Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Nereffid's Best Albums of 2014

This isn't the Nereffid's Guide Awards, but it's my personal equivalent. Instead of collating thousands of reviews from many sources to produce some kind of critical consensus about the best releases of the year, I've instead just chosen my favourites. Apparently I heard 152 new classical albums in 2014, and enough of them were sufficiently good to allow me to separate them into categories along the lines of the old awards (I've dropped Opera because there were no entries and combined Opera Recital with Solo Vocal; and the Orchestral category now includes the Symphony category).
So here are the 11 awards:

Hildegard von Bingen: "Vox Cosmica"
Arianna Savall & Per Udland Johansen
[Carpe Diem]

"Amorosi Pensieri". Cinquecento [Hyperion]
"Piffarissimo". Capella de la Torre [Challenge]
"Motets - the Cambrai manuscript A410". Graindelavoix [Glossa]
Oswald von Wolkenstein: "The Cosmopolitan". Ensemble Leones [Christophorus]

 Rameau: "The Sound of Light"
MusicAeterna/Teodor Currentzis

"Doulce Mémoire". Margaret Little; Sylvain Bergeron [ATMA]
"Perla Barocca". Rachel Podger [Channel]
"Jacobean Lute Music". Jakob Lindberg [BIS]
"The Proud Bassoon". Peter Whelan; Ensemble Marsyas [Linn]

 "Inspired by Song"
Stefan Temmingh; Dorothee Mields

"Madrigals of Madness". Calmus Ensemble [Carus]
CPE Bach: Magnificat. RIAS Kammerchor; AAM Berlin; Hans-Christoph Rademann [Harmonia Mundi]
"A French Baroque Diva". Carolyn Sampson [Hyperion]
"A Purcell Collection". Voces8; Les Inventions [Signum]

"Dance of Shadows"
Roman Mints

Bach: Inventions and Sinfonias. Simone Dinnerstein [Sony]
"Invocation". Herbert Schuch [Naive]
"In Dance and Song". Tom Poster [Champs Hill]
"East of Melancholy". Tara Kamangar [Delos]

"New World Quartets"
Brodsky Quartet

"Wood Works". Danish String Quartet [Dacapo]
"Music from the Suitcase". Yevgeny Kutik; Timothy Bozarth [Marquis]
Sculthorpe: String quartets with Didjeridu. Stephen Kent; Del Sol Quartet [Sono Luminus]
Mozart, Schubert, Stravinsky: Piano duos. Martha Argerich; Daniel Barenboim [DG]

Britten & Weinberg: Violin concertos
Linus Roth; DSO Berlin/Mihkel Kütson

"Escape to Paradise". Daniel Hope [DG]
Schulhoff: Concertos. Frank-Immo Zichner; Jacques Zoon; DSO Berlin/Roland Kluttig [Capriccio]
Handel: Piano concertos nos.13-16. Matthias Kirschnereit [CPO]
Prokofiev: Piano concertos. Jean-Efflam Bavouzet [Chandos]


Beethoven: The Creatures of Prometheus
Armonia Atenea/George Petrou

Mozart: Symphonies nos.39-41. Orchestra of the 18th Century/Frans Brüggen [Glossa]
Schubert: Symphonies nos.3-5. Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard [BIS]
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade. Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic/Sascha Goetzel [Onyx]
Hartmann: Symphonies nos.1-8. Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra/various [Challenge]

"Behind the Lines"
Anna Prohaska; Eric Schneider

"Love's Minstrels". Philippe Sly [Analekta]
Mozart: Concert arias. Rolando Villazón [DG]
Schubert: Nachtviolen. Christian Gerhaher [Sony]
"Power Players: Russian arias for bass". Ildar Abdrazakov [Delos]

Jan Novák: "Testamentum"
Martinů Voices/Lukas Vasilek

Orff: Carmina Burana. Anima Eterna/Jos van Immerseel [Zig-Zag Territoires]
"America". SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart/Marcus Creed [Hänssler]
Mozart: Requiem. Dunedin Consort/John Butt [Linn]
"Sacred Love". Latvian Radio Choir/Sigvards Klava [Ondine]

Allemeier: Deep Water
Various performers

John Luther Adams: Become Ocean. Seattle Symphony Orchestra/Ludovic Morlot [Cantaloupe]
Glass: String quartets (transcribed). Dublin Guitar Quartet [Orange Mountain]
Nyman: "Chasing Pianos". Valentina Lisitsa [Decca]
"American Vernacular". Nicholas Phillips [New Focus]
Perich: Surface Image. Vicky Chow [New Amsterdam]

Wolfe: Steel Hammer
Trio Medieval; Bang-on-a-Can All-Stars

Crumb: Voices from the Heartland. Ann Crumb; Patrick Mason [Bridge]
Dove: Song Cycles. Patricia Bardon; Claire Booth; Nicky Spence [Naxos]
Pärt: Choral music. Polyphony/Stephen Layton [Hyperion]
Kyr: The Cloud of Unknowing [Harmonia Mundi]

I decided not to put in any commentary on the individual categories because I'm worn out from putting together pithy statements for the two "best of" lists I did for Music Is Good (new music is here; "old" music to follow), and maybe it's OK to let the music speak for itself. I can say that some categories were easier to decide than others; I didn't get much Baroque Instrumental music or Choral music, and though I'm pleased with the five Living Vocal nominees it was only an end-of-year rush that provided me with that many true contenders. I was tracking my progress in the last few months to make sure there was good representation of every category; without that awareness, I'm sure the selection would have been rather less balanced. 
The most exciting category was Living Instrumental, which had to have an extra nominee. The John Allemeier, John Luther Adams, Julia Wolfe, and Philip Glass were four of my top 5 of the year, marking a triumph for new music, but the winner of Album of the Year is Anna Prohaska's magnificent reflection on war.
The 56 nominees came from 39 labels, and no label won two awards... well, really DHM and Sony go together, as do Decca and DG.
Also... ah, that's it. Nothing more needs to be said. Well done, classical albums of 2014: you were very good.