Thursday, December 03, 2015

Top 10 CDs of the year for festive gifts

We all need cheering up at the moment. This year I've been working on an opera libretto (with Roxanna Panufnik, for Garsington 2017) on the theme of war, which has involved consulting former members of the armed forces, including one amazing man who served on the front line in Iraq. The story of the horrors he went through there will stay with me forever. Now off we go to Syria...

To provide a little light relief from the grim news, you might want to listen to some good music, or buy some for your friends and family to enjoy.

As your midwinter festival of choice approaches (please choose from Christmas, Chanukah, pagan fertility celebration, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, anything I've inadvertently forgotten, and December Birthday - mine is, er, the latter)... here are the best discs that have come my way for review, or simply for listening, this year. I list them in no particular order. Where comments are in quotation marks, they are from my reviews for BBC Music Magazine or Sinfini.

Schumann: Etudes Symphoniques Op.13, Kreisleriana Op.16, Toccata Op.7
Nelson Goerner (piano)
Zig-Zag Territoires ZZT352
"To hear Goerner navigating Schumann’s variety of textures with so much delicacy, good sense, beauty of tone and rapt atmospheres is a treat indeed." 

Louis Schwizgebel (piano), BBC Symphony Orchestra/Fabien Gabel (no.2) and Martyn Brabbins (no.5)

Aparte AP112
"Louis Schwizgebel, currently a BBC New Generation Artist, won second prize at the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2012...[he] displays his fine feathers like a vivid young peacock. His touch is gorgeously singing and wonderfully delicate, but can sharpen to serious bling when occasion demands – and he applies it judiciously."

Beatrice Rana (piano)
Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Antonio Pappano
Warner Classics 0825646009091
"In the hands of Rana – who as it happens is the same age as Prokofiev was when he wrote it – the Second Piano Concerto becomes a white-hot volcano of intense expression."

Symphonic Dances Op.45; Suite No. 1 in G minor, Op.8; Suite No.2, Op. 17; 6 Duets Op. 11; Romance and Waltz in A; Russian Rhapsody in E minor
Martha Argerich (piano), with Nelson Goerner, Lilya Zilberstein, Gabriela Montero, Daniel Gerzenberg, Anton Gerzenberg, Alexander Mogilevsky (pianos)
Warner Classics 0825646235940 (2 CDs)
"If you like extremely lively Rachmaninov, you will love this. Martha Argerich joins forces with a host of starry younger pianists, live in concert, for a feast of Rachmaninov’s works for two pianos and/or multiple pianists."

Alessandro Scarlatti: Variations on ‘La Follia’; Górecki: Harpsichord Concerto, Op.40; CPE Bach: 12 Variations on ‘Les Folies d’Espagne’; Geiniani: Concerto grosso in D minor after Corelli’s Op.5 No.12; Reich arr. Esfahani: Piano Phase for Two Pianos; Bach: Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, BWV1052
Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord), Concerto Köln
DG Archiv Produktion 479 4481
“'I am often subjected to all sorts of assumptions about historicity and authenticity and what is right and what is wrong and what can’t belong. I see my recordings as a way of refuting all of that,' Mahan Esfahani writes. At this rate he’ll simply leave others standing – or, perhaps, combing through the embers."

Seong-Jin Cho (piano)
DG 479 5332
"Oh joy – a new Chopin Competition winner who can really, seriously play superb Chopin." 

Krystian Zimerman (piano), Berliner Philharmoniker/Simon Rattle
DG 4794518
Coruscating intensity and brilliance from the pianist for whom this great concerto was written. Refulgent glow from the BPs.

Tasmin Little (violin), BBC Philharmonic/Andrew Davis
Chandos CHAN10879
Little and Davis do this rare British repertoire proud. Coleridge-Taylor's Violin Concerto is one of his most beautiful works, not perfect but often very rewarding, especially the gorgeous slow movement. 

Orchestra dell'Accademia Nationale di Santa Cecilia/Antonio Pappano
Sony Classical 88875092492
One for the Kaufmaniacs, if they haven't got it already, which they probably will have, but hey - this is the vocal album equivalent of a year's supply of chocolate with 90 per cent cocoa solids. 

Rachel Podger (violin), Marcin Swiatkiewicz (harpsichord/organ), Jonathan Manson (cello/viola da gamba), David Miller (theorbo/archlute)
Channel CCSSA37315
Extraordinary music, complex and symbolic and penetrating; playing that offers real empathy and peerless attention to detail. This is anything but easy baroque listening, and all the more rewarding for that.