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.
# 3 - New Release
Hector Berlioz (+ Edgar Varèse), Symphonie Fantastique (+ Ionisation), BRSO, Mariss Jansons (conductor), BR Klassik 900121
H.Berlioz et al., Symphonie Fantastique,
Tender, halting, tip-toeing, and then socking the listener with a lightning-quick straight left and the occasional gnarling brassy, timpani-thwacking right to the ribs. Bone dry and pointed, detailed and precise, this is a very different Symphonie fantastique from the souped-up romanticism one gets from many a famous recording. Listening to that recording makes you stop wondering how Mariss Jansons could have forgone his conductorship with the Concertgebouw Amsterdam in favor of focusing solely on his Munichers. In the much appreciated added bonus of Edgar Varèse’sIonisation, the 13 player strong percussion ensemble is just showing off what precision really means. Now just imagine what that orchestra could do if it was finally given a proper hall to perform in?!.
# 3 – Reissue
Various, Ferenc Fricsay (conductor), Berlin RSO (RIAS), BPh, BRSO, et al., DG 479 2691
Complete Recordings of Ference Fricsay
vol.1, Orchestral Works,
BRSO, BPh, Berlin RSO et al.
Had Ferenc Fricsay not died prematurely in 1963, at the age of 48, he would not be semi-obscure nowadays. He would be as well-known as Bruno Walter, George Szell, perhaps even Herbert von Karajan or Carlos Kleiber, the latter of whose music-making Fricsay’s resembles to considerable degree. Alas, this was not to be for this prodigiously gifted Hungarian, although the promise that his career showed, and the documents that are left to us, are titillating to consider. Fricsay’s style is clear and precise but with imminent musicality and—sometimes hard to find but always present—warmth. Toscanini (who was a model of Fricsay’s), but with more soul, you might say. This style changed towards the end of his life (from 1959 on) where the pace of the music slackened.
Not all—not even most—of his recordings were available. Now that’s changed: Deutsche Grammophon has, at last, taken on the considerable output of Fricsay’s, who was a recording pioneer both for DG and RIAS (more or less “Radio Free Berlin”, and issued it in two boxes. Of these, the first one containing his orchestral recordings has been released this year. Hallelujah! A more detailed account of this box set will follow in this space, for now, let’s just point out that his, the first Beethoven Ninth in stereo, is still a standard-setting recording. That in fact, all his Beethoven still has it in it to titillate and tantalize. That his Stravinsky makes your hair stand on end, that he takes you on colorful discovery trips to the music of Zoltán Kodály, that he is one of the most idiomatic Bartók interpreters, that his Tchaikovsky trimmed all the fat and cut the treacle long before that became standard. That his Haydn and Strauss are, even in (surprisingly good) mono sound, wonders of musicality. In short: there might be a hand full of recordings that are not outright ‘necessary’ to own, but the majority just about is.