Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Nereffid's Guide Awards 2007

Wait a second, does that say 2007?
Yes indeed. The very first Nereffid's Guide Awards appeared in January 2008, long before I started this blog, at a time when I was heavily involved in the community of users of eMusic. The aim of the awards back then, and of the second awards the following year, was to highlight the best classical albums that were available on eMusic. It was only with the 2009 Awards that I decided to expand coverage to all releases. The results of the 2007 and 2008 Awards were available on my old Nereffid's Guide web site, which no longer exists. But rather than simply repost that information I thought it would be good to produce new versions that reflect the full spectrum of those years' releases. I don't know why I ended up being surprised that it took far more effort than I was expecting.
Anyway, here's the new-and-improved 2007 Awards. They're very different: aside from the fact that they cover far more releases (including, now, the major labels), there are some changes from the original award categories, some changes to the sources of reviews, and a total overhaul of the scoring system. The end result is that, of the 17 releases that originally won awards, only - ahem - 2 of them were victors this time round, in the 14 categories I'm using now (I've left out the Archive and Reissue categories here).

Scroll down the page to see each award in turn, or click on these links to jump to the relevant post:
Living Composer - Vocal

This has been an intriguing exercise because, unlike any other time I've produced these Awards, here I'm dealing with recordings that we've had many years to live with. Looking at the winners now in hindsight, by and large they seem to have held up very well. Maybe not all of them can be, or ever will be, considered timeless classics, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if, like me, you found a handful of your favourites here. I hope that a similar situation will apply as we look back on the later Awards. Then again, this year's opera winner just recently appeared in BBC Music Magazine's "Building a Library" feature as "one to avoid".

Critics, eh?

Awards 2007: Medieval & Renaissance

"Pilgrimage to Santiago"
Monteverdi Choir/John Eliot Gardiner
Soli Deo Gloria

Fanfare's JF Weber calls this "a treasure, not to be missed" and describes the circumstances behind the disc's creation: "The Monteverdi Choir made the pilgrimage from a point in southwest France that brought them first to Conques, then to other churches along the way, where they stopped to sing these works of sacred music... Sometime after they returned to London, they made this recording in the space of three days, the music in their hearts as well as their voices, the experience still fresh in their minds. All of this is audible, palpable, in the playback". Mary Berry in Gramophone describes the recording as "a result of inestimable value".

Monteverdi: L'Orfeo. Furio Zanassi et al; Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini [Naive]
Monteverdi: "Combattimento". Rolando Villazón; Patrizia Ciofi; Topi Lehtipuu; Le Concert d’Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm [Virgin]
"Musique and Sweet Poetrie: Jewels from Europe around 1600". Emma Kirkby; Jakob Lindberg [BIS]
Gombert: "Tribulation et angustia" - motets. Brabant Ensemble/Stephen Rice [Hyperion]

Awards 2007: Baroque Instrumental

Vivaldi: "Virtuoso Impresario: concertos, arias & sinfonia"
La Serenissima/Adrian Chandler

This is, according to Robert Maxham in Fanfare, "an almost ideal survey of Vivaldi in his role as celebrated violinist-composer, opera composer, and impresario". On MusicWeb, Glyn Pursglove says "this British group matches up to the standards the Italian Vivaldians have set in recent years, in performances which are richly communicative and committed... clearly the work of musicians utterly at home with Vivaldi". Ardella Crawford in American Record Guide admits "I was a little skeptical about this release; at first glance it looks like a hodge-podge of sorts... But it is a magnificent recording... This is vintage Vivaldi".

Handel: Concerti grossi, op.3. Academy of Ancient Music/Richard Egarr [Harmonia Mundi]
Bach: Lute works, volume 1. Paul O'Dette [Harmonia Mundi]
"An Italian Sojourn". Trio Settecento [Cedille]
D Scarlatti: "Duende" - harpsichord sonatas. Skip Sempé; Olivier Fortin [Paradizo]

Awards 2007: Baroque Vocal

Bach: Mass in B minor
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki

In the first incarnation of the Nereffid's Guide Awards, I quoted an eMusic user, ChrisW: "At the risk of slight over statement this is possibly the greatest work by the greatest composer conducted by his greatest living exponent". Gramophone's Jonathan Freeman-Attwood called this "a B minor performance of extraordinary devotional weight", while on Classics Today David Hurwitz said "This performance of the B minor Mass has everything: great playing, sensational singing from the soloists and chorus, ideal pacing, and a powerful feeling for the character of each movement as well as for the architecture of the whole massive musical edifice... this is one of the great versions of Bach’s masterpiece".

Lully: Thésée. Howard Crook et al; Boston Early Music Festival/Paul O'Dette, Stephen Stubbs [CPO]
Vivaldi: "Heroes". Philippe Jaroussky; Ensemble Matheus/Jean-Christophe Spinosi [Virgin]
Handel: Il duello amoroso, etc. Andreas Scholl; Accademia Bizantina/Ottavio Dantone [Harmonia Mundi]
Schütz: Opus ultimum. Collegium Vocale Gent; Concerto Palatino/Philippe Herreweghe [Harmonia Mundi]

Awards 2007: Solo Instrumental

Alkan: Concerto for piano solo; Troisième recueil de chants
Marc-André Hamelin

Marc-André Hamelin does in 2007 what he also achieved in 2010: wins the Recording of the Year, which is to say the recording that got the highest marks according to the awards scoring system. "Recommendation is superfluous. Anything an artist of Hamelin’s stature does is of self-commending interest", says Adrian Corleonis in Fanfare. Fair enough, and it's worth noting that one of the runners-up this year, with a recording of Haydn piano sonatas, is one Marc-André Hamelin. Classics Today's Jed Distler listens to the Alkan and tells us that "no boundaries exist between composer and performer... No piano lover should miss this absolutely transcendent, watershed release". While in Gramophone, Bryce Morrison says "one can only listen in awe and amazement. Scaling even the most ferocious hurdles with yards to spare, he is blessedly free to explore the very heart of Alkan's bewildering interplay of austerity and monstrous elaboration... All this is superbly recorded and presented, prompting some not unreasonable conjecture: if Liszt feared Alkan's mastery as a pianist he may well have feared Hamelin's".

Scriabin: Piano music. Yevgeny Sudbin [BIS]
Haydn: Piano sonatas, volume 1. Marc-André Hamelin [Hyperion]
Liszt: Piano music. Arcadi Volodos [Sony]
"Spanish Album". Stephen Hough [Hyperion]

Awards 2007: Chamber

Schubert: String quartets nos.13 & 14
Takács Quartet

In Fanfare, James Reel says "This is an exceptional release from an ensemble with no shortage of such things in its catalog". A few issues later, his colleague Bart Verhaeghe also reviews the disc: "Granted, we’re not short of sublime recordings of these two great string quartets, but sometimes one is stunning, and so we reviewers should grant it the attention it deserves (of course, that’s our pleasure)... It is unnecessary to repeat what has been said before, but certainly worth a little recapturing; this recording is quite thrilling". David Hurwitz says on Classics Today, "Hyperion already has cornered the market with its roster of top pianists, and with this release the label looks about ready to do so with string quartets as well". 

Kalliwoda: String quartets nos.1-3. Talich Quartet [Calliope]
Toch: Tanz-Suite; Cello concerto. Christian Poltéra; Spectrum Concerts Berlin/Thomas Carroll [Naxos]
Bartók: String quartets nos.5 & 6. Arcanto Quartet [Harmonia Mundi]
Viola music by Brahms, Bridge, Enescu, Franck, Glinka, Tabakova. Maxim Rysanov; Evelyn Chang [Avie]

Awards 2007: Concerto

Aho, Nielsen: Clarinet concertos
Martin Fröst (clarinet); Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä

Martin Fröst "seems to have Nielsen's irascible masterpiece in his bloodstream, as surely as he has its technical contortions under his fingers", according to David Fanning in Gramophone. "Few would now question the status of the Nielsen as the finest clarinet concerto of the 20th century. Time will tell with Kalevi Aho's concerto in the 21st. In the short term it will probably daunt as many prospective soloists and orchestras as Nielsen's work did in its time. But there can have been few equally impressive head-on engagements with the concerto medium in recent years". Göran Forsling on MusicWeb has no doubts: "A clear winner on all accounts and Aho’s concerto is pre-destined to be a standard work".

Tchaikovsky: Violin concerto, etc. Julia Fischer; Russian National Orchestra/Yakov Kreizberg [Pentatone]
Honegger: Cello concerto, etc. Christian Poltéra; Malmö Symphony Orchestra/Tuomas Ollila-Hannikainen [BIS]
Szymanowski: Violin concertos nos.1 & 2. Ilya Kaler; Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit [Naxos]
Sibelius, M Lindberg: Violin concertos. Lisa Batiashvili; Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo [Sony] 

Awards 2007: Symphony

Beethoven: Symphonies nos.1-9
Scottish Chamber Orchestra; Philharmonia Orchestra/Charles Mackerras

Owen E Walton is forthright on MusicWeb: "I will say immediately that this latest cycle is perhaps the finest that I have heard, if such a statement does not appear absurd. For here we have all the gains of historically informed performance and up to date research without the studied caution that so many conductors have brought to the period performance movement in recent years... To have the greatest works of one of our finest composers conducted with such understanding by one of the late-twentieth century’s finest and most enquiring conductors would be a privilege even at full price. At Hyperion’s modest price tag this is certainly the Beethoven set to have". This category represents the first time I've had to invoke a particular eligibility criterion: only one entry from a recording series is allowed among the finalists. In this case, two of Paavo Järvi's Beethoven symphony recordings made it to the shortlist, but I dropped the lower-ranked one (of the 4th and 7th symphonies).

Beethoven: Symphonies nos.3 & 8. Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen/Paavo Järvi [RCA]
Ives: Symphonies nos.1 & 4. Dallas Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton [Hyperion]
Schumann: Symphonies nos.2 & 4 (Mahler versions). Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly [Decca]
Villa-Lobos: Symphony no.2; New York Skyline Melody. Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/Carl St.Clair [CPO]

Awards 2007: Orchestral

Roussel: Bacchus et Ariane; Symphony no.3
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Stéphane Denève

"One is drawn in, beguiled, and perpetually surprised. For sheer vivacious cogency, this Bacchus goes to the top of the heap", says Adrian Corleonis in Fanfare. David Hurwitz on Classics Today: "What makes the performance so special is that all of this excitement never compromises precision of execution, or that special sparkle and lightness of touch that we have come to regard as quintessentially French. This team looks set to become a major musical force, and a genuine star of the Naxos catalog. Keep it coming, please!"

Nielsen: Orchestral works. Danish National Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard [Dacapo]
Ginastera: Estancia; Panambi. London Symphony Orchestra/Gisèle Ben-Dor [Naxos]
Schmitt: Psaume XLVII; La tragédie de Salomé; Suite sans esprit de suite. BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Thierry Fischer [Hyperion]
Alwyn: Elizabethan Dances; Oboe concerto; etc. Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones [Naxos] 

Awards 2007: Solo Vocal

Anne Sofie von Otter; Christian Gerhaher; Bengt Forsberg; Gerold Huber; et al

Anne Sofie von Otter explains that this album "reflects my sincere wish to commemorate those who created music under conditions of unthinkable misery and who so tragically lost their lives". On MusicWeb, Steve Arloff says "This disc is an absolute must for anyone interested in sampling music by those whose lives were cruelly cut short by a monstrous ideology, and who would have made further hugely important contributions to the music of the 20th century... This is my nomination for Disc of the Year without reservation". As Robert A Moore puts it in American Record Guide: "Sometimes one is privileged to discover a recording that has as much merit for its humanitarianism as for its musical significance".

FG Scott: "Moonstruck". Lisa Milne; Roderick Williams; Iain Burnside [Signum]
Grieg: Olav Trygvason; orchestral songs. Marita Solberg et al; Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Ole Kristian Ruud [BIS]
Kate Royal. Kate Royal; Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Edward Gardner [EMI]
"Helsinki Recital". Karita Mattila; Martin Katz [Ondine]

Awards 2007: Choral

Berlioz: L'enfance du Christ
Yann Beuron et al; Tenebrae Choir; London Symphony Orchestra/Colin Davis
LSO Live

This is "gentle, lyrical Berlioz", says Philip Greenfield in American Record Guide. "From any angle - choir, soloists, orchestra, conducting - this new offering looms large in the Berlioz discography and in the choral canon". But hasn't Colin Davis already recorded this work before? Yes, and, says Robert Levine on Classics Today, this one "strikes me as the finest... Davis' understanding of Berlioz’s layering of sounds remains unsurpassed."

Stockhausen: Stimmung. Theatre of Voices/Paul Hillier [Harmonia Mundi]
Brahms: German Requiem. Dorothea Röschmann; Thomas Quasthoff; Rundfunkchor Berlin; Berliner Philharmoniker/Simon Rattle [EMI]
Bantock: Omar Khayyám. Catherine Wyn-Rogers et al; BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra/Vernon Handley [Chandos]
Martin: Le vin herbé. Sandrine Piau et al; RIAS Chamber Choir; Scharoun Ensemble/Daniel Reuss [Harmonia Mundi]

Awards 2007: Opera

Mozart: Don Giovanni
Johannes Weisser et al; Freiburger Barockorchester/René Jacobs
Harmonia Mundi

"For a wholly engrossing performance of this eternal masterpiece with swathes of cobweb blown away, this is a set that should be in every collection irrespective of how many other versions one already has" - Göran Forsling on MusicWeb. Richard Wigmore in Gramophone states that this is "among the liveliest and most enjoyable on offer. It is certainly one of the most brilliantly played." True, he warns that "Jacobs being Jacobs, there are controversial things here". But this is an awards celebration so let's not get bogged down in controversies. Robert Levine on Classics Today says "At this point, my recommendation for a complete recording favors this new Jacobs". This category, incidentally, was the worst for the major labels, something surely unthinkable a couple of decades ago: of the 37 recordings that made the final long list, just two were released by major labels (Donald Runnicles' Tristan on Warner, and an Andrea Bocelli-led Pagliacci on Decca). Another fun fact: Opera Rara recordings came 4th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th on the long list.

Humperdinck: Hansel and Gretel. Jennifer Larmore et al; Philharmonia Orchestra/Charles Mackerras [Chandos]
Nono: Prometeo, Tragedia dell’ascolto. Various artists [Col Legno]
Mercadante: Maria Stuarda. Judith Howarth et al; Philharmonia Orchestra/Antonello Allemandi [Opera Rara]
Dukas: Ariane et Barbe-Bleue. Lori Phillips et al; BBC Symphony Orchestra/Leon Botstein [Telarc]

Monday, October 15, 2012

Awards 2007: Opera Recital

"Russian album"
Anna Netrebko; Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre/Valery Gergiev

Anna Netrebko also appears as a runner-up in this category, duetting with Rolando Villazón, who further appears as a runner-up on his own. Opera Recital is traditionally the least-populated of all the categories, and this year was no exception. But there are no doubts about the quality. "This is the best disc Netrebko has made so far and should make many new friends for Russian opera", according to Patrick O'Connor in Gramophone. Meanwhile on MusicWeb, Göran Forsling says "Anna Netrebko is blessed with one of the most beautiful voices in the operatic world today and she has polished her technique to such an extent that she can carry through anything she wants to do. But this is only one prerequisite of becoming a good opera singer, albeit an important one. What makes her stand out is her ability to catch the various moods of her arias and create a believable character... there are musical riches aplenty and once heard these arias will be friends for life".

"Arias for Rubini". Juan Diego Flórez; Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Roberto Abbado [Decca]
"Gitano". Rolando Villazón; Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid/Plácido Domingo [Virgin]
"Duets". Anna Netrebko; Rolando Villazón; Staatskapelle Dresden/Nicola Luisotti [DG]
"Great Operatic Arias". Jennifer Larmore; Philharmonia Orchestra/David Parry [Chandos]

Awards 2007: Living composer - Instrumental

Tüür: Symphony no.4, 'Magma'; etc.
Evelyn Glennie; Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir

Maybe it's not wise to begin by offering a warning, but here's one from Jerry Dubins in Fanfare: "Like the wrinkled face of a Shar-Pei that only a mother could love, Tüür’s external features are likely to be embraced only by those who do not put much stock in surface beauty." Clearly, Hubert Culot of MusicWeb is one of those, as he says: "These impeccable performances are a pure joy from first to last. Needless to say, too, that Evelyn Glennie almost effortlessly navigates through the often demanding and physically taxing percussion part... I warmly recommend this magnificent disc not only to lovers of Tüür’s music but also to all those who enjoy vital, all-embracing music of great communicative strength."

Rorem: Piano concerto no.2; Cello concerto. Simon Mulligan; Wen-Sinn Yang; Royal Scottish National Orchestra/José Serebrier [Naxos]
Corigliano: Violin concerto, 'The Red Violin'; Violin sonata. Joshua Bell; Jeremy Denk; Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop [Sony]
Cerha: Cello concerto; Schreker: Chamber Symphony in A. Heinrich Schiff; Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra/Peter Eötvös [ECM New Series]
Corigliano & Friedman: Works for string quartet. Corigliano Quartet [Naxos]

Awards 2007: Living composer - Vocal

Lieberson: Neruda Songs
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson; Boston Symphony Orchestra/James Levine

Reviewers were deeply touched by the love story behind this recording of music composed by Peter Lieberson for his wife, and her death from cancer just six months after this recording was made. So there was no doubt some sentimentality in the warmth with which the album was received - but the quality of the music wasn't in doubt either. James H North in Fanfare: "It is hard to say which is more beautiful, the music or the singing, because they are inseparable. His compositions have never been so simple, so pure, cleansed of all excess, all adornment. Her singing has never seemed so true, so removed from the necessary artifices of vocal production. He subtly captures the Spanish aura of the songs, which she recreates indelibly."

Rautavaara: "Song of my heart". Gabriel Suovanen; Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam [Ondine]
Lauridsen: "Nocturnes". Polyphony; Britten Sinfonia/Stephen Layton [Hyperion]
Bingham: The Secret Garden; Salt in the Blood; etc. BBC Symphony Chorus/Stephen Jackson; Fine Arts Brass Ensemble [Naxos]
Vasks: Pater Noster; Dona nobis pacem; Missa. Latvian Radio Choir; Sinfonietta Riga/Sigvards Klava [Ondine]

Sunday, October 7, 2012

I am so sick of these people

Efforts to find a cheaply downloadable (ie, available on eMusic) recording of Rachmaninov's Symphony no.1 brought me to a 1979 performance by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky with the BBC SO, released on BBC Legends.

Bob Briggs on MusicWeb: the time, this performance was a revelation. It’s high powered, passionate and forthright... this is an interpretation of great stature and one of the best performances of the work currently available.
Barry Brenesal in Fanfare: impressive affair, buoyed along by the conductor’s attention to detail and the grandly theatrical gesture. ... This recording has quickly moved to the front rank of my favorites, alongside Svetlanov
Andrew Achenbach in Gramophone:
...a perplexing letdown. Rozhdestvensky presides over a fitfully involving but at times uncomfortably rowdy display that does his reputation no favours at all... the performance as a whole pales next to the towering splendour of Svetlanov's volcanic 1966 recording

(And now it's time for my semi-regular apology for not blogging. Many many circumstances have been intervening. But in a couple of weeks I hope to have a spectacular retrospective Nereffid's Guide Awards thing. Stay tuned.)