L E S S - FUL L -OF - I T - THAN - USUAL B E S T - OF L I S T FOR 2 0 1 1
Thanks to numerous exceptional releases from which to choose, choral music figures
prominently on this year's list, as do composers who were friends with Elliott Carter,
whose most recent 11th decade compositions unfortunately received no new
recordings in 2011 leading up to his 103rd birthday on December 11th, but then such
important documents might have inhibited the release of another 11 versions of Vivaldi's
4 Seasons, which simply would have been unacceptable.
CAGE: The Works for Percussion, Vol. 1. Percussion Group Cincinnati. Mode 229
This long-awaited CD opens and closes with two different and irresistible versions of
"Credo in Us", my favorite Cage percussion work. Not for party-pooper sticks-in-the-mud.
IVES-BRANT: A Concord Symphony;
COPLAND: Organ Symphony. Paul Jacobs, organ; San Francisco Symphony Orch.;
Michael Tilson-Thomas, cond. SFS Media 0038 (82193600382).
Maverick American composer Henry Brant (1913-2008), who was one of the most fervently
visionary champions of the music of Charles Ives, devoted what little spare
time was available to him to zealously orchestrating Ives' "Concord" Sonata over a
period of 36 years, the resulting symphony receiving the strongest possible advocacy
on this recording, which also includes what is now the best version of Aaron Copland's
Organ Symphony, a startling achievement completed just shy of the composer's
24th birthday that still sounds freshly minted 87 years later.
JOSQUIN: Missa De beata virgine; Missa Ave maris stella. Tallis Scholars; Peter Phillips,
cond. Gimell CDGIM 044 (75513810442).
Josquin des Pres is one of several composers from before Bach who was greater than
Bach ("There's music before Bach?"), and with this release Peter Phillips and the Tallis
Scholars have now recorded 10 of Josquin's 18 authenticated Masses as they strive to
become the first vocal ensemble to record this phenomenal body of work in its entirety--
MACMILLAN: Miserere--choral works. The Sixteen Choir; Harry Christophers, cond.
Coro 16096 (82802160962).
In his program notes for this CD, Harry Christophers ranks James MacMillan alongside
Tomas Luis de Victoria (see below) and Francis Poulenc as being the three truly great
composers of sacred music, a most provocative statement, yet there's no denying
that the conductor's musicianship magnificently supports his opinion with stunning
performances of works memorable enough to make you forget all about more highly
publicized current composers.
VICTORIA: "Hail, Mother of the Redeemer". The Sixteen Choir; Harry Christophers,
cond. Coro 16088 (82802160882).
Victoria is one of my favorite Renaissance composers, and this collection serves as
an excellent introductory sampling for the uninitiated.
The Inheritance: "Kalimera". Local consignment 82547931182.
This winning collection of traditional music, mainly from Greece and Bulgaria, potently
demonstrates the exceptional chemistry shared by these six Austin musicians,
on this their second CD--man, did it ever turn out beautifully! (My 14-year-old
nephew Travis Reid and I both love Track 8 the best.)
HOT OFF THE PRESS!
"Tragediennes 3" (Baroque arias). Veronique Gens, soprano; Les Talens Lyriques;
Christophe Rousset, cond. Virgin Classics 509990709272.
As this CD was just released, I haven't yet had the opportunity to listen to it, but because
the previous two volumes from this series made in onto past Waterloo "Best of"
lists I'm relatively sure I would have gone for the hat trick.
REISSUE OF THE YEAR
William Steinberg: The Complete EMI Recordings ("The Disciplined Master Conductor").
EMI 509990264862 (20 CDs for $60 [!!!]).
In the 1970's violinist Isaac Stern said that conductor William Steinberg knew more
about music than anyone he had ever met, and Stern met and worked with just
about every musician from the 1930's onward, but presently Steinberg is better
known (and appreciated) overseas than in the U.S., so EMI is to be commended for
releasing this very large yet affordable set. Now if only Deutsche Grammophon
would reissue Steinberg's Command Classics recordings of the Brahms symphonies in
far better sound than MCA's inept transfers of over 20 years ago my favorite recording
of Brahms' Second would hopefully finally receive the recognition it deserves.
A RELEASE THAT FALLS SHORT, BUT...
IVES: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1-4. Hilary Hahn, violin; Valentina Lisitsa, piano. Deutsche
Hilary Hahn is the first star violinist since Joseph Szigeti to have performed Charles
Ives' violin sonatas extensively on tour, but she is the first star to have recorded all
four as well, the result being what are now the fastest overall versions of these works
I've ever encountered, and that's not a criticism. If DG ultimately failed to balance
pianist Valentina Lisitsa forward enough to be a truly equal partner, thus obscuring a
few of Ives' more ear-catching touches in the process (the faster tempos also occasionally
compromise characterization), this recording must still be counted as one of
the most important of the year simply because Hahn's championship will attract the
largest audience ever to these works, all of which deserve a far more prominent
place in the repertoire.