High time for a review of classical CDs that were outstanding in 2013. My lists for the previous years: 2012, 2011, (2011 – “Almost”), 2010, (2010 – “Almost”), 2009, (2009 – “Almost”), 2008, (2008 - "Almost") 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.
# 1 - New Release
Johann Sebastian Bach, Original transcriptions, Ensemble Contraste, La Dolce Volta #004
La Dolce Volta
The French La Dolce Volta label’s releases are like candy, with their colorful, meticulously designed packaging and original artwork covers. Actually, make that “Belgian pralines”, because it only gets better on the inside. Performances to match the outer craftsmanship come—in this case—from the Ensemble Contraste, whose original transcriptions for piano quintet and string trio of Bach works are sublime in conception and execution. It’s like hearing old favorites as new friends: The intertwining lines of the Passacaglia are more transparent than ever; the organ chorale “Ich ruf zu dir” ineffably sensitive and touching. Busoni-like boldness and baroque strings meet with a degree of delicacy that simply needs to be heard to be believed.
# 1 – Reissue
Schöne Wiege Meiner Leiden, Johannes Brahms, Clara & Robert Schumann, Werner Güra (tenor), Christoph Berner (piano), Harmonia Mundi 501842
J.Brahms, C & R.Schumann,
Schöne Wiege Meiner Leiden
W.Güra & C.Berner
# 2 - New Release
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart / Kasper Holten, Juan, Lars Ulrik Mortensen (conductor), Concerto Copenhagen et al., axiom|FILMS AXM044
W.A.Mozart / Kasper Holten
L.U.Mortensen / Concerto Copenhagen
C.Maltman, M.Petrenko, E.Futral,
M.Bengtsson, K.Dragojevic et al.
Kasper Holten’s Juan is a film “based on Mozart & Da Ponte’s Don Giovanni”, a defensively deflecting claim to convey that the work has been translated, tailored, and adapted from the original. What it really is, though, is the freshest, most authentic reanimation of the opera I know… a masterpiece in itself for its treatment of another masterpiece. Not authentic, of course, to those who look for authenticity in form and on the surface, rather than in essence and meaning.
The venture, always sung on location rather than set to a superimposed soundtrack, seems like it was tailored around the ravishingly suave Christopher Maltman, and in a way it’s a continuation of the stupendous “perfect conservative production” that Claus Guth produced in Salzburg between 2008 and 2011. (See 2010 review.) The cast includes a host of brilliant singing actors, one more moving, touching, arousing than the next, chief among them Elizabeth Futral’s tragic Elvira, Maria Bengtsson’s potent Anna, Katija Dragojevic’s tantalizing Zerlina, and Mikhail Petrenko’s rough hewn Leporello. The music is driven splendidly by the original instrument Concerto Copenhagen and Lars Ulrik Mortensen who are as vivid as the images of this thrilling movie (that happens to be an opera).
As Paul Johnson writes in (the just about only insightful part of) his “Mozart – A Life”: The notion of the irresistible force (Giovanni) crashing into an immovable stone object (Commendatore) is a glorious one, well spelled out by some of the best music Mozart ever wrote. Holten spells it out on film, literally, in a way that has to be seen by anyone with half an open mind. The release schedule for this film is all over the place. If you have an international-region player (or computer), you can best get the DVD or Blu-Ray very cheaply from the UK or Germany.
# 2 – Reissue
Ludwig van Beethoven, The String Quartets, Quatuor Végh, naïve 4871
L.v.Beethoven, The String Quartets
The String Quintets
# 3 - New Release
Francis Poulenc, Mélodies on poems by Paul Éluard & Louise de Vilmorin, Holger Falk (baritone), Alesandro Zuppardo (piano), m|DG 3071815
H.Falk / A.Zuppardo
Dramatic and nuanced, impeccably articulated, honey-toned, sweeping and musically partnered. The Lied recital disc of the year. See review here: Dip Your Ears, No. 158 (Le Travail du Peintre)
Made possible by Listen Music Magazine.
# 3 – Reissue
Joseph Haydn, Select String Quartets, Quatuor Mosaïques, naïve 5357
See also: Dip Your Ears, No. 11 (A Mosaïque of Haydn), Quatuor Mosaïques Worth the Wait, and Dancing Boots with Quatuor Mosaïques.
# 4 - New Release
Othmar Schoeck, Notturno, (+ F. Schreker, Der Wind for Strings-Winds-Piano Quintet), Stephan Genz (baritone), Leipzig String Quartet, m|DG 3071815
Notturno et al.
S.Genz / Leipzig SQ4t
# 4 – Reissue
Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart, Complete String Quintets, Talich Quartet, La Dolce Volta 109
La Dolce Volta
# 5 - New Release
Mieczysław Weinberg, Complete works for Violin and Piano, Linus Roth (violin), José Gallardo (piano), Challenge Classics 72567
Works for Violin & Piano
L.Roth / J.Gallardo
By way of disclaimer (to be honest, not to be pretentious): I wrote the liner notes for the release. There’s an ongoing cycle on Toccata Classics with Yuri Kalnits and Michael Csányi-Wills that’s most excellent, too, and includes the works for solo violin (and may include the Two Songs Without Words, which was discovered shortly after the above set was finished), but it’s going to be a while in the making.
* The set was complete at the time of recording. The unpublished Two Songs Without Words for violin and piano from 1947, though known to exist, had not yet turned up. Now Weinberg expert David Fanning has found them, in a Moscow archive over Easter 2013.
# 5 – Reissue
Ludwig van Beethoven, The Very Nearly Complete String Quartets, Amadeus Quartet, Audite 21424
What makes the set stand out is the Amadeus Quartet’s complete command of that chamber-music feel: the musicians—headed but not dominated by Norbert Brainin—become one organism that finds its expression through Beethoven (in this case). The fact that each movement of every work has been recorded in one continuous take only helps with this impression of a continuous arch and development. Warmth and an eager tension are combined to great results, leaving plenty younger interpretations that take the either athletic-Olympic approach or a merely beauticious one well behind.
There’s no need to pretend that many modern string quartets haven’t even greater technical mastery today. Or that recording quality hasn’t considerably improved*** (admittedly pointless when it’s voided via mp3 or poor streaming). Or that there aren’t select quartets which have just as much artistic and musical urgency and expressiveness. The qualities that make the Amadeus Quartet in Beethoven great are still most appreciable today: Among the great historic cycles, this is one that Beethoven lovers will immediately embrace alongside the first Budapest and second Végh cycles (more of the latter soon or above) as their go-to choices for old-world nostalgic beauty and musical insight.
* Only the “Harp Quartet” No.10, op.74 is missing, but to fill the void the String Quintet op.29 (with Cecil Aronowitz) is added. The Grosse Fuge is performed separately from op.130, as on their slightly later, fine but less vigorous, studio DG set.
** Really 1950 through 1962; only op.127 stems from 1967
*** The sound quality of these re-masterings off the original high speed analogue tapes are actually of superb quality and far better than anything one would ever expect from to hear from recordings that old.
# 6 - New Release
Ivan Karabits, Concertos for Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Kirill Karabits (conductor), Naxos 8.572633
Concertos for Orchestra
K.Karabits / Bournemouth SO
Made possible by Listen Music Magazine.
# 6 – Reissue
Johann Sebastian Bach, L'orgue concertant - Sinfonias, Sonates & Concertos, André Isoir (organ), La Dolce Volta 118
J.S.Bach, Organ Concertos et al.
La Dolce Volta 115
# 7 - New Release
Dimitri Shostakovich, Complete String Quartets v.3, String Quartets 9-12, Pacifica Quartet, Cedille 138
D.Shostakovich, Complete String Quartets v.3
(String Quartets 9-12)
But for excitement and ingenuity, the Pacifica Quartet is hurtling toward the pole position. In their combination of ferocious attack, grit, and accuracy—but also a strong lyrical strain—they are only rivaled by the Jerusalem Quartet, who bring out—or so my imagination hears it—a bit more Russian flavor and irony in their two discs on Harmonia Mundi. The kicker is the Pacifica’s ingenious coupling with DSCH-contemporary quartets —Weinberg’s Sixth String Quartet in volume 3, Prokofiev and Myaskovsky previously.
# 7 – Reissue
Felix Mendelssohn-B., Complete String Quartets, Talich Quartet, La Dolce Volta 115
F.Mendelssohn-B., Complete String Quartets
La Dolce Volta 115
# 8 - New Release
Johann Sebastian Bach, Cantatas BWV 30, 69, 191 (Volume 55), Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki (director), BIS SACD 2031
Cantatas v. 55
M.Suzuki / Bach Collegium Japan
What comes to a very happy conclusion is nothing less than the far and away finest, most dedicated Bach Cantata cycle that a label started and actually pulled through with and brought to fruition*—through all the changes and upheavals that the classical music record industry has endured over the last 18 years! It is a testament to the dedication of BIS, the devotion of Suzuki and his fellow artists, and the glorious (if also ever precarious) state of the classical music industry.
Happily the conclusion is as glorious a celebration as the project deserves. Out of the box, Suzuki & Co. are their explosive self. This hasn’t changed that much over the last 18 years, but the innate coherence and musicality that has been invariably part of the last two-dozen or so releases ( which had not been so consistently present in all the earlier releases) gives it irresistible appeal. His singers—regulars Hana Blažíková, Robin Blaze, Gerd Türk, and Peter Kooij—bring their usual high standards to the three works.
For those who like the spunk of Sigiswald Kuijken’s One-Year cycle in their complete Cantata survey, fleet tempi, bright playing, accuratezza, and glorious, well-nourished choruses and chorales, Suzuki is the go-to choice as a whole. For those who are into certain singers—Carolyn Sampson(!!!), Gerd Türk, Dorothee Mields among them—the late releases are ideal for picking favorites and raisins out of the lot.
# 8 – Reissue
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Gran Partita K.361, Sérénade No.12 K.388, Harmonie de l’Orchestre des Champs-Élysées, Philippe Herreweghe (conductor), Harmonia Mundi 501570
W.A. Mozart, Gran Partita,
P.Herreweghe / H.d.l’O.d.Champs-Élysées
Few make that act so easy and desirable as Philippe Herreweghe and his Harmonie de l’Orchestre des Champs-Élysées. Lively, chattering, rambunctious, and happily chugging along, spirits are high at all times, the Menuettos don’t grow tedious, and the slow movements never dawdle. Herreweghe throws in the Serenade No.12, K.388. Sometimes called “Nacht Musique”, it is not to be mistaken with the next—also short—Serenade No.13, K.525, the famous “Eine kleine Nachtmusik”. It’s less overplayed and just as much fun.
# 9 - New Release
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Complete Symphonies, volume 2, Danish National Chamber Orchestra, Adam Fischer (conductor), Dacapo SACD 6220537
W.A.Mozart, Complete Symphonies, volume 2
A.Fischer / Danish National CO
# 9 – Reissue
Johann Sebastian Bach, Orchestral Suites (Overtures), Berlin Akademie für Alte Musik, Harmonia Mundi 501578
J.S. Bach, Orchestral Suites (Overtures)
# 10 - New Release
Vagn Holmboe, Concertos, Dima Slobodeniouk (conductor), Erik Heide (violin), Lars Anders Tomter (viola), Norköpping Symphony Orchestra, Dacapo 6220599
E.Heide, L.A.Tomter / D.Slobodeniouk / Norköpping SO
# 10 – Reissue
Antonio Vivaldi, Cello Concertos, Roel Dieltiens (cello), Ensemble Explorations, Harmonia Mundi 508235
A.Vivaldi, Cello Concertos
R.Dieltiens / Ensemble Explorations
Roel Dieltiens’ recordings of Vivaldi cello concerto have been released piecemeal over the last 15 years. Long only available as single discs, a two-CD set of a dozen of Vivaldi’s about two-dozen such concertos was released in 2007, to surprisingly little fanfare, given their enormous quality. They’ve been re-issued now on the Harmonia Mundi Gold line and remain some of the most immediately and lastingly pleasing Vivaldi discs in my collection and an obvious go-to item for a dose of inspired pre-Romantic cello concertos. The (historically informed) Ensemble Explorations and the soloist engage in almost unseemly playfulness which gives their interpretations a quasi-improvisatory spontaneity.