The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music notes: Beyond Grammy list, many classical CDs are worth giving and receiving — Part 1: The Three B’s

December 12, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

Earlier this week, I posted a complete list of the classical music nominees for the 52nd annual Grammy Awards.

I am personally familiar with many of the titles and artists, and find them worthy of the Grammy honor.

But I was also surprised not see some other titles missing from the list.

Perhaps that stems from what seems an emphasis on contemporary music in the Grammy list this year.

Or perhaps some of these will be nominated next year.

Anyway, for those you looking to do some holiday shopping this weekend, here are some of the other CDs from the past year I liked a lot:

J.S. Bach: Cantatas, Vols. 40-44. Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan. BIS.  British musicians John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir are more famous these days for their live performances of the cantatas. But this set of Japanese performers with some international soloists, are beautifully executed and recorded.

J.S. Bach: Six Keyboard Partitas: Andras Schiff (ECM). This second version, like his second “Goldberg” Variations, seems clearer and more direct as well as less extravagantly ornamented that his first version done decades ago. It’s a 2-CD set with lots of captivating dance music.

J.S. Bach, Two-Part Inventions and Thee-Part Sinfonias and French Suite No. 5 with Till Fellner. (ECM). This pianist, who studied with Alfred Brendel, is my top choice for his ability to adapt Bach to the modern piano. His first volume of The Well-Tempered Clavier sets a gold standard. This cycle, full of energy and finesse, is no less deserving. It’s a perfect gift for a young piano student tackling the inventions and sinfonias.

Beethoven, Five Piano Concertos. Richard Goode with the Budapest Festival Orchestra under Ivan Fischer. (Nonesuch). These are great and energetic readings that are a natural sequel to Goode’s acclaimed cycle of Beethoven’ complete piano sonatas. He emphasizes classicism and proto-Romanticism, using a measured but convincing approach.

Beethoven, Symphonies Nos. 7 and 2. Minnesota Orchestra under Osmo Vanska (BIS). Finnish by birth and training, Vanska turns in a highly acclaimed end to the Beethoven cylce, with the piano concertos to follow. Then come Bruckner’s symphonies. But these combine the best of big orchestra versions and period readings.

Beethoven: String Quartets, Opp. 74 (“Harp”) 95 (“Serioso”). Tokyo String Quartet (Harmonia Mundi). More great playing as the revamped Tokyo (in residence at Yale) starts to finish up its second Beethoven cycle.

Beethoven, Complete Sonatas for Violin and Piano. Isabelle Faust, violin, and Alexander Melnikov (piano) Harmonia Mundi. These exciting readings recall the Gidon Kremer-Martha Argerich pairing, only it’s better. These works should be performed more and heard more aside from the “Spring” and “Kreutzer.”

Brahms, Two String Quintets, Opp. 88 and 11. Nash Ensemble. Onyx. These great works, with an extra viola, are underperformed, though the UW’s Pro Arte played one the first one semester. Tight, songful and stringy Brahms.

What recent classical music releases do you suggest as gifts?

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music

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