Friday, March 11, 2016

Nereffid's Best Albums of 2015

My best-of-the-year list was a little slow making it to Music is Good, and then somehow I never got round to posting the "awards" equivalent on this blog. But here we are now.
Some 201 new albums went through my ears in 2015, and those listed below are my 5 favourites in each of 11 categories. I've marked with an asterisk any runner-up album that was good enough to make my top 30 for MiG.

"Concert Celeste"
Ensemble Obsidienne/Emmanuel Bonnardot

* "Armarium". Amarcord [Raumklang]
"Anne Boleyn's Songbook". Alamire [Obsidian]
"Flow my Tears". Iestyn Davies [Wigmore Hall]
"Il Trionfo di Dori". The King's Singers [Signum]

Bach: Harpsichord concertos
Andreas Staier; Freiburger Barockorchester
[Harmonia Mundi]

Valentini: Oddities & Trifles. Acronym [New Focus]
"Les Sauvages". Beatrice Martin [Cypres]
"French flute concertos". Frank Theuns; Les Buffardins [Accent]
Vivaldi: I Concerti dell'Addio. Fabio Biondi; Europa Galante [Glossa]

Schein: Musica boscareccia
United Continuo Ensemble
[Pan Classics]

Rameau: Castor et Pollux. Ensemble Pygmalion/Raphaël Pinchon [Harmonia Mundi]
Kuhnau: Sacred works, volume 1. Opella Musica; Camerata Lipsiensis/Gregor Meyer [CPO] 
"A Painted Tale". Nicholas Phan [Avie]
"Orfeo(s)". Sunhae Im; Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin [Harmonia Mundi] 

Peyko: Complete piano music, volume 2
Dmitry Korostelyov

* "Postcard from Heaven". Susan Allen [New World]
"Capriccioso". Antonio Meneses [Avie]
Grieg: Lyric Pieces. Stephen Hough [Hyperion]
Sibelius: The Ainola piano. Folke Grasbeck [BIS] 

Lilburn: Chamber music for strings
New Zealand String Quartet

"Cantante e Tranquillo". Keller Quartet [ECM New Series]
Ornstein: Chamber music. Marc-André Hamelin; Pacifica Quartet [Hyperion]
"The Franchomme Project". Louise Dubin et al [Delos]
Smetana: String quartets. Pavel Haas Quartet [Supraphon]

Haydn & Mozart: Concertos
Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen

* "Time Present and Time Past". Mahan Esfahani; Concerto Köln [Archiv]
* Vaughan Williams & MacMillan: Oboe concertos. Nicholas Daniel; Britten Sinfonia/James MacMillan [Harmonia Mundi]
Mozart: Horn concertos. Pip Eastop; Hanover Band/Anthony Halstead [Hyperion]
Kalliwoda: Violin concertos and overtures. Ariadne Daskalakis; Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens [CPO]

Bach arr. Sitkovetsky: Goldberg Variations
Britten Sinfonia/Thomas Gould
[Harmonia Mundi] 

* Wagenaar: Sinfonietta, etc. Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie/Antony Hermus [CPO]  
Fine: Orchestral works. Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose [BMOP/sound]
"Suites and Overtures for the Radio". Orchester der Staatsoperette Dresden/Ernst Theis [CPO] 
Schnittke: Symphony no.3. Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski [Pentatone] 

"If the Owl Calls Again"
Christianne Stotijn et al

* "Yes!". Julie Fuchs; Orchestre National de Lille/Samuel Jean [Deutsche Grammophon]
Schubert: Poetisches Tagebuch. Christoph Prégardien; Julius Drake [Challenge]
"Green". Philippe Jaroussky; Jérôme Ducros; Quatuor Ebène [Erato]
"Fleurs". Carolyn Sampson; Joseph Middleton [BIS]

Messiaen: L'amour et la foi
Danish National Vocal Ensemble; Danish National Chamber Choir; Marcus Creed

* "The Tempest". La Tempête [Alpha]
* David: Le Désert. Accentus; Orchestre de Chambre de Paris/Laurence Equilbey [Naive] 
* "1865: Songs of Hope and Home". Anonymous 4; Bruce Molsky [Harmonia Mundi]
Schubert: Choral works for male voices, volume 1. Camerata Musica Limburg/Jan Schumacher [Genuin] 

"Field Recordings"
Bang On A Can All-Stars

* Vierk: Words Fail Me. various [New World]
* Adams: Absolute Jest; Grand Pianola Music. San Francisco Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas [SFS]
* Glass: Etudes. Nicholas Horvath [Grand Piano]
* Dessner: Music for Wood and Strings. So Percussion [Brassland]

Lang: The Difficulty of Crossing a Field
Beverly O’Regan Thiele; Jay O. Sanders; Harlem String Quartet; Douglas Kinney Frost
* "Render". Roomful of Teeth [New Amsterdam]
* Karpman: Ask Your Mama. various; San Francisco Ballet Orchestra/George Manahan [Avie]
* Wolfe: Anthracite Fields. Trinity Wall Street Choir; Bang On A Can All-Stars [Cantaloupe]
* Pärt: Tintinnabuli. Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips [Gimell]

The big story this year is the triumph of new music. The plethora of asterisks above is one indicator, but in fact some 12 living-composer albums made it into my MiG top 30 (5 in the top 10), and David Lang's marvellous opera The Difficulty of Crossing a Field is my Album of the Year. I'm delighted to have finally found "my" new music; for years I'd been dutifully trying out the highest-placing releases in the Nereffid's Guide Awards without ever really being satisfied (some exceptions, of course). Once I started to follow my own instincts, the rewards increased, but the big breakthrough came in 2014 when I took a punt on John Luther Adams's Become Ocean and Wolfe's Steel Hammer (God, the agonising over whether, despite the apparently unpromising first movement, I should try it!) and then the floodgates opened once I attended the What? Wow! festival in March (a year ago now... and apparently there's no festival this year because all the arts money is being spent on 1916...). So 2015 saw me embrace post-minimalism with gusto - and a bunch of really good Philip Glass releases brought him back into my heart after too long feeling a bit dissatisfied with his more recent work (it turns out it was just me). 
The ironic thing is that I realised, while raiding the Cantaloupe back catalogue, that post-minimalism had been there all along in my collection, waiting. About 20 years ago I bought an Argo sampler called "Short Cuts" filled with new music; and one of the tracks - which I loved - was an excerpt from Michael Gordon's Yo Shakespeare. But I never followed up on it, or him. I finally heard the full piece last year! It's an intriguing "what if", but it's not like I regret the last two decades of classical listening. Perhaps the time just wasn't right, back then. After all, this year has thrown out a few other surprises in terms of things I didn't really think I'd ever have much interest in. Messiaen, for instance - I could never quite warm to him, but there he is, winning the Choral category. Or even to have two Mozart recordings in the Concerto category - a few years ago that might have seemed a bit too "safe" or even boring, but those Hyperion releases are a joy. So my tastes continue to evolve...
... and great musicians continue to release albums of great music...