The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Gift guide or gift or both? Critics for The New York Times name their top classical recordings of 2018, and so does National Public Radio (NPR)

December 22, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is “Panic Saturday” — another, newer theme day on the commerce-driven Holiday Consumer Calendar that goes along with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber-Monday and Giving Tuesday. 

In past years, by this time many media outlets would publish the list of the top classical recordings of the past year. And The Ear has offered them as holiday shopping guides with links to the lists.

They seem to be running late this year, probably too late for many shoppers.

But recently the team of critics for The New York Times named their Top 25 classical recordings of 2018 that run from the 15th century to today (sample album covers are below).

This time, the website didn’t just reproduce something that first appeared in the printed edition. And something more than small snippets or excerpts are offered.

This time, the newspaper took full advantage of the electronic possibility of the web and used streaming to add hours of sound samples — some as long as 40 minutes – so you can see what you think of the recordings before you buy them. (Be sure to look at reader reactions and comments.)

It is a new and innovative way to do a Top 25 list – very appealing or entertaining as well as informative. Even if you don’t use it to buy anything for others or yourself, it can provide many minutes of listening pleasure. You can think of it as a gift guide or a gift or both.

Of course, there are also the usual short and very readable, to-the-point narratives or explanations about why the recording stands out and what makes it great music, a great performance or a great interpretation.

So there is a lot to listen to and help you make up your mind. The Ear has enjoyed it and found it helpful, and hopes you do too, whether you agree or disagree with the choice:

Here is a link:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/13/arts/music/best-classical-music-tracks-2018.html

Since this is the last weekend for holiday shopping before Christmas, here is the previous list – notice the duplications in the two lists — posted here, which was of the nominations for the upcoming 2019 Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/12/08/classical-music-here-are-the-just-announced-grammy-nominations-for-2019-they-can-serve-as-a-great-holiday-gift-guide/

And here is the Top 10 list, which was chosen by the always discerning Tom Huizenga (below) — who explains the reasons for his choices — and which also offers generous sound samples, from National Public Radio (NPR) and its Deceptive Cadence blog. Also look for duplications:

https://www.npr.org/2018/12/18/677776208/npr-musics-best-classical-albums-of-2018

What recordings would you suggest? 

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: University of Wisconsin-Madison bassoonist Marc Vallon and saxophonist-clarinetist Les Thimmig will revive an homage to French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez in a FREE concert Friday evening that mixes Baroque and and new music.

March 31, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Bassoonist Marc Vallon and saxophonist-clarinetist Les Thimmig, who both teach and perform at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, are emerging as two of the most interesting, eclectic faculty members, who display a variety of gifts and talents, at the UW School of Music.

Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill) not only performs bassoon music from the Baroque and Classical eras, he is also a conductor who will lead two performances later this month of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Mass in B Minor” for the Madison Bach Musicians.

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

Thimmig plays jazz as well as classics, and recently finished his three-concert exploration of trios by the American composer Morton Feldman.

Les Thimmig color

Here are the details that were sent by Marc Vallon to The Ear:

“Hi Jake,

“I thought I would let you know about my next musical adventure.

“In the 1960s, French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez (below) had a group, called Le Domaine Musical, that played contemporary music mixed with early music by Bach, Dufay and Guillaume de Machaut — unusual music for the time.

Pierre Boulez

“As an homage, Les Thimmig and I are reviving the concept in a FREE concert on this coming Friday, April 4, at 6:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall.

“The program will feature music by Alban Berg, Luciano Berio, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Boulez, and includes Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 on period instruments.

The program includes Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, Op.5 (1920), by Alban Berg (below top); Twelve Notations (1945, in a piano version performed by Maurizio Pollini in a YouTube video at the bottom) by Pierre Boulez (born 1925); “D’un geste apprivoisé” for bassoon and tape (1997) by Jose-Luis Campana  (born 1949); and ) “Sequenza VII” for oboe (1969) by Luciano Berio (below bottom, 1925-2003).

alban berg

Luciano Berio

After intermission, we will perform “Kontra-punkte for 10 instruments” (1953) by Karlheinz Stockhausen (below top, 1928-2007); and the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 (dedicated in 1721) by Johann Sebastian Bach (below bottom, 1685-1750).

karlheinz stockhausen knobs

 Bach1

There will be a presentation of the pieces and an introduction to “Kontra-Punkte” by Lee Blasius (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), who teaches music theory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Lee Blasius Katrin Talbot

The performers include: Mi-Li Chang, flute; Kirstin Ihde, piano; Sung Yang Sara Giusti, piano; Kai-Ju Ho, clarinet; Les Thimmig, bass clarinet; Mary Perkinson, Baroque and modern violin; Eric Miller, baroque and modern cello; Joe Greer, trombone; Jessica Jensen, trumpet; Rosalie Gilbert, harp; Ross Duncan, bassoon; Kangwon Kim and Nate Giglierano, baroque violin; Sally Chisholm, Ilana Schroeder and Erin Brooks, baroque viola; Martha Vallon, Anton ten Wolde, Baroque cello; John Chappell Stowe; harpsichord; and Marc Vallon, bassoon.

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