There are a few recordings I just couldn't not include, but limiting myself to ten new releases on the upcoming 'official list' I have to outsource the rest to this list. Cheating? Yes, but in the name of good music.
J.Ryelandt, Piano Quintet, String Quartet et al.,
Spiegel String Quartet et al.
L.Segerstam / Helsinki PO / Isokoski, Hakala
In 1997 Colin Davis recorded his first Kullervo for his second Sibelius symphony cycle (on RCA), in 2006 his second (better, but still overrated) Kullervo for his third Sibelius Symphony cycle (on LSO live). Osmo Vänskä's most transparent Kullervo with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra came out in 2001 (BIS). Then, in the last two years, companies discovered the potential for this dark choral symphony to showcase SACD (surround) sound: Said Colin Davis' recording made the start in February, Ari Rasilainen on cpo followed in November, released on the same date as Robert Spano's Atlanta performance on Telarc (regular / SACD). Which brings us to May of 2008 and Leif Segerstam's second recording of Kullervo, again with Soile Isokoski who is absolutely terrific as is the YL Male Voice Choir, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, and Ondine's sound. I've heard Segerstam live only in Tristan & Isolde (Vienna), which was second rate, at best. But in Sibelius he knows what he is doing, he's evidently in his element. His new soft-lit symphony cycle on Ondine is superb (except for the included Violin Concerto), and this Kullervo is, too. Less dark and harsh than this piece about orphans separated at birth finding each other (in incestuous rape, alas) years later, leading to suicide (her) and post-heroic battle-field-action suicide (him) is usually portrayed. Segerstam draws this out to 78 minutes (only Vänskä takes longer while keeping it cohesive), lets Kullervo go to war in most mirthful manner and lets him fade softly into dead grass on his sister's grave.
Bach, "Christ is my Life" et al.,
Herreweghe / Collegium Vocale Gent / Mields, White et al.
A.Berg, 3 Pieces for Orchestra op.6, Lulu Suite,
D.Gatti / RCO
RCO Live 08004
Mahler’s Fourth (Haitink) and Stravinsky’s Firebird (with Le Sacre) made it both unto my upcoming “Best of 2008” list. Debussy’s La Mer is a colorful, sonic dream, Jansons’ Alpine Symphony I don’t have yet, and Daniele Gatti’s disc with orchestral works by Alban Berg, too, is marvelous – and it’s that disc that I must include on this “Almost Best of” list. The Three Pieces for Orchestra here rival the Berlin Philharmonic’s sumptuous recording with Karajan (DG Originals), coming very close to how the latter makes the music sound like molten romanticism. The Lulu Suite (also found in good hands with Abbado, DG Originals) benefits equally from the Concertgebouw’s gorgeous sound and Gatti’s sensuous inflection, but suffers from being less suited to letting phrases glide into another: a bit more rhythmic precision might have allowed it to shine even more.
Berg, Schoenberg, Webern, Lyric Suite (Largo), String Quartet No.2, Langsamer Satz,
Petersen Quartet, Christine Schäfer
Phoenix Edition 133
W.A.Mozart, Symphonies 38-41,
Mackerras / Scottish Chamber Orchestra
F.Weingartner, String Quartets vol.1,
Felix Weingartner’s String Quartets are a high-romantic delight to listen to – and I’m so glad that cpo is giving his music so much attention. (Chamber Music You Didn’t Know You Love – 4 [link dead])
Sir Charles Mackerras doesn’t tire, and he seems only to get better. I liked his English Cosí fan tutte (although a bit too out of the way to include here) and re-recording Mozart Symphonies 38-41 for Linn with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra he strikes gold, too. Lively, sprightly, intimate, joyous throughout… Mackerras makes Mozart’s ‘big’ Symphonies sound a little more compact in size without the idea that something might be missing ever entering the listener’s mind.
J.S.Bach, Matthew Passion (1742 version),
Butt / Dunedin Consort et al.
J.S.Bach, Cello Suites,
Schumann, Violin Sonatas,
C.Widmann & D.Várjon
ECM New Series 2047
Widmann really digs into these works, making sure that Schumann isn’t mistaken for Brahms. It’s more like Isabelle Faust plays it (cpo), and less like Anthony Marwood (with Susan Tomes, Hyperion, and in any case not including Sonata #3) does, the latter being on the mellifluous side. Widmann isn’t afraid of letting some of the labor shine through, but a labor of love. Jennifer Koh released the three sonatas on Cedille last year (with Reiko Uchida) and Ara Malikian’s well regarded recording on Hänssler Classic is another choice, too but I’ve heard neither of them. Based on what I’ve heard on this disc (including the sensitive playing of Dénes Várjon that balances the strident vigor of Widmann a good deal), though, I’d be surprised if they are more recommendable than this marvel.
Oehms’ recording of the Bach Suites with the young Sebastian Klinger is not superior to Queyras and Lipkind, but it is very, very good and a worthy addition to anyone who doesn’t mind having a half dozen or more performances of the Suites.