Loyal MR readers will know that late fall I survey the yearly “Want Lists” of Fanfare music reviewers. If you don’t already know, Fanfare is the world’s premiere journal for classical music reviews. My meta-list is simply those recordings which are mentioned as best of the year by more than one polled Fanfare critic. This year the winning discs with multiple nominations are:
1. Busoni, late piano works, Marc-Andre Hamelin
2. Prokoviev piano concerti, by Jean-Effiam Bavouzet and Gianandrea Noseda.
4. Sylvia Berry, Haydn piano sonatas.
5. Manfred Honeck, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Richard Strauss tone poems.
Another meta-list would be discs which I recommend and which a Fanfare critic also recommends, that would include:
Gerald Finley and Julius Drake, Winterreise, Schubert.
Igor Levit, Beethoven late piano sonatas.
I would give all a very high recommendation, with this second meta-list being better than the first meta-list.
Every year I cull through the Fanfare Critics “best of” lists and provide a meta-list of the new recordings which are mentioned more than once. This year we have a fairly short meta-list:
1. James Willey, String Quartets, 3, 7, and 8, Esterhazy Quartet.
2. Michael Colina, Violin Concerto, other works, not on Amazon; and by assorted artists, The Art of Gregor Piatigorsky, also not available on Amazon.
My classical CD picks for the year are:
Scarlatti, volume I, by Carlo Grante (the most significant achievement), Diabelli Variations by Paul Lewis, Bach’s Trio Sonatas for Organ by Robert Quinney (probably my favorite of the entire year), and Shostakovich Symphony #10, by Vasily Petrenko.
Fanfare is the best outlet for classic music reviews I know, and each year I avidly scour the critics’ Want Lists. These are the items that showed up more than once:
Kyle Gann, Hyperchromatica, “…an extended set of movements…scores for three retuned mechanics pianos…The music draws together every facet of Gann’s style and life-long musical interests: rhythmic complexity, microtonality, extended “tonal” harmonies and voice leading, post-Minimalist surfaces, and more. The result is a tremendous mix of sheer enjoyment coupled with extremely sophisticated compositional craft.” (Carson Cooman).
Hector Berlioz, Les Troyens, conducted by John Nelson.
Murray Perahia, Beethoven, Hammerklavier Sonata/Moonlight Sonata.
John Adams, Doctor Atomic, 2018 recording.
While I can recommend those strongly (I haven’t heard the Adams yet, but didn’t like the earlier recording), my own recommendations would be:
Paul Lewis, Joseph Haydn, Piano Sonatas 32, 40, 49, 50.
Fanfare is the leading periodical for classical music reviews, and every year it asks numerous critics — this time 45 of them — for their top five classical music picks of the year. In turn, each year I present a meta-list, which simply is a list of all the works selected by more than one critic. This year we have:
1. Meanwhile, by Eighth Blackbird., assorted contemporary pieces.
2. Haydn, The Creation, conducted by Martin Pearlman.
3. Arvo Pärt, Adam’s Lament.
4. Bellini’s Norma, with Cecilia Bartoli.
I just ordered 1-3 of those, for the Bellini I am still stuck on Maria Callas. My personal picks of the year, in classical music, would be:
1. Shostakovich string quartets, Pacifica Quartet, several volumes, including some other Soviet compositions as well. I find these more powerful than Emerson, Manhattan, Brodsky, or the other classic sets of Shostakovich.
2. Arvo Pärt, Creator Spiritus.
3. Klára Würtz and Kristóf Baráti, Beethoven sonatas for violin and piano.
4. The Art of David Tudor, seven disc box set, caveat emptor on this one.
I've read through the November/December issue of Fanfare, in particular the Christmas Want Lists, as I do every year. These are the new releases which appear on more than one list:
1. Stephen Hough and Osmo Vanska, playing the Tchaikovsky piano concerti. This was the only item selected by three critics.
2. John Butt, conducting J.S. Bach, Mass in B Minor, Joshua Rifkin style. This is the recording which is supposed to convert the unpersuaded to the minimalist vocal approach.
3. Dennis Russell Davies, conducting Haydn's complete symphonies. Elevated for the sake of completeness, no one is saying it is better than Dorati.
4. Volkmar Andreae, conducting the Bruckner symphonies and Te Deum. Remastered mono from the 1950s, supposed to be perfection.
I have found Fanfare Christmas lists to be a very reliable source of excellent music.
Every November I scour the critics' "Want Lists" from Fanfare, my favorite classical music periodical. Then I go and spend a lot of money. Here is the list of all the new recordings, from 2009, which were mentioned by more than one critic:
2. John Adams, Doctor Atomic Symphony.
3. Mahler: The Complete Symphonies, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, remastered edition.
4. Kurtag's Ghosts, by Kurtag and Formenti.
5. John Adams, Transmigration of Souls, and other works conducted by Robert Spano.
6. Oppens Plays Carter, by Ursula Oppens.
Of that list, #6 received the most selections. Here are the meta-list picks from last year, all of which turned out to be excellent, if you like that sort of thing that is. I hope to be passing along more meta-lists soon.
The end of the year is coming and so I will digest the numerous "best of" lists for you once again. These picks are for classical music CDs and they are from Fanfare, the number one source of criticism for new classical releases. Here are the CDs that appeared more than once on their reviewers’ "best of the year" lists:
Vincent Persichetti: Piano Sonatas; knotty American piano music.
Morton Feldman: The Viola in My Life, I-IV.
Alkan Organ Works, vol.II, by Kevin Bowyer
Bach, Brandenburg Concerti, rerecorded by Trevor Pinnock.
As usual, classical "best of" lists give disproportionate weight to material which had not previously been recorded, in this case the Persichetti which of all the entries is named the most often. The Brahms is the one most likely to please you, or the Pinnock. I can vouch for the quality of the others but when it comes to genre they won’t convert the unpersuaded.
We are approaching the year-end “best of” lists, so why not start with the one you care about least? I had a very good year for classical music listening, with the following as new discoveries:
John Cage, Two2, by Mark Knoop and Philip Thomas, now perhaps my favorite Cage work?
Alvin Curran, Endangered Species, two CDs of jazz and popular song classics but done with piano distortion, plenty of spills and turns, a genuinely successful hybrid product.
James Tenney, Changes: 64 Studies for Two Harps, more listenable than you might think.
As for old classics, the Marek Janowski recording of Bruckner’s 4th is my favorite in a crowded (and impressive) field, recommended as a Bruckner introduction too.
This year I also started to enjoy Szymanowski for the first time, though that remains a work in progress.
I usually do a Fanfare meta-list, namely the recordings recommended the most by the critics of this outlet for classical music reviews. This year there were three clear winners represented on the lists of multiple reviewers:
Poul Ruders, The Thirteenth Child (Danish opera, sung in English).
Feodor Chaliapin, The Complete Recordings, 13 CDs (not my thing).
Wilhelm Furtwängler, The Radio Recordings, 1939-1945 [sic]. James Altena writes: “…layers of aural varnish have been stripped away to uncover the true glories of one incandescent performance after another, from the conductor’s most inspired period of music-making during the horrors of the Nazi regime and World War II.” Other critics concur, so political correctness has not yet come to classical music reviewing. If you are reluctant to spend so much money, you can always try the Furtwängler 1942 “Hitler’s birthday” recording of Beethoven’s 9th and see how offended you feel. So far I can’t bring myself to buy this one. (By the way, even the Nazis still played Fritz Kreisler’s cadenza to the Beethoven violin concerto…Kreisler was Jewish).
I’ll turn to other musical genres soon.