Time for a review of classical CDs that were outstanding in 2014 (published in whole on Forbes.com). My lists for the previous years: 2013, 2012, 2011, (2011 – “Almost”), 2010, (2010 – “Almost”), 2009, (2009 – “Almost”), 2008, (2008 - "Almost") 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.
# 7 - New Release
Franz Schubert, Symphonies 3 - 5, Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Thomas Dausgaard (conductor), BIS SACD 1786
F.Schubert, Symphonies 3 - 5
T.Dausgaard / Swedish CO
Early Schubert symphonies are just a soupçon of tedium away from being boring. Wildness, youthful jubilance, brilliance and a good timpani thwacking are all necessary ingredients and it’s not surprising that (early) Schubert is being well served by early music and chamber ensembles: they are tuned to vitality and happy to go for the jugular. The Freiburg Baroque Orchestra (with Pablo Heras-Casado, Harmonia Mundi) tackles the Third and Fourth in their typical top-notch style (see Charles' review here), punching holes in the score, though perhaps even overdoing the drive in the Third: Frans Brüggen and the Orchestra of the 18th Century (Philips) had shown in the 90s that excitement is not necessarily about conducting faster—although they then proceed to be faster and more exciting in the Fourth Symphony. Honors among recent, very successful Schubert releases must be Thomas Dausgaard and his Swedish Chamber Orchestra, though. They have the best sound of the lot and perhaps the most deft hand at these works, too: Wherever slow, Dausgaard never drags, wherever fast, he never hurries. Punch and zest, yes, but not outright violence. The drum-roll opening of the Fourth shoots out like a salvo of (non-violent) machine gun fire, the darkness of the strings mourns passionately… The Fifth of Schubert, a personal favorite, can be a sunny masterpiece. Günter Wand in his last recording delivered something near genial perfection (NDRSO, RCA), but in his snappier way, Dausgaard rather matches him. That’s reason enough to declare the @SWCOrchestra’s disc one of the finds of the year!
# 7 – Reissue
Josef Rheinberger, Organ Works, Rudolf Innig (organ), M|DG 3171864
J.Rheinberger, Organ Works,
Walking through Munich with a dear friend interested, if not immersed, in classical music, we hit upon a street named after one of my favorite late romantic composers: Josef Gabriel Rheinberger (1839–1901), also my favorite Liechtensteinean composer, Munich-based most of his life. My friend looked down the little one-block street and innocently dead-panned: “Mustn’t have been a very popular composer”. Admittedly, “popular” is probably not the term. Rheinberger is not a name familiar to every classical music lover. In fact, the organist may be better known as the composition teacher of Engelbert Humperdinck, Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari and Wilhelm Furtwängler. I’ve fallen in love with his touching, beautiful music which is fairly conservative and perhaps not as fancy as you might imagine the court composer of Bavarian Ludwig II to have written.
His masses are good stuff, his organ and violin pieces I love, his Nonet is as good a work in the (small) genre there is. But being an organist, organ solo music was his daily bread and the proposition of all the solo-organ music by any one composer not named Bach is an understandably tough sell. Now the Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm label has packaged all the 12 individual discs of their Rheinberger organ survey with organist Rudolf Innig, which started in 1999, and re-issued them in a box. With just a little pro-Rheinberger bias, the result is astoundingly enjoyable. Innig isn’t a flashy player and neither is Rheinberger a flashy composer. It’s more like a mellow Max Reger kind of organ music, but most of the time a little less forbidding. And thus Innig works his way through the 20 sonatas and fughettas, meditations, preludes and whatnot, chronologically, workmanlike in the best possible, high-quality sense. If I had to pick favorites, it would be middle-period Rheinberger, with its interlocking and propulsive structures, chromatically rich and always with an air of faint sweetness such as in the Sonatas nine through twelve which relish in the rich sound of the Kuhn & Spaich Organ of the Martinskirche in Chur, Switzerland.