EIGES Piano Music - Jonathan Powell rec. 2012
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0215
Eiges was completely unknown to me until this disc. His music is aristocratic, confident and steeped in romantic endeavour and sentiment. In a strange way it is also kindly without being bland. Stylistically there's a Medtner connection and not just in the choice of titles. The fellow feeling is pretty clear but there's no suggestion that Eiges is a counterfeit of his contemporary. Superbly packaged and documented. Toccata and Jonathan Powell do these rare and treasurable things so well. Paul HINDEMITHThe Long Christmas Dinner - American SO/Leon Botstein
rec. 2014 BRIDGE 9449
Based on a Thornton Wilder play this fifty minute one act opera at last sees the light of day. It's a deeply poignant piece made all the more so by some very moving music. Hindemith takes on the sophistication of something close to music theatre rather than opera with a capital O. It's a very touching discovery.
Orchestral music - Estonian Ntl SO/Neeme Järvi rec. 2013 CHANDOS CHAN10849
Neeme Järvi's discs over the last five years or so have met with a wide range of reaction from condemnation to unleashed praise. I always want to hear his next effort and have been surprised how often he has drawn me in with his gloriously recorded, generous and annotated Chandos collections from composers I might not have thought to explore. These have included such denizens of the 78 and LP era as Chabrier, Suppé and Offenbach. This disc lets us hear the accessible and folk-influenced music of Slovakian composer Suchon. Chandos and Järvi will continue to surprise us. Who knows - how about a couple of symphonies by the Romanian composer Dimtrie Cuclin?
HADLEY Orchestral music - BBC Concert O/Rebecca Miller rec. 2014
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX7319
Dutton Epoch continue at full throttle. Their forays into rare repertoire are well informed and directed and boast a high proportion of first recordings. This disc of orchestral pieces by the American Henry Hadley allows us to hear music that in its lavish indulgences may remind us of Bantock or Schmitt or Gaubert. All credit to the conductor Rebecca Miller. I hope that this signals an American rarities series from her.
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony 5 International Festival
O/Leopold Stokowski rec. 1973 CAMEO CLASSICS CC9007CD
For all that many find him defiant against or irreverent towards the composer's wishes Stokowski recordings remain most often the source of the volatile and the inspired. This Tchaikovsky 5 is a truly exciting performance which for all the occasional fluffs and momentary disasters cries out to be heard. Studio perfection is too often won at the expense of lively music-making. Give me these imperfections every time. While it does not supplant Monteux and the LSO on Vanguard it’s a visceral version which takes on all comers. Very special. The rehearsal is also no mere time-filler.
Cyril ROOTHAM Symphony 2, Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity -
BBC Scottish SO, BBC Concert O/Vernon Handley rec. 1975/84 LYRITA REAM2118
Here at last are two pretty much unknown ambitious British choral-orchestral works of the first half of the last century. The Symphony No. 2 is unassertive, philosophical and visionary written during his last days and completed by Patrick Hadley. The Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity is Christmas music but of an emotive nature and on a seething majestic scale. It's a bonus that these two BBC broadcasts of the 1970s and 1980s featured the late Vernon Handley as conductor. I declare an interest here being associated with Lyrita in a modest way in their excitingly reborn recording and reissue programme.
David Barker (Website Manager)
Three of my choices are composers unknown to me before the chosen recording, which makes it a very good year for a hunter of the "unsung" composer.
de CASTÉRA Concert, Sicilienne, Piano Trio - Linda Hall (piano),
Samuel Magill (cello), Lucian Rinando (flute), Dean LeBlanc (clarinet),
Elmira Darvarova (violin) rec. 2011 AZUR CLASSICAL AZC109
The trio was my main interest here and very fine indeed, but the Concert for flute,
clarinet, cello and piano was an unexpected delight.
Wenzel KALLIWODA Violin Concertinos, Overtures - Ariadne
Daskalakis (violin) Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens CPO
I discovered Kalliwoda nine years ago through a pair of symphonies on
CPO which I made a Recording of the Year. I thought they must have
given up on him, given the significant time gap, but mercifully someone
at the label remembered him. Let's hope it is isn't as long a wait
for the next release.
KUULA Festive March, South Ostrobothnian Suites, Prelude and
Fugue - Turku PO/Leif Segerstam rec. 2015 ONDINE ODE12702
It is to be regretted that Kuula's orchestral output amounts to little
more than the four works presented here, so enjoyable are they. While
they certainly show the influence of Sibelius - how could any Finnish
composer of that era not - Kuula definitely has his own voice.
MENDELSSOHN Piano Trios - Sitkovetsky Trio rec. 2014 BIS BIS2109 SACD
Magnificent performances in sound that is as good as I have heard in
chamber music. I await more recordings from this brilliant young
ensemble. No more need be said.
WEICHLEIN Encaenia Musices - Capella Vitalis Berlin
Easily my discovery of the year. Glorious Baroque chamber music,
beautifully recorded and performed. More please.
VIVALDII concerti dell’addio - Europa Galante/Fabio
Biondi (violin) rec. 2014 GLOSSA GCD923402
The affinity of Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante for Vivaldi is quite
extraordinary. After a few less than successful excursions
(Telemann, Mozart) they are triumphantly back on home territory.
Richard de LALANDESymphonies pour les soupers du roi -
La Symphonie du Marais/Hugo Reyne rec. 1990 HARMONIA
This is the only complete set of these works, famous by reputation
but not by performance. Fortunately it is a very good one, which was
commanding high prices on the second-hand market before being reissued.
Hugo Reyne has used his imagination in realizing them from the score and
they are a delight.
STRAVINSKYLes Noces, Mass, Cantata - Carolyn Sampson,
RIAS Kammerchor, musikFabrik/Daniel Reuss rec. 2005 HARMONIA
These works are all masterpieces but are rarely performed or recorded.
Under Daniel Reuss’ expert direction Les Noces fizzes with life
and joy while the withdrawn and hermetic cantata is brooding and intense.
The Mass has a grave beauty.
ENESCU Symphony 4, Nuages d’Automne sur les Foręts, Chamber
Symphony - NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover/Peter Ruzicka rec. 2013/4
Enescu took modesty about his compositions to an extreme, often not
completing or issuing some of works. He left his fourth symphony fully
sketched but only partly orchestrated. Pascal Bentoiu has finished the
task, as he did for the fifth symphony, and the result is a strange and
compelling work in a distinctive late Romantic idiom. The other works are
worth having too, particularly the Chamber Symphony, Enescu’s last work.
BRAHMS Serenades - Gewandhaus O Leipzig/Riccardo Chailly rec.
2014 DECCA 4786775
If you want the serenades in a fine modern recording, and every
Brahmsian who loves the symphonies should acquire them, then Chailly’s
new version is now the one to go for.
LISZT Sacred Choral Music - Kammerchor I Vocalisti/Hans-Joachim
Lustig rec. 2015 CARUS 83.465
Liszt’s smaller choral works are almost unknown but here is a fine
selection of them which should both give pleasure and attract interest
from cathedral and church choirs. The idiom may seem reminiscent of
Bruckner’s much better known motets but in fact the influence goes the
other way. The last number in particular, a setting of most of Psalm 137,
is a jewel.
A diverse selection this year but all still ticking the boxes for my ROTY
imperatives; musical and technical excellence supporting revelatory
performances - all of these discs comfortably fulfil these criteria
The latest symphony by New Zealand composer Anthony Ritchie - a very
personal and powerful response to the earthquake that struck the country
in 2011. Ritchie is a prolific composer but this strikes me as one of
his profoundest and best works
& Overtures for the Radio Dresden State Opera O/Ernst
Theis rec. 2006-11 CPO 777838-2
Something of a revelatory set. Brilliant - in every sense - performances
of little known or forgotten music written for the Radio in its earliest
days. The vibrancy of the compositions is matched by the idiomatic and
What a glorious piece this is and what a remarkable choir the
combined Kansas City and Phoenix Chorales are. By no means the most
idiomatic performance but one that re-imagines this extraordinary work as
a series of extended meditations. All aided by choral singing of
superhuman brilliance caught in typically gorgeous Chandos sound - soul
Wolfgang KORNGOLD Piano Concerto Benjamin BRITTEN
Diversions - Nicolas Stavy (piano) Lille Ntl O/Paul Polivnick rec. 2014
An imaginative and interesting coupling that goes a long way to
justifying the idea that the Korngold left-hand concerto is one of his
best but least appreciated works. Thrillingly dynamic performances and
excellent committed playing. The sign of a good disc is when you want
more of the same.
GRAENER Piano Concerto, Symphonietta, Drei Schwedische Tänze,
Divertimento - Oliver Triendl (piano) Munich RO/Alun Francis rec. 2011
CPO 777 697-2
This disc is included because of one work - the achingly beautiful and
moving Symphonietta written In Memoriam of the composer's young son.
None of the rest of the music rises to the same level and the
performances are good and committed without being uninsurable. But that
MASCAGNI Rapsodia Satanica Nino ROTAIl
Gattopardo - Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz/Frank
Strobel rec. 2005 CAPRICCIO C5246
A complete surprise - a major score for a film pre-dating just about
every other major work in the genre written by an Italian opera
composer. Great fun - very evocative, by no means profound but performed
with real gusto and panache.
Sebastian BACHThe Art of Fugue - Angela Hewitt
(piano) rec. 2013 HYPERION CDA67980
Angela Hewitt’s recording of Bach’s The Art of Fugue is to my mind a breakthrough in the performance evolution of this most enigmatic of scores. Hewitt transforms BWV 1080 into something juicy and enjoyable rather than dry and endurable, giving each line a vocal and narrative quality to create this year’s ‘must-have’ Bach release.
The refined poetry of Claire Huangci’s playing combines with her imaginative sequencing of her Scarlatti sonatas into groupings that form their own pleasing Suites and Sonatas. This is a quietly spectacular expression of some of this year’s most enduring pianism and musicianship.
STEINBERG Passion Week Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV
Chant Arrangements for Holy Week - Cappella Romana/Alexander Lingas rec.
2014 CAPPELLA ROMANA CR414-CD
One of the big choral rediscoveries of recent years combined with a stunning performance and recording, Steinberg’s sublime and eloquently moving Passion Week is a work to which I’ve returned again and again this year.
Contemporary opera can be a bit arduous, but Rodion Shchedrin’s The Left-Hander is a genuine masterpiece and stuffed so full of good things that you can lose yourself in its absurd world and emerge entertained, stimulated and educated.
Apkalna (organ) Works by Bach & Glass rec. 2013 OEHMS
Rich and generous, this organ recording has something glorious about it at every level: Bach in which you can bathe, and Glass as refreshing as menthol. With spectacular sonics and superlative skill in performance, this is a set that comes complete with its own magnetic field.
PÄRTMusica Selecta - A Sequence by Manfred Eicher rec.
1983-2011 ECM NEW SERIES 2454/55
As far as this year’s ECM catalogue is concerned it was a toss-up between the haunting Gesualdo on ECM or celebrating Arvo Pärt’s 80th, and in the end it had to be Manfred Eicher’s richly rewarding celebration of the composer who started it all as far as the ‘New Series’ was concerned.
The year 2015 has produced a large number of excellent recordings and choosing a list of 6 releases has been difficult, not helped by 3 of the finest arriving very late in the year. There are a number enjoyable releases that I haven’t been able to include on my final list:
When Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony was recorded live in 2014 I was part of the Bridgewater Hall audience. This is a quite outstanding account by the Hallé with soloists Katherine Broderick and Roderick Williams and choirs under Sir Mark Elder on the Hallé own label. ‘The Tchaikovsky Album’ from the RLPO under its Russian maestro Vasily Petrenko may consist of popular Tchaikovsky orchestral works but the level of performance is outstanding on the Classic FM label. Earlier this year I visited Richard Strauss’s villa in Garmisch, Bavaria which added a special dimension to my listening of his masterworks Don Juan and Ein Heldenleben played live and so remarkably by the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under the great Mariss Jansons on BR Klassik.
Brahms’s two orchestral Serenades are not given the attention they deserve in the concert hall or the recording studio so it’s pleasing to have this excellent new Decca recording from such a renowned orchestra as the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig under Riccardo Chailly. I have obtained much enjoyment from the excellent Prokofiev cycle of symphonies from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Kirill Karabits on Onyx. In the chamber music field there is the desirable and beautifully produced release of rare and colourful ‘Russian’ music by Rimsky-Korsakov, Bortkiewicz and Khachaturian. These works reflecting the exotic sounds of the Orient are admirably played by the Zürich Ensemble on Paladino Music.
All of a remarkably high standard I have also relished a number of opera recital releases from Joyce DiDonato titled ‘Stella di Napoli’ rare Neapolitan bel canto arias on Erato; ‘Power Players’ Russian arias for bass sung by Ildar Abdrazakov on Delos; ‘The French Collection’ of opera arias from tenor Piotr Beczala on Deutsche Grammophon, ‘Fiamma del Belcanto’ arias from bel canto to verismo from soprano Diana Damrau on Erato; baritone Christian Gerhaher singing ‘Mozart Arias’ on Sony and ‘Héroďque’ of French arias by tenor Bryan Hymel on Warner Classics. Finally there is a most desirable 8 CD box set of Dvorak Sacred works and Cantatas on Supraphon of which Saint Ludmila and The Spectre’s Bride are real discoveries for me.
SCHUBERT Symphony 9 - O Mozart/Claudio Abbado rec. 2011 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4794652
Every now and then a new release comes along of such excellence that it virtually becomes a fixture on your CD Player. One such recording is from the late Claudio Abbado conducting Orchestra Mozart in the Schubert Symphony No. 9 in C major ‘The Great’. Assembled at live concerts in 2011 at Bologna Auditorium Manzoni and also Bolzano Auditorium the audio result feels seamless. In the assured hands of Abbado and the Orchestra Mozart I haven’t heard a more beautifully played and recorded account of the Schubert Symphony No. 9 than this gold standard Deutsche Grammophon release.
DONIZETTIDon Pasquale - John Del Carlo, Anna Netrebko, Metropolitan Opera
Ch & O/James Levine rec. 2010 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 0734645 Blu-ray
Originally released in 2011, I only came upon this Blu-ray of Donizetti’s enduring comedy favourite Don Pasquale for review fairly recently. I admit being rather sceptical how soprano Anna Netrebko would handle the comedy role of Norina but she gives a terrific performance. Equally impressive is the treasurable John Del Carlo in the role of elderly bachelor Don Pasquale. Otto Schenk’s astute staging is captured superbly by video director Gary Halvorson. For unadulterated entertainment this live Met production is an absolute buffo delight from start to finish.
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Symphonies 5 & 7 -
Pittsburgh SO/Manfred Honeck
rec. 2014 REFERENCE RECORDINGS FR-718 SACD
The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Manfred Honeck is on world class form with Beethoven’s Symphonies No’s 5 and 7. This release only arrived a short time ago but its merits were evident immediately. In these live accounts one senses an elevated level of musical intelligence from Honeck together with an unyielding structural coherence. Outstandingly performed and recorded this special Reference Recordings release conducted by Manfred Honeck sits comfortably alongside the finest recordings in the catalogue.
SCRIABIN Symphonies 3 & 4 -
London SO/Valery Gergiev rec. 2014 LSO LIVE LSO0771 SACD
The hundredth anniversary year of the death of Alexander Scriabin falls in 2015. Fittingly comes this quite stunning new release from Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra of The Divine Poem and the Poem of Ecstasy on the LSO Live label Another very recent arrival I have been captivated by these thrilling live performances full of spectacular colour and I sense a rarely achieved, special connection between performers and Scriabin’s enigmatic sound world.
PUCCINITurandot - Mlada Khudoley, Riccardo Massi,
Vienna SO/Paolo Carignani
rec. 2015 C MAJOR 731504 Blu-ray
Of the Puccini operas Turandot seems best suited to a spectacular production and surely there is none more magnificent than this staging on the vast floating stage on Lake Constance from the Bregenz Festival. Marco Arturo Marelli’s production replicates the Great Wall of China, terracotta in colour and brightly lit, in a dragon shape has battlements 72 metres long by 27 metres high with two towers and a life-size terracotta army of 200 plus figures. This creation of an outdoor visual and audio spectacular for opera lovers is impressively captured by video director Felix Breisach. An extremely well chosen cast includes standout performances from tenor Riccardo Massi as Calaf and soprano Guanqun Yu as Liů.
ADAMSAbsolute Jest, Grand Pianola Music -
San Francisco SO/Michael Tilson Thomas, John Adams rec. 2013/15 SFS MEDIA SACD SFS0063
At the 2015 Musikfest Berlin I reported from the German premičre of John Adams’s Absolute Jest and this album has been recorded by the same forces the Saint Lawrence String Quartet and San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas. Adams, the acceptable face of minimalism, describes the captivating Absolute Jest for string quartet and orchestra as “a colossal twenty-five minute Scherzo.” Here Adams displays his love of Beethoven string quartets by taking and cleverly developing material from the Scherzos of the String Quartets, Op. 131, 135 and the Große Fuge, together with the Seventh and Ninth Symphonies and ‘Waldstein’ Sonata.
Unconventionally scored for two pianos, wind, percussion and three amplified female voices in Grand Pianola Music Adams employs whimsical, eclectic mix of styles which includes Sousa-like marches to Christian revivalist anthems. Superbly played and recorded this release will unquestionably appeal to a much wider audience than John Adams devotees.
Over the last twelve months I had the opportunity to listen to a
number of CDs of quality so that it proved a rather difficult task to
select just a handful of them for this year's Recordings of the Year.
Since I had to decide which recordings to put forward I decided to choose
them on the basis of the quality of the music, the quality of the
recording and of the performances as well as the interest of the
programmes that these discs offered. By so doing, I am perfectly
conscious that this unashamedly subjective choice does leave many
worthwhile recordings out of the game. Anyway, here they are.
SEIBERUlysses, Elegy, Three Fragments - Alexander
Young, BBC Chorus, London SO/David Atherton, Melos Ens
rec. 1960/72 LYRITA SRCD348
Seiber's achievement seems now to be re-assessed through some recent
recordings of his music. I think of the fairly recent recording of his
three string quartets on Delphian. Now, this Lyrita release fills an
important gap in Seiber's discography with a very fine broadcast
performance of his cantata Ulysses as well as with a most welcome reissue
of works recorded long ago by Decca. This release is a clear must for
anyone interested in Seiber's often beautiful music.
Arthur BLISS Madame Noy, Rout, The Enchantress, The Beatitudes -
Heather Harper, Pamela Bowden, Gerald English, BBC SO & Ch/Sir Arthur
Bliss, Rudolf Schwarz rec. 1957-64 LYRITA REAM1115
Not long after Dutton's release of the broadcast of the work's first
performance in Coventry which was useful but somewhat unsatisfactory,
Lyrita has a far better performance AND recording to offer here. This
fairly generous disc also adds a few rarities such as the scena The
Enchantress which is not an easy work to perform in a satisfactory way. I
am delighted to record that this performance by Pamela Bowden and the BBC
Symphony Orchestra conducted by Rudolf Schwarz is a real ear-opener.
LEIGHJolly Roger - Neilson Taylor, Alan Dudley, Vernon
Midgley, Ambrosian Singers, BBC Concert O/Ashley Lawrence rec. 1972
Walter Leigh's career was tragically cut short but this did not
prevent him to compose a good deal of music, although much of it consists
of short works. This is why I welcome this recorded broadcast of his
comic opera Jolly Roger, a somewhat longer work in which Leigh was able
to deploy all his composing skills vocal and instrumental as well. This
comic opera is really great fun from first to last and one often finds
oneself humming along. This most welcome release unquestionably adds to
one's appreciation of Leigh's musical skills.
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Dona nobis pacem Stephen HOUGH
Missa Mirabilis - Sarah Fox, Christopher Maltman, Colorado SO Á Ch/Andrew Litton rec.
2014 HYPERION CDA68096
The appeal of this superb release is twofold: first, Andrew Litton
conducts a magnificent reading of Vaughan Williams' Dona nobis pacem.
Composed in 1936 as an occasional work of sorts this cantata has never
lost any of its topicality for we do not live in a better world now than
in the 1930's. Second, this release also offers a very fine 'fill-up' in
the form of Stephen Hough's Missa Mirabilis heard here in its
orchestral guise. This is deeply honest and sincere music that sometimes
briefly harks back to Poulenc's large-scale choral-orchestral works, but
none the worse for it, I hasten to say. Both works are superbly well
served by all concerned and the recording is first-class throughout.
GESUALDO DA VENOSA Moro lasso, O crux benedicta Brett
DEAN Carlo Erkki-Sven TÜÜR L'ombra della croce,
Psalmody - Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Ch, Tallinn CO/Tőnu Kaljuste
rec. 2014 ECM NEW SERIES 2452
This is a cleverly planned disc in which Gesualdo is the red thread,
so to say, since two of his short choral works heard here in
transcriptions for strings, each one providing material for a piece by
Brett Dean and by Erkki-Sven Tüür respectively. The last item, though, is
in no way connected to Gesualdo's music but rather presents a recent
thought of the composer on one of his early works. Again, excellent
engineering and – more importantly – superb and committed performances.
Two years ago my choices were significantly influenced by the
fact that it was the Verdi and Wagner bicentenary anniversary year, the
former being a particular interest of mine as is reflected by my
four-part conspectus of the life of the composer and recordings of his
works published on this site. Last year, singers and a couple of
Donizetti operas featured, four being of video and two of CD issues. This
year there is a significant reduction in the number of discs I am
choosing from, forty-nine to thirty seven. This does not so much reflect
my ageing, or lethargy, but a lack of product within my realms of
interest, or expertise, these being in operatic singers, the works of
Verdi and the bel-canto opera composers in particular. Another
significant influencing factor is my lack of interest in seeing opera
performances on video involving producers who are more interested in
their concept than the composer’s intentions, as seems increasingly the
case in performances from mainland Europe in particular, but has now
expanded to Britain and America. Of course this does not affect CD
recordings and these feature equally with DVD/Bluray in my list this
year. Only to half of my selections this year did I not award the
imprimatur of Recording of the Month.
Perez (soprano) & Stephen Costello (tenor)Love Duets -
BBC SO/Patrick Summers rec. 2013 WARNER CLASSICS 2564 633485
A very warm welcome to this husband and wife duo’s first recording.
This CD’s content offers a wide selection of items showing off their
individual and combined vocal skills to perfection. Both are now
appearing at some of the best operatic addresses.
BIZETLes pęcheurs de perles - Patrizia Ciofi, Dmitry
Korchak, Ch & O Teatro di San Carlo/Gabriele Ferro rec. 2012 C
MAJOR 719608 DVD
Published as two reviews by Rob Maynard on and myself on Bluray and
DVD, and despite some lack of Gallic style, I joined my colleague in
welcoming a tuneful opera too rarely performed. Those who admire the
work, as I do, should note that it can be seen at cinemas in a
transmission of a new production from New York’s Metropolitan Opera in
January 2016. The work has much more to it than that famous duet
recording by Robert Merrill and Jussi Bjorling.
DONIZETTILes Martyrs - Michael Spyres, Joyce
El-Khoury, O Age of Enlightenment/Sir Mark Elder rec. 2014 OPERA
Opera Rara continue to fill the gaps in the catalogue of Donizetti
operas with another well-recorded performance, issued on CD, and which
enables a full appreciation of the composer’s qualities and achievement
in this late work.
Amadeus MOZARTLa Finta Gardiniera - Carlo Allemano,
Erin Morley, Le Concert d'Astrée/Emmanuelle Haďm rec. 2014 ERATO
2564 616645 DVD
Mozart isn’t only about the Da Ponte trilogy! This work by the
eighteen-year-old composer is of a wonderfully simplistic staging and
direction of this rarely performed work. Add outstanding singer acting
being matched in the pit for certain DVD enjoyment.
DONIZETTILa Favorite - Yijie Shi, Kate Aldrich, Ch & O
Capitole Theatre Toulouse/Antonello Allemandi rec. 2014
OPUS ARTE OABD7165D Blu-ray
On Bluray, another opera that Donizetti staged in Paris features
French-speaking Ludovoc Tezier, very much the lyric baritone of the
moment, alongside a good cast albeit the production lacks some vitality.
Kaufmann (tenor) Nessun Dorma: The Puccini Album - O
Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Antonio Pappano rec. 2014
SONY 88765 092482
Singing of power, expression and tonal variety from the tenor of the
present generation that does justice to the wide variety of the
composer’s creations. A luxury CD presentation with a DVD extra is
BYSTRÖMPicnic at Hanging Rock, A Walk after Dark,
Invisible Cities - Ellen Nisbeth (viola) Malmö SO, Swedish RSO/Daniel Blendulf rec.
2013/14 DAPHNE 1046
Beautiful contemporary music that also tells stories. Masterly solo
playing by Ellen Nisbeth.
LISZT The Complete Songs Vol. 3 - Gerald Finley (bass-baritone)
Julius Drake (piano) rec. 2013 HYPERION CDA67956
Gerald Finley takes over the baton for the third section of
Hyperion’s relay race through the complete songs of Franz Liszt. After
Matthew Polenzani’s and Angelica Kirchschlager’s excellent achievements
Finley confirms that Hyperion has a winning team. He is superb!
for Domenico Gizzi Roberta Invernizzi (soprano) I
Turchini/Antonio Florio rec. 2014 GLOSSA GCD922608
You may not know many of the composers represented here, but they
were highly esteemed in their lifetime and wrote great music that should
appeal to a wide audience even today – in particular since Roberta
Invernizzi, “The Queen of Baroque Opera”, sings it so marvellously.
Tilling (soprano)I skogen - Paul Rivinius (piano) rec.
2014 BIS BIS-2154 SACD
For her third song recital for BIS, Camilla Tilling has botanized
among, basically, lesser known songs by the greatest Nordic song
composers of the early 20th century. But make no mistake: these are
eminently attractive flowers and they are sung with the utmost delicacy.
Karlin (trombone)A Swedish Trombone Wilderness rec.
2014 GENUIN GEN15337
Stunning trombone playing! “Wilderness” may seem discouraging but
there are contemporary or near-contemporary gems here aplenty. Thrilling,
sometimes provocative but highly entertaining.
for Benucci Matthew Rose (baritone) Arcangelo/Jonathan
Cohen rec. 2013 HYPERION CDA68078
A delicious bouquet of riveting arias – rarities as well as nice old
friends – sung with the utmost finesse and vocal splendour.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
As in previous years I have restricted my selection to issues that I myself have reviewed, and have excluded reissues of material that has previously been available. Even so, once again I have had to omit some discs of real merit, such as the Villa-Lobos Symphony 10 on Naxos (a valuable reminder of a work that does not deserve total neglect), the Brahms Serenades under Riccardo Chailly on Decca (a worthy appendage to the same conductor’s set of the symphonies), and the compendium of Luke Whitlock’s music on Divine Art (which contains some really approachable modern music which should provide pleasure to all). The issues I have finally selected contain works which are to be recommended both for their contribution to the representation of otherwise unrecorded music in the catalogue or, in two cases, for the exceptional quality of the performances.
John METCALF Under Milk Wood
- Wyn Davies rec. 2014 TŶ CERDD TCR013
I was delighted to receive a recording, made under studio conditions, of the opera which so impressed me when I heard the first performance in Cardiff last year. The fact that the work bids to establish itself in the repertoire was testified to by the inclusion of a question about it on the BBC Radio 4 quiz Counterpoint this year!
Michael HURD The Aspern Papers, The Night of the Wedding
- Owen Gilhooly, Nicholas Morton, Ulster O/George Vass, Ronald Corp rec. 2011/14 LYRITA SRCD2350
Another opera, this time one that has languished in obscurity since its first run of performances but is a piece that is both enjoyable in its own right and (one hopes) ripe for revival following this recording.
Jean ROGER-DUCASSE Piano music
- Martin Jones rec. 2013/14 NIMBUS NI5927
The piano works of Roger-Ducasse have hardly ever been performed, let alone recorded, and although the quality of the music is variable this compendium performs a valuable service to interested listeners.
Franz SCHUBERTFierrabras - Michael Schade, Julia Kleiter, Vienna PO/Ingo Metzmacher rec. 2014 C MAJOR 730708
I include this video from the Salzburg Festival not only because it makes a marvellous case musically for the opera, but also because the production – which was unfairly slated by some critics – seems to me to be ideal in practically every respect.
Jean SIBELIUSPelléas et Mélisande
- Turku PO/Leif Segerstam rec. 2014 NAXOS 8.573301
One of the highlights of the year has been the series of Segerstam’s Sibelius incidental music with the Turku Philharmonic, which does the composer the service of taking his tempo markings at face value. All of the issues are valuable, this one particularly so even though some of the speeds are controversially slow.
KUULA Festive March, South Ostrobothnian Suites, Prelude and
Fugue - Turku PO/Leif Segerstam rec. 2015 ONDINE ODE12702
The music of Kuula really deserves revival, and this release includes nearly all of the orchestral music in superb performances and recording. Even those who bought the earlier Dutton release should listen to this new disc as well.
SEIBERUlysses, Elegy, Three Fragments - Alexander
Young (tenor), BBC Chorus, London SO/David Atherton, Melos Ens
rec. 1960/72 LYRITA SRCD348
I have amassed quite a collection of Lyrita recordings over the years,
both on LP and CD. I have yet to encounter one that disappoints. Yet,
despite the high artistic quality of their releases this one, which I
have recently reviewed, is one of their high points. None of the music I
had heard before, and it has been a revelation to discover these
wonderfully rich and imaginative scores. The Three Fragments are my
MENDELSSOHN Piano Trios - Sitkovetsky Trio rec. 2014 BIS BIS-2109 SACD
Both myself and David Barker gave this release a Recording of the Month
accolade, and it certainly deserves it. The Sitkovetsky Trio give
compelling, deeply-committed performances. The BIS engineers have
attained top-notch sound and balance. I have perhaps listened to this
review disc more than any other I have been sent. Alexander Sitkovetsky
and the pianist Wu Qian also play together as the Sitkovetsky Duo and
their recent recording of sonatas on the Limen Label I was lucky enough
to review and, yes, it too was a Recording of the Month.
For lovers of historical vocal recordings, this 6 CD set of the Complete
Mattia Battistini from the Marston label will be manna from heaven.
These audio restorations have been a labour of love for Ward Marston and
J. Richard Harris. Now Battistini’s rich baritone voice can be heard in
all it’s glory. The excellent accompanying documentation, including
photographs of the artist, make this an extremely desirable acquisition.
I’ve known Alois Hába’s complete String Quartets for some time from the
pioneering accounts made by the Stamitz Quartet on Bayer Records in the
1990s. They are now showing their age, and these new recordings from the
eponymous Hába Quartet, on the contemporary Neos Label, present these
richly constructed works in state-of-the-art sound. I prefer the Hábas
for their sense of abandon, freshness, spontaneity and a less cautious
and less reverential approach. This is music crying out for a larger
Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY & Felix MENDELSSOHN Violin
Concertos - Fumiaki Miura (violin) Deutsches SO Berlin/Hannu Lintu rec.
2015 AVEX AVCL25878
It’s always gratifying to encounter a young artist who has that extra
special something. Fumiaki Miura is one such violinist. At only 22, he
commands formidable technical skill, profound musicianship and a
maturity of vision. I’m sure he will go far. This concerto recording
debut ranks as one of most satisfying accounts of this perennial pairing
I have heard, and worthily has a place on the shelves next to my
favourite versions. His Prokofiev Violin Sonatas with Itamar Golan which
he recorded back in 2010 for Sony (his very first recording) are equally
Sebastian BACH Mass in B minor - Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen rec.
2013 HYPERION CDA68051/2
This account from Hyperion of Bach’s Mass in B minor by Arcangelo
directed, from the harpsichord, by Jonathan Cohen is one of the finest
I’ve encountered. Moderate-sized forces are employed, with a choir of
twenty, employing four to a part, and five soloists. Cohen uses a
counter-tenor for the alto parts rather than a female alto. The
orchestra is a mix of period and modern instruments, and is very
effective. St. Mary’s Church, Tetbury provides an ideally warm, spacious
and airy acoustic. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Sebastian BACH Violin Concertos - Alina Ibragimova (violin)
Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen rec. 2014 HYPERION CDA68068
Taking the A minor concerto as an example, it begins with precision,
pace, spontaneity yet also an underlying relaxation from both Ibragimova
and Arcangelo. Not reverential Bach, it’s impish at times, but equally
reveals sensitive shading. The slow movement is exquisite, mellifluous
and yearning while the finale has more than a touch of gypsy abandon.
van BEETHOVEN Symphonies 5 & 6 - Royal PO/Felix Weingartner rec.
1927 PRISTINE AUDIO PASC399
Using a small body of strings, there’s great clarity and transparency
of texture in Weingartner’s 1927 recording of the Pastoral symphony. The
sureness of phrasing throughout, appreciable line, how paragraphs are
built yet progress seamlessly, with everything done in an unassuming
manner, is masterly, creating a satisfying sense of wholeness of
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Symphonies 5 & 7 -
Pittsburgh SO/Manfred Honeck
rec. 2014 REFERENCE RECORDINGS FR-718 SACD
These live performances are raw, uncompromising and compelling. The
opening of Symphony 5 grotesquely contrasts the ‘Fate motif’ and timid
strings’ response but the extreme dynamics are Beethoven’s, likewise the
opening of Symphony 7 where bludgeoning power vies with pleading for
calm. The seventh’s slow movement is contorted anguish, its finale
Amadeus MOZART Violin Concertos - Frank Peter Zimmermann
(violin) Bavarian RSO/Radoslaw Szulc rec. 2014 HÄNSSLER CLASSIC
Great variety here. Concerto 1 moves from spruce, convivial virtuoso
display to an expansive, reflective slow movement showcasing Zimmerman’s
golden tone before a flourishing finale. Concerto 3 begins incisively
before the melting fragility of its slow movement and robust, purposive
finale. Concerto 4 starts arresting and dainty by turns before a serenely
contemplative slow movement and cheeky finale.
A breathtaking demonstration of the impact and clarity that can be
achieved from performance on period instruments when Schubert’s extreme
dynamic contrasts and contrasts of mood are realized thrillingly. Whether
quicksilver scherzo or lullaby trio, Quatuor Terpsycordes convey the full
measure of Schubert’s broad paragraphs and the fiery finale is all
VAUGHAN WILLIAMSA Sea Symphony - Katherine Broderick,
Roderick Williams, Hallé Ch & O/Sir Mark Elder rec. 2014 HALLÉ
A great live recording: from the opening acclamation there’s both
freshness and edge. A vast expanse is vividly realized in the slow
movement with sensitive use of semi chorus and detail of orchestration.
The exciting scherzo almost physically embodies a seascape. The finale
has both a reverence and intimacy of contemplation.
Alas, this was not such a rewarding year as far as I am concerned. Too few CDs that came my way to prompt me to award ‘Recording of the Month’. And for the first time my list has not included one CD devoted to British Music.
Petibon (soprano)La Belle Excentrique Susan Manoff
(piano) rec. 2013 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 2465
This is perfection: it’s fun, it’s comic and it’s poignant and romantic. It's performed to perfection by Patricia Petibon who colours her voice to suit all the moods with unashamed abandonment and great élan.
RACHMANINOV Symphonic Dances, Suites - Natalia Lavrova and
Vassily Primakov (piano duo) rec. 2013 LP CLASSICS 1019
Natalia Lavrova and Vassily Primakov are quite inspired: their playing technically secure, poetic and beautifully nuanced. They are exceptionally sensitive to the music, to each other’s line and they blend so well. Their readings have strength, delicacy and understanding of, and sympathy for Rachmaninov’s idiom.
SIBELIUS Symphonies 1-7 - Lahti SO/Okko Kamu rec. 2012/14
BIS BIS2076 SACD
As my colleague Dan Morgan says, “Kamu’s distinguished Sibelius joins Vänskä’s at the top of the tree; formidable engineering, too” Need I say more?
NIELSEN Symphonies 1-6 - BBC Philharmonic/John Storgĺrds rec.
2012-15 CHANDOS CHAN10859
These are intense and memorable performances with an outstanding, exciting and colourful ‘Sinfonia espansiva’ and a ferociously energetic, yet life-affirming ‘Inextinguishable’ Symphony No. 4. All in all, a distinguished, top drawer set.
MASSENETLes amoureuses sont des folles - Sally Silver
(soprano) Christine Tocci (mezzo); Nico Darmanin (tenor); Richard Bonynge
(piano) Gabriella Swallow (cello) rec. 2014 SOMM SOMMCD0151
Pure delight. What a pity that these lovely songs are not better known. Here is proof, if ever there was need for such, of Massenet’s masterly lyrical invention for the female voice and of his richly descriptive writing for the piano.