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28.11.14

Black Friday and Cyber Monday: Things I Liked This Year

For your Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping, here are some gift ideas from the CDs, DVDs, and books I enjoyed this year, in no particular order. Jens will also offer his thoughts on the best recordings of the year. When you buy through the links provided on these pages, Ionarts receives a cut at no extra cost to you -- so you are actually giving two gifts at once.

RECORDINGS

J. H. Hertel, Die Geburt Jesu Christi, B. Solset, A. Rawohl, M. Ullmann, W.-M. Friedrich, Die Kölner Akademie, M. A. Willens (cpo 777 809-2)
available at Amazon
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If you have even heard of Johann Wilhelm Hertel (1727-1789), it is likely because of his trumpet or oboe concertos, already revived in the search for concertos for those instruments. He was the son of a viola da gamba player and violinist, who was a close friend of Johann Gottlieb Graun, and he served as court composer for the Dukes of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Like J. S. Bach and other composers in this period, his compositional output varied according to the tastes and interests of his employer. During the life of Duke Christian Ludwig II, Hertel wrote mostly instrumental music, but from 1777 to 1783, he composed a series of long cantatas or oratorios for the new Stadtkirche in Ludwigslust, where his employer Duke Frederick the Pious had retired from worldly life, a building of considerable architectural and artistic interest. This includes Hertel's Christmas cantata, Die Geburt Jesu Christi, here receiving its world premiere recording. [READ REVIEW]

Enescu, Isis / Symphony No. 5, M. Vlad, Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern, NDR Chor, P. Ruzicka (cpo 777823-2)
available at Amazon
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We are avid fans of the music of George Enescu here at Ionarts. The Rumanian composer kept up a restless schedule of performing (he was a talented violinist), as well as being an educator and musicologist. At the time of his death, in Paris in 1955, he apparently left a large number of pieces incomplete. Some of these are still being brought to light, thanks to Pascal Bentoiu, a Romanian composer and also Enescu biographer, who has made performance versions of them according to Enescu's intentions. This new release from the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern and conductor Peter Ruzicka offers performances of two of them, beginning with the vocal symphonic poem Isis, which Bentoiu discovered only in 1996 in an archive in Bucharest. It is an atmospheric, languid, mostly static work for orchestra, wordless women's chorus, harp, and celesta, and Bentiou connects it, composed in 1923, to Enescu's mistress, eventually wife, Maruca Cantacuzini, whom Enescu called Isis. [READ REVIEW]

Bach, Academic Cantatas (BWV 205, 207), Bach Collegium Japan, M. Suzuki (BIS-2001)
available at Amazon
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The completion of Masaaki Suzuki's complete cycle of Bach's sacred cantatas, undertaken from 1995 to 2013 with the Bach Collegium Japan for BIS, was one of the highlights of last year. Bach also composed secular cantatas, over a score of them that survive but likely more than twice that number actually composed, and Suzuki and his forces are releasing their fourth volume of those this month. The two cantatas brought together on this disc, BWV 205 and 207, are both academic cantatas, commissioned in honor of professors at the University of Leipzig, with texts that celebrate the honorees' achievements in allegorical and mythological terms. As we have come to expect of this series, all musical details in these sometimes surprising scores are lovingly tended. The quartet of vocal soloists is strong: forthright countertenor Robin Blaze and bass Roderick Williams, the sweet and light tenor of Wolfram Lattke, and the ethereal soprano of Joanne Lunn. [READ REVIEW]

G. G. Kapsberger (et alii), Labirinto d'Amore (arias and toccatas), A. Reinhold, T. Dunford (Alpha 195)
available at Amazon
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The music of Italian lutenist-composer Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, who was born a generation after Dowland, unites lutenist Thomas Dunford with mezzo-soprano Anna Reinhold. The meat of the program features Dunford, on an archlute, in sensitively phrased renditions of the eight toccatas from Kapsberger's first book of lute tablatures, printed in 1611. In the booklet, along with the informative essay by scholar Alessio Ruffati (and English translations in need of another editor's pass), Dunford acknowledges the guidance of lutenist Paul O'Dette, who has recorded the Kapsberger works for lute, and Hopkinson Smith. Since Kapsberger is remembered, quite justly, more as a lutenist than as a vocal composer, the program is sprinkled with vocal selections by composers who knew better what to do with a voice, including Giulio Caccini, Claudio Monteverdi, Barbara Strozzi, and Tarquinio Merula. [READ REVIEW]

Vivaldi, L'incoronazione di Dario, A. Dahlin, S. Mingardo, D. Galou, Accademia Bizantina, O. Dantone (Naïve OP30553)
available at Amazon
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All of the opera releases in Naïve’s Vivaldi Edition, which will eventually contain recordings of all of Antonio Vivaldi’s operas as found in the composer's manuscript collection of the Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria di Torino, will receive mention here at Ionarts. The latest one, L'incoronazione di Dario, stands out, however, for the beauty of its score and unusual libretto (in an edition put together by Stefano Aresi for Act I and Giovanni Andrea Secchi for Acts II and III). The story concerns the succession of Darius I to the throne of Cyrus as ruler of the Persian Empire. The libretto by Adriano Morselli is based on historical events but highly fanciful in its details, and at the time Vivaldi set it, for a premiere at the Teatro Sant'Angelo in Venice in the carnival season of 1717, it was already more than thirty years old and in a style regarded as old-fashioned. [READ REVIEW]

C.P.E. Bach, Heilig / Magnificat, E. Watts, W. Lehmkuhl, L. Odinius, M. Eiche, RIAS Kammerchor, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, H.-C. Rademann (HMC 902167)
available at Amazon
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The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin was at the Library of Congress earlier this year, performing some instrumental music by C.P.E. Bach, part of that institution's observance of the 300th anniversary of the composer's birth. This recent disc provides a brief survey of some of C.P.E. Bach's sacred music, based on a concert the composer himself presented in Hamburg, where he was music director, on Palm Sunday (April 9) in 1786. It was a benefit concert, organized on behalf of a group of doctors who treated poor patients pro bono. After a first half focused on the two giants of the generation before him, his father, J.S. Bach, and Handel, the second half featured the pieces recorded on this disc, a sampling of C.P.E. Bach's compositional achievement: his 1749 setting of the Magnificat canticle, Heilig for double choir (composed in 1776, when C.P.E. was in Hamburg), and an orchestral symphony, Wq. 183. [READ REVIEW]

F. David, Lalla Roukh, M. Fiset, E. G. Toro, N. Paulin, B. Deletré, Opera Lafayette, R. Brown (Naxos 8.660338-39)
available at Amazon
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Ryan Brown and his ensemble, Opera Lafayette, were thinking about this opéra comique by Félicien David at least as far back as 2008, when they performed some excerpts of it at the National Gallery of Art. The exotic setting in India was brought to life with costumes by the New Delhi-based designer Poonam Bhagat and dances performed by the Kalanidhi Dance company. The excerpts performed in 2008 were to the accompaniment of a piano reduction, and the Naxos recording of the full score, made back around the time of the Kennedy Center performance, makes clear how much one misses without the orchestration. The full-length overture, which opens with evocative horn calls and is tinged with triangle and other unusual colors, is worthy of consideration by symphony orchestras as an alternative concert-opener. The rest of the score is no less accomplished, adding to the sense that David is a composer whose time for a reassessment has come. [READ REVIEW]

L. Le Prince, Missa Macula non est in te (inter alia), Le Concert Spirituel, H. Niquet (Glossa GCD921627)
available at Amazon
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Sacred music in 17th-century France has perhaps taken a back seat to the opera of that period. French conductor Hervé Niquet here makes an ingenious attempt to provide one glimpse into the Baroque chapelle -- French pronunciation of Latin and all -- with a disc of music from the period performed by all women's voices. The backbone of the program is the first recording of the Missa Macula non est in te, a setting of the Ordinary for six voices by Louis Le Prince, the maître de chapelle at the Cathedral of Lisieux, published in 1663, the only work by him known to survive. Proceeding from sources about practices relating to music performed by convents of nuns in the 17th century, Niquet has put together a sort of Mass-Office hybrid, with the five Mass movements surrounded by other pieces suited to different feast days but all for women's voices, here ten singers beautifully balanced in ensemble. [READ REVIEW]

FILM

The World's End (directed by Edgar Wright)
available at Amazon
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The World's End is the third installment of Edgar Wright's trilogy about lovable, pub-bound losers in world-altering circumstances. After sorting out the Zombie Apocalypse (Shaun of the Dead) and a small-town neighborhood watch conspiracy (Hot Fuzz), Wright and the usual suspects find themselves in another town where all is not as it seems. (In between came Wright's strange but also funny Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, not with the British crew, but that had the same curious mix of aimless youth and wild fantasy.) This time, we follow a band of mates who return to their home town, the idyllic village of Newton Haven, to try to relive a legendary night of drinking from their youth. They are grudgingly reunited by Gary King, played by Simon Pegg, who shares the screenwriting credit with Wright, a high school notable whom time has left behind. [READ REVIEW]

The Grand Budapest Hotel (directed by Wes Anderson)
available at Amazon
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For some reason, we did not review this film when it came out, but Wes Anderson's follow-up to Moonrise Kingdom was one of the best films of the year. Based on the writings of Stefan Zweig, the story is set in an old-world hotel in a fictitious, mountaintop kingdom, and beyond that I will not ruin anything else. Somehow Anderson has managed to pitch his quirky, independent style of story-telling to a broader audience, and in Grand Budapest Hotel he has made perhaps his most broadly appealing movie. On one hand, I am glad that one of my favorite directors is becoming known among a wider audience; on the other, we will lose the sense of conspiracy that was so fun when meeting someone else familiar with the Anderson oeuvre.

BOOKS

Elena Ferrante, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (translation by Ann Goldstein)
available at Amazon
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The third volume of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels appeared in English this year, but for a gift one should probably begin with (or at least include) Part 1 and Part 2. Ferrante, whoever she is, grew up in Naples, where these books unfold, following an extraordinary friendship between the increasingly classics-oriented narrator, who is named Elena (Ferrante apparently studied classics), and an even more brilliant friend she calls Lila. The city of Naples and their violent neighborhood are drawn with concise and vivid lines, as Ferrante retraces the episodes in her life that inspired her earlier writings. [READ MORE]

The Human Comedy: Selected Stories by Honoré de Balzac (translation by Linda Asher et al.)
available at Amazon
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For someone looking for a place to start La Comédie humaine, Balzac's sprawling, interconnected collection of novels, novellas, and short stories, this is as good as any. This new translation of several longer stories, by Linda Asher, Carol Cosman, and Jordan Stump, was published this year by the New York Review of Books. Balzac was a gastronome of the highest order, and many of his stories have the feel of, or are even presented literally in the context of, tales told at the end of such meals. As he wrote in a story also in this collection, Another Study of Womankind, "The body must be secure and at ease before we can tell a good tale. The best narratives are spun at a certain hour -- look at all of us sitting here at this table! No one has ever told a good story on his feet nor with an empty stomach." [READ MORE, plus Un début dans la vie]

Karl Ove Knausgård, My Struggle, Book 3 (translation by Don Bartlett)
available at Amazon
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The third book in the English translation of the Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård's memoir-novel came out this year, and again it is probably best for gift-giving purposes to start with Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. After dealing mostly with episodes of his young adult life in the first two volumes, Knausgård now turns back to the beginning, poring over his earliest memories and what life was like growing up on Tromøya Island in southern Norway. The tense, conflicted feelings the author has for his father, the towering and yet often petty figure whose disastrous decline dominated the first volume, are coming more clearly into focus. [READ MORE]

Günter Grass, The Tin Drum (translation by Breon Mitchell)
available at Amazon
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This book, usually cited as the most important German novel published since World War II, does not need my recommendation, but it has it anyway. It has an unusual history of readership, since it became widely known in an English translation, by Ralph Manheim, that straightened out some of its literary oddities. This new translation, commissioned in honor of the 50th anniversary of the novel's publication, is of interest even to those who have already read the book because it restores some of those oddities. (The text concludes with a fascinating note from the translator, Breon Mitchell, about the aims of translation.) Although this book was actually published in 2010, the unforgettable narrator's voice, newly appreciated in this translation, was one of the highlights of my reading this year. [READ MORE]

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