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About 450 releases and rereleases were reviewed in the September/October 2011 issue of American Record Guide. These are the ones that generated most enthusiasm:

Johann Christian Bach: Symphonies opp.6, 9, 18. Netherlands Chamber Orchestra/David Zinman. Newton 8002065

“These recordings, made from 1974 to 1977 and originally released on Philips, made me ask, “Johann Christian Bach, where have you been all my life?” Here’s wonderful, incredibly inventive music in performances that are simply the best” – Gil French

Blow: Venus and Adonis. Amanda Forsyth, Tyler Duncan, Boston Early Music Festival/Paul O’Dette, Stephen Stubbs. CPO 777614

“This is a beautiful release in every aspect… a topnotch production, and I would not hesitate to recommend it for a first choice or only one for people who are less than die-hard collectors” – Ardella Crawford

Busoni: Bach transcriptions, vol.2. Maurizio Baglini (p). Tudor 7156

“Through these exceptional performances, we can experience another era of pianistic performances… Taken all together, this is an essential release” – James Harrington

Chopin: Piano sonata no.3, Polonaise-Fantasy, etc. Alexis Weissenberg (p). Hänssler 93710

“This is an exquisite 1972 recital. The engineering is well done, and the playing is sublime” – David Jacobsen

Fauré: Barcarolles; Romances sans paroles. Charles Owen (p). Avie 2240

“People either hate or love the Fauré Barcarolles. If played plainly and literally, they can be rather boring. But Charles Owen really makes them into beautiful swaying songs of romanticism… I am still enthralled by his playing. It is remarkably simple and honest” – David Jacobsen

Ferko: Stabat Mater. Juliana Rambaldi (sop); Choral Arts/Robert Bode. Rezound 5019

“The day I discovered Frank Ferko’s transcendental Stabat Mater nearly a decade ago was a happy one indeed… most knowledgeable contemporary choral aficionados consider Ferko one of America’s handful of truly great choral composers. I was thus thrilled to get this particularly luminous and celestial-sounding rendition from a most accomplished Seattle choir” – Lindsay Koob

Forqueray: Harpsichord works. Michael Borgstede (hpd). Brilliant 94108

“Borgstede’s playing is fresh, beautiful, and rhetorical. He has a superb sense of narrative… One need only look at the character markings for the pieces to find apt descriptors for Borgstede’s interpretation: spirit, lightness, nobility, aplomb” – Benjamin Katz

Gompper: Violin concerto; Ikon; Flip; Spirals. Wolfgang David (vn); Peter Zazofsky (vn); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Emmanuel Siffert. Naxos 559637

“This is the first time I have heard [Gompper’s] music, and I am very impressed. I feel refreshed that such exceptional music is still composed in these times of artistic apathy… Gompper also does something rather rare these days: compose a good tune” – David Jacobsen

Graener: Piano trios. Hyperion Trio; Albrecht Pöhl (bar). CPO 777 599

“Paul Graener (1872-1944) is certainly a genius who deserves to be better-known in the greater classical music community. As suggested in the essay, there is a reason he is almost unknown today. He was a Nazi with a lot of influence as the vice-president of Reichmusikkammer [Richard Strauss was president]… I am thrilled that a world-class ensemble like the Hyperion Trio is recording and performing this important music” – David Jacobsen

Haydn: Piano sonatas, vol.2. Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (p). Chandos 10668

“Bavouzet joins Andras Schiff at the top of the list of keyboard performers who have assimilated Haydn’s musical language and can speak it eloquently… I can’t go on enough about how endlessly great this music is” – Stephen D Chakwin Jr

Liszt: Bellini and Verdi paraphrases. Giovanni Bellucci (p). Lontano 690748

“This is astonishing playing. Almost everything Bellucci does feels almost impossibly grand in scale, and by this I mean the passion, volume, technique, and artistic vision alike. All these positive qualities are gilded further by an amazing studio sound… For fans of Liszt’s paraphrases, it probably does not get any better than this” – Brent Auerbach

Mompou: “Silent Music” – Musica Callada. Jenny Lin (p). Steinway & Sons 30004

“This music is simple – simple in its transparency, nakedness, and unsettling purity. Its harmonic and rhetorical concepts are incredibly complex, however. Lin’s sensitivity leaves me haunted” – David Jacobsen

Sarasate: Music for violin and orchestra, vol.3. Tianwa Yang (vn); Navarra Symphony/Ernest Martinez Izquierdo. Naxos 572275

“In my review of the second volume of this set (M/A 2008), I described Tianwa Yang’s playing as “perfect”, a word I reserve for only the rarest of circumstances and the rarest of violinists. I have to use it again for this recording. In addition to perfection, this third volume is full of surprise and delight” – Elaine Fine

Schoenberg: String quartets nos.3, 4; Phantasy. Fred Sherry Quartet; Rolf Schulte (vn); Christopher Oldfather (p). Naxos 557533

“Before I listen, I think of the difficulty of this music and the level of musicianship that is required just to get through it. To then hear the Fred Sherry Quartet take this music to a level that is clearly beyond notes is a joy” – David Jacobsen

Schumann: Piano concerto; Introduction & Allegro appassionato; Liszt: Piano concerto no.2. Etsuko Hirose (p); Orchestre de Pau Pays de Bearn/Faycal Karoui. Mirare 135

“be transfixed, as I was, by performances that enter into an enchanted land, reserved for a very few” – Alan Becker

Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (version for two pianos and percussion); Bartók: Sonata for two pianos and percussion. Duo d’Accord; Eardrum Percussion Duo. Genuin 11195

“Impeccable musicanship, precise ensemble, and inquisitive exploration of unusual repertoire are all phrases that describe this young piano duo… This is one of the most brilliant ensemble performances I have ever heard, and Genuin’s recorded sound is truly demonstration quality” – James Harrington

Stravinsky: Music for violin and piano. Isabelle van Keulen (vn); Olli Mustonen (p). Newton 8802062

“This is an exceptional collection… Mustonen and Keulen give a spectacular performance, filled with nuance, color, and intensity” – David Jacobsen

Brahms: Cello sonata no.2; Beethoven: Cello sonata no.3; Schubert: Arpeggione sonata. Thomas Carroll (vc); Llyr Williams (p). Orchid 16

“This is a particularly poetic interpretion of these three cello masterpieces. The players create between them sensitively phrased and beautifully timed performances that hold the attention, seemingly without effort… A tour de force” – David W Moore

Guitar recital, including music by Barrios, Craeyvanger, and Regondi. Johannes Moller (g). Naxos 572715

“Yes, Moller has a virtuosic technique, but he’s not eager to show it off at any opportunity, especially if there are areas to be explored that need space, quiet, and contemplation. And he has an amazing range of sound expression… This made me sad when it was over” – Kenneth Keaton

Martha Argerich and Friends, Lugano 2010. various performers. EMI 70836

“I cannot imagine any ARG reader who would not enjoy just about everything here” – James Harrington

Beethoven and his Teachers. Cullen Bryant (fp); Dmitry Rachmanov (fp); Maria Ferrante (sop). Naxos 572519

“Whether you are an expert in the field of period instruments or just curious about their sound, you owe it to yourself to make this recording a part of your collection. The repertoire, performers, booklet notes, and recorded sound are all superb” – James Harrington

French Horn Colours – music by R Strauss, Schumann, Rossini, etc. Szabolcs Zempleni (hn); Peter Nagy (p). Oehms 789

“Zempleni (b 1981) won a number of international competitions about ten years ago, and this outstanding recording shows why. He has a full, potent tone quality and the personality needed for the full range of expression” – Barry Kilpatrick

Venezia – music by Rosenmuller, Legrenzi, Stradella. Rare Fruits Council/Manfredo Kraemer. Ambronay 28

“This is excellent in all ways. The seven players in The Rare Fruits Council… are very adept and imaginative” – Catherine Moore

Come to the River: An Early American Gathering. Apollo’s Fire/Jeanette Sorrell. Avie 2205

“a vibrant American sampler that is one of the most joyous releases to have crossed the ARG choral desk in some time” – Philip Greenfield

Arias by Beethoven, Weber, Wagner, Verdi. Gre Brouwenstijn (sop); Hague Philharmonic/Willem van Otterloo; Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Rudolf Moralt. Newton 8802061

“I hope Newton’s reissue of an old Philips recital will win her some new fans… the Tannhauser and Lohengrin excerpts are about as beautiful as you’ll ever hear. The Verdi arias are also stunning” – Ralph V Lucano

Fête Galante – French songs. Karina Gauvin (sop); Marc-André Hamelin (p). ATMA 2642

“Ms Gauvin’s stunning singing… is all that anyone could hope or wish for. In a crowded field of French songs albums, this one stands out” – John Boyer

Come Away, Death – songs by Korngold, Sibelius, Mussorgsky, etc. Marianne Beata Kielland (mez); Sergei Osadchuk (p). 2L 64

“With superb sound and outstanding performances this most imaginative program is a remarkable tour-de-fource and deserves a wide audience” – Robert A Moore

Après un rêve – songs by Strauss, Fauré, Mendelssohn, etc. Sandrine Piau (sop); Susan Manoff (p). Naive 5250

“This is one of the most engaging vocal releases of recent years” – Robert A Moore

Ponchielli: La Gioconda. Zinka Milanov, etc; Metropolitan Opera/Ettore Panizza. Immortal Performances 1012

“This truly immortal performance, from 30th December 1939, has been available for many years… prompting the question as to whether we really need yet another issue. After hearing this new set, brilliantly re-mastered by Richard Caniell, the answer is decidedly in the affirmative” – Vivian A Liff

Wagner: Götterdämmerung. Lauritz Melchior, etc; Metropolitan Opera/Fritz Stiedry. Immprtal Performances 1010

“a really phenomenal and truly historic performance from December 1948. It was Melchior’s last Siegfried at the Met… There is no question that Melchior was the greatest Wagnerian tenor of the 20th Century… As a whole, a finer cast could hardly have been assembled, then or now, anywhere. I shall treasure this in the time available to me on the planet” – John P McKelvey


Stephen J. Nereffid lives near Dublin, Ireland, and spends far too much time listening to classical music.
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One Response to “Classical highlights: American Record Guide, Sept/Oct 2011”

  1. 1
    kez Says:

    The title of “Come to the River: An Early American Gathering” by Apollo’s Fire caught my attention, and on further searching I was wowed by the product description: “I read the product description for this one: the product description, “From the driving rhythms of New England dances, to the spiritual heights of an old-time Revival Meeting, this recording explores the rich tapestry of early American folk music, performed on period instruments by artists who are steeped in the folk tradition as well as historical performance.” Something a little different from what one might ordinarily expect to find in a classical highlights list! Thanks for bringing this one to my attention. I don’t think I would have noticed it otherwise.


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