Chamayou’s recording deserves the price. (As I predicted in my post, though my personal favourite would have been Isabelle Faust Bach album which I love).
Gramophone went with the Langgaard recording, while my personal preference would have been for the Sibelius, I predicted again that this album would win (sorry for all the bragging). And it is a really interesting discovery. Not sure it will make my personal top 5 for 2019 though.
And yes, 3/4 predictions correct! (last time bragging, promised!). In any case, Gramophone was spot on when they said (much better than I could ever have, there’s clearly an advantage to being a native speaker…) “Anyone hitherto more put off than drawn in by Yuja Wang’s glamorous image may have to do some rethinking in the light of this recital.”
So, with such a success rate, Grammophone, do you have a job for me? (Just kidding, I’m happily employed in a completely unrelated industry).
Take home for you as a reader: get the Wang & get the Chamayou. And sure, also get the Debussy while you’re at it. You won’t regret any of these purchases, I promise.
And if you disagree, just let me know in the comments (I don’t offer any money back guarantee though, that’s why we have streaming in 2019…).
This is another favorite category of mine, as typically it is mainly piano recordings.
This year, interestingly enough a solo violin recording starts the selection, Giuliani Carmignola’s recent recording of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas. I’m really puzzled by this choice. Let me make it clear, I really like Carmignola (his Four Seasons are among my absolute favorites), and I also love the solo sonatas and partitas. However, Carmignola’s version sounds completely “wrong” to me. I know this is a very unspecific remark, and I’m not going to dwell on it, as this won’t be helpful for my readers. But I’ll stick with Milstein anytime.
So let’s rather go directly to the recording that is most likely going to make my Top 5 Classical albums of the year 2019, and that I sincerely hope will win this category: Yuja Wang’s fantastic Berlin recital.
As you can see from my review, I really love this album. It has completely changed my perception of Wang as an artist. This recital combines a fantastic selection of repertoire, a playing that is both nuanced and passionate.
I’d like to thank my reader Ed for his comment on the article flagging the extra album of the 4 encores she played at this concerto. This is a must have as well. You could argue with DG why they simply didn’t include this into the main album, but in any case this 4 track album is very cheap, and a must have.
Next in line is another favorite artist of mine, Igor Levit. I haven’t yet formally reviewed his latest recording of the Beethoven sonatas, but have seen him play a selection live at this year’s Lucerne festival, and can already say his set is worth checking out. You may not like all his choices, especially on his sometimes extreme tempi, but this will be a worthy addition to the long catalogue of complete sonata recordings, more to come).
But Gramophone focused on Levit’s other release in the last 12 months, his very personal album “Life”.
I’ve reviewed it here, and if you haven’t done so yet, you should absolutely check out this five star gem.
I’ve only just started listening to another recommendation of this selection, Alexander Melnikov’s recording of Debussy’s 2nd book of Préludes.
As you know, I’m far from being a Debussy expert, I typically just go to my complete Debussy recordings by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, but my first impression of this album is very positive. What is very interesting about this recording is the sound of the piano, an Erard, presumably from the time of Debussy. Melnikov has recorded quite a bit on period instruments, and it truly gives a different color and perspective.
I can’t comment on the two other albums that made the original 6 album shortlist, Steven Osborne’s recording o fthe late Beethoven sonatas, and Stephen Hough’s “Dream Album”, as Hyperion still refuses to stream and I refuse to buy albums blindly.
Now, as you know in the meantime Gramphone has narrowed down the shortlist from 6 to 3 albums. The finalists are Carmignola, Wang, and Levit.
I’m willing to bet that Wang will be the winner this year, and it would be well deserved!
I presume this will be the last part of this year’s mini-series on the Gramophone Awards. Maybe I’ll do one more post on the remaining categories lumped together (Choral, Contemporary, Early Music, and Opera, Recital, Solo Vocal) if I find time, but I’m much less comfortable and familar here, so let’s see. So most likely you’ll hear back from me on the Gramphone Awards once the winners are announced on October 1st.
What do you think? What would be your favorites among all these albums?
If you read this blog regularly, you could think that I may be a bit biased towards Asian pianists. I’m really not a big fan of Lang Lang, and also can’t understand all the praise that Seong-Jin Cho is getting (see here and here). I really hope I don’t have any intrinsic biases and judge purely on the music though.
I had a more ambivalent opinion of Yuja Wang until recently. There was stuff I really appreciated (her Ravel concerto for example), but there are other albums like the Brahms sonatas with Kavakos (that got a lot of praise) that are not 100% my cup of tea.
But this latest live release (it actually already came out end of last year, I’m a bit behind here), is a truly exceptional album
Yuja Wang – The Berlin Recital (DG 2018)
The album starts off with an engaging performance of the famous Rachmaninov Prelude op. 23 no. 5. You already are getting a level of energy, excitement, but also precision, that is drawing you in from the very beginning.
She follows with several other pieces of Rachmaninov, keeping up the level of engagement. A first highlight however is in the much more subtle Scriabin sonata. Here Wang demonstrates that she is not just the virtuoso, but can also be very nuanced. Scriabin isn’t easy to pull off. I had one of my most memorable performances of a live concert by Rudolf Serkin back in the early 90s, and this is one of the first time that Scriabin really moves me.
I’m still mostly struggling with most of 20th century music, but the Ligeti etudes are quite accessible even to me.
But a real highlight of this album is the closing, Prokofiev’s sonata no. 8. Again, not a showpiece, much more introvert, written during the horrible year of 1943 in the middle of World War II. Again, Wang shows how complete she is as an artist in this performace.
Overall, the album is very well recorded, giving you a premium seat in the Berlin Philharmonie.
I’m not the only one liking this album by the way, it’s got top reviews from pretty much every one in the business (Gramophone Editor’s Choice, Choc de Classica, 5 stars by Diapason and FonoForum).
So, another year has passed. For me, while it has brought a lot of challenging moments, it also brought me a lot of good luck. And particularly, it brought all of us some exciting new recordings.
In the tradition from 2017, 2016, and 2015, so basically each year since I started this blog, let me summarize my top 5 Classical Albums Of The Year.
Yes, partially I do this because Top something lists always generate a lot of clicks (I don’t make any money on this site, so this is purely for my stupid little ego), but it is also a nice tradition to look back at the year.
And hopefully, it will inspire you to buy some of these (again, I’m not making any money here, but the artists do, as they should).
Igor Levit – Life
Yes, I really like Igor Levit. This may be his most personal album to date. In my original review I’ve described it as A Beautiful Treasure. An absolute must have.
Daniel Trifonov Plays Rach 2 and 4
Yes, this is one of my favorite Rach 2 ever. But PLEASE BE AWARE that I wrote in my original review (published as one of the first) that this recording will be controversial. It turned out it is, it is a love it or hate it affair. So please do check it out before you buy.
Rachel Podger’s Four Seasons
Do you really need yet another version of the Four Seasons? Probably not, let’s be realistic. That said, if you are looking for one, you won’t go wrong with this beautiful account, which combines amazing energy with beautiful recording technology. See here for my original review.
Murray Perahia’s Moonlight and Hammerklavier
Yes, I’m absolutely certain that this is an album that will stand the test of time. The only argument that you could have is whether the best piece here is the Moonlight (my opinion, see here for my review) or the Hammerklavier (many other reviewers). In any case, get this album, even if you already own these works.
Jean Rondeau Plays Scarlatti
As I wrote in my original review, I was really surprised to finally find an album that makes me like Scarlatti. Now is this enough of a reason for YOU to buy it? Will check it out, I think you won’t be disappointed.
You will find the download links in the respective original reviews.
Now back to you, what did I miss? Where do you disagree? What were your classical albums of 2018?
But when I saw that he was playing the closing concert of the fall Lucerne Festival, which is always dedicated to the piano, and I happened to be in the area, I had to check it out.
Piotr Anderszewski at the 2018 Piano Lucerne Festival, KKL Lucerne, November 25, 2018
If I needed any more convincing, the program helped.
Anderszewski started off with parts of the Wohltemperiertes Klavier, especially the second book of the Well Tempered Clavier that I must admit I listen to much less than the first volume.
This was really an amazing experience. Amazing intensity, while at the same time never too extrovert, a dense flow of sound, that really took you in as a listened.
During the break, we got to admire the beautiful Christmas tree that Lucerne built up in front of the KKL’s main entry, together with a illuminated ice skating ring for kids that looked like taken out of a fairy tale (ok, I actually don’t know any fairy tales that feature ice skating rings, but you get the picture). Together with a glass of bubbly the break passed quickly.
Now, it was clearly also the most convincing reading for me, given that I heard it live for the first time, but bad pun aside, it was a fascinating reading.
What struck me most was the speed, or actually lack of it, that Anderszewski took. In many parts he really stopped time, or so it seemed. This may not be a performance that works on a recording, but in the beautiful acoustics of the large KKL hall, it worked wonders, and it truly became a transcendental experience in some moments.
To this day, Gramophone Magazine is probably THE reference for classical music reviews.
I haven’t always been fully aligned with their latest recommendations. For example, Hillary Hahn’s new recording of the Bach violin sonatas they have as recording of the month in November, which I personally don’t really like, way too much vibrato for me.
Give me Milstein, Szeryng, or Isabelle Faust anytime instead.
However, beyond this, there are a lot of familiar albums I’ve previously recommended on this blog:
Vikingur Olafsson – Johann Sebastian Bach
See my review here. Gramophone talks about “glowing lyricism and sparkling virtuosity”. Fully agree.
Igor Levit, Life
Gramophone says “A triumph of imaginative programming that ranges from Bach to Rzewski, and elevated further by masterly pianism“. Yep, see also my thoughts here.
And finally, there’s an album I really like, have purchased, but didn’t get to review it yet:
Schubert: String Quartets No. 9 and 14 “Death and the Maiden” – Chiaroscuro Quartet – BIS 2018
I’m a big fan of the young Chiaroscuro quartet, which features Alina Ibragimova as first violin. The previous recording I bought from them is an excellent Haydn op. 20.
This latest recording is also excellent. Gramophone says it is “played with enourmous conviction and power by this very stylish ensemble”. I can’t really comment on the stylishness of the musician, but I fully agree that this album is strongly recommended. I hope I’ll get around to a formal review eventually, but in the meantime, it won’t replace my favorite versions by the Takacs and Pavel Haas Quartets, but it is a truly worthwile addition to the catalogue and worth having!
He has a very particular style. There is a certain perfectionism (his outstanding technique clearly helps), but it is never going towards the mechanical perfection of some virtuosos, the perfectionism, particularly about timing, is always serving the music.
Levit doesn’t tend to be a virtuoso in general, he could easily be with his mastering of the piano, but he really never shows off. In many way, it is a very introvert way of playing which makes it even more interesting.
This album in many ways shows an even more intimate side of Levit. It is a very personal selection of music, from Busoni, via Schumann, to Rzewski and even Bill Evans. The common thread of the album can be found in the title, “Life”, as this album was strongly influenced by the death of a close friend of Levit.
The album starts with two transcriptions by Busoni of Bach originals. The Chaconne is a very good example of the intimate style I described above, in many ways it is the complete opposite of the somewhat overwhelming fireworks in fascinating recording of the same work by the young Benjamin Grosvenor. EDIT Dec 2018: A reader kindly pointed out to me that the Chaconne is actually Brahms’ transcription for the left hand, a much more subdued affair than Busonis fireworks. So basically this entire paragraph is just rubbish. I’ll leave the original text on just to alert you that sometimes I could benefit from doing some more background research when writing my reviews. In the meantime, take my notes with a grain of salt.
We continue with a rarely played variations work by Schumann, which makes me really hope that Levit will record more of his work. I’d love to hear his take on the Davidsbündlertänze or the Kreisleriana.
Another highlight of this album are the two Wagner transcriptions, from Parsifal and Tristan. I must admit not being a great fan of Wagner in general (this is actually the first time this composer even appears on this blog), but he clearly has written some great harmonies.
The album wraps up with one of my favorite compositions of Bill Evans, the simple Peace Piece from the 1958 album Everybody Digs Bill Evans.
There really couldn’t be a better ending to this very particular, personal album than this solemn, simple, but breathtakingly beautiful interpretation.
My rating: 5 stars
You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Acoustic Sounds)