Time for a review of classical CDs that were outstanding in 2012. My lists for the previous years: 2011, (2011 – “Almost”), 2010, (2010 – “Almost”), 2009, (2009 – “Almost”), 2008, (2008 - "Almost") 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.
# 1 - New Release
H.Purcell et al., Dorothee Mields, Lautten Copagney Berlin,
Wolfgang Katschner, Carus 83371
H.Purcell, “Love’s Madness”
D.Mields / W.Katschner / Lautten Copagney Berlin
# 1 – Reissue
D.Scarlatti, 19 Keyboard Sonatas, Sergei Babayan, Piano Classics 0024
D.Scarlatti, 19 Keyboard Sonatas,
# 2 - New Release
E.Wolf-Ferrari, Violin Concerto, Overtures & Intermezzi, Benjamin Schmid, Friedrich Haider, Oviedo Filarmoniía, Farao 108069
E.Wolf-Ferrari, Violin Concerto, et al.,
B.Schmid / F.Haider / Oviedo Filarmoniía
Being premiered in 1944, by the Munich Philharmonic under Oswald Kabasta in the “Capital of the Movement” with an American soloist who elected to stay in Italy and Germany during WWII (Guila Bustabo, worth an essay or two of her own): all that didn’t help its journey to posterity… Neither can its romantic tone have endeared it to post-WWII audiences. That brew of music and political history was precisely the thing audiences—or at least the taste-makers—reacted against when they signed up to the avant-garde. Politically and ideologically, one can’t hold it against them. Musically it was a great loss that’s slowly being remedied. This recording is one of many such signs.
Hard to believe that this is only the third recording of the concerto since the premiere performance broadcast. Ulf Hoelscher’s (2000, cpo) was an honorable effort, but not competitive. Narimichi Kawabata’s (2010, Victor Entertainment) is a Japan-only release with naturally limited circulation. This, Benjamin Schmid’s, is the release that will blow the lid of the concerto and its repertoire history.
Benjamin Schmid was primed to be Austria’s next super-star violinst, but his career has moved laterally instead and he still awaits the real international breakthrough. That doesn’t change the fact that he is a world class fiddler—a gift and tenacity he decidedly puts to use in this concerto. The Oviedo Filarmonía is not an established brand in the orchestra world, in fact it’s third class at best. But they respond and are sympathetic to Wolf-Ferrari’s idiom, or else Wolf-Ferrari advocate Friedrich Haider, their recent Music Director, has made them so. Either way, the performances of the concerto and the Opera-excerpts, unlike so many other well meaning performances of rare repertoire, is very satisfactory.
Those latter four orchestral excerpts are not the main ingredient by any stretch, but they’re great fun, too. Wolf-Ferrari has a gift for masterly turns of phrases, has you in suspense with just two notes. You’ll find touches of Beethoven’s Ninth, Sibelius, and playful hints of Italian opera (Boito, Verdi) in them, and bop along. The Farao release comes with exemplary liner notes, in lavish packaging, and with a bonus DVD. (The documentary can be watched on YouTube - subtitles in English et al. available.)
# 2 – Reissue
Mieczysław Weinberg, Piano Sonatas 4-6, Murray McLachlan, divine art 25107
Weinberg, Piano Sonatas 4-6
# 3 - New Release
A.Schoenberg, L.v.Beethoven, J.Haydn, A.Berg, An die ferne Geliebte op.98, Adelaïde op.46, The Book of the Hanging Gardens op.15, Altenberg Lieder, 3 Songs
C.Gerhaher, G.Huber, Sony 1935432
Schoenberg, Beethoven, Haydn, Berg, "Ferne Geliebte
Note: It looks like the version available on Amazon.com is a CD-R on Demand, which is BS. Perhaps best get it from the UK or German outlet, instead.
# 3 – Reissue
D.Shostakovich, Six String Quartets, Jerusalem Quartet, Harmonia Mundi Gold 508392
DSCH, SQ4ts 1,4,6,8,9,11,
# 4 - New Release
F.Schubert, Fanatsie in C, Rondo in b, Sonata in A, Carolin Widmann, Alexander Lonquich, ECM 1648702
Schumann, Fanatsie, Rondo, Sonata
# 4 – Reissue
F.Chopin, Nocturnes, Ivan Moravec, Supraphon 4097
His—Moravec’s—1965 recording of the Chopin Nocturnes has been out on a variety of labels and gotten most circulation—at least in the US—on Connoisseur Society and Nonesuch. It’s considerably more famous than its proponents would like to think. Indeed it’s probably what Moravec is best known for (at least to those who have never heard him in recital), but that doesn’t make it less excellent: Unsentimental (a fine compliment to M.J.Pires’ recording, therefore) but with depth and sensitivity many shades of color, except all with hints of sepia. The sound is good, a little less harsh than it used to be (on Nonesuch) but not so much better that the old releases need replacing. Every Chopin collection would be richer for this recording, though.
# 5 - New Release
Max Richter / Antonio Vivaldi, Recomposed - The Four Seasons, D.Hope, André de Ridder, Konzerthaus CO, DG 1748602
M.Richter, Recomposed / Four Seasons
D.Hope / A.de Ridder / Konzerthaus CO
Richter is British genre-defying composer fond of electronic elements who has composed ballets for the Royal Opera House alongside collections of ringtones. His Vivaldi-goes-clubbing approach works most extraordinarily so in “Spring” and “Summer” where Richter opens whole new avenues and sightlines of beauty, calm and distant and dotted with moments of wicked otherness. Richter didn’t just re-mix extant recordings into pseudo-hip newishness, as DG’s “Re-Composed” series has done before (Carl Craig & Moritz von Oswald’s Ravel/Musorgsky, Matthew Herbert’s “Mahler Symphony X”, Jimi Tenor, and Matthias Arfmann). Instead he created the piece from scratch, stripped Vivaldi bare, re-forged it, and recorded it with Daniel Hope. Not surprisingly, Richter is least interesting where skirmishes closest to the original, but those instances are rare and the rewards elsewhere outweigh them greatly.
# 5 – Reissue
P.Hindemith, Eight Sonatas, Das Marienleben, Glenn Gould & others, Sony 541357
Hindemith, Piano & Brass Sonatas, Marienleben,
G.Gould / R.Roslak et al.
I’d like to use the series for highlighting the true, but often ignored marvels in Gould’s output, namely the recordings of composers that were so dreadfully unfashionable in his time, that solely by playing them he already made a statement—and therefore didn’t feel compelled to add any Gouldisms in the interpretation to make a statement in the first place. That’s when his genius came to the fore, without the exasperating (or delightful, depending on the listener) wilfully contrarian streak. That includes his recordings of Richard Strauss—Enoch Arden with Claude Rains, 5 Pieces, the Sonata, and the Ophelia Lieder (Mrs. Legge-Schwarzkopf), his Schoenberg—Klavierstücke, various Songs, Ode to Napoleon, Fantasy, Piano Suite, Piano Concerto with Robert Craft, the Book of Hanging Gardens (!), et al, his six last Haydn Sonatas, and the Berg & Krenek bits. Exemplary for these off-the-beaten-path recordings in which he excelled I want to highlight his recording of the three Hindemith Sonatas, unsurpassed to this day, and coupled on four discs with the brass and piano sonatas, and Das Marienleben, Hindemith’s Rainer Maria Rilke-based song cycle. Turns out that Hindemith is still not very popular or reputation-enhancing fare today, but Gould makes you wonder why, more than any other pianist or even musician.
# 6 - New Release
August De Boeck, Piano Concerto, Theroigne De Mericourt Prelude, Francesca Orchestral Suite, Jozef de Beenhouwer, Ivo Venkov, Janácek Ph.O., Phaedra 92071
De Boeck, Piano Concertoet al.
J.de Beenhouwer / I.Venkov / Janácek Ph.O.
(Review first published in Listen Magazine)
# 6 – Reissue
L.v.Beethoven, The Complete String Quartets, Talich Quartet, La Dolce Volta 121
Beethoven, Five Symphonies,
La Dolce Volta 121
# 7 - New Release
Hans Pfitzner, Palestrina, K.Petrenko, Frankfurt Opera & Museum Orchestra and Chorus, Oehms OC 930
Hans Pfitzner, Palestrina
K.Petrenko / Frankfurt Opera & Museum Orchestra and Chorus
Oehms OC 930
# 7 – Reissue
A.Bruckner, Five Symphonies, Günter Wand, Berlin Philharmonic, RCA 1708661
Bruckner, Five Symphonies,
G.Wand / Berlin Philharmonic
Bruckner, Symphonies 1-9,
G.Wand / Cologne RSO
This time it is his incomplete Berlin Philharmonic cycle that contains the Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Symphonies. There are proponents of each of Wand’s cycles and his various recordings of the Eighth and Ninth especially. I’ve always made my case that the Eight in this is among the most special Bruckner recordings there are—of any symphony by any conductor: gravity, divine architecture, recording quality, dedication, orchestral sound, just enough—not too much—reverb, and that inscrutable ‘innate musicality’ in perfect combination. The Berlin Ninth is certainly my favorite Wand Ninth and among the very best. The rest is exemplary in the unfussy, unassuming, sneakily grandiose way of Wand’s.
Wand’s performances can get mistaken for bland, especially by those in need of ostentatious glare-and-blare. But that’s not how I prefer my Bruckner, nor how I think of Bruckner. Some of these recordings have been difficult to come by in the US… which makes their re-release doubly welcome. It’s anyone’s best first Bruckner-stop (unlike the specialist-Schuricht choice earlier) just as it belongs in any Bruckner-veteran’s collection.
# 8 - New Release
L.v.Beethoven & A.Berg, Violin Concertos, Isabelle Faust, Claudio Abbado, Orchestra Mozart, Harmonia Mundi 902105
L.v.Beethoven, A.Berg, Violin Concertos,
I.Faust / C.Abbado / Orchestra Mozart
Yadda-yadda-yadda. The real deal on this disc is the Berg concerto: The saturation of Faust’s tone, slightly roughened like seductive sandpaper, gives the violin concerto a quality that marries the poignantly disturbing with the felt; harshness with yearning beauty. Arabella Steinbacher’s Berg, among the best and also coupled with Beethoven, is an excellent, telling complement: A celebration of grievous, heartfelt beauty… a kind of innocent mourning to Faust/Abbado’s carnal grief. How lucky, to be so spoiled for riches in either of these concertos.
# 8 – Reissue
L.v.Beethoven, Complete Piano Trios, Trio Wanderer, Harmonia Mundi 902100
Beethoven, (Complete) Piano Trios,
Beethoven’s Piano Trios are a little convoluted; their numbering is inconsistent, the opus numbers haphazard, the provenance not always clear. The Wanderer covers the conventionally accepted core Trios: The three Opus 1 Trios, Opus 11 (variously a clarinet- or piano trio), the trio of famous central Trios opp.70 1 & 2 and op.97, Opus 44 “Variations on an original theme”, Opus 121a Kakadu Variations, the early WoO 38 Piano Trio, and the late WoO 39 Allegretto for Piano Trio. That makes the Wanderer the least complete among these “complete” sets: The Florestan throws in the very early Hess 48 Allegretto, the Beaux Arts (as does the equally completist Guarneri Trio Prague) further adds Opus 38 (arranged from the Septet, op.20), and most importantly Opus 36b, Beethoven’s own transcription of the Second Symphony. None of these complete cycles include Opus 63 (an arrangement of an arrangement—from Wind Octet op.103 via String Quintet op.4 to Piano Trio), Hess 47 (an arrangement of the first movement of the op.3 String Trio, and Kinsky/Halm Anhang 3 (an incomplete two movement piece long misattributed to Mozart). These Piano Trio foundlings can be added by picking up the Beethoven Project Trio’s disc dedicated to just them.)
Total completism isn’t everything, though, and the wonderful muscular sound of the Trio Wanderer and the superbly natural Harmonia Mundi recording should make this a tempting addition to either of the other cycles. For those yet to discover the Beethoven Piano Trios it’s a co-equal choice alongside Beaux Arts & Florestan. That it is luxuriously packed into a neat, space-saving four-disc slip-case only helps.
Edit: Turns out that the Wanderer Trio's Beethoven isn't a re-issue at all, but a new release. My fault entirely... but I'm not changing the list now.
# 9 - New Release
A.Diepenbrock, Orchestral Works, Symphonic & Orchestrated Songs, Missa in die festo, et al., Various artists, et'cetera KTC1435
A.Diepenbrock, Collected Works,
Various & numerous artists
The reason I found myself interested in Diepenbrock in the first place is because his name is among those on the plaques-of-honor in Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw: Prominently at the back balcony in the left corner, flanked by FRANCK and (fittingly) DEBUSSY. The one-time Classics teacher at a catholic school and musical autodidact became a conductor and respected composer, the most significant Dutch composer of the first decades of the 20th century, according to his biographer Leo Samama. He performed and was performed in the famous hall of his home town that now has his name emblazoned among the more (and a few still less-) famous colleagues. For his 50th birthday for example, Willem Mengelberg performed an all-Diepenbrock concert with the Concertgebouw Orchestra that was a vast artistic (and financial) success.
Riccardo Chailly appropriately couples one of his Mahler recordings—the 7th—with Diepenbrock’s symphonic song “Im grossen Schweigen”. The disc can be hard to come by, but I needed to plug the gap in my Mahler collection. The Mahler’s all very well, but it was the Diepenbrock that captured my ears and imagination. How fortuitous that the Dutch et’cetera label collected all the fine Diepenbrock recordings they could get their hands on and issued them in a 150th anniversary 8CD box plus a DVD. That’s great news for the lover of romantic 20th century music—especially for voices—with a touch of the strange.
The few orchestral works without chorus or singers are gems welding Debussy to small-scale-Wagner. His sensually chromatic 50-minute Missa in die festo for double choir, tenor, and organ is, for all its Sweelinck-substructure, so seductive, the church immediately banned its performance. His songs, dear to Mahler, are not all among his best… Loewe-Schumann-Wolff meet here, in various languages: German, Dutch, French. (Christoph Prégardien and Robert Holl are among the singers.) His lavish, equally multilingual symphonic and orchestral songs are more intriguing and were, at their time groundbreaking, inspiring Mahler’s Lied von der Erde. The Hague Philharmonic and Hans Vonk (culled from old Chandos CDs) do most of the heavy lifting, but the Concertgebouw under Chailly (“Hymn to the Night”, with Arleen Augér) and Bernard Haitink (“The Night”, with Janet Baker) contribute as well.
# 9 – Reissue
A.Bruckner, Symphonies 8 & 9, Carl Schuricht, Wiener Philharmoniker, EMI SACD 9559842
Bruckner, Sys.8 & 9,
C.Schuricht / WPh,
# 10 - New Release
E-P. Salonen, Violin Concerto, Nyx, Leila Josefowicz, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Finnish RSO, DG 1752102
E-P.Salonen, Violin Concerto, Nyx,
L.Josefowicz / E-P.Salonen / Finnish RSO
Nyx is an orchestral piece half the way to a clarinet concerto and a truly great work. It’s palpable, image-inducing music, belly music rather than brainy musical theory. It’s music that grabs you by the lapels; possibly lower. It lures, beguiles, makes luxurious use of quiet, brings out militaristic tones. Best: it’s not a second longer than the music it contains. Nyx communicates with American efficiency and candor, yet hints at a hypothetical modern continuation of Debussy; ditto Mahler, just less convoluted. Like all music Nyx benefits greatly from the live experience. But so does Beethoven and even on record it’s easy to hear how this is ingenious music. And Nyx is only supposed to be the filler on this disc which features prominently Salonen's new Violin Concerto, "Out of Nowhere". A partially sparse, partially snappy virtuoso work, played masterly by Leila Josefowicz, it's just about as appealing as Nyx: This is altogether one of the finest, most readily appealing 21st century classical music releases.
# 10 – Reissue
L.v. Beethoven, Piano Sonatas 1 - 32, Paul Badura-Skoda, Gramola
Beethoven, Piano Sonatas,
Paul Badura-Skoda, born in Vienna in 1927, Edwin Fischer student, completes—alongside his two more famous contemporaries, the fellow Fischer-student Alfred Brendel (*1931) and fellow Viennese Friedrich Gulda (*1930)—the Austrian triumvirate of pianist that shaped the interpretation of the classical repertoire. They all recorded complete Beethoven Piano Sonata cycles multiple times (see LvB Sonata Cycle Survey); eight times between them. This is the first of Badura-Skoda’s two goes at it… and while his second traversal for Auvidis Astrée (1978 – 1989) is HIP and performed on seven different Fortepianos and Hammerklaviers, this first cycle on a Bösendorfer Imperial Grand is the connoisseur's Echt-Viennese cycle. Americans might remember it through the issue of the Musical Heritage Society’s recordings for Beethoven's bicentenary in 1970. It has now been re-issued for the second time on CD, by its ‘original’ label, Gramola. To make it more interesting still, they throw in an additional CD with two further, hitherto unpublished interpretations of the op.106, the Hammerklavier Sonata: a live concert recording from Warsaw, 1976 and a studio recording from four years later, performed on a Fortepiano from Beethoven's time.