. 2011/12 CHANDOS CHSA5102

Keenly observed performances in recordings which reveal the kinds of colour and depth which has one discovering Debussy anew. With verve and impact as well as ethereal and evocative atmosphere, this set has it all.

Antonio VIVALDI La Cetra Concertos Rachel Podger (violin) Holland Baroque Society rec. 2011/12 CHANNEL CLASSICS CCSSA33412

A real breath of fresh air through your speakers, this release glows with joyous and stylish music making – Rachel Podger is brilliant as ever, and she has chosen her collaborators very well indeed.

Jean RICHAFORT Missa pro defunctis Josquin DES PREZ Nymphes des bois, Miserere mei, Deus Cinquecento rec. 2010 HYPERION CDA67959

As I said in the review, “the music seems to enter your soul though some kind of osmosis rather than something so banal as mere listening.” Truly excellent and rarely heard music performed by masters in their art.

Martha Argerich and Friends - Live from Lugano 2011 rec. 2011 EMI CLASSICS 6447012

Showcasing old favourites and perhaps some new nuggets in a package of festive vibrancy, Martha Argerich’s Lugano Project stands as a unique beacon in classical music. With bags of that irreplaceable ‘live’ feel and never a dull moment, studio sterility is blown away by spontaneity and spicy zip.

Franz SCHUBERT Piano sonata 21 Franz LISZT Piano transcriptions of songs by Schubert Rian de Waal (piano) rec. 2010 VALTHERMOND RECORDINGS

A Holy Grail for intelligent pianists and a horrendously elusive piece to find in an ‘ideal’ performance, this recording of Schubert’s last piano sonata has grown on me every time I have heard it. There’s no such thing as a perfect recording of D960, but this one goes in my Desert Island rucksack.

Michael Cookson

François COUPERIN Exultent superi - Motets Choisis Collegium Novum, Ch New College Oxford/Edward Higginbottom (organ) rec. 2011 NOVUM NCR1384

These are scrupulously prepared performances of François Couperin’s (Couperin le Grand) rarely heard sacred choral works, using soloists from the Choir of New College Oxford directed by Edward Higginbottom. Demonstrating extraordinary assurance I found their vocal sonority and unity particularly impressive. I have not heard a more gratifying recording of sacred music all year. In all respects this Novum release is quite stunning!

Sir Edward ELGAR The Apostles Rebecca Evans, Alice Coote, Paul Groves, Hallé Ch & O/Sir Mark Elder rec. 2012 HALLÉ CDHLD7534

This release of Elgar’s oratorio The Apostles was recorded at one of those very special occasions when the excellence of the music, the quality of the performance and the atmosphere of the live concert combined to produce something quite remarkable. Sir Mark Elder conducted his excellent group of soloists; Chorus of Apostles; Hallé Choir; Hallé Youth Choir and Hallé Orchestra in an intensely powerful and dedicated reading. Elgar’s music was performed beautifully throughout achieving an elusive spirituality. If proof were needed of the importance of Elgar’s The Apostles then this marvellous release is the documentary evidence.

Love and Longing Antonín DVORÁK Biblical Songs Maurice RAVEL Shéhérazade Gustav MAHLER Rückert-Lieder Magdalena Kožená (mezzo) Berlin PO/Sir Simon Rattle rec. 2012 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4790065

Recorded live at the Berlin Philharmonie Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená is in irresistible form with this beautiful and often affecting programme of orchestral songs titled Love and Longing from the pens of Dvorák, Ravel and Mahler. Best of all is the intensely melancholic writing of Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (I am lost to the world) with Kožená communicating a real sense of yearning to moving effect which felt like a spiritual experience. Offering the finest support the Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle are in awesome form.

Gabriel FAURÉ Requiem Francis POULENC Four Motets for a Time of Penitence Sunhae Im (soprano) Konrad Jarnot (baritone) Bavarian Radio Ch, Munich CO/Peter Dijkstra rec. 2010/11 SONY CLASSICAL 88697911082

This disc of French sacred choral music came as a breath of fresh air. The Fauré Requiem is a highly familiar and much loved repertoire work while the Poulenc Motets are nowhere near as well known. These are highly sympathetic performances by the impeccably rehearsed Bavarian Radio Choir and Munich Chamber Orchestra under the assured direction of Peter Dijkstra. Stunningly performed and recorded this disc of French sacred choral repertoire is a marvellous mix of the familiar and the not so familiar.

Robert SCHUMANN Violin Sonatas 1-3 Ulf Wallin (violin) Roland Pöntinen (piano) rec. 2009/10 BIS BIS-SACD-1784

Robert Schumann’s set of three Violin Sonatas are glorious works that are said to mirror the composer’s physical problems and mental torments. These works certainly deserve to be heard far more often. I have been waiting for a recommendable recording of all three violin sonatas for a while and this release fits the bill splendidly. Wallin and Pöntinen provide fresh and vibrant playing that feels completely natural and never forced. With highly impressive playing, great sound and presentation it is hard to find fault with this excellent release.

Eternal Light Elin Manahan Thomas (soprano) Age of Enlightenment O/Harry Christophers UNIVERSAL 4765970

The singing of soprano Elin Manahan Thomas on this recording was a revelation to me, revealing a glorious voice of elevated quality which is so wonderfully suited to Renaissance and Baroque music. Of the sixteen well chosen tracks not one disappoints. In addition there are two ‘killer’ tracks that are exceptional, containing a special element of spirituality that one rarely encounters on record: Handel’s ode Eternal Source of Light Divine and Purcell’s When I am laid in earth (Dido's Lament).

Hubert Culot

Arthur BENJAMIN Violin Concerto, Romantic Fantasy, Elegy, Waltz and Toccata Lorraine McAslan (violin) Sarah-Jane Bradley (viola) Royal Scottish Ntl O/John Gibbons rec. 2011 DUTTON EPOCH CDLX7279

Arthur Benjamin's three concertos for stringed instruments have long been neglected in concert halls as well as on disc. So this beautifully played and excellently recorded release does Benjamin's finely crafted and warmly lyrical music full justice.

E.J. MOERAN Symphony 2 Overture for a Festival John IRELAND Sarnia Royal Scottish Ntl O/Martin Yates rec. 2011 DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7281

There is no such thing as Moeran's Second Symphony although it is well known that he worked on it repeatedly during the last years of his life but failed to complete it to his entire satisfaction. Martin Yates, however, did a really remarkable job in editing, completing and recording this impressive work that sounds like vintage Moeran, which must be credited both to the composer and Yates. This release is also a must for Moeran enthusiasts since it includes the somewhat earlier Overture that quite often hints at the celebrated Symphony in G.

Fernando LOPES-GRAÇA Suite Rústica 1, December Poem, Festival March, Symphony Royal Scottish Ntl O/Álvaro Cassuto rec. 2011 NAXOS 8.572892

Lopes-Graça as well as his slightly younger colleague Joly Braga Santos was an important figure in Portuguese contemporary music. His music had been well served many years ago but most recordings are now out of print. So this generous release including his impressive Symphony is most welcome and is the best possible introduction to Lopes-Graça's music so far. Both performances and recording are excellent.

Ernest BLOCH Schelomo, From Jewish Life, Voice in the Wilderness Max BRUCH Kol Nidrei Natalie Clein (cello) BBC Scottish SO/Ilan Volkov rec. 2011 HYPERION CDA67910

This is the only release featuring the three works for cello and orchestra of Bloch. This in itself would be enough to commend it, but the other decisive asset is the immaculate playing and the subtle musicality of Natalie Clein that are a pure joy from first to last.

Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA Cello Concerto 2, Modificata, Percussion Concerto Truls Mørk (cello) Colin Currie (percussion) Helsinki PO/John Storgårds rec. 2011 ONDINE ODE1178-2

The main attractions in this release are the two recent concertos i.e. the Second Cello Concerto and the Percussion Concerto which are amongst his finest works while the inclusion of a revised version of an early work Modificata also adds to one's appreciation of the composer's stylistic progress over his long creative life.

Robert Farr

Last year I noted that I found many of the sixty or so opera recordings I had reviewed during the year difficult to consider, either as Recordings of the Month or under the present heading, despite the singing often being good. This was because on video the current predilection in Europe for avante garde or regietheater productions are more to do with being seen to be different, or more tenuously, relevant to our present times than doing justice to the composers creative intentions. The sung words might be about swords, but the scene on the screen involves armalite rifles and terrorists with faces covered by a balaclava with sadistic practices ramming the message home. An added bete noire this year has been up dated productions with minimalist sets. However, these tendencies have been partly offset by the issue, or re-issue, of productions from yesteryear of a more traditional nature, even if they are in black and white or 4:3 aspect ratio, my selections involve some of the latter.

George Frideric HANDEL Xerxes Ann Murray (mezzo) Valerie Masterson (soprano) Lesley Garrett (soprano) English National Opera Ch & O/Sir Charles Mackerras rec. 1988 ARTHAUS MUSIK 100077

It is very difficult to obtain a recording of a Handel opera that is not updated in some way. This classic excellently sung production, conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras, manages to break this mould and portray the work in a meaningful natural context and staging.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Die Zauberflöte Ileana Cotrubas (soprano) Peter Schreier (tenor) Edita Gruberova (soprano) Vienna State Opera Ch, Vienna Philharmonic O/James Levine rec. 1982 ARTHAUS MUSIK 107199

This 1982 production from the Salzburg Festival is outstanding in respect of singing, production and orchestral playing.

Gaetano DONIZETTI Anna Bolena Anna Netrebko (soprano) Elina Garanca (mezzo) Vienna State Opera Ch & O/Evelino Pidò rec. 2011 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 0734725

Soloists Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca lead an excellent cast and performance of the opera that launched Donizetti’s career in 1830.

Giuseppe VERDI Il trovatore Sondra Radvanovsky (soprano) Marcelo Alvarez (tenor) Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone) Metropolitan Opera Ch & O/Marco Armiliato rec. 2011 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 0734797

Reviewed by colleagues, it was a toss up whether this Metropolitan Opera performance, or that of Macbeth from Covent Garden, made it onto my list. Both are available on Blu Ray as well as DVD.

A Musical Odyssey in St Petersburg Renée Fleming (soprano) Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone) Ivari Ulja, Olga Kern (piano) State Hermitage O/Constantine Orbelian rec. 2009 DECCA 0743383

Wonderful singing in fabulous locations with splendid photography of the city and its environs.

A Musical Journey: Norway - A musical tour of Troldhaugen, Bergen and the Norwegian landscape. Music by Edward Greig. NAXOS 2.110274

I have reviewed several of this series; many are confused in their objectives with boring repetitive content. A few, such as this and that of Seville, are worth seeing and hearing and, at their modest price, would make good Christmas stocking fillers.

Göran Forsling

By sheer coincidence I have picked six recitals with as many wonderful women. Still I regret to have to leave out Felicity Lott’s superb Poulenc disc and Cecilia Bartoli’s much hyped but truly excellent Mission with arias by the little known Steffani. There was also a twofer, Ladies Sing Baroque, with marvellous recordings from the last decade or so and not a dull aria, not a reading that wasn’t top-notch. I would also have liked to include Daniel Behle’s Strauss recital. And there were several others that have enriched my reviewing year. After all there are many more good than bad discs issued. Isn’t that comforting?

Liaisons Chen Reiss (soprano) L’arte del mondo/Werner Ehrhardt rec. 2010 ONYX 4068

It’s always a pleasure to hear a young singer for the first time. Chen Reiss isn’t exactly new, her first disc with songs by Schubert and Donizetti was issued in 2007, but I hadn’t heard it and thus was really stunned by the beauty of her tone and her accomplished singing in repertoire that is largely un-hackneyed.

Nilla Pierrou & en Stradivarius rec. 1974-93 OAK GROVE CD2027

Nilla Pierrou was, on the other hand, well known to me, having heard her on a number of occasions in her native Sweden. Having recently retired she has been spending a lot of time searching out recordings from sundry archives and the resulting three-disc box is delightful. It is in particular valuable for the inclusion of several rarities. Her playing is always tasteful and her tone is golden. Best of all: there is another box recently issued which, at the time of writing this, I haven’t yet had time to listen to.

Franz SCHUBERT Bei dir allein! Camilla Tilling (soprano) Paul Rivinius (piano) rec. 2010 BIS BISSACD1844

When I first heard Camilla Tilling more than fifteen years ago I was convinced that here was a rising star. As early as that she was an accomplished Lieder interpreter, and her two recent song CDs – there was a Strauss recital a couple of years ago – are ample proof that she has developed into one of the foremost of her trade. This is Lieder-singing with rare insight and deep involvement.

Hector BERLIOZ Herminie, Les Nuits d’été Maurice RAVEL Shéhérazade Véronique Gens (soprano) O Ntl des Pays de la Loire/John Axelrod rec. 2000-10 ONDINE ODE1200-2

On a previous disc, also a Recording of the Year, former baroque specialist Veronique Gens ventured into the 19th century world and sang Malheureux Roi from Berlioz’s Les Troyens marvellously. On this new disc she further explores his music and comes down with a disc that challenges the former hegemony in Les nuits d’ètè: Regine Crespin and Janet Baker. As a bonus we also get the rarely heard Herminie.

Amoretti Arias by Gluck, Mozart & Grétry Christiane Karg (soprano) Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen rec. 2012 BERLIN CLASSICS 0300389BC

Christiane Karg was also a new name to me and she too explores largely unknown territory. Three of the arias are even world premiere recordings and all fourteen were composed within a ten-year-period, 1774 – 1784. The music is wonderful and so is her singing. “Don’t miss this disc!” I wrote in my original review. I haven’t changed my mind.

Romantique Elina Garanca (mezzo) Filarmonica del Teatro Comunale di Bologna/Yves Abel rec. 2012 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4790071

My last choice is another of my recent favourites, the Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca. The musical world is well endowed with excellent mezzos and Garanca is no doubt one of the foremost. Besides good looks she has the creamiest voice imaginable and she uses it with the utmost taste. Some listeners may find her cool, I would say that she sometimes sings with restraint, which in most cases is preferable to too much heart on the sleeve. Even her repertoire is slightly off the beaten track.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

Richard WAGNER Der Ring des Nibelungen Vienna PO/Georg Solti rec. 1958-68 DECCA 4783702

The remastered Decca recording from 1958-65 has to be one of the most important issues of the year. Notwithstanding some minor cavils at the performance and the remastering this remains the best ever recording of Wagner's massive masterwork, and the studio recording overcomes the inevitable errors that arise during live performances.

Claude DEBUSSY Complete Orchestral Works O Ntl de Lyon/Jun Märkl rec. 2007-11 NAXOS 8.509002

This is quite simply the most comprehensive recording ever made of Debussy's orchestral music, including many arrangements by other hands. Individual performers may have surpassed some of the items here, but Jun Märkl and his Lyon forces do the music proud.

Giacomo PUCCINI The Great Operas Jussi Björling, Victoria de los Angeles, Maria Callas, Tito Gobbi, Giuseppe di Stefano rec. 1953-8 REGIS RRC9011

This compendium is inevitably a mixed bag, but this budget compilation includes the best of the recordings of Puccini operas made in the 1950s, some of which remain among the best ever recorded. A real bargain.

Maurice RAVEL Piano Trio, Alborada del gracioso Kees OLTHUIS Voyage à l’horizon … Seul Trio Suleika rec. 2010 COBRA 0034

This disc must be recommended for the piano trio Voyage a l'horizon...seul by Dutch composer Karl Olthuis, quite simply one of the most beautiful pieces of modern music that I have heard this year. It is superbly played by the Trio Suleika, who do well by the Ravel items too.

Gustav HOLST Cotswolds Symphony, A Winter Idyll, Walt Whitman Overture, Indra, Japanese Suite Ulster O/JoAnn Falletta rec. 2011 NAXOS 8.572914

It is marvellous to see Naxos and JoAnn Falletta riding to the rescue of Holst's scandalously neglected early music (a neglect aided and abetted by the composer's daughter). All of these works have been recorded before, but Alsop brings a fresh eye to the music.

Choruses for males voices and orchestra Lund Student Singers, Malmö Opera O/Alberto Hold-Garrido rec. 2011 NAXOS 8.572871

I include this disc purely and simply because of the rarity of some of these works on disc, even if the performances sometimes leave something to be desired. It is disgraceful that these pieces, some of which are superb examples of their composer's work, have been almost totally neglected.

Michael Greenhalgh

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Symphonies 5 & 6 Basel CO/Giovanni Antonini rec 2008/9 SONY 88697648162

Take the Pastoral Symphony, here’s warmth of tone yet lightness of articulation and a rhythmic precision intrinsic to the performance so you feel the whole piece growing organically. Such a combination of horizontal and vertical clarity is easier to achieve in, but also a particular delight of, chamber orchestra performances.

Benjamin BRITTEN A Ceremony of Carols, Saint Nicholas Trinity College Cambridge Ch, Holst Singers, City of London Sinfonia, /Stephen Layton rec. 2007/12 HYPERION CDA67946

A Ceremony of Carols was first performed by women’s voices and those here sing so well: as fresh as boys but more creamy and with sensitive attention to dynamics. There’s similarly attractive choral work in Saint Nicholas but what you remember more is Allan Clayton’s expressive interpretation of the anguished ariosos.

Benjamin BRITTEN Violin Concerto, Double Concerto, Lachrymae Anthony Marwood (violin) Lawrence Power (viola) BBC Scottish SO/Ilan Volkov rec. 2011 HYPERION CDA67801

In Britten’s Violin Concerto Anthony Marwood superbly conveys a lyricism that is also anguished with a burning forward momentum and you appreciate the almost tangibly unified approach by soloist and orchestra. It’s good as well to have the less familiar Double Concerto performed with a sense of youthful exploration and exhilaration.

The Word Unspoken Sacred music by Byrd & de Monte Gallicantus/Gabriel Crouch (baritone) rec. 2008/11 SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD295

With contrasting examples of their most sober works here’s a fascinating exchange of motets between Philippe de Monte and Byrd, the former beauteously sorrowing in meditation, the latter light and airy in serene conviction. But what sets this disc apart is the gorgeous attention to vocal colour and glowing smoothness of tone.

George Frideric HANDEL Concerti grossi, op. 3 Concerto Copenhagen/Lars Ulrik Mortensen rec. 2009 CPO 777488-2

Decorum is the watchword here. Brightness and clarity too but above all a sense of the discipline of form and satisfaction in the expression of this. These are performances to savour again and again: they don’t try to knock you off your feet but quietly shepherd you along.

Joseph HAYDN Piano Sonatas - Vol. 3 Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano) rec. 2011 CHANDOS CHAN10689

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet takes risks. Haydn becomes chameleon like in ever changing variety of mood: now pausing, now bounding forward, now smoothly flowing, now trenchantly snappy. Though there’s a fundamental lyricism it’s tempered by bold assertions. These are highly emotive accounts which nevertheless also seamlessly project the drama of the music.

Ian Lace

Frederick DELIUS A Mass of Life, Prelude and Idyll Janice Watson (soprano) Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo) Andrew Kennedy (tenor) Alan Opie (baritone) Bach Ch; Bournemouth SO/David Hill rec. 2011 NAXOS 8.572861-62

This year there have been many memorable new recordings of Delius’s beautiful music, but this one impressed me the most. The reviewer has well said, “David Hill brings the score to life in a way that you seldom hear…”

E.J. MOERAN Sketches for Symphony 2, Overture for a Festival John IRELAND Sarnia Royal Scottish Ntl O/Martin Yates rec. 2011 DUTTON EPOCH CDLX7281

Thanks to Martin Yates sympathetic realisation and completion of Moeran’s sketches for his Symphony No. 2, we now have another Moeran treasure; and Yates’s imaginative orchestration of John Ireland’s Sarnia is equally compelling.

Roger QUILTER Complete Piano Music David Owen Norris (piano) rec. 2004 EM RECORDS EMRCD002

Owen Norris’s notable performance brings back cherished memories of Quilter’s exquisitely fragile, magical music redolent of a gone-by ‘innocent era - a comfortable, safe, golden age of fantasy and childhood dreams’.

Alfredo CASELLA Concerto for Orchestra, A notte alta, La donna serpente Martin Roscoe (piano) BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda rec. 2011 CHANDOS CHAN10712

Colourful, melodic and cinematically exciting. What more could Late Romantic music fans want?

Joby TALBOT Alice in Wonderland Lauren Cuthbertson, Sergei Polunin, Edward Watson, Simon Russell Beale Royal Opera O, Covent Garden/Barry Wordsworth rec. 2011 OPUS ARTE OA1056D

An entrancing, imaginative new look at the familiar story. Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography is brilliant, the costumes glitter and the special effects amaze. Lauren Cuthbertson as Alice, on the brink of womanhood, mesmerizes and Jody Talbot’s colourful percussive music fits very well.

Aleksandr GLAZUNOV Raymonda Olesia Novikova, Friedemann Vogel, O Teatro alla Scala/Michail Jurowski rec. 2011 ARTHAUS 101630

A lavish production; a feast for the eye; with marvellous dancing from the principals especially Olesia Novikova as Raymonda - her dancing always poised and assured, expressive, elegant and graceful – her point work is awesome.

Oleg Ledeniov

Johann Sebastian BACH Goldberg Variations, 15 Sinfonias (arr. Sitkovetsky) Dmitry Sitkovetsky (violin) Yuri Zhislin (viola) Luigi Piovano (cello) rec. 2010 NIMBUS NI6199

One of the most beloved musical works ever written, arranged with such affection and skill that the result sounds in no way inferior to the original, and performed with authority and passion. This is music of a kind that can bring tears of happiness to one's eyes. And an arrangement that should enter textbooks.

Carl NIELSEN Symphonies 2 & 3 New York Philharmonic/Alan Gilbert rec. 2011/12 DACAPO 6.220623

A disc I just can't stop listening to! The old lethargic New York Philharmonic is gone, and this is a highest-voltage reading of two striking symphonies. Oh, the brass! The conducting is inspired, and the result is completely magical and stunning. Sorry, have to run back to listen to it!

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