Thursday, January 18, 2018

Nereffid's Best Albums of 2017

That time of year...
So I listened to 183 classical albums this year, though for many of them I didn't hear them as much as I'd have liked. As usual, my listening is geared towards works I haven't heard before. I really should change this to "Favourite Albums" rather than "Best Albums", shouldn't I?
The now-traditional 11 categories apply; a winner and 4 runners-up in each category, plus a bonus of 5 more runners-up in the Contemporary Instrumental category because there were so many contenders. (Some 39% of all the albums fall into a Contemporary category!).

MEDIEVAL AND RENAISSANCE

BAROQUE INSTRUMENTAL

BAROQUE VOCAL

SOLO INSTRUMENTAL

CHAMBER

CONCERTO

ORCHESTRAL

SOLO VOCAL

MULTIPLE VOCAL

CONTEMPORARY INSTRUMENTAL

CONTEMPORARY VOCAL

ALBUM OF THE YEAR
As with last year, there hasn't been one particular album that's stood above all the others in terms of enjoyment. Before I pick the album of the year, a couple of special mentions: the Hans Zimmer collection really surprised me in terms of just how much I liked it; this despite an almost obnoxious overhyping by the record label ("recording event of the year... stunning... world's most exciting musicians...") of what is, after all, "only" film music - yes, I did have to overcome a wee bit of doubt as to whether the contemporary album I most enjoyed deserved to get the award! And the German vocal group Calmus Ensemble also deserves mention for its pair of Luther-inspired releases - a winner in the Medieval/Renaissance category (with, it must be said, a few modern touches here and there) and a runner-up in the Multiple Vocal.
But this year's Album of the Year is an excellent reminder to me that there's still plenty of splendid mainstream 20th-century music still be explored: Chandos's recording of Antheil's orchestral works - volume 1 it says, and if this first release is anything to go by there could be many riches in store, and in fact it prompted me to also get the CPO release that appears as a runner-up in the orchestral category.

The labels
The 60 nominees & winners were released by 36 different labels. Well done this year to Alpha, which scored a very impressive 3 winners. I was delighted to see the label return to eMusic - always the best way to ensure I'll get an album - and then equally undelighted to see it vanish again! And speaking of which, this year also sees a complete absence of Harmonia Mundi from my best-of for the first time, mostly a consequence of the label no longer being available to me through eMusic. With Hyperion and the majors I know by now I'll have to pay full price, but I haven't yet come round to thinking that way about Harmonia Mundi.

And also
What else can we note about this year's awards? The Lutheran theme was continued with Vox Luminis's winner in the Baroque Vocal category. There must have been an anniversary or something. Cecile Licad's first "Anthology of American Piano Music" volume was a runner-up last year, so it was good to see the standard remain so high. Let's also note a nice winner in the Concerto category: "Mind Music" is a charity album, which is to say that it's a fundraiser for Parkinsons UK. And finally let's observe that the Bang on a Can All-Stars have featured on a winning disc 3 times in the past 4 years. I do love them, and if I were a better blogger I'd have written about seeing them (and the JACK Quartet) at one of the Steve Reich birthday concerts in Carnegie Hall in April.
That's it
With my listening time now greatly reduced compared to previous years (a negative consequence of a positive change!) I suspect that 2018 will be the year in which I greatly cut back on new releases, and also perhaps rely more on services like Spotify to focus only on the (potential) "best of the best". It may be on a small scale, but the eternal quest to find More Great Music continues...

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