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The Best Recordings of 2005

It is the time of year again, and what better excuse than Christmas or its other sacred and secular seasonal variants to indulge in massive CD buying? Blowing a wad of cash is never more easily rationalized than getting beautiful, everlasting music for it. And at Ionarts, we are here to help - listening to hundreds of CDs only for our readership. It is a hard life, I know, but your delight is ours. (Our 2004 list can be read here.) For a few more thoughts on the year's recordings and the best concerts we heard in 2005, see the Addendum.

Other Year-end CD Reviews:

Tim Page, CDs (classical) (Washington Post, November 25th)

New York Times writers, Surprises and Delicacies in a Year of Exciting Classical CD's (New York Times, December 16th)

Alex Ross, Apex 2005 (The Rest is Noise, December 1st)

48th Annual Grammy Nominations, Field 30 - Classical

Other Best-of Vintages:

Best Recordings of 2012

Best Recordings of 2011

2011 – “Almost” List

Best Recordings of 2010

2010 – “Almost” List

Best Recordings of 2009

2009 – “Almost” List

Best Recordings of 2008

2008 - "Almost" List

Best Recordings of 2007

Best Recordings of 2006

Best Recordings of 2004
We are also fairly late to this sort of a list, which gives us the opportunity to nod in the direction of other worthy recordings being discussed that didn't make this list - or else be snappy about some odd or disagreed-with choices. Like Tim Page's inclusion of Sir Simon Rattle's Mahler 8th, which I found curiously dull and rushed... or the praise that the same article heaps unto the "Domingo-Tristan" - a recording I have not yet found the time to review but which, upon many a listen, entered my personal Tristan collection at a solid 7th place (out of 8). There is some good singing going on - but it is also miscast in other places, includes odd sonic choices (the Steuermann sounds like he sings out of a trash-can, two ships over, in his opening monologue and Pappano never really gets an insightful grip of the score). More of a CD-event than a great recording.

Notable Gramophone Award winners that did not find inclusion are Gardiner's new Bach Cantatas on Soli Deo Gloria. I love the series by all means and have extolled its virtues on Ionarts before. But here, too, the event (and atmosphere) make for part of its excellence more so than tangible superiority. Aside, there was another recording of Bach Cantatas that stole the show in 2005. Harnoncourt's recording of Haydn's Paris Symphonies was very enjoyable - and if my list was longer, it would find its place... alas it lacked that last bit that would have made it truly outstanding rather than just 'lovely'. This year, Charles and I will also include a list of the DVDs we've enjoyed the most (to be posted on December 23rd) - alas without the 'best of' claim (which is dubious, anyway - although fun), because we simply did not get our eyes (and hands) on enough to have even a near-comprehensive idea of what was published. Once again and as last year, the strongest message from such a list is that the classical music industry is far from its prophesied death and that recordings of new pieces (although this list includes fewer than I would have thought myself) and new recordings of old pieces of the highest quality continue to come at us at a steady pace. Such lists naturally reflect not only my taste but also my exposure. But even after adjusting for any possible bias, this year was another one in which I bow to Harmonia Mundi.

Like last year, I list my ten favorite new recordings and my ten favorite reissues.

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J.S.Bach, concertos italiens,
Alexandre Tharaud
Harmonia Mundi

#1 (New)
First place in my list goes to Alexandre Tharaud's Bach recital, the best such that I have heard on disc. I played the recording non-stop when I first wrote about it here, and I love to revisit it often. This is not merely a recording for 2005, it is one for the ages.

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D.Scarlatti, The Keyboard Sonatas,
Scott Ross
Warner / Erato

#1 (Reissue)
Pride of place among reissues is reserved for what I lovingly call "The Scarlatti Cube." Scott Ross is one of the few to have traversed every single one of those 555 sonatas (alas, he sadly did not live to tell the tale - Scott Ross died in 1989, aged 38, from AIDS-related causes) - and it is not the accomplishment of having done that, but the accomplishment with which he did it, that makes this set so tremendous. His art can be sampled on the single disc of Les Plus Belles Sonates. His interpretations on the harpsichord are among the very few that I truly find exciting. I am sure that your local record store would take your copy of that disc back, if you then decided to go for it all - in the true completist's fashion. Beware: Domestic bliss may be clouded when you come home with almost 40 hours of harpsichord music under your arm, not having previously discussed this with the person who shares yours soundspace.

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W.A.Mozart, Sonatas for Violin and Piano,
Mark Steinberg & Mitsuko Uchida

#2 (New)
Although I have mentioned this recording at about every opportunity I have had, I never actually wrote a review for it. Shocking. I don't think this Mozart disc was related in any way to the Mozart hoopla of his 250th birthday, but it emerged as the Mozart recording of 2005/2006, anyway. Is it Uchida and her assertive, unfailingly beautiful playing that elevates this disc and the works thereon to a whole new level? Is it Mark Steinberg's flawless, unselfconscious violin playing? Is it the expedient choice of works (K303, 304, 377, 526)? Given that I've heard these works with other, very fine, musicians and was not entirely convinced of their repeat-listening merit, I suspect that it is a magical confluence of joy in music making that has beset Uchida/Steinberg. Of course I want more Mozart from these two players now. At the same time I am worried: can such musical love really be repeated?

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R.Wagner, Der Ring des Nibelungen,
D.Barenboim / Bayreuth FO & Chorus et al.

#2 (Reissue)
Barenboim and Sawallisch are the greatest living Wagner conductors - and it stands to reason that Barenboim's Ring would be notable stuff, given how outstanding his Tristan, Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, and Parsifal are. When I saw what seemed like a reasonable price for the Barenboim Ring, I grabbed it immediately. Two months later Warner reissued it in its new packaging. That packaging deserves special mention and laud. Not for the shiny, black box, but for including the original booklets! These were a joy to behold in the original issue, and apart from the complete libretto in four languages, they include printed Leitmotivs next to the relevant parts of the text. You wouldn't buy a Ring for the beauty of the booklets, of course, but the usual conundrum is that for a Ring novice, a budget issue would be a reasonable proposition, were it not for the absence of the text. This issue finally solves that problem and has an automatic leg up on the other good modern budget Ring's of Sawallisch (EMI) and Janowski (RCA). I've read a critic's one-sentence dismissal of this (and the Janowski) Ring, saying that they should never even have been published. Bollocks. Janowski has superb, up-front singing, and the Anglo-cast of Barenboim copes very well, too - and better in key places than some of the Boulez performers. Not unlike with Boulez, you get the best of live and studio performances as both rings were recorded for video (that explains the stage noises) in studio conditions but with an audience, an act at a time, and the Bayreuth acoustic. Sawallisch and Barenboim are at different ends of the speed-spectrum but have such a sense for the music’s internal relations that either approach works. Barenboim (the conducting and playing really is the star of this set) is more muscled, has more gravitas, and is going to be a strong contender for nomination of "Best First Ring" - an article which I will get around to writing sooner or later.
Ed. 01/2013: Also available on Blu-ray

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J.S.Bach, "Weinen, Klagen...,
P.Herreweghe / Collegium Vocale Ghent
Harmonia Mundi

#3 (New)
The more Bach cantatas came my way - including Herreweghe's most recent recording "Tönet, ihr Pauken!" and the excellent Gardiner recordings - the more one recording stood out as the cantata disc of the year. My review from March 20th can be read here. If anything, I feel even more strongly about this disc.

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C.Franck / I.Stravinsky, Symphony in D Minor / Petrouchka Suite,
P.Monteux / CSO, Boston Symphony
RCA / Living Stereo

#3 (Reissue)
From a still unfinished review of the latest batch of RCA Living Stereo SACD reissues, this disc comes out a clear winner (much like the Munch recording of the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony before that). It is astonishing to listen to a 1961 recording (with the CSO) and be completely enveloped with acoustic felicity... and that's not yet mentioning a white-hot performance that has, arguably, not been bettered yet. The coupling is worthy, too: From the conductor who led the premiere, you get a driving, pulsating Petrouchka performance with the BSO - and the sound is nearly as good, as well - rivaling many recordings made in the decades since. Whether you have an SACD player or not (the remastered Red-Book CD layer is an improvement, too, over previous incarnations), this has been and should again (or still) be a staple of any good record collection.

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L.v.Beethoven, Symphonies 4 & 5,
O.Vänskä / Minnesota Orchestra

#4 (New)
Beethoven is well represented in the catalog, but there is room for more. I said that last year about the Takács recording of the op. 18 string quartets. I'll be able to use it for their recording of the late quartets, too - but here it is Osmo Vänskä's place to receive praise for his first installment of what will be the first made-for-SACD Beethoven cycle. More Beethoven symphonies should be a tough sell - but BIS puts faith into one of their top conductors at his new post, and boy, did it pay off. I thought I had written a review for this disc on ionarts, but I cannot find it. But I gladly repeat my earlier praise and open with a bold statement: this is the finest 4th symphony on record! It dances with joy, it is gloriously alive but never skimpy. The orchestra manages perfection (as should be expected) but avoids being glib. That "slender Greek Maiden" (R. Schumann) will enchant you, will invite you to a dance you won't resist. Coupled with a very good - if less outstanding - 5th symphony, this is another disc that you will want to have, SACD player or not. Who thought we could still hear a Beethoven symphony 'as if for the first time'.

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G.Verdi, Il Trovatore,
H.v.Karajan / WPh / F.Corelli, L.Price et al.

#4 (Reissue)
Cherish the sight: a Verdi recording on my best-of list. How the hell did that happen? And Il Trovatore, no less?! Well, if you love Verdi, you know why - because you know this recording which has been out on a variety of different labels in various degrees of legality and sound quality. I've had such a recording, too - and even without help of the ORF broadcast master tapes (which the Deutsche Gramophone engineers used for this reissue) you could tell that this live account at the Salzburg Festival had the stuff that legends were made of. Corelli and Price - over the great conducting of Herbert von Karajan (and I am far from a Karajan worshipper) - simply go crazy in this performance from July 31st, 1962. Corelli (or his voice) is not exactly the last word in refinement or sophistication - his Manrico is not the consummate gentleman. But he can sing, and it never disturbed me one bit that his voice is one that could be called crude or even crass. And even those who would object would be won over by Leontyne Price's ascent into the Verdi heaven. Karajan, meanwhile, allows Verdi to speak for himself. He leaves the score alone, he doesn't fiddle with tempi, he doesn't over- or under-accentuate it. He plays it refreshingly straight, and now we can hear those details better than ever in reasonable to very good mono sound. Of all the Verdi reissues this year (Philips did a marvelous job giving us rarer treats from the vaults with the excellent Attila (with Bergonzi and Raimondi), the enjoyable Stiffelio (what a fun overture!), the silly Il Corsaro and Il Giorno di Regno (yikes - is that the same composer?), this classic stands out. A libretto was thankfully included.

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Thomas Adès, Piano Quintet
Arditti Quartet et al.

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Peter Maxwell Davies, Naxos Quartets Nos. 3 & 4
Maggini Quartet

#5 (New)
Music is not dead. And continuity is a very reassuring thing. Just like last year, EMI has issued an award-winning disc of the young composer Thomas Adès, and Naxos continued with the Klaus Heyneman-commissioned Peter Maxwell Davies string quartets. These "Naxos Quartets" - now nos. 3 & 4 - deserve mention here, but this year the more interesting release is the Adès Quintet. It is inevitable to think of Britten when you hear of, about, and from Adès. Pianist, conductor, composer, administrator - he very much walks in the footsteps that the scepter'd isle's greatest (20th-century) composer left. It is coupled with Schubert's "Trout," which may seem odd for a moment, but, as my colleague Bob McQuiston said, “they are in fact quite complementary. That's because the Adès and his work are intriguing animals with a modern hide and Romantic bones containing a Brahmsian marrow. It's got enough musical ideas to keep the most perspicacious of listeners returning to it repeatedly, and provides a very effective proem to one of the best loved and most frequently performed and recorded pieces in all, classical repertoire, [the aforementioned "Trout". Y]ou've probably already hooked at least one 'Trout', but this is a fish of another scale in that it's one of the most sensitive and inspired renditions of this work to appear in a long time! The sound is just as spectacular.”

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R.Wagner, Tristan,
C. Kleiber / Dresden StaKap. /
M.Price, R.Kollo, B.Fassbaender, D.F-D., K.Moll…
DG Originals

#5 (Reissue)
DG Originals has reissued some of their finest recordings, at least three of which would deserve mention in this list. (I've reviewed them all in March here: DG Originals: A Review) The reason Kleiber's Tristan floats to the top is its role as one of the few essential Tristan recordings to have. Not the first and only one to have, but especially in terms of orchestral contribution (Kleiber and the Dresden Staatskapelle are a dramatic actor in their own right - hearing this account will automatically make the point of what is missing under Pappano's baton in the Domingo Tristan), this achievement ought to be in any Wagner-loving person's music library.

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G.F.Handel, Saul,
René Jacobs / Concerto Köln, RIAS Kammerchor et al.
Harmonia Mundi

#6 (New)
René Jacobs is still on fire, and it is no surprise that after last year's smash success, Le Nozze di Figaro, he should have had something up his sleeve this year, too. His Saul is just that thing. One of Handel's most entertaining oratorios, it has been lucky on record. Apart from a fine earlier Gardiner recording, there was Paul McCreesh's recording on Archiv last year - and indeed it made it onto the Best of 2004 list. If you went out last year and got Saul, I don't suppose you need to run out again and supplant it with Jacobs. But if you (understandably) balked at the 50-dollar price tag of the Archiv despite being intrigued, here you have Jacobs in a performance that I find a little bit fresher yet and infused with even more vitality than the McCreesh reading. It is a little bit faster, too, and fits onto two CDs with obvious economic benefits.

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J.S.Bach, Organ Works,
Karl Richter
DG Originals

#6 (Reissue)
I haven't grown the least bit tired of this compilation since I have reviewed it in the DG Originals review. It is formidable organ playing in absolutely great sound (two, three very minor exceptions or wobbles) on two impressive organs (Freiburg and Københaven) on three discs, which is just the right amount, too, for those who want a bit more than the one-disc "Bach's Greatest Organ hits" but think that the complete works on anywhere from 14 to 20 discs might just be overkill. Heck - it's so good, it should be listened to even by those who do have the complete works. In fact, I initially listened to it but did not bother to own a copy, having plenty of Bach's organ music. I have very much changed my mind, since. This is not to be missed by organ-tolerating Bach lovers and Bach-tolerating organ lovers. Everyone else either doesn't need it or already has it.

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Bach & Stravinsky,
Leonidas Kavakos & Péter Nagy

#7 (New)
This disc was the first highlight of 2005 for me, issued on February 1st. Like any disc on this list, it has only grown in appreciation since first listening or reviewing it (Dip Your Ears, No. 28) and, especially in combination with Keith Jarrett's recording of the Preludes and Fugues, I've fantasized many times since to have these works included in a star-powered recital in Washington. The way Leonidas Kavakos plays the Bach is stunning in itself - but it is the Stravinsky and there combination with the Bach that makes this so compelling, so addicting. The Pergolesi based Suite Italienne with its "Baroque goes Stravinsky" madness and cheeky sweetness and the Duo Concertante (a text book example of neo-classicism) emerge as some of the finest music that you could treat your frayed nerves with.

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F.Schubert, Complete Piano Sonatas,
Mitsuko Uchida
Philips / Decca

#7 (Reissue)
Mitsuko Uchida's Schubert is not quite as uniformly admired as her Mozart, but for a few distracting voices nearly so. I've collected all but three individual discs included in this excellently priced 8-disc set and love them all. There might be a work here or there where I can't deny Pollini, Richter, or Kempff as equaling Uchida - but as a whole I prefer her felt interpretations even over the Kempff set (available in an equally attractive box).

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L.v.Beethoven, Late String Quartets,
Takács Quartet

#8 (New)
I don't suppose you thought that I could not mention the Takács Quartet in such a list - and sure enough, their Gramophone Award-winning set of the late Beethoven quartets (including op. 95, Serioso) must be pointed out as a marvellous conclusion to what must be the finest Beethoven quartet cycle of our times. Their comparative advantage may not be as big as in the op. 18 or Razumovsky set, but the freshness and the attack, coupled with splendid lyrical moments, make these interpretations stand out, nonetheless. We've reviewed the Takács quartet in live performance on many occasions (at the NGA , in Bethesda, and at Shriver Hall in October of this year and at the Corcoran the year before) and driven home the point about their Bartók and Beethoven supremacy sufficiently so that little further comment is necessary to justify their inclusion here.

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R.Wagner, Lohengrin, E.Jochum (1954) / Bayreuth FO & Chorus
Windgassen, Nilsson, Varnay, Uhde, Adam, Fischer-Dieskau

#8 (Reissue)
I am the last Wagner-loving person to make the (silly) claim that all great Wagner recordings or performances lie deep in the past. It's not that I don't appreciate the Lotte Lehmanns or Lauritz Melchiors of the Wagner world, but even apart from the less than ideal sound that their recordings naturally bring to the disc player (or the fact that few, if any, complete recordings of Wagner operas exist with them) there are plenty of excellent Wagner singers around these days. The only concession I might make is the notable lack of one or two absolutely outstanding Heldentenöre. But I wouldn't have prefaced this recording thus, if I were not to make an immediate allowance for what is truly one of the great Lohengrin performances captured on record. The standard-issue Lohengrin is Kempe's famous recording on EMI from 1964. With Jess Thomas, Elisabeth Grümmer, Christa Ludwig, and Fischer-Dieskau (having graduated from Heerrufer to Telramund) it's no mean feat, in excellent sound and belongs in every serious Wagner collection. Still, I prefer the Sawallisch recording from Bayreuth in 1962 - mostly because of the female singers/actors Anja Silja and the 'Ortrud of Ortruds', Astrid Varnay. It used to be on Philips (full price with libretto) and has now been reissued as part of Decca's Compact Opera Collection with the libretto as a .pdf file on one of the discs. (Which annoys me to no end - but the price is right.) Archipel has now reissued the 1954 Bayreuth Lohengrin, and if it isn't the first or only choice among Lohengrin's, it is so good, it simply must be heard. If the weak spot in the cast is Birgit Nilsson, you know you have a good recording on hand. And she's wonderful, too... even if I look for a tad more vulnerability or naïveté in Fräulein Elsa. Still, it is a dream cast: Wolfgang Windgassen's Lohengrin... words fail. His type of singer might as well have been on Wagner's mind when he came up with the character. Lighter than his predecessors yet able to navigate this Lohengrin with complete ease. Noble, heroic, lyrical - give me Bellini, give me Weber - it is all there. (Well, not all, in the sense that this recording, like all live recordings I know and even most studio recordings [including Kempe] cut the excessive Lohengrin monologue down to time- and ideology-appropriate measure.)

I would not have chosen this recording were it not for the young Astrid Varnay already radiating her delicious evil around the set as Ortrud. Her Sawallisch performance eight years later is a bit more mature, perhaps more nuanced, but this catches her at a fresh radiance and is as enchanting and beautiful as vocal poison can ever be. Hermann Uhde is Telramund. He doesn't have a chance against Ortrud - character-wise, that is - he is simplistically noble, older, and his young devious (or merely protective of her self-interest?) bride plays the poor man like a tin drum. Above all reigns Theo Adam as König Heinrich and his Heerrufer is the aptly declamatory Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, then still a young baritone plaything. In a final touch of decadence, Franz Crass is one of the Vier Brabantische Edle. No libretto nor documentation, but instead Eugen Jochum's un-fussy conducting that makes the Bayreuth band - not exactly the most refined group in the 50s - play very well, indeed. The sound is far better than on the Opera D'Oro reissue, the price half that of the good Melodram transfers.

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J.S.Bach, Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann,
Christophe Rousset

#9 (New)
What? Only two more slots to fill? That's cruel when there are so many more discs to name. Last year Abbado's Mahler Second filled this position - but his sixth this year, Gramophone Editor's Choice in September and Financial Times choice for the year that it is, just didn't cut it in my Mahler book. The New York Times's Jeremy Eichler thinks "[y]ou will be hard pressed to find a Mahler Sixth with more warmth, breadth and dignity." I don't disagree. But it's the Mahler Sixth, for crying out loud. Anyway, if you want a warm Sixth that is fairly similar but more engaging, you can't fail with Iván Fischer's new recording on Channel Classics. It's the Mahler recording I enjoyed the most, this year, as the MTT Seventh, the Oramo Fifth, and the Zander First (to be reviewed in the New Year) were between oddly disappointing and 'merely' enjoyable. As you can see, I am stalling. Ian Bostridge's Schöne Müllerin (with none less than Mitsuko Uchida) is his best Schubert recording to date - much better than his new, second recording of Die Winterreise, at any rate - and deserves mention... but so would the brand new Thomas Quasthoff / Justus Zeyen recording of the same cycle. Quasthoff's (fairly successful) attempt at trying to sing these songs as naturally as possible is particularly admirable. Aside, Bostridge's Britten Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings might trump even his Müllerin achievement. After several listenings this eerie work that gets under your skin with playing from the Berlin Philharmonic like I have not yet heard will etch itself into your brain.

Alas, all these recordings will have to get their individual reviews in the New Year - and I will pick Christophe Rousset's new Bach recording on the Ambroise label (previously reviewed on Ionarts). Not the best of Bach's keyboard works (and admittedly by a good margin), these little practise works (a few were included by Bach but actually come from the pen of other composers) for his kid to learn the harpsichord are played with panache, speed, and passion in such ample supply that they transcend their lesser status easily. Absolute purists may be turned off by Rousset's use of what is essentially rubato... but those with a musical, not ideological, soul should be hard pressed not to be moved. Best of all is the sound of the instrument and the recording. It's simply the richest, most blooming harpsichord sound I have heard on any recording. Stunning and too good to resist, even at a high price. Forty-plus dollars is a word for a bit more than one hundred minutes of music, but if the luxury packaging (the booklet could have been more extensive, still) doesn't lure you, the performance ought to. I myself can't wait to get my hands on Rousset's other two Bach recordings for Ambroise, the English Suites and the French Suites.

Edit 01/2013: The three recordings have been boxed and re-released in 2011. They were my No.1 Re-release of 2011.

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R.Schumann, Davidsbündlertänze, Concert sans orchestre & Kreisleriana,

#9 (Reissue)
To be honest, this disc is more impressive to me than it is an object of intense passion. And that's not a hint at Maurizio Pollini's way of playing Schumann, because his Kreisleriana or Concert sans orchestre could not for a second deemed to be one of the allegedly 'cool' Pollini recordings. Even critics of the Italian's "brain-heavy precision" will be convinced otherwise by these two discs, conveniently combining the two recent full-price Pollini Schumann recordings in a double disc set at mid-price. I may not be able to run around praising these works as having changed my musical life, but I can hear just about the best Schumann playing I can imagine. It may sound a bit like hyperbole, especially given my known predisposition to Pollini's art, but I challenge any Schumann-lover to listen to his Davidsbüdlertänze and not nod in agreement. Art that so impresses despite hitting a distinct emotional spot in my Schumann-forbidding musical soul is very special indeed and will, I am certain, bring ecstasy to those listeners of Gesänge der Frühe and the Allegro in B Minor that I have yet to muster.

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S.Rachmaninov, All Night Vigil, Hillier et al.
Harmonia Mundi

#10 (New)
Finally, I reluctantly have to pass over Michael Haydn's Requiem, Pletnev's Taneyev recording, the Jerusalem Quartet's DSCH recording, and two of the finest piano recordings of this year - Lubimov's "Messe Noire" (reviewed here) and Berezovsky's Rachmaninov preludes (reviewed here; one Ionarts reader who followed my recommendation on this recording reported the following: "This was not a very happy day for me until I put Boris Berezovsky's CD in the CD player... After listening to this CD I was totally ecstatic! I have never heard anything like 'this Rachmaninov' before. I hate to say this but BB's Rachmaninov sounded almost like Chopin... and I just loved that. Not even Horowitz comes even close [forget Alexeev]. BB doesn't bang [as most pianists do when it comes to playing Rachmaninov] and this is perfect... this is how it's supposed to be.") to include Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil (also known as his Vespers). I thought I had reviewed this record as well, but I can't find anything on Ionarts. In short, this is a magnificently enchanting recording (no pun intended) of the Vespers that immediately draws the listener in. The detailed and beautiful singing as well as the style in which Rachmaninov composed his Vespers remind of Russian music from before his time - with plenty of Orthodox frankincense thrown into the mix. There is also a bit of Taneyev's psalm setting that peeks through. I know that other choral recordings - like the Bolcom songs (Charles cherishes them very much, I hear) - are up for the slightly more prestigious Grammy Awards, but for what it is worth, this is Ionarts's choral recording of the year.

Edit: This recording was re-issued in 2008 on SACD.

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Stravinsky & Shostakovich, Complete DG Recordings,
Bernstein / WPh et al.

#10 (Reissue)
More than Schnabel's Schubert impromptus, or Lipati's Chopin, Michelangeli's Debussy, or Colin Davis's Les Troyens (the best recording of that opera, by all means - better than his LSO remake - now available for a reasonable price), the Stravinsky/Shostakovich box set of Lennie's complete DG recordings needs to be included here, even if it were only for his 'take-no-prisoners' rendition of Shostakovich's Seventh. (Actually, that particular description is probably not very appropriate for the "Leningrad" symphony - but musically speaking, it is true.) Just in time to be compared - again - to Gergiev's Seventh, which is included in the latter's compilation of the "War Symphonies" 4-9. Gergiev's Fourth has been reviewed and found to be excellent and then promptly found to be surpassed by Mariss Jansons' recording with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (a recording that would have easily made it onto the 'Best of 2004 list' but which I did not hear until early 2005 - let its excellence be pointed out here, again). His disc of symphonies Five and Nine (in the set no. 9 is now coupled with no. 6) is superb and his Sixth and Eighth, through the set available in the U.S. for the first time, I think, are extremely moving and very good, respectively. The only let-down is a somewhat lackluster Seventh - the very point where the Bernstein set so shines. At 84 minutes Bernstein's' is one of the longest lasting interpretations of that work (and sadly does not fit on one CD), but it never gets boring. Intense fire, smashing rhythms, tender and lyrical in other places: Bernstein seemed to have completely taken ownership of the work when he conducted it. It is all in the service of the music, not his own ego. The DG set of this symphony coupled with no. 1 (the coupling was retained) alone is almost as expensive as this complete box, so consider Shostakovich's Sixth and Ninth a throw-in of high quality. And the three Stravinsky discs include his DG recordings of L'Oiseau de feu and Pulcinella Suites, Petrouchka, the Mass, Les noces, Le sacre..., the Symphonies in C and in three movements, and Scénes de ballet. I remembered the Rite of Spring with the Israeli PO as a rather sad remake of his two earlier Sony recordings, but it much and positively surprised me with the personalized joy of its rhythms. Not very taut and not the most propulsive reading but enjoyable to listen to. During Le noces you can't help but wonder if DSCH stole from Orff or vice versa (if theft was involved at all you'll have to blame the latter; Les noces was first performed almost a decade before Orff got to his Carmina Burana), so similar are the choral outbursts and faux-naïve rhythmic structures. If pressed to decide, I'd go with Boulez in the symphonies, but that's less criticism of Bernstein's way with Stravinsky than personal preference of Boulez' cool, analytic eye in Stravinsky. In fact, they supplement each other rather well.

Merry Christmas (or whatever other appropriate seasonal greeting you prefer), hopefully a big bonus for the fourth quarter, and a Happy New Year!

1 comment:

Pliable said...

Great minds think alike! - I too selected the Scott Ross Scarlatti Sonatas as my best thirty-four CDs of 2005 over at On An Overgrown Path.

Readers may be interested in a fascinating, and quirky, biography of Scott Ross which I have also reviewed.