Saturday, December 23, 2006

JDCMB CDs of the Year 2006

A few personal recommendations of favourite discs released this year - just in time for that last-minute Xmas shopping. Enjoy!

1. ELGAR Violin Concerto (original version). Philippe Graffin (violin), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic conducted by Vernon Handley. Avie Records AV2091. Glorious golden-age-style playing from Philippe, deep empathy from Tod on the podium, and fascinating alternative textual version evoking Elgar's original ideas before Kreisler got his hands on the piece and changed them.

2. STRAUSS Lieder. Jonas Kaufmann (tenor), Helmut Deutsch (piano). Harmonia Mundi HMC901879. When I popped this into the CD player and heard that voice I thought I'd gone to heaven. A real young Heldentenor! A singer who embodies the essence of German romanticism! It's not only that beautiful tone and its large spectrum - very dark, yet with an extremely powerful top range - it's also his intelligence, his fine enuciation, the sense of all-giving passion. If only he'd do some Korngold...

3. Canciones Argentinas. Bernarda and Marcos Fink (mezzo & baritone), Carmen Piazzini (piano). Harmonia Mundi HMC901892. An Aladdin's Cave of shadowy, aching, irresistible art songs from these musicians' native Argentina, including some Piazzolla gems and far more besides. Bernarda's honeyed tones, Marcos's gritty edge, the ever-compelling rhythms of tango and the heart-rending, bittersweet nostalgia made me listen to it three times through on the spot. Harmonia Mundi seems to have had a very good year.

4. RACHMANINOV Etudes Tableaux, Rustem Hayroudinoff (piano). Chandos 10391. Just out, and picked by BBC Music Magazine as its instrumental choice of the month. Colourful, powerful and idiomatic performances of these fabulous yet oddly underrated pieces, with illuminating insights into the inspirations behind them. (The concert went well the other day, incidentally.)

5. MIKLOS ROZSA Cello Concerto & Sinfonia Concertante. Raphael Wallfisch (cello), Philippe Graffin (violin), BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Barry Wordsworth. ASV GLD4018. Philippe in partnership with the inimitable Raphael Wallfisch: astonishing music by the idiosyncratic and immensely compelling emigre Hungarian Miklos Rozsa that simply must be heard. Glittering, imaginative, earthy, astringent, Rozsa's music found a happy home in Hollywood, but, as in Korngold's case, there was one hell of a lot more to him than that. This team will be performing the Sinfonia Concertante at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 1 May next year, together with Korngold's Sinfonietta.

6. ROXANNA PANUFNIK Beastly Tales. Patricia Rozario (soprano), Yvonne Howard (mezzo), Roderick Williams (baritone), City of London Sinfonia conducted by Sian Edwards. EMI 3566922. Roxanna's settings of three of Vikram Seth's rethinkings of Aesop's Fables are as delicious as the poems, evoking many astonishing animal noises amongst other kinds of sly and imaginative humour. For children aged 0 to 100.

7. JUAN DIEGO FLOREZ Sentimento Latino. JDF (tenor), accompanied by somebody who doesn't get a credit on the front. Decca 4757576. The arrangements are a bit cheesy, but That Voice goes soaring over the top and lifts one clear off the ground into the South American sunshine...

8. RENEE FLEMING: Homage - the Age of the Diva. RF (soprano), Mariinsky Theatre orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev. Decca 4758070. This much-loved soprano in a programme of remarkably little-known arias from such luminaries as Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Strauss, Verdi, Janacek and, best of all, two Korngold ones that are hardly ever performed: the staggeringly beautiful 'Ich ging zu ihm' from Das Wunder der Heliane and the touching 'Ich soll ihn niemals, niemals mehr sehn' from Die Kathrin.

9. TCHAIKOVSKY Suite No.3. Russian National Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Jurowski. Pentatone PTC5186061. I have a very, very soft spot for this under-heard Tchaikovsky Suite, a symphony in all but name. Its delicate and fearsomely challenging orchestration is beautifully conveyed by the RNO and Vladimir. Tchaikovsky's immense lyricism and virtuoso imagination is underpinned by a disturbing, sinister edge that is never overstated here but adds well-modulated depth to the whole picture.

10. SCHUMANN The complete string quartets. Fine Arts Quartet, Naxos, 8570151. Just out! The Fine Arts Quartet was my big chamber-music revelation this year: it's that golden-age edge that I adore, the intense sweetness of first violin Ralph Evans' tone, the beauty of the close-knit sounds and the completeness of their involvement in the music - as superb as ever in Schumann's personal, subtle and sensitive quartets which, again, are never played as often as they should be.

(The above links are via Amazon, in its infinite wisdom, has recently seen fit to make it impossible to search by artist, let alone composer and artist together, and has ditched proper catalogue numbers in favour of some unhelpful system of its own. It's become very hard to find specific classical recordings on that site. What are they playing at?!?).