Music » Music In Review

Classical Recordings of 2007



by Various Artists

Mahler: Symphony No. 9 —Berlin Staatskapelle Orchestra: Daniel Barenboim, conductor. Barenboim has been dogged by accusations of superficiality as an interpreter. I cannot imagine anyone pinning that label on this glorious, blazing performance. Barenboim and this superb orchestra completely get this score, in full sync with the deep, even frightening passion of Mahler.

Schumann, Mozart: Piano Concertos —London Symphony Orchestra: Evgeny Kissin, piano; Colin Davis, conductor. With every new release, Kissin continues to impress as one of the most naturally musical pianists of his generation. These are gorgeous recordings of two great concertos.

Wagner: Scenes from the Ring — Placido Domingo, tenor; Antonio Pappano, conductor. Domingo forged his huge career mainly in the core Italian tenor repertoire. This welcome re-release shows him off as a terrific late-in-life heldentenor as well.

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4, selections from “The Seasons” — Philadelphia Orchestra: Christoph Eschenbach, conductor, pianist. This performance of a warhorse will provide fodder for both the foes and friends of Eschenbach’s unique music-making style. The opposition will decry his tempo fine-tuning and overly expansive approach. The allies will cite exactly those same qualities as the strengths of this performance.

Fred Hersch: Concert Music (2001-06) — Various performers. No, this did not slip over from some jazz Top 10. Hersch is an acclaimed jazz pianist, but also indulges in what he calls concert music — material that is written out, rather than improvised. The stuff is beautiful, buoyed by an air of French Impressionism. A wonderful variation set on a Bach chorale is the centerpiece of this winsome collection of pieces for varied ensembles.

Rosenzweig: Cycles — Stephen Gosling, piano; Lani Poulson, mezzo soprano. Background music this ain’t. Maurice Rosenzweig writes in a manner that is almost quaint in its complexity. And yet this is intensely expressive work, providing that the listener is capable of careful, undisturbed attendance. The reward is a nearly magical vista of alternate aural universes.

Caine/Mozart — Uri Caine Ensemble. The jazz pianist and composer continues his assault (as some would put it) on the classics. Don’t worry, Mozart can take it. Fascinating and delightful, as usual.

Bach: Goldberg Variations — Glenn Gould, piano. Gould’s 1955 recording of what was, at the time, an obscure Bach keyboard work, remains one of the most sensational and celebrated recordings ever made. It has been reissued many times, but sound quality has always been problematic. Not anymore, thanks to the amazing new Zenph computer process.

Stravinsky: The Soldier’s Tale, Symphonies of Wind Instruments — Columbia Chamber Ensemble: Igor Stravinsky, conductor; Jeremy Irons, narrator. This retake of a 1961 performance conducted by the composer, with a contemporary overdub by the actor Jeremy Irons, rekindles the notion that Stravinsky takes the title as the great man of music of the 20th century.

Callas: Birth of a Diva: Legendary Early Recordings — Maria Callas, soprano. The truism about Callas is that she really only had about a decade of great vocalism, essentially, the 1950s. In fact, many of her later recordings, though technically flawed, are deeply moving examples of great artistry, and conversely, even at her peak, the voice was an unwieldy and not especially pretty instrument. But these re-releases, mainly from the early ’50s, are a superb documentation of one of the most exciting theatrical singers ever recorded.

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