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Can it be a year since the last list? Here goes with my favorite 20 releases of 2017. Your tastes are not mine, you will disagree, but maybe there is something here that you might not have discovered, something of beauty that might bring you joy. At one point I thought this might be a thin year; when I got down to making the list I realized there was no filler at the bottom. Exact placement is fuzzy – there are lots of apples and oranges being compared here. Feel free to move any of these up or down a few places in your head.

#1. Taylor Deupree – Somi

Deupree’s Faint from a few years ago is still one of my regular listens and pleasures, and I wonder with hindsight if I should have placed it at number one that year. He gave me another chance with the magnificent, meditative Somi. Loops of single notes from acoustic instruments played at varying intervals are layered and treated to create a fascinating slow dance of beauty and rest. And the deluxe edition packaging was as gorgeous as the music. (Listen)

 

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29

Jan

2016

Favourite classical albums of 2015

By Stephen J. Nereffid. Posted in Classical | No Comments »

This has been another excellent year in classical recordings for me. I remain amazed at how much fine music of the past there is for me to discover, not to mention the brand-new delights that are increasingly catching my ear. This process of exploration means that, as usual, my list tends to avoid the standard classical repertoire but nevertheless covers plenty of ground.

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Here is my top 20 music releases for 2015, with no claim that they are somehow objectively the best or that I listened to everything anyone else did. I have found things that delighted me on other people’s lists, and the point of the exercise is not to replicate or compete with those lists but to highlight some things you may not have found, things that might delight you. The sequence changed every time I made a shortlist, so take the numbers with a pinch of salt – all of them could be at least plus or minus 5 on a given day.

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facadeWhat good fortune! How many of us – whatever kind of music we listen to – ever get the chance to hear two of our favourite recent albums performed in their entirety, live, on the same evening, in a single venue? And this as just part of a two-day event with plenty more wonderful music, from brand-new pieces to beloved classics. Bang on a Can came to Dublin, and the weather improved too.

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18

Jan

2015

Top 15 ‘Old’ Classical of 2014: Stephen J Nereffid

By Stephen J. Nereffid. Posted in Classical | No Comments »

prohaskaFollowing on from my list of music by still-living composers, here’s one of older music. The usual caveats apply regarding how representative of the year’s releases this is, with the added proviso that I tend to avoid new recordings of repertoire that’s already in my collection, which brings the selection somewhat away from the mainstream. That said, I’ve covered a lot of ground and the 15 albums collectively serve to demonstrate just how broad the term “classical music” is—and how new centuries-old music can sound.

#1.

Anna Prohaska. Behind the Lines [DG]

The Austrian soprano marks the centenary of the First World War, with a selection of songs spanning several centuries and countries. From the opening folk song segueing into a piece from Beethoven’s “Egmont” music, through such varied composers as Roger Quilter and Wolfgang Rihm, to the final pair of Whitman settings by Kurt Weill, Prohaska is always at home. A superb, moving recital.

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26

Dec

2014

Top 15 New Classical of 2014: Stephen J Nereffid

By Stephen J. Nereffid. Posted in Classical | No Comments »

allemeierThis year I seemed to listen to a lot more new classical music; not just that, but a lot more really good new classical music, so much so that it deserves its own end-of-year list (an “old” music list will follow). I’m defining “new” music simply as music written by people who are still alive, though the bulk of what appears here is from the present century. If you know nothing about contemporary classical, let me assure you that my list is utterly unrepresentative of the overall state of the art. So, with that in mind…

#1.

John Allemeier. Deep Water: The Murder Ballads [Albany]

Ellen Smith, shot through the heart; Frankie Silver, who killed her abusive husband with his own gun and then dismembered him; and Omie Wise, seduced and drowned by a wealthy young man. Three folk songs from North Carolina inspired John Allemeier and choreographer E.E. Balcos to create a darkly lyrical trio of chamber works that together make a single piece of dance theatre. This is vivid music that doesn’t need to be seen to be believed.

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I didn’t listen to everything this year. Neither did you. I have no objective way of knowing that these are (or are not) the 20 best albums released this year. Neither do you. But these are the ones I most loved and most want to spend more time with next year, and who knows, maybe you’ll find something special here too, something you missed but can connect with and find riches in, something off your usual menu that you might come to be thankful for. If that happens even once, the list will be worthwhile. And as always, if any of the musicians drop by, thank you for the work, care, commitment, and creativity represented below.

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31

Oct

2014

Into the Renaissance

By Stephen J. Nereffid. Posted in A History of Classical Music, Classical | No Comments »

A History of Classical Music through Recordings: Part 10

hcmr044artnethThe Art of the Netherlands”. Early Music Consort/David Munrow. Virgin

While the Renaissance is regarded as having begun in Italy in the 14th century, convention has it that “Renaissance music” begins in the Low Countries and northern France in the 15th. Part of the reason for this discrepancy is that whereas the art and literature of the Renaissance and of the classical period that inspired it had long been studied, the same wasn’t true of music. Until the 19th century, the music of the past tended to stay in the past, unperformed, and it wasn’t until the 20th century that there was much general interest in “early music” (broadly, anything before about 1750). Such music had literally to be rediscovered, and the music of trecento Italy simply wasn’t known about when ideas of “Renaissance music” were first considered. So perhaps Landini and his contemporaries should be called the first Renaissance composers; but convention has sided with the theorist Johannes Tinctoris (c1435-1511), who was dismissive of all music prior to the 15th century and considered music to have been reborn in his time. Spearheading this apparent rebirth were the composers of what’s called the Franco-Flemish school, beginning with Dufay and Binchois and ending over a century later. Like Dufay, many of these composers spent at least some of their careers in Italy or other parts of Europe, and the widespread diffusion of their works (aided greatly by the invention of printing) helped to create an international style of music.

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23

Dec

2013

Top 23 of 2013: Stephen J Nereffid

By Stephen J. Nereffid. Posted in Classical | No Comments »

Yes, top 23: this was a very good year of classical releases for me, and it turns out that the number of albums I want to mention doesn’t correspond exactly with the number of fingers and toes I possess. To buck convention even further, I’m not going to rank the albums, aside from my favourite of the year. The usual provisos apply; the list is some distance away from being representative of the year’s classical releases as a whole.

littleprince#1. Petitgirard: The Little Prince
Laurent Petitgirard conducting
(Naxos)

A mysterious, sombre and beautiful ballet from 2010, based on the classic book. Petitgirard makes use of a choir and a handful of instrumentalists; if I describe the music as like a softer, French-accented Philip Glass, this doesn’t do it justice but at least might give you some idea of the sound-world.

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Any list implies criteria, but let’s eliminate some obvious candidates. This is not a list of the most original, or significant, or skilled, or successful releases of 2013. There is so much that I simply did not listen to that those kinds of judgments are out of reach (for me as for everyone else). Instead, I asked myself: if I were to be separated from my music for a month or two and could only keep 20 albums from my collection with me, all released in 2013, which would I choose? This approach keeps me from adding or skipping things because I somehow feel I ought to. Worthy or not in the ears of the world, this is what I liked most from this year’s releases. Listen in; who knows, you might like it too.

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