Spent a happy spring day yesterday at the BBC Music Magazine CD Awards bash on a boat on the Thames.
What with the bubbly, the excellent food, the passing riverside panoramas and the company of congenial colleagues, the event was altogether friendlier and more informal than certain comparable ceremonies. Moreover it recognised, on the whole, recordings that were highly deserving but often less than obvious choices, and largely from the smaller independent labels rather than what's left of the big hitters.
The Vocal category was also Disc of the Year: Soile Isokoski in Sibelius's Luonnotar and other orchestral songs, with the Helsinki PO conducted by Leif Segerstam (Ondine).
Romanian pianist Luiza Borac's second disc of Enescu's phenomenal piano music (Avie) scooped Instrumental.
A Dvorak disc full of dancing delights from the youthful Czech Smetana Trio (Supraphon) walked away with the Chamber award, despite strong competition.
Vivid, vivacious Vivaldi in the red monk's opera 'Griselda' from French conductor Jean-Christophe Spinozi (Naive).
Orchestral went to Mariss Jansons and the Concertgebouw for a towering Shostakovich 7th (RCO Live).
Choral was more Sibelius, this time Kullervo from the LSO & LS Chorus under Colin Davis.
Premiere recording of the year CD was Juliane Banse in orchestral songs by Charles Koechlin, staggeringly gorgeous (Hanssler).
The Paavel Haas Quartet was Newcomer of the Year for their debut disc of Janacek and their namesake. More bouncing Czechs on Supraphon!
Technical excellence award (for tonmeistering) went to Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony (Schafer, Goerne, Orchestre de Paris/Eschenbach) (Capriccio).
DVD of the year was of course David McVicar's all-singing-all-dancing Bollywoodish 'Giulio Cesare' from Glyndebourne, starring Danielle de Niese et al (Opus Arte).
Among the acceptance speeches, an array of delicious accents and personalities that someone would have had to invent if they didn't exist. The artists arrived from far and wide, and Jean-Christophe Spinozi and Mariss Jansons had been filmed giving their thank-yous from overseas, respectively in lavish and characteristic French sparkle and Russian soul. Luiza Borac, who's Romanian, flew in from Hannover; the Smetana Trio and Paavel Haas Quartet landed from Prague; and I doubt that anyone will forget in a hurry Finnish conductor Leif Segerstam's contribution. After regaling us with a larger-than-his beard evocation of Sibelius's vitality, atmospheres and basic utter genius, the vociferous veteran maestro built up to a glorious climax: "I love this music, life and the world!!!" Isokoski herself arrived as a graceful conclusion to the day, meeting the boat at Victoria Embankment on its return and boarding to deliver her acknowledgements fresh from rehearsal at the Wigmore Hall.
I was on the jury this year and ploughed my way through what I'm told amounted to 187 discs (at times, admittedly, they felt like the Sorcerer's Apprentice's dividing brooms!), all of which had been awarded the top-ranking five stars by one or other of the magazine's critics. We whittled the lot down to three discs in each category, which were then placed before BBC Radio 3 listeners for their vote. In rocked 38,000 voters.
Our discussion sessions naturally produced a good few disagreements, but highly stimulating ones. I don't mind confessing to having shot down one or two clay pigeons; and some of my favourites similarly bit the dust in the talons of my sharp-eared colleauges. Most of my favourite discs of last year weren't even there, not having been accorded five stars by their reviewers, while I certainly wouldn't have given five-star ranking to all of those 187 discs. But that's life, and that's music criticism for you. I also encountered some true revelations, astonishing myself by falling head over heels in love with Andreas Staier's harpsichord playing (harpsichord? moi?!). The end results are more than satisfactory: IMHO, all of the ultimate winners are simply marvellous.
There were the usual jibes during the introductory speeches, of course, at rival magazines and radio stations and the harbingers of doom. After reading Peter Maxwell Davies's speech for the Incorporated Society of Musicians conference, one couldn't help but feel depressed - lots of problems, not exactly a plethora of practical solutions - but the best suggestion yet about how to improve matters came yesterday from the awards' presenter, James Naughtie: 'Just get on with it'.
I'm glad to say the reception was sponsored by Taittinger.
I haven't linked to every one of the award-winning discs above, but further information should soon be available and I'll update this as soon as poss.