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.
# 1 - New Release
Maurice Ravel / Modest Musorgsky, Ma Mère L’Oye / Pictures at an Exhibition, Anima Eterna Brugge, Jos van Immerseel (conductor), Zig Zag Territories 343
M.Ravel / M.Musorgsky, Ma Mère L’Oye / Pictures at an Exhibition,
J.v.Immerseel / Anima Eterna Brugge
Zig Zag Territories
Jos van Immerseel and his period performance band Anima Eterna Brugge (on Twitter) have never confined themselves to a specific period: Renaissance, baroque, classical and all kinds of romantic strands can be found in their concerts and discography. Their reputation as cobweb-annihilators is well deserved. Here they turn their attention to the romantic 20th century with Ravel and Musorgsky. And how! The bird calls of violin and flute in Ravel’s Ma Mère L’Oye are so life-like, so outstanding that, sitting outside a Salzburg Café on first listening, I looked about me in astonishment before realizing the feathery friend’s chirp came out of my headphones.
Ravel’s instrumentation, fantastical and imaginative, comes to the fore like I have rarely heard on record, both here and in the accompanying Pictures at an Exhibition, which are light and colorful in a hitherto-unheard-of way and all the more smashing for it, when it counts. The woodwind work throughout is astounding; the delicacy and transparency of brass and strings overwhelming. The CD is worth, perhaps even necessary, to hear with quality equipment to let the recording work to this breathtaking effect. This Mother Goose is a wonder, the Pictures, now my co-favorite Pictures alongside the completely different Celibidache (Warner [on Twitter]), a revelation.
# 1 – Reissue
Maria Callas Remastered, Maria Callas, various artists, Warner Classics 633991
Maria Callas Remastered,
Is Callas overrated? It’s probably hard for any icon, any artist as famous as Maria Callas, not to be overrated. At the same time there’s good reason why she became an icon in the first place. Even by today’s more exacting standards she is still a stand-out; she is still a standard against which to measure others. While stylistic changes have been pronounced over the last half century (perhaps less so in opera than Lied and oratorio), a voice like Callas would still bring every house down, still turn most heads, still perk an abundance of ears. Even through the phone: With headphones around my neck I called a colleague who has worked at every Austrian cultural institution worth its salt and Callas’ “Vien, diletto, è in ciel la luna” (I Puritani) from her first recorded recital in 1949, was bleeding into the receiver. In the middle of our work-related remarks she said: “Oh, that’s good! She really nailed that tone. Who’s singing?”
Maria Callas’s singing need not be extolled here; the virtue-beyond-Callas of this release—all her studio recordings, including duplicate operas and unpublished rarities—lies in its exceptional production values. In fact, it’s just about ideal. Nothing frustrating, everything exhilarating, no detail ignored. From the readable spines of the original cover-art sleeves to the design to the copious liner notes (plus coffee table book that comes in the lavish box) to the heart of the matter, the remasterings: it’s a fabulous affair about which I will write more, anon. It’s rare that everything’s been gotten right, which makes this Callas edition such a joy to behold. A labor of love, indeed, and a sign that Warner, the company that holds the rights to EMI Classics (as passed on through the Parlophone sale when EMI went to Universal—which had to divest the classical units EMI Classics and Virgin Classics) is taking the red label’s heritage very seriously, indeed.