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Snippets from the latest issue of Fanfare. These are the best-reviewed discs for November/December, in the order in which they appear in the magazine.

Liszt: Piano sonata; Fantasy and fugue on “Ad nos, ad salutarem”. Garrick Ohlsson (p). Bridge 9337

“As skillful as Busoni’s 1897 transcription is, Ad nos is not an easy piece to pull off on the piano. Ohlsson does it brilliantly, using a dynamic palette with huge fortissimos that never sound forced and a pianissimo spectrum of infinite gradation. … This B-Minor Sonata is so unlike any other I can think of, it comes dangerously close to beggaring description. … an interpretation of profound wisdom and almost excruciating beauty” – Patrick Rucker

Quincy Porter: Complete viola works. Eliesha Nelson (va); John Mclaughlin Williams (p, hpd, vn); Douglas Rioth (hp); Northwest Sinfonia/Williams. Doiran 90911

“Eliesha Nelson performs every one of these works with exquisite artistry, drawing the kind of rich, dark tone from her viola that bathes the ears in a silky chocolate mousse” – Jerry Dubins

Desyatnikov: “The Leaden Echo”.  Various artists. Quartz 2087

“This is music of great yearning, resignation, and longing for a world long gone. In general affect, though not in harmonic and rhythmic structure, it parallels the music of Valentin Silvestrov… Both are purveyors of a generally postmodern and accessible language. Silvestrov’s employs harmonic ambivalence and repetition, and Desyatnikov’s a more classical approach that stresses a Haydn-Mozart-Beethoven-Schubert approach to variation form. The unquantifiable miracle of all this is that they both leave me, the listener, in the same quite magical place.” – William Zagorski

Colina: 3 Cabinets of Wonder; Goyescana; Los Caprichos. Anastasia Khitruk (vn); Michael Andriaccio (g); London SO/Ira Levin. Fleu de Son 57999

“I do not use the word masterpiece lightly, but in my opinion, these three works all qualify as such, and I am confident they will be performed a hundred years from now. I will come back to this CD repeatedly to savor its endless delights. If you buy just one contemporary CD this year, this is a strong contender for the honor.” – David DeBoor Canfield

“Colina is a real find, and it is amazing that anyone’s first outing into the classical world, I don’t care what you have done before, is so assured and confidant. Highest recommendation.” – Steven E Ritter

Ruders: Piano concerto no.2; Serenade on the Shores of the Cosmic Ocean; Bel Canto. Vassily Primakov (p); Norwegian RO/Thomas Søndergard; Mikko Luoma (acc); iO Str Qrt; Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen (vn). Bridge 9336

“compelling performances of two recent works of considerable power… The music on this recording is a challenge but also a pleasure to get to know. It is performed with dedication and brilliance” – Phillip Scott

The Art of Transcription – music by Czerny, Mozart, Vivaldi, Beethoven, Britten, Whittall, Liszt. Risto-Matti Marin (p). Alba 240

“(I) came away from The Art of Transcription convinced that there is nothing that the astoundingly versatile Marin can’t do. It is one of the best piano recitals that I have heard in years” – Paul Orgel

Schuman: A Free Song; Copland: Appalachian Spring; Sowerby: Canticle of the Sun. Grant Park Orchestra & Chorus/Carlos Kalmar. Cedille 90000125

“This premiere recording (collectively titled The Pulitzer Project) of two of the early and most neglected winners of the Pulitzer Prize in music is a discographic milestone, certain to gladden the hearts of all those who recognize and treasure our country’s authentic serious music. … performances of total involvement and commitment, magnificently recorded in concert” – Paul A Snook

Nocturnal Fantasies: music by Scriabin and Chopin. Albert Tiu (p). Centaur 3093

“Maybe it’s because I’m not familiar with these specific pieces, but this is the first time I can honestly say that anything I’ve heard by Scriabin has engaged me on an emotional level. Tiu, of course, must take a great deal of the credit for that. It’s hard to describe how beautifully he plays. … What Tiu does for Chopin is equally magical. … Centaur has produced, in my opinion, one of the all-time great piano recordings.” – Jerry Dubins

Journey On. American Boychoir/Fernando Malvar-Ruiz. Albermarle AR1007

“The level of musicianship heard in these boys is extraordinary. … I cannot imagine listening to this disc and not being transported to a better place than where you were when you started.” – Henry Fogel

Bach: Well-tempered clavier, Book 1. Abdel Rahman El Bacha (p). Triton 00077

“this now has to be, in my opinion, one of the very best piano versions of Bach’s WTC available” – Jerry Dubins

Wien 1925: music by Berg and Johann Strauss II. Orchestre Poitou-Charentes/Jean-François Heisser. Mirare 133

“Berg’s Chamber Concerto for Violin and Piano and 13 Wind Instruments has always been the ugly duckling of his oeuvre; in most performances it comes off as dry and dull, a mechanical construction erected from too many interlocking ideas. … This stunning performance brings the entire work to sparkling life, with never a dull moment. … [In the Strauss arrangements by Webern and Schoenberg] It sounds as if the players are having a wonderful time, in performances that are lilting, exciting, and sheer fun” – James H North

Berlioz: Les Nuits d’été; Handel: Arias. Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (mez); Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan. Philharmonia Baroque 01

“She is so seemingly involved with the character of each [Berlioz] song that Lieberson seems not only to be singing these gorgeous songs, but to be writing them. … Her acting skills come to the fore in the Handel recordings; she is a justly famous interpreter of Handel… this whole disc is magnificent” – Michael Ullman

Brown: Piano quartet; Violin sonata; String trio; Prospero’s Isle. Various artists. Guild 7357

“Brown has mastered the classical forms and is content to write for combinations of instruments many contemporary composers dismiss as boring. (Who writes string trios these days?) But Brown’s musical ideas are unmistakably fresh… Of course, unless the content is also interesting, mastery of the form is usually not sufficient. In Brown’s case, there is content in spades.” – Radu A Lelutiu

Bruckner: Motets. St Mary’s Cathedral Choir, Edinburgh/Duncan Ferguson; Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama Brass. Delphian 34071

“What sets this CD apart from every other Bruckner motet collection I’ve heard is its stunning recorded sound, the passionate fervor of the performances, and the extraordinary brilliance of the singing.” – Jeffrey J Lipscomb

Lawrence Dillon: String quartets nos.2-4; What Happened. Daedalus Quartet; Benjamin Hochman (p). Bridge 9332

“I was quickly convinced that I was listening to music that is well constructed, inventive, and unfailingly interesting… The musical gestures of Lawrence Dillon are uniquely his, and his scores skillfully weave a multiplicity of unusual ideas together in a way that will reward anyone interested in the art music of our era. He is original in the best sense of the word.” – David DeBoor Canfield.

George Edwards: The Isle is Full of Noises; Suave Mari Magno; String quartet no.2; Czeched Swing; Horn trio. Various artists. Albany TROY1264

“At my first and rather superficial hearing I concluded that American composer George Edwards (b.1943) was merely just another practitioner working within the sound world of the Second Viennese School… Subsequent listenings have revealed that he is an extraordinarily fine practitioner who fully comprehends the Second Viennese School’s Wagnerian, and if I be so bold as to add, its Brahmsian roots as well. There is also a Bachian clarity and concision to his contrapuntal textures. Edwards, like Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern, is, when all is said and done, a true neoromantic of commanding musical intellect and technical prowess who takes those august masters’ musical concepts to the next level.” – William Zagorski

Fauré: Complete barcarolles; Romances sans paroles, op.17. Charles Owen (p). Avie 2240

“This is for the ages, classic and indispensable” – Adrian Corleonis

Lavista: String quartets nos.1-7. Cuarteto Latinoamericano. Toccata 0106

“All composers inherit the music of the past along with that of their own time. From that, the best of them forge their own inimitable languages, pushing the envelope forward and becoming the classics of the future. Mario Lavista is, unequivocally, in that category. … I can’t imagine better performances of this most intriguing and satisfying music.” – William Zagorski

Liszt: Piano sonata; Liebestraum no.3; Mephisto Waltz no.1; La lugubre gondola II; Bach/Liszt: Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543. Khatia Buniatishvili (p). Sony 787385

“In sum, stunning, fascinating, phenomenal” – Adrian Corleonis

Maldere: Symphonies.  Academy of Ancient Music/Filip Bral. Et’cetera 4036

“Maldere’s symphonies are remarkable for their melodic invention, strong rhythmic profile, elegance, and élan. This is music that will leave a deep imprint on your brain and have you humming its tunes long after the disc has stopped playing. In my opinion, it’s not just disgraceful but criminal that Maldere has been so shamefully neglected” – Jerry Dubins

Meredith Monk: Songs of Ascension. Meredith Monk & vocal ensemble; Todd Reynolds Quartet; The M6; Montclair State University Singers. ECM B001556902

“There is the hand of genius at work here, one feels, without being exactly able to say why, something which in itself encapsulates the elusive nature of Monk’s mode of utterance. … This disc is a remarkable achievement. The experience of listening is one to cherish and savor.” – Colin Clarke

Storace: Selections from Selva di varie compositioni. Naoka Akutagawa (hpd). Naxos 8.572209

“Storace’s music is heavily influenced by Frescobaldi; he may have been a pupil of the Roman master. But Storace’s creativity often surpasses that of his supposed teacher; to quote the liner notes, “The Selve is one of the greatest outpourings of inventiveness in music history.” … [Akutagawa] plays the music with brilliance and unquestioned authority.” – Christopher Brodersen

Rachmaninoff: Piano sonatas nos.1 & 2; 3 Pieces; Nunc dimittis. Leslie Howard (p). Melba MR301127

“The playing is an antidote to the kind of headstrong Rachmaninoff that was advocated, and then widely imitated, by Vladimir Horowitz… In a very crowded field, this is standout Rachmaninoff playing” – Peter Burwasser

Reich: The Desert Music; 3 Movements. Lower Austrian Tonkünstler Orchestra/Kristjan Järvi; Sine Nomine Choir. Chandos 5091

“a stunningly fine recording, rich and detailed, with extraordinary solid bass, and a broad, deep soundstage. The orchestra and chorus are quite simply amazing. Excellent notes seal the deal. Not to be missed.” – Ronald E Grames

Schubert: Symphony no.9. Royal Flemish Philharmonic/Philippe Herreweghe. Pentatone 5186 372

“Herreweghe’s recording is a great one. It tells us as much about Schubert as any performance I know, instead of telling us about the conductor. It is everything a Schubert Ninth on modern instruments should be.” – Dave Saemann

Schubert: Piano trios nos.1 & 2; Arpeggione sonata; Fantasy in C for violin & piano. Trio Dali. Fuga Libera 584

“Everything about the Trio Dali’s Schubert is carefully considered, thoughtfully judged, and exquisitely executed… But there’s something more in these performances, something deeply communicative that cuts right to the bone… [This is] my pick for chamber music release of the year” – Jerry Dubins

Schwantner: Percussion concerto; Morning’s Embrace; Chasing Light. Christopher Lamb (perc); Nashville SO/Giancarlo Guerrero. Naxos 8.559678

“If you know and love the music of American composer Joseph Schwantner, you will find this brilliantly performed and vividly recorded disc irresistible… Highly recommended and a Want List no-brainer.” – Merlin Patterson

Striggio: Mass in 40 Parts, etc; Tallis: Spem in alium. I Fagiolini/Robert Hollingworth. Decca B0015656-00

“it seems anticlimactic to simply report that the performances are all one could hope for—but there it is. Robert Hollingworth does a superlative job of controlling and balancing the various forces at his disposal, creating a miracle of clarity.” – Barry Brenesal

Vaughan Williams: Mass in G minor and other choral works. Laudibus/Mike Brewer. Delphian 34074

“these performances are of such a spectacular quality as to be an absolute desiderata for the Vaughan Williams enthusiast, regardless of how many other versions of this or that piece one already has, and they make an ideal introduction to the composer’s a cappella vocal music for anyone not already acquainted with it. Consider this disc as a Christmas stocking stuffer for all of your friends and family members who love classical music; highest possible recommendation.” – James A Altena

Wagner: Siegfried. Martha Mödl, Ludwig Suthaus, etc; RAI Rome SO/Wilhelm Furtwängler. Pristine 059

Wagner: Götterdämmerung. Martha Mödl, Ludwig Suthaus, etc; RAI Rome SO/Wilhelm Furtwängler. Pristine 060

“This RAI Ring cycle remains one of the glories of the recorded musical history of the 20th century, and sounds here fuller, warmer, cleaner, and more natural than it ever has before.” – Henry Fogel

Waxman: Taras Bulba. City of Prague PO & Chorus/Nic Raine. Tadlow 13

“Tadlow’s complete Taras Bulba is an overwhelming triumph, primarily because of Waxman’s music and the dedication of [producer James] Fitzpatrick, Raine, and the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. This Taras Bulba must rank at or near the top of any list of complete Golden Age film score recordings.” – Arthur Lintgen

Zumsteeg: Die Geisterinsel. Christiane Karg, etc; Stuttgart CO & Hofkapelle/Frieder Bernius. Carus 83.229

“I’ll get right to the point: This is one of the most enjoyable, best-sung, best-conducted, best-played and best-recorded discs I have heard this year” – Robert Markow

In memoriam Nadia Boulanger. Carolyn Shuster Fournier (org); Magali Léger (sop). Ligia 0109206-09

“[Fournier] rises to the challenge of realizing such a diversity of musical styles. Her sense of tempo, rhythm, accent, and general articulation are unassailable. Add to this her sensitivity to the coloristic possibilities of that splendid instrument as realized through her registration choices, balances, and dynamic control, and what emerges is a series of well-thought-out and hauntingly beautiful performances.” – William Zagorski

Music by Ravel, Shostakovich, Liszt, Mozart, Musgrave. Oxana Shevchenko (p). Delphian 34061

“Oxana Shevchenko is a great discovery. Judging from this recital, she can do anything. I only hope that her album receives wide enough circulation to prompt further recordings. I think we are watching the start of something wonderful.” – Dave Saemann


Stephen J. Nereffid lives near Dublin, Ireland, and spends far too much time listening to classical music.
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