Recordings Of The Year 2012
This is the tenth year that Musicweb International has asked its reviewing team to nominate their recordings of the year. Reviewers are not restricted to discs they had reviewed, but the choices must have been reviewed on MWI in the last 12 months (December 2011-November 2012).
136 selections have come in from 25 members of the team, the choices as always reflecting a great diversity of music and sources: the nominated recordings come from 63 different labels.
Of the nominations, eight received two nominations:
• Stéphane Denève's Debussy collection on Chandos
• the much-lauded Elgar Apostles with the Hallé and Sir Mark Elder
• cello and percussion concertos by Rautavaara on Ondine
• Sir Simon Rattle's Bruckner 9 in its completed version oin EMI
• Corelli's famous concerto set on Linn
• the Symphonie Fantastique from Scotland with Robin Ticciati on Linn
• Glazunov's Raymonda from La Scala on Arthaus
• the completion of Moeran's second symphony on Dutton (see below)
For the fourth year running, Naxos secured most nominations - 12. This time, they were closely followed by Chandos with 10, and given the fewer reviewed recordings, Chandos is the Musicweb International Label of the Year.
MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL CD OF THE YEAR
E.J. MOERAN Symphony 2 Overture for a Festival John IRELAND Sarnia Royal Scottish Ntl O/Martin Yates rec. 2011 DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7281
While new recordings of the standards have continued to be issued alongside recordings of music never previously recorded 2012 has for me been a year dominated by bargain boxes and reissues. The prices of boxed sets often represent fabulous value for money. Though we live in this turbulent and chaotic vanity fair of a market these are halcyon years for music lovers of all classical styles and preferences.
The rolling road that is the expiry of copyright continues to reintroduce old and new friends from labels with which they are unfamiliar such as the excellent Naxos, Alto, Pristine, Heritage and Brilliant Classics. Often these jostle for space with issues of the same recordings on their ‘home’ labels with access to first generation recorded originals.
The majors have largely continued their mission to present celebrity-accented material but Decca, EMI, Sony and Universal have also been splendidly active in the reissue field, particularly the former with the deluxe reissue of the Solti Ring cycle. Other labels continue to plough their own furrows: where heroism meets commerce. Labels of the eminence and allure of Hyperion, Bis, Ondine, CPO and Dacapo match up the most exalted production values, stimulating new talent and fresh repertoire. The likes of tirelessly magnificent Dutton, inspired and diligent Toccata (the glorious Percy Sherwood CD should not be missed; likewise their Peggy Glanville-Hicks opera Sappho) and the astonishingly valorous Campion, Stone’s dedication to English song (two volumes of their CW Orr songs command attention) add immeasurably to an affluently variegated landscape.
It seems at one level a pity to have to choose but after wrestling with the decision there must be a winner. It is Martin Yates’ and Dutton’s realisation of the Moeran Second Symphony. This was premiered at Em Marshall’s English Music Festival this year and ‘deuxièmed’ at Brighton last month. Moeran has long been at the centre of my musical affections; this alongside a measure of frustration since reading a Musical Times article in 1980 about the unfeasible bundle of rags and tatters of the score held in Australia. Inevitably speculative, but done with true Moeran style and love, this work calls out for your attention. Do not be distracted or discouraged by the purists. This is deeply enjoyable and loveable music here astoundingly realised with evident integrity, well performed and convincingly recorded. It stands shoulder to shoulder with a similarly imaginative orchestration of John Ireland’s Sarnia in a year (the fiftieth since his death in 1962) that has seen a small landslide of Ireland performances across the UK.
THE REVIEWING TEAM
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Koená (mezzo) Berlin PO/Sir Simon Rattle rec. 2012 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4790065
Recorded live at the Berlin Philharmonie, Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Koená 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 Koená 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Claude DEBUSSY La Mer, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, Images Ntl O de France/Daniele Gatti rec. 2011 SONY CLASSICAL 88697 974002
Many reviewers found Chando's 2 SA-CD set of Debussy orchestral works (with the RSNO/Denève) to be the finest recording of Debussy released this year. For me, this release was even more impressive, in large part because the orchestra plays with great and intensity, while Gatti’s interpretations perfectly capture the fire and ice of Debussy’s music that so often eludes other conductors.
Johannes BRAHMS Symphony 1 Carl NIELSEN Symphony 3 Antonín DVORÁK Symphony 9 Jean SIBELIUS Symphony 5 Danish Ntl SO/Thomas Dausgaard rec. 2009 C MAJOR 710508
This was, far and away, the best orchestral DVD to come across my desk this year. Dausgaard proves to be an intelligent and perceptive interpreter of all four works, while his Danish players perform with a contagious sense of joy and virtuosity.
Jonathan DOVE The Passing of the Year, Who killed Cock Robin?, It sounded as if the streets were running, I am the day, The Three Kings Convivium Singers/Neil Ferris Christopher Cromar (piano) rec. 2011 NAXOS 8.572733
Dove was a composer new to me, and I was enthralled by the music on this recording. Excellently performed by the Convivium Singers, Dove’s writing is often achingly beautiful and his text setting is masterly, often reminding me of Benjamin Britten.
Fantasia Yuja Wang (piano) rec. 2011 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4790052
I had not heard any of Miss Wang recordings before this CD, and I admit being put off by Deutsche Grammophon’s publicity department, which often seemed more focused on her looks than her playing. That skepticism was gone after the first track – here is a player with excellent technique, married to supreme musicality.
Gustav MAHLER Symphony 5 London PO/Klaus Tennstedt rec. 1988 ICA CLASSICS ICAD5041
Tennstedt, looking a little bit fragile and dishevelled, inspires a performance of near hysterical proportions from his beloved London orchestra. Mahler’s harrowing journey from darkness to light is compellingly conveyed in this fantastic performance.
For once I could quite easily have chosen more than just six recordings. The generous birthday gift of a 50" high definition TV and a Blu-ray player has hugely enhanced my pleasure in watching ballet and opera performances this year and explains in large part the bias away from sound-only CDs in my final selection.
Frédéric CHOPIN Les sylphides Léo DELIBES Coppélia Adolphe ADAM Giselle Nadia Nerina, Margot Fonteyn, Ruydolf Nureyev, Philharmonia O/Robert Irving, London SO/John Lanchbery rec. 1957/62 ICA CLASSICS ICAD5058
These may be 50 years old black and white television recordings, but a superb Coppelia places it right at the top of my list. The charismatic Nadia Nerina displays a delightful sense of fun as Swanilda while Robert Helpmann offers a memorably bonkers - yet very touching - portrayal of the mad doctor. With excellent support in depth, this is vintage British ballet at its best.
Alexander GLAZUNOV Raymonda Olesia Novikova, Friedemann Vogel, Mick Zeni, Ballet & O Teatro alla Scala/Michail Jurowski rec. 2011 ARTHAUS MUSIK 108051
Here we have a modern (re)production of another classic ballet. Immense and painstaking research and massive - and obviously expensive - resources have gone into La Scala’s 2012 recreation of Glazunov's Raymonda. It's as close to the original 1898 St Petersburg production as we are ever likely to see and is an absolute treat - especially in fabulous Blu-ray quality - for both eyes and ears.
Richard STRAUSS Josephs-Legende Bayerischen Staatsoper O München/Robert Heger rec. 1952 ACANTA 233593
Here's a sixty years old recording that's been well worth reissuing. Though unable to compete with its modern competitors' digital sound, Robert Heger’s 1952 recording compensates with expert conducting and first class playing by musicians utterly familiar with Strauss’s idiom. A superb vintage account of an unduly neglected score.
Umberto GIORDANO Andrea Chénier Hector Sandoval, Scott Hendricks, Norma Fantini, Prague Philharmonic Ch, Bregenz Festival Ch, Vienna SO/Ulf Schirmer rec. 2011 C MAJOR 707908
The Bregenz Festival is well known for the use its lakeside productions make of gigantic sets and props – and this visually striking Andrea Chenier is no exception. The unexpected insertion of a couple of musical “interludes” by contemporary composer David Blake may jar with some viewers, but the production’s attractive and enthusiastic young principals will win over many more.
Léon MINKUS Don Quixote Robert Helpmann, Rudolf Nureyev, Ray Powell, Australian Ballet, Elizabethan Trust Melbourne O/John Lanchbery rec. 1972 KULTUR BD1175
On a personal level Nureyev could be monstrously obnoxious and here he pretty obviously fails to gel with the rest of the cast. But, as a piece of ambitiously filmed dance that utilises the immense spaces of an Australian aircraft hangar (!), this leaves many of its less ambitious rivals in the shade. Its recent technical restoration in this Blu-ray incarnation has brought the glorious original colour palette up as good as new.
Nikolay RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Capriccio espagnol, Overtures Seattle Symphony/ Gerard Schwarz rec. 2010/11 NAXOS 8.572788
This is another demonstration of the high standards of performance that Gerard Schwarz has achieved in a long-term relationship with this orchestra. Rimsky’s evocative scores with their characteristically colourful orchestrations are a gift to conductors of an extrovert disposition; Schwarz takes full advantage of the opportunity they offer to bring the house down.
Georg Friedrich HANDEL Theodora David Daniels (counter-tenor) Dawn Upshaw (soprano) Lorraine Hunt (mezzo) Glyndebourne Ch, O Age of Enlightenment /William Christie rec. 1996 GLYNDEBOURNE GFOCD014-96
A beautifully sung live recording of some of Handel's finest music starring the late, lamented Lorraine Hunt (before she became Hunt Lieberson).
Fryderyk CHOPIN Complete Waltzes and Impromptus Vladimir Feltsman (piano) rec. 2010 NIMBUS NI6184
Johann Sebastian BACH The English Suites Vladimir Feltsman (piano) rec. 2005 NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI6176
Two superb recordings from perhaps the finest and certainly the most versatile pianist before the public today.
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN The Complete Symphonies Vienna PO/Christian Thielemann rec. 2008-10 SONY CLASSICAL 88697927172
A Beethoven Symphonies Cycle for the 21C, embracing a compromise between the traditional and the revisions in performance practice imbibed from the historically informed movement.
Sergei RACHMANINOV Symphony 3, Caprice bohémien, Vocalise Royal Liverpool PO/Vasily Petrenko rec. 2009/10 EMI CLASSICS 6790192
A flawless recording from a reinvigorated Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by one of the up-and-coming young Russian maestros who are doing so much to enliven the British classical music scene.
Anton BRUCKNER Symphonies 4, 7 & 9 Philharmonie Festiva/Gerd Schaller rec. 2007-10 HÄNSSLER PROFIL PH11028
A really impressive addition to the Bruckner discography: three of the most popular symphonies recorded from live performances in excellent sound and including a splendid realisation of the Carragan completion of the fourth movement of the Ninth.
Selecting six of the year’s best recordings has never been so difficult. In all the time I’ve reviewed for MWI I’ve not had so many candidates to choose from. These are the ones that made it to the not-so-shortlist: Kalevi Aho’s Interludes and Symphony for Organ – BIS download; Britten’s War Requiem – Gianandrea Noseda/LSO Live; Leonard Bernstein’s live Shostakovich Fifth and Stravinsky/Sibelius – Euroarts and ICA DVDs respectively; Debussy’s Faune, La mer and Jeux – high-resolution Linn/Universal download; Hakim plays Hakim – Signum; Kinshasa Symphony – C Major/Unitel Blu-ray; Koechlin’s Les heures persanes – Ralph van Raat/Naxos; Simone Young’s Mahler ‘Resurrection’ – Oehms; the Graf/Houston Das Lied von der Erde – Naxos; Andris Nelsons’ live Wagner, Strauss and Shostakovich Eighth from Lucerne – C Major/Unitel Blu-ray; Mark Wigglesworth’s Shostakovich Symphonies 1-3 – BIS download; Yutaka Sado/Berliner Philharmoniker live in Takemitsu’s From me flows what you call time and Shostakovich’s Fifth – Euroarts Blu-ray; and Kalevi Kiviniemi plays the organ of Ylistaro Church – Fuga.
Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA Cello Concerto 2, Modificata, Percussion Concerto Truls Mørk (cello) Colin Currie (percussion) Helsinki PO/John Storgårds rec. 2011 ONDINE ODE 1178-2
Ondine’s ongoing Rautavaara cycle has surely reached its apogee with this astonishing disc, which includes an unforgettable Modificata and Colin Currie’s splendid performance of the Percussion Concerto. As if that weren’t enough, the sound on this CD is among the best I’ve ever heard. Without a doubt, this is my Recording of the Year.
Gustav MAHLER Symphony 2 Sarah Connolly (mezzo) Christiane Oelze (soprano) Gewandhaus Leipzig Ch & O/Riccardo Chailly rec. 2011 ACCENTUS ACC10238
After an exhausting double centenary that spawned a fair number of ho-hum Mahler recordings comes a ‘Resurrection’ to die for. Riccardo Chailly and his Gewandhaus forces are simply transported – and transporting – in this live performance, filmed at the 2012 Leipzig Mahlerfest. Visually and aurally this Accentus Blu-ray is as good as it gets.
Hector BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastique, Béatrice et Bénédict Overture Scottish CO/Robin Ticciati rec. 2011 LINN CKD400
News of Robin Ticciati and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s impending Symphonie fantastique was greeted with scepticism on several audio forums. I confess to some doubts, all of which were swept away by this refreshing and insightful performance. Rarely have I heard an old favourite so comprehensively enriched and renewed. Linn’s Super Audio recording is top-notch too.
Nobuyuki Tsujii (piano) Live at Carnegie Hall rec. 2011 EUROARTS 2059084
‘A profound and bewitching talent’ is how I described the young Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii. Blind since birth he gave an enthralling and varied recital at Carnegie Hall in November 2011 that soon exhausted my supply of superlatives. In a world full of note-perfect prodigies this thoughtful, impassioned artist is one to watch. The Blu-ray sound and picture are excellent.
Olivier MESSIAEN Turangalîla-Symphonie Steven Osborne (piano) Cynthia Millar (ondes martenot) Bergen PO/Juanjo Mena rec. 2011 HYPERION CDA67816
One of the joys of downloads is that they often appear before the discs themselves. I downloaded this new Turangalîla within hours of its appearance and was so bowled over that I persuaded Len to publish it on the main MWI site without delay. Juanjo Mena and the Bergen Philharmonic are revelatory in this sprawling, mystico-spiritual epic, whose every ‘fart and shriek’ is superbly captured by the Hyperion team. Mandatory listening for all Messiaen fans.
Sergei PROKOFIEV Ballet and Opera Transcriptions Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano) rec. 1995 DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 3605
This is my wild card, an Eloquence reissue of Prokofiev’s ballet and opera transcriptions played with easeful virtuosity by the great Vladimir Ashkenazy. His sophisticated touch and felicities of rhythm are sans pareil; indeed, he makes all those young pretenders sound brash and brittle by comparison. It’s in vintage Decca sound as well; the piano is naturally balanced and glowingly recorded. A little gem.
Either this has been a particularly rich year or else I’ve been extremely fortunate in the quality of the discs that have come my way for review. My shortlist, compiled as the year went along, eventually extended to over a dozen releases. With great difficulty – and even greater regret - I have discarded such excellent releases as Herreweghe’s latest account of the B Minor Mass and Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s new versions of the Bach Motets and Brahms Requiem. Similarly, Juanjo Mena’s impressive Turangal?la-Symphonie narrowly missed the cut, as did Stephen Layton’s wonderful recording of the serene Requiem by Howells and a very fine set of music by Alec Roth from Ex Cathedra. Andris Nelson’s superb DVD of the Shostakovich Eighth Symphony was one of my six choices until the very last minute when his DVD of War Requiem became an even more urgent selection.
All the releases that I’ve chosen, which I’ve deliberately listed in alphabetical order – and those mentioned above - have given me particular pleasure and I hope that if you acquire them they’ll have the same effect on you.
Johann Sebastian BACH The RIAS Bach Cantatas Project conducted by Karl Ristenpart rec. 1949-52 AUDITE 21.415
This set was a revelation: Bach cantatas recorded between 1946 and 1953 but in a style that puts the performances closer to that of the period performance revolution that lay years ahead. The conductor, Karl Ristenpart, used a chamber choir and orchestra and the results are light and fresh. Outstanding among the soloists are Agnes Giebel, Helmut Krebs and the young Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Ristenpart conducts with great distinction and with a real feeling for the spirit of Bach. These performances constitute a major addition to the discography of Bach’s cantatas.
Benjamin BRITTEN War Requiem Erin Wall (soprano) Mark Padmore (tenor) Hanno Müller-Brachmann (bass-baritone) City of Birmingham SO & Ch/Andris Nelsons rec. 2012 ARTHAUS MUSIK 101659
This DVD documents a deeply moving performance of War Requiem given in Coventry Cathedral on the exact anniversary of its first performance there fifty years earlier. The performance, under the inspired direction of Andris Nelsons, is superb in every way and the solo contributions of Mark Padmore and Hanno Müller-Brachmann are outstanding.
Sir Edward ELGAR The Apostles Rebecca Evans, Alice Coote, Paul Groves, Hallé Ch & O/Sir Mark Elder rec. 2012 HALLÉ CDHLD7534
Recorded live, this marvellous performance of The Apostles is the latest in Sir Mark Elder’s exceptional series of Elgar recordings with the Hallé. A strong team of soloists and the excellent choir and orchestra make a very strong case for this unjustly neglected oratorio. Once again, Elder proves himself an instinctive and authoritative Elgar interpreter.
Gabriel JACKSON Requiem, In all his works, I am the voice of the wind John TAVENER Song for Athene Francis POTT When David heard Vasari Singers/Jeremy Backhouse rec. 2011 NAXOS 8.573049
The Vasari Singers offer the first recording of a beautiful and thoughtful setting of the Requiem, which they commissioned from Gabriel Jackson in 2008. This work - and the other pieces by Jackson on the disc - confirms him as one of the most interesting composers of contemporary choral music with a natural affinity for the human voice and a fine empathy for words. This is an excellently sung and moving programme of fine modern music for unaccompanied choir.
Felix MENDELSSOHN Elijah Sarah Connolly (mezzo) Simon Keenlyside (baritone) Wroclaw Philharmonic Ch; Gabrieli Young Singers Scheme, Gabrieli Consort & Players/Paul McCreesh rec. 2011/12 SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD300
Paul McCreesh recreates the vast forces that took part in the première of Elijah in Birmingham in 1846. With exciting and highly skilled singing and playing from his Anglo-Polish forces McCreesh leads a revelatory and often thrilling account of Mendelssohn’s choral masterpiece. Simon Keenlyside, in the title role, and Sarah Connolly are outstanding among the soloists.
Sergei RACHMANINOV The Bells Sergei PROKOFIEV Alexander Nevsky Sergei Leiferkus (baritone) BBC SO & Ch, Philharmonia Ch & O/Evgeny Svetlanov rec 1988/2002 ICA CLASSICS ICAC5069
The release of this hugely exciting disc marked the tenth anniversary of Evgeny Svetlanov’s death. He was in poor health when he conducted this performance of The Bells but this electrifying performance sounds like the work of a fully fit man in his forties. It was to be his last concert; a matter of days later he died so it’s good that his final performance shows him at his considerable best. The live account of Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky, given in 1988 is also pretty special. This is a phenomenal issue!
Along with my six selections, I also want to mention two Harmonia Mundi CDs which MusicWeb did not, unfortunately, get an opportunity to review: the Jerusalem Quartet playing Schumann with pianist Alexander Melnikov, and Melnikov yet again but this time in Shostakovich's piano concertos and violin sonata (with Isabelle Faust).
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Diabelli Variations Andreas Staier (fortepiano) rec. 2010 HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902091
These are the Diabelli Variations of a dozen composers, including Liszt, Schubert, Mozart's son, Beethoven (naturally), and, yes, Andreas Staier himself, in a really superb introductory piece. There's a joyfulness and humour to Staier's performance which sets it apart, and there might even be an 1830s cymbal crash.
Alexander GLAZUNOV String Quintet Anton ARENSKY String Quartet 2 Alexander BORODIN String Sextet Nash Ensemble rec. 2011 ONYX CLASSICS 4067
A perfect pairing of neglected masterworks. This is the best way to hear the glorious Arensky quartet for violin, viola and two cellos, an elegy for Tchaikovsky, and the CD also offers a fine account of my favorite Glazunov piece, his richly romantic string quintet.
Frédéric CHOPIN Fantaisie, Nocturnes, Mazurkas, Ballades Yevgeny Sudbin (piano) rec. 2009-11 BIS BISSACD1838
Original Chopin from a very thoughtful artist. In a time when Chopin albums seem to all come out of the same mold, Yevgeny Sudbin's extraordinary way of looking at the music afresh, and playing it to the absolute hilt, is both thrilling and liberating. I listened 12 times this year without getting bored.
Leos JANÁCEK Taras Bulba, Lachian Dances, Moravian Dances Warsaw PO/Antoni Wit rec. 2010-11 NAXOS 8.572695
My new favourite Taras Bulba, elevated by superb orchestral playing and the most emotional (and least repetitive) ending I've yet heard. The Lachian Dances and my favourite cover painting of 2012 don't hurt.
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN String Quartet “Razumovsky” Aaron Jay KERNIS String Quartet 2 Jasper String Quartet rec. 2011 SONO LUMINUS DSL-92142
The Jasper Quartet formed over a mutual love of Beethoven's quartet Op 59 No 3, and you can tell in a performance that seems boundlessly energetic, passionate, and committed. They revel, too, in a worthwhile 1997 quartet by Aaron Jay Kernis which is partly inspired by the Beethoven. One of the ensembles of the future.
Mieczyslaw WEINBERG Symphony 20, Cello Concerto Claes Gunnarsson (cello) Gothenburg SO/Thord Svedlund rec. 2011 CHANDOS CHSA5107
If you've never heard Mieczyslaw Weinberg's cello concerto, buy this now. Seriously. Just click through to your favorite merchant now and buy it. Its emotional resonance and immediacy are comparable to Shostakovich and, dare I say it, Elgar. Seriously. Listen.
Having chosen all DVDs last year, this year, for me, saw a revival of purely audio releases, and we’re all the better off for it. With a respectful nod to McCreesh’s Elijah and Mark Minkowski’s set of Schubert symphonies, these are the discs that I enjoyed the most this year.
Francisco CILEA Adriana Lecouvreur Angela Gheorghiu (soprano) Jonas Kaufmann (tenor) Ch & O Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Sir Mark Elder rec. 2010 DECCA 0743459
Easily my DVD of the year, this is a luxury performance of a full-sugar treat for lovers of Italian opera. Relax and enjoy.
Claude DEBUSSY Orchestral Works Royal Scottish Ntl O/Stéphane Denève rec. 2011/12 CHANDOS CHSA5102
An outstanding memento of Stéphane Denève’s time in Scotland, but much more than that alone: it’s also the finest of the Debussy anniversary CDs to have come my way.
Richard STRAUSS Lieder Soile Isokoski (soprano) Marita Viitasalo (piano) rec. 2011 ONDINE ODE1187-2
A wonderful soprano in beautiful songs, captured at her very best.
Ferne Geliebte Lieder by Beethoven, Schoenberg, Haydn & Berg Christian Gerhaher (baritone) Gerold Huber (piano) rec. 2012 SONY 88691935432
I said of the disc above that if another song recital that good came our way this year then we would be blessed indeed. It did, and we are. Gerhaher’s summation of the German Lieder tradition is sensationally sung and brilliantly accompanied.
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto, Sérénade Mélancolique, Valse-Scherzo, Souvenir d’un lieu cher James Ehnes (violin) Sydney SO/Vladimir Ashkenazy rec. 2010 ONYX 4076
A wonderfully sympathetic account of a deservedly popular concerto, played by one of the most purely musical of today’s violinists.
Hector BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastique, Béatrice et Bénédict Overture Scottish CO/Robin Ticciati rec. 2011 LINN CKD400
A sensationally played, brilliantly forensic uncovering of the Symphonie Fantastique, scrubbing it down and revealing it in an entirely new light, and captured in sound that is every bit as outstanding.
Johan van Veen
Amour, viens animer ma voix! Works by Dornel, Campra, Clérambault & Courbois Hugo Oliveira (baritone) Ludovice Ensemble/Fernando Miguel Jaloto rec. 2010 RAMÉE RAM1107
The French baroque cantata isn't fully appreciated yet. This disc includes three fine specimens of the genre. The interpretations by Hugo Oliveira and the Ludovice Ensemble are pretty much ideal. The use of period pronunciation makes it even more valuable.
Il Concerto delle Viole Barberini Ensemble Mare Nostrum, Vox Luminis/Andrea De Carlo rec. 2011 RICERCAR RIC320
This disc sheds light on a forgotten part of Italian 17th-century music: the repertoire for a consort of viols. Mare Nostrum brings oustanding performances of first-rate and mostly unknown repertoire. Vox Luminis delivers fine contributions in madrigals for voices and viols.
Philipp DULICHIUS Sacred Motets Weser-Renaissance/Manfred Cordes rec. 2008 CPO 777352-2
Dulichius is a hardly-known German renaissance composer on the brink of the early baroque. He has been (unjustly) compared with Lassus, but his music is very good in its own right. Weser-Renaissance delivers immaculate and often exciting performances and demonstrates the various ways in which polyphony of the renaissance can be interpreted.
Domenico MAZZOCCHI La Catena d'Adone Laciana Mancini, Reinoud Van Mechelen, Scherzi Musicali/Nicolas Achten rec. 2010 ALPHA 184
This is the first opera ever performed in Rome. Mazzocchi was a highly respected composer in his time, and this opera shows why. There are some very dramatic moments, and these come off perfectly in the interpretations of Scherzi Musicali, an ensemble of outstanding young performers, from whom we can expect great things in the future.
Johann Christoph PEPUSCH Concertos and Overtures for London Crispian Steele-Perkins (trumpet) The Harmonious Society of Tickle-fiddle Gentlemen/Robert Rawson rec. 2010 RAMÉE RAM1109
Pepusch was one of the many composers from the continent who settled in London. He played an important role at the music scene; this is the first disc entirely devoted to his oeuvre, though. It is an impressive testimony of his compositional skills. The Harmonious Society of Tickle-fiddle Gentlemen is an excellent ensemble which fully explores the qualities of Pepusch's compositions.
La Bella Minuta Florid songs for cornetto around 1600 Bruce Dickey (cornett) Claudia Pasetto, Leonardo Bartolotto, Alberto Rasi (viola da gamba) Maria Christina Cleary (harp) Liuwe Tamminga (organ) rec. 2011 PASSACAILLE 979
The cornett was one of the most celebrated instruments in the 16th and early 17th centuries, in particular for its ability to imitate the human voice. This is amply demonstrated by Bruce Dickey, the king of modern-day cornettists. His technical skills are impressive, and even more so his ability to bring the repertoire for his instrument to life. He is supported by a fine ensemble of viols and harp and by organist Liuwe Tamminga. The 16th-century organ and the acoustic of the basilica in Mantua greatly contribute to the excitement of this recording.
Despite the problems besetting the classical recording industry, this has been an outstandingly productive year. As usual, most of my choices have appeared in my Download digests and, again as usual, it’s been supremely difficult to choose. Even the budget box of Mozart symphonies from Jaap ter Linden (Brilliant Classics) didn’t make the final cut.
Sir Edward ELGAR The Starlight Express Elin Manahan Thomas (soprano) Roderick Williams (baritone) Simon Callow (narrator) Scottish CO/Sir Andrew Davis rec. 2012 CHANDOS CHSA5111
I would have chosen Havergal Brian’s Gothic Symphony (Hyperion) but it was included last year. So I choose the sheer enterprise of recording Elgar’s complete Starlight Express, despite the strong claims of other Chandos enterprises and of Dutton in recording music new to me by Arthur Benjamin, Sainsbury, Haydn Wood and others.
Richard WAGNER Die Walküre Stig Fogh Andersen (tenor) Yvonne Howard (soprano) Susan Bickley (mezzo) The Hallé/Sir Mark Elder rec. 2011 HALLÉ CDHLD7531
Recordings of two very different operas vie for my choice. Despite the appeal of the Virgin Classics DVD which ‘sold’ Monteverdi’s Poppea to me, it has to be the Hallé set of Wagner’s die Walküre that takes top spot.
Arcangelo CORELLI Concerti Grossi The Avison Ensemble/Pavlo Beznosiuk rec. 2011 LINN CKD411
Of several fine recordings of baroque music: Monteverdi’s Selva Morale (volume 2, Coro), Vivaldi from Philippe Jaroussky (Virgin) and Elin Manahan Thomas (Channel Classics), his la Cetra (Channel Classics) and Opus 8 concertos (Linn) my first choice are the Corelli Op.6 Concerti Grossi from the Avison Ensemble; I should have made them Recording of the Month.
Christopher GIBBONS Motets, Anthems, Fantasias and Voluntaries Academy of Ancient Music & Choir/Richard Egarr (organ) rec. 2010 HARMONIA MUNDI HMU807551
Of my many discoveries this year, the music of Christopher Gibbons, son of the more famous Orlando just beats Striggio’s 1612 Vespers (Decca) and several neglected 20th-century composers whose music has been brought to us by Dutton.
Anton BRUCKNER Symphony 9 Berlin PO/Simon Rattle rec. 2012 EMI CLASSICS 9529692
Sir Simon Rattle has demonstrated that the reconstructed Bruckner Ninth Symphony can sound as convincing as Mahler’s Tenth; I place this even above the bargain download of Bruckner’s Eighth from Gunther Wand (RCA).
Sir Edward ELGAR Variations on an original theme 'Enigma' London SO/Pierre Monteux BEULAH EXTRA 1BX181
Linn’s Studio Master download reissues from Universal sound better than on CD, especially Mahler’s Eighth Symphony (Decca) and Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique (Decca, originally Philips), but Beulah’s reissues of Sir Thomas Beecham (Goldmark), Sir Adrian Boult (Elgar), Sir Colin Davis’s Beethoven and, above all, Pierre Monteux’s Elgar Enigma Variations take top place.
The London String Quartet: 1917-1951 Recordings MUSIC & ARTS CD-1253
Too late for inclusion last year, this is a must for my select 2012 list. Seldom does a set do what this one does: restore a significant selection of historic recordings largely ignored since their first release and also include a tranche of live concert material that changes perceptions of the group. That's what this set is all about. The live 1943-50 Library of Congress recitals reveal the London String Quartet as one of the elite chamber ensembles of its time, playing at the top of its form.
Jan Dismas ZELENKA Cantatas for Holy Sepulchre Hana Blaiková (soprano) David Erler (alto) Tobias Hunger (tenor) Tomáš Král (bass) Collegium Marianum/Jana Semerádová rec. 2011 SUPRAPHON SU4068-2
Supraphon's 'Music from Eighteenth Century Prague' series is handsomely produced and intelligently compiled. Add a Zelenka programme of less well known early works, and cap that with superb performances, and you have a winning combination. Hana Blaiková is an outstanding soprano and Collegium Marianum is directed by Jana Semerádová, one of the rising stars in the performance of Baroque music.
Emanuel Feuermann - Unexpected Discoveries rec. 1921-41 WEST HILL RADIO ARCHIVES WHRA6042
West Hill took what I called a 'stategically astute' route in this box. The great cellist Emanuel Feuermann's complete acoustic recordings are here - they've never before been collected - as is a fascinating selection of live performances. It allows one to chart the rapid advance in taste from some gauche mannerisms in the earliest sides to the remarkable virtuosity of his maturity. No admirer of the cellist can do without this box set.
As usual I have found it difficult to limit myself to six discs and were it not for this limit, I would also have included the Shostakovich Symphonies 6 and 12 in Vasiliy Petrenko’s continuing series on Naxos, the disc of delightful Martinu music for chamber ensemble with Klaus Simon and the Holst Sinfonietta also on Naxos, Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk’s “French Impressions” on Sony, and the JACK Quartet’s Wigmore Hall recital on Wigmore Hall Live. I was indeed fortunate to have reviewed these as well as the six below that for me were the truly outstanding discs of the year.
Mládí - works for wind ensemble by Reicha, Martinů & Janáček Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet rec. 2005/9 BIS BIS-CD-1802
A superb sampling of Czech wind music in exquisite performances and wonderful sound. The Janácek and Martinu in particular are outstanding, but the whole disc is a winner.
Sofia GUBAIDULINA In tempus praesens, Glorious Percussion Vadim Gluzman (violin) Anders Loguin, Anders Haag, Mika Takehara, Eirik Raude, Robyn Schulkowsky (percussion) Lucerne SO/Jonathan Nott rec. 2008/11 BIS BIS-CD-1752
A performance of Gubaidulina’s Second Violin Concerto by Vadim Gluzman at least the equal of Mutter’s premiere recording and one that easily demonstrates the work’s greatness among contemporary works in the genre. Along with this is the premiere recording of the composer’s terrific new percussion concerto.
Manuel de FALLA El sombrero de tres picos, Noches en los jardines de España, Homenajes Raquel Lojendio (soprano) Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano) BBC Philharmonic/Juanjo Mena rec. 2011 CHANDOS CHAN10694
The perfect calling card for the BBC Philharmonic’s new chief conductor, Juanjo Mena, this selection of three of de Falla’s best orchestral works is a valuable addition to the composer’s discography. The conductor has a natural affinity for this repertoire and Chandos’s sound and production values are up to their usual high standard.
Antonín DVOŘÁK Cello Concerto, The Water Goblin, In Nature’s Realm Zuill Bailey (cello) Indianapolis SO/Jun Märkl rec. 2011 TELARC TEL3292702
A challenger to my long-held benchmark Fournier/Szell recording of this great Cello Concerto from an unexpected source. I have had real admiration for Bailey’s performances, but the Indianapolis Symphony under Märkl prove to be equal partners here. The fillers, In Nature’s Realm and the Water Goblin, are as idiomatically played as is the concerto.
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony 4 WDR SO/Rudolf Barshai rec. 1996 ALTO ALC1169
Available now separately, Barshai’s powerful reading of this Shostakovich milestone has never been bettered. With world-class playing and deep, rich sound, the performance and recording are unmissable.
György LIGETI Le Grand Macabre Chris Merritt, Inés Moraleda, Ana Puche, Gran Teatre del Liceu SO & Ch/Michael Boder rec. 2011 ARTHAUS MUSIK 108058
A Blu-ray first for a controversial production of a weird and wonderful opera. Some may be appalled by the near pornography, while other viewers may find it enthralling. In any case, the performance could hardly be bettered and the sound and picture are stunning. The disc has a substantial bonus by way of a lengthy documentary on the staging and costumes.