The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The top classical recordings of 2013 are finally named by the critics for The New York Times. Does the list come too late to serve as a holiday gift-giving guide?

December 22, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, The Ear thinks it was a little late in coming –- especially since there are few local traditional brick-and-mortar record stories still in business and since buying on-line requires time for delivery.

But at the end of last week, the critics of The New York Times finally published their collective picks of the best classical recordings of the past year. (A sample of 20 is below in a photo by Tony Cenicola for the Times.)

NY Times top 20 classical CDs 2013 Tony Cenicola for NYT

It is a list I particularly trust since the critics of The New York Times -– Anthony Tommasini, James Oestreich, Vivien Schweitzer, Zachary Woolfe and Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim –- are among the best, the most discerning, experienced and reliable critics in the business. (At the bottom is a promotional video from Decca and posted on YouTube for one of the choices I especially agree with: violinist Leonidas Kavakos playing the complete violin sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven.)

Now, a cynic might think that an earlier publication about bigger and more expensive box sets (below), with dozens of CDs, came first because those sets are quite expensive and were probably provided free of cost or at a steep discount to reviewers. So perhaps the reviewers felt a duty to get that story into print over the pick of cheaper single and maybe double CDs -– kind of like the way legislators respond to lobbyists.

But maybe not. Maybe it is all just coincidence.

NPR boxed CD sets

Anyway, here is a link to my blog posting about the box sets story, to which a link is also provided and which appeared the day after Thanksgiving:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/classical-music-as-we-head-into-black-friday-small-business-saturday-and-cyber-monday-how-appealing-as-holiday-gifts-are-complete-cd-boxed-sets/

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/17/arts/music/classical-music-boxed-sets-multiply.html?_r=1&

And one can be disappointed a bit that there isn’t more in the way of suggestions about DVDs and books that related to classical music.

But be all that as it may, the list has been at last been published. And I find that agree whole-heartedly with many of the choices. And if it proves to late to be a good guide for giving, perhaps it is a good guide for how to spend those gifts cards you might get as gifts.

Here is a link to the Best Recordings of 2013 story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/20/arts/music/times-critics-favorite-classical-recordings-of-2013.html?ref=classicalmusic&_r=0


Classical music: What makes for a really great holiday classical album? NPR asks a Grammy-winning expert. What do you think?

December 13, 2013
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

From now to the holidays, we are sure to hear a lot about specific individual recordings that merit your attention as holiday  gifts – from single CDs and DVDs to box sets with dozens of recordings, many of which have been featured here in the past couple of weeks.

But what goes into making a really great and really memorable holiday album?

holidayalbums

Of course, such things are easy to dismiss if you are a really serious “music lover.” But you know what? Many a lesser selling work has been financed by the profits from holiday recordings – and we are not just talking about “Messiah.”

Anyway, what makes for a get holiday album? That is the question that NPR’s terrific classical music blog, “Deceptive Cadence,” put to an expert from the industry who has won dozens of Grammy awards (below).

Now, one smart mouth reader said that all holiday albums boil down to Muzak or elevator music – “not just a melody but a management tool,” as the old motto put it.

I am not so sure, especially given the popularity of holiday-themed concerts. And if you think about it, holiday music is just another form of occasional music — like the wonderful “Pomp and Circumstance” marches by Sir Edward Elgar or the”Royal Water Music” and “Royal Fireworks Music” as well as “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel or “Gloria” by Antonio Vivaldi or all the cantatas and passions by Johann Sebastian Bach.

grammy award BIG

But here is a link to the story:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/11/27/247348768/confronting-the-ghosts-of-classical-christmas-albums-past

What do you look for in a memorable holiday album?

Music that is new to you?

Interpretations that seem fresh?

A consistency of theme?

Do you have a favorite holiday album, and what is it?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: NPR weighs in with its recommendations for box sets of classical CDs for holiday gift-giving.

December 12, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This holiday season seems like it is shaping up as a time to consider bigger and more expensive gifts such as complete box sets of recordings of certain performers, composers and institutions.

Could it be because their volume makes them less downloadable? Or does their appeal have to do with the novelty of having the complete collection of something — you know, the desire for total possession of beauty as well as convenience?

True, the box sets, which often run into dozens of CDs, have their own scale of economy that brings the per disc price down to as low as $5 or less.

But more importantly, the sets also feature reissues of historical recordings by major artists that have not generally been available singly — or at all! You can hear the complete Van Cliburn; the legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz playing live at Carnegie Hall between 1943 and 1973 in recently discovered recordings (a sneak peek sampler is in a YouTube video at the bottom)  the world’s great singers doing Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner at the Metropolitan Opera; conductor Fritz Reiner with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; conductor Carlo Maria Giulini and several orchestras; and former superstar pianists Gary Graffman and Leon Fleisher whose early careers later got sidetracked by injuries.

NPR boxed CD sets

Here is what the critics for The New York Times recommended a few weeks back:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/classical-music-as-we-head-into-black-friday-small-business-saturday-and-cyber-monday-how-appealing-as-holiday-gifts-are-complete-cd-boxed-sets/

And here is what “Deceptive Cadence,” the terrific classical blog on NPR, recommends in the way of boxed sets.

In addition, NPR also provides audio samples from many of the sets to whet your appetite and help you decide, so if you can listen to it – don’t just read it.

They also provide links to other stories and blog postings that NPR has done about the major artists.

Here is a link to the story by Tom Huizenga and Anastasia Tsioulcas:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/12/04/248792687/a-bumper-crop-of-classical-boxed-sets

It seems to me, comparing the two stories, that both The New York Times and NPR agree on a lot of the boxed sets – a good sign, don’t you think?

Do any of you have personal experiences and opinions about the various boxed sets? Let us know in the COMMENTS section.

Happy shopping.

Happy giving.

Happy receiving.


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