Tuesday, December 03, 2013

13 for '13: Baker's Dozen Best Recordings of the Year

As has become custom, here is my 13 for 13, the baker's dozen best CDs for the year. When compiling this list, I realized I did not do one for 2012, don't have a clue why. This is a quite subjective list and often includes recordings that may have been released earlier but just got around to hearing (or listing in this case) this year. If you note an abundance of Cedille and Naxos recordings listed, it is not because I am paid by them or have any connection. Those two labels just happen to be releasing some fine recordings of interesting repertoire as opposed to the junk (sorry... my opinion) that the “majors” are offering. And since it my list and my rules, there are two Havergal Brian recordings on the list, as usual.

So here are the chosen ones, not in any order whatsoever:

Kubelik Complete Masterpieces.
Mahler, Bartok, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Martinu, Janacek, Bruch, Mussorgsky, Smetana, Hindemith, Schoenberg, Mozart
Rafael Kubelik, various orchestras
Membran Documents 600038 10 CDs

Far from complete and mostly pre 1959 recordings from various places. Inexpensive, with good period sound and pressings. Worth the bargain price alone for the 1950's Chicago Symphony recordings which were wonderfully recorded but often manhandled when released on CD.

Havergal Brian
Symphony #10, Symphony # 30, Concerto for Orchestra, English Suite # 3
Martyn Brabbins Royal Scottish National SO
Dutton Epoch CDLX 7267 

Long overdue new recording of the 10th and first recordings of the other works. Fine conducting and sound. A new Symphony cycle? We can only hope.

Havergal Brian
Symphonies 22, 23 and 24, English Suite # 1
Alexander Walker New Russia State SO
Naxos 8572833

A revival of the Naxos cycle? The earlier Penny/Leaper cycle seems to have stalled and there is precedence for Naxos not finishing a cycle for various reasons. Symphonies 23 and 24 are first recordings and thus invaluable for us Brian fanatics.

Sergei Rachmaninoff
Symphony # 3, Symphonic Dances
Detroit SO, Leonard Slatkin
Naxos 8573051

Slatkin is back in the recording studio and so is the Detroit Symphony in brilliant sound and fine performances. Slatkin is a first rate Rachmaninoff interpreter; he takes the dramatic end of the Symphonic Dances just right and lets the gong “LV” and decay just as it should be. Top of my list for one of my favorite pieces.

Delights & Dances
Lees: Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra, Abel: Delights and Dances for String Quartet and Orchestra, An-Lun Huang: Saibei Suite No. 2: Saibei Dance , Fleischer: “West Side Story” Concerto for String Quartet and Orchesta (after Bernstein)
Mei-Ann Chen, Chicago Sinfonietta, Harlem Quartet 
Cedille 141

YAY! A new recording of the fascinating (and Kansas City premiered) Benjamin Lees String Quartet Concerto. Performed by Szell, Slatkin and others over the years but only a long out of print Igor Buketoff, Royal Philharmonic RCA LP to show for it. Fine performance in an excellent modern recording. The other works may appeal to some, but for me the Lees is worth the whole disc.

The Rascal and the Sparrow - Poulenc Meets Piaf
Francis Poulenc, et al
Antonio Pompa-Baldi Piano
Steinway and Sons 30015

A brilliantly conceived program mixing piano transcriptions of songs by the “rascal” Poulenc with transcriptions of songs by various composers made popular by the “sparrow” Edith Piaf. Not parlor music at all but tastefully well done. Of course included are “Non, je ne regrette rien” and “La vie en rose”.

Drama Queens”:
Arias by Orlandini, Porta, Handel, Hasse, Cesti, Keiser, Monteverdi, Giacomelli, and Haydn; Joyce DiDonato, Alan Curtis, Il Complesso Barocco
Virgin Classics/Erato 2654

This is a 2012 recording that would have been on the list if I did one. Home town girl (I have a picture of me with Joyce to prove it) makes good in this wonderful collection of Royalty having a true operatic hissy fit.

Sean Hickey
Concerto for Cello, Concerto for Clarinet
Dmitry Kouzov, Cello Alexander Fiterstein, Clarinet. Vladimir Lande, St Petersburg State SO
Delos 3448

I reviewed these for www.Icareifyoulisten.com and you can read the whole thing here: http://www.icareifyoulisten.com/2013/09/sean-hickey-concertos-on-delos-recordings/ Decidely conservative in form and sound but unlike a lot of newer works, I have tended to listen to them frequently since they both have something to say.

Sir Edward Elgar
Enigma Variations, Vaughan: Williams Fantasia on Greensleeves, Vaughan Williams: The Wasps Suite
Kansas City Symphony, Michael Stern
Reference Recordings RR 129

Again the Kansas City Symphony and Reference Recordings dazzle with a superbly recorded disc of British repertoire. Even the Brits liked it, so you know it has to be good. The end of the Elgar with the subtle but present organ is the best on record.

The Soviet Experience Vol. 4: String Quartets by Dmitri Shostakovich and his Contemporaries.
Shostakovich String Quartet # 13, #14 and # 15, Schnittke String Quartet # 6
Pacifica String Quartet
Cedille 115

Great concept of pairing the Shostakovich String Quartets with an example of one of his contemporaries. Incredible performances and great sound in all 4 volumes. Replaces the classic Fitzwilliam cycle in my book.

John Cage: Works For Two Keyboards, Vol. 1
Suite for Toy Piano, Music for Amplified Toy Pianos, A Book of Music for 2 Prepared Pianos
Xenia Pestova, Pascal Meyer pianos
Naxos 8559726

Some of Cage's most colorful and listenable music. Excellent performances that transcend the gimmicks to make a revelatory listening experience.

Carlos Chavez, José P. Moncayo García, Samuel Zyman
Chavez: Concerto for Piano, “Meditación” for solo piano; Moncayo Garcia: “Muros Verdes”; Zyman: “Variations on an Original Theme”
Jorge Federico Osorio, piano, Carlos Miguel Prieto, Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional De Mexico
Cedille 140

I reviewed this for www.icareifyoulisten.com as well: http://www.icareifyoulisten.com/2013/06/carlos-chavez-piano-concerto-cedille-records/ A most welcome recording of Chavez's brash and big concerto. Other works are well done and quite good. Concerto was recorded live and captured a clean, exciting performance.

Morton Feldman
Early Piano Pieces
Sabine Leibner Piano
Wergo 6747

18 short solo piano works from 1950-1964 plus the later (1977), half hour long “Piano, for Piano”. Interesting contrasts between the atmospheric shorter works and the more characteristic long and meditative “Piano”. Leibner is simply the reference for Feldman's piano works. Check out her earlier recordings of Feldman's bigger piano works such as “For Bunita Marcus”. A disc for those who enjoy and appreciate Feldman's unique sound but do not have the hours to listen to his major works.

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