Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best Recordings of the Year 2009 edition

Traditionally, one of the year's last posts on Puggingham Palace is a "baker's dozen" list of the best recordings of the year, in my humble opinion of course. Since it is my game, I set some loose rules; the recordings are mostly new releases for the past year but can also be older recordings that I heard for the first time or dug out of my collection for the first time in a long time.

Maybe it was a slow year for recordings, poor economy and all, or maybe I have been a bit too critical, but I had difficulty getting a baker's dozen recordings for this year, so I stopped at 10. New releases did seem to be few and far between and featured more standard repertoire; recordings of which I have far too many. Nonetheless, I have compiled a list of some recordings that stood out in my mind for 2009. In no particular order:

1) Alkan, Liszt Piano works Raymond Lewenthal piano Elan Recordings 82276.

Lewenthal was destined for greatness, but a brutal attack left him physically and mentally scarred for years. Thus recordings from this early champion of Alkan and Liszt are rare. This is a release from 2003 of a legendary RCA recording long out of print. Remarkable pianism; listen to the clear, sharp staccato chords in the Alkan Etudes for example. This recording was introduced to me this year by Lance G. Hill, the host of a wonderful program on WPEL FM radio broadcast each Saturday night. More on this recording and Lance's broadcast here: Lewenthal Plays Liszt and Alkan.

2) Alfredo Cassella Symphony # 3, "Italia" West German Radio SO Cologne, Alun Francis CPO 777265

A major early 20th century symphony in its first appearance on CD. Written in 1939 on a commission from the Chicago Symphony, the symphony was initially well received but slid into oblivion along with Casella, who had the misfortune of being a Fascist sympathizer.

3) Britten's Orchestra: Sinfonia da Requiem, Passacaglia and 4 Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. Kansas City Symphony,
Michael Stern Reference Recordings RR 120.

When most of the US major ensembles are no where to be seen, the Kansas City Symphony releases another fine recording. Audiophile sound, competitive performances (and the competition is very stiff) and reasonably priced for a high end recording. Grammophone and Classics Today have concurred that this is a fine release.

4) Beethoven "Triple Concerto" for Violin, Piano and Cello arranged for Piano Trio by
Carl Reinecke, Trio # 5 in D op 70/1 "Ghost". Arensky Trio Antes Edition 319202

Another older recording (2005) that I was introduced to this year. I happen to love Beethoven's sunny Triple Concerto even though some find it simplistic and facile. It sounds even better in an arrangement for piano trio, bringing out the wonderful inner voices and chamber like quality. Fine performance of the "Ghost" Trio is an added bonus.

5) Shostakovich Symphony # 11 Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Vasily Petrenko. Naxos 8572082

Auspicious start to a new Shostakovich cycle. This sprawling work was long considered bottom drawer Shostakovich. But with exciting and well turned performances like this one, the power and drama shine through. Unfortunately, Petrenko's second disc, consisting of the 5th and 9th, was a disappointment.

6) Shostakovich "The Nose" St Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre Orchesta and soloists , Valery Gergiev. Mariinsky # 501.

Long overdue new recording of Shostakovich's loony masterpiece based on a story by Gogol. Who could not love a work about a run away nose that begins with a huge sneeze?

7) Yuja Wang Piano, music of Ligeti, Scriabin, Liszt and Chopin. DGG 001253402

Yuja Wang is an audience favorite here in KC with two appearances with the Symphony and a solo recital. This young pianist has all the technique of her more famous colleague Lang Lang but also delves deeper into her music. An eclectic yet electric recorded recital debut.

8) Bernstein "Mass". Baltimore SO, Alsop, Conductor Jubilant Sykes Celebrant. Naxos 8559622-23

Bernstein's Mass, written in 1971 for the opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, has been controversial even before its first performance. A bit dated, embarrassingly "hip"and crawling with every musical effect from rock, jazz, 12 tone to simple hymn, the piece seemed to be a one shot deal. But this recent recording, the best of the lot other than the original Bernstein led recording, has breathed some new life into the work. Many hate it but some now feel it is Bernstein's misunderstood masterpiece. Decide for yourself.

9) Franz Berwald Symphonies. Thomas Dausgaard Danish National Radio SO. Brilliant Classics 93699 2 discs.

Berwald's 4 sunny and attractive symphonies have suffered too long; Berwald only heard one in his life time (1796-1868). The 2nd and 3rd were premiered in the early 20th century and the 4th 10 years after his death. Recordings are not plentiful either. If you like Schumann, Dvorak or Grieg then Berwald is your cup of tea. This is a 2008 release of the well received Chandos recordings at 1/2 the price.

10) Mahler Symphony # 4 Ivan Fischer Budapest Festival Orchestra, Miah Persson Soprano. Channel Classics 26109

Well recorded, full of detail and a brisk, sparkling performance. Persson's solo is sweet and innocent without being cloying. Nicely done.

OK that is 10, can't think of 3 more. So HAPPY NEW YEAR! and happy listening from us at the Palace!

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