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Best Recordings of 2014 (#10)

Time for a review of classical CDs that were outstanding in 2014 (published in whole on My lists for the previous years: 2013, 2012, 2011, (2011 – “Almost”), 2010, (2010 – “Almost”), 2009, (2009 – “Almost”), 2008, (2008 - "Almost") 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.

# 10 - New Release

Johannes Verhulst, String Quartets op.6/1 & 2, Utrecht String Quartet, M|DG 6031840

available at Amazon
J.Verhulst, String Quartets op.6/1 & 2
Utrecht String Quartet

After many mid-level jobs in medium-important Dutch music institutions, Johannes Verhulst eventually became the foremost Dutch musician of his time. But as an arch-conservative whose career only kicked off when he met Mendelssohn in 1836 and subsequently studied in Leipzig, he was soon forgotten. Time to resurrect the man’s music, at least, because these late-youthful String Quartets are minor masterpieces that anyone with a hankering for classical-romantic chamber music ought to give a try. They were Mendelssohn-supervised, approved, and dedicated to him—and you can hear it! Schumann reviewed and loved them, too, and chances are so will you, because the Utrecht String Quartet delivers lively Allegros, wistful Adagios, cogent Scherzos, in delicate, elegant, and simply very, very good performances. One for the stocking-stuffer list.

# 10 – Reissue

J.S.Bach, Goldberg Variations et al., Grigory Sokolov (piano), Melodiya 1002049

available at Amazon
Johann Sebastian Bach, Goldberg Variations et al.
Grigory Sokolov (piano)

The nature of Sokolov and his reception among the classical-music inclined means that the recording needn’t be terribly good to create a wild “Huzzah!” and fawning reviews among the fan-base. And indeed, there are considerable problems with these recordings. For one there’s the ruthlessly coughing audience for the Goldberg Variations live take, which seems bent on disproving the reputation of Soviet-era Russian listeners being intent and rapt and borderline Japanese. Then there’s the bad sound quality in general… with background hiss and a harshly caught piano in the Goldbergs, a little less hiss (and no audience) in the Partita, and finally a little less hiss yet and the most directly recorded piano sound for the English Suite. With a lesser known pianist, one might say that the Goldbergs are banged out with metronomic vigor, and sometimes too fast for the pianist’s own good. With Sokolov of course it’s “unfailing rhythmical steadiness, unsentimental, pianistic-but-dry” and the like. It’s possible to be tongue-in-cheek about this and still adore Sokolov as I do, and if I can’t warm to the Goldbergs as much, the Partita and especially English Suite are special: “the notes carefully separated, all individual pebbles to form a whole” (still from the Salzburg recital review, as it applies), “percussive, yes, but as if played with felt-mallets… like the relentless bubble of a hasty brook and technically flawless to boot.”

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