My Reflections on the 2017 Gramophone Awards – Part I

2017 Gramophone Awards

The 2017 Gramophone Awards nominees have been published. As in the two previous years(2015 and 2016, let me add my comments and reflections on the proposed selection.

Overall, this year I was suprised how very few of the recordings I actually knew.

Therefore, this year I’ll only do two overall post on this, unlike the posts per category I did in recent years.

Baroque Instrumental

Bach: Orchestral Suites: Zefiro

Johann Sebastian Bach: Overtures - Zefiro - Alessandro Bernadini - Arcana - 2017 (24/96)

I very much liked this recording, giving it 4 stars here. Is it good enough for album of the year? Well, maybe.

Bach: Goldberg Variations – Mahan Esfahani

I was never as enthousiastic about this album as was Gramophone, my rating in my review was a lukewarm 3 stars. So definitely not my album of the year.

I haven’t heard any of the other albums, with some Telemann and Vivaldi, but will check in and maybe report back later.

 

Baroque Vocal

Hyperion doesn’t stream, so I cannot comment about Cohens/Arcangelos cantata album.

Bach: Matthew Passion – Gardiner

Bach St Matthew Passion John Eliot Gardiner SDG 2017 24/96

As reviewed here, I fully agree that this is a five star album very much worth having.

 

I haven’t heard any of the other recommended albums, from Blow (never heard that name before), Couperin, Monteverdi and Scarlatti, but will check them out, as they are by Les Arts Florissants and Christophe Rousset among other, that I really admire.

Chamber

I haven’t heard any of the first three recommended albums, as they are all 20th century stuff which really isn’t my cup of tea, from Ades, via Bacewicz, Berg, Schönberg, and Webern. I’ll leave this to others.

I´d be interested in trying the Bruch String Quartets as I have very little chamber music from this composer, but Hyperion doesn´t stream so I have no way of risk free trying.

Then there are two Schubert albums. Quatuors 12 and 15 by the Doric Quartet. I have only heard it once on the radio (again, also Chandos doesn´t stream), and liked it, but wasn´t blown away. Not interesting enough for me to spend money blindly on it.

Finally, there is the Death and the Maiden and a quartet by Sibelius by the Ehnes Quartet. Unfortunately, Onyx is another label that doesn´t stream.

So basically, there´s unfortunately not a lot I can contribute to this category, which I usually love.

Choral

Several albums in here that are just not my cup of tea, eg. Berkeley or Elgar. Even Haydn´s Season, here with Paul McCreesh, is not a piece of music I´m particularly passionate about. Better to shut up then.

I´m more curious about the Cherubini album by Hervé Niquet, I´ll check that one out later today.

There have been a number of recent recordings of Rachmaninov´s All-Night Vigil, and I´m also very interested by this latest recording of John Scott. I will report back on this one as well.

And then there is my highlight of the year:

Mozart: C-minor Mass – Mazaki Suzuki

Mozart: Great Mass in C-Minor Exsultate Jubilate Masaaki Suzuki Bach Collegium Japan BIS 2016 24/96

Truly a new reference, see also my review here

Concerto

Let me maybe start by the one recording I can really recommend in here:

Mozart: Violin Concertos – Isabelle Faust

Mozart: Violin Concertos Isabelle Faust Il Giardino Armonico Giovanni Antonini Harmonia Mundi 2016 24/96

I gave it a four star rating, as I don´t consider Mozart´s violin concertos to be essential, but the playing is truly five star.

I´m not a very huge fan of Lisa Batiashvili´s Sibelius and Tchaikovsky album, but this is more due to Barenboim, not Batiashvili´s fault. Augustin Hadelich Tchaikovsky is straightforward, but also not that much my cup of tea.

I will certainly check out Alexandre Tharaud´s Rachmaninov album and report back.

I can´t comment on the albums by Adams and Beach.

I´ll skip the contemporary and early categories, as I don´t feel qualified enough here.

 

Instrumental

Bach: French Suites – Murray Perahia

Johann Sebastian Bach: The French Suites - Murray Perahia (24/96) Deutsche Grammophon 2016

Yes, absolutely, great album. A must have. See also here

 

Bach: Goldberg Variations: Beatrice Rana

Bach: Goldberg Variations - Beatrice Rana Warner Classics

I´ve now played this album many times, and still haven´t fully made up my mind. I kind of like it, but it´s really not my personal reference.

I´d like to comment about Cedric Tiberghien´s Bartok album and Pavel Koselnikov´s Chopin Mazurkas, but due to Hyperion´s no streaming policy I can´t. Side note: I really understand why labels don´t want to support streaming, as the business model is not very attractive, but on the other hand it really limits discovery. Maybe labels should invent a streaming model where you can listen to an album only 2-3 times and then need to purchase it. I find that album´s I can´t test I often don´t buy.

 

Liszt: Transcendental Etudes: Daniel Trifonov (Deutsche Grammophon)

Liszt: Transcendental: Daniel Trifonov Deutsche Grammophon

I haven´t reviewed this album yet, but have listened to it many times. And yes, it is very good, justifying the Artist of the Year he received last year.

Mozart/Schumann: Fantaisies – Piotr Anderszewski (Warner)

Mozart/Schumann.: Fantaisies - Piotr Anderszewski Warner

I wasn´t such a big fan of Anderszewski´s Bach album that won 2 years ago, but this one (only one listen so far, so beware) sounds really very good. I´ll report back.

 

To be contiued….

 

 

My favorite Four Seasons by Giuliano Carmignola with the Venice Baroque Orchestra

Another blog post triggered by the series of blind comparisons on Swiss radio, Disques en lice, the French version, this time. They’ve recently compared 7 versions of the world famous Four Seasons.

Antonio Vivaldi and The Four Seasons

I’ve mentioned previously that I’m not a very big Vivaldi fan. On my personal scale, Bach and even partially Händel are miles ahead of the Red Priest. I wouldn’t go as far as Stravinsky who said Vivaldi had written the same concerto 400 times, he has a point though.

But obviously, you just HAVE to have a version of the world most famous program music, the Four Seasons, in any decent record collection (or music collection to be more generic, does anybody still collect records out there?).

Obviously this has been overplayed to death. But if you haven’t listened to it for a while and actually give it a go again with a fresh ear, there are many beautiful elements in there that makes it worth going back to it occasionally. On my personal playlist it appears about 1 per year.

How to choose a version

Obviously, this work has been recorded a gazillion times. I had chosen my personal preference, the recording by Carmignola below, some time ago after comparing about 20 versions. So take this with a grain of salt, obviously there are many other good recordings out there.

In any case, I was obviously very curious if it would appear in the Disques en lice selection, and how it would compare.

Unfortunately, exactly this recording didn’t appear. However, luckily for me, Carmignola actually recorded the Four Seasons twice, and his earlier recording with the Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca was selected. I was surprised how close these two versions were, in spite of being recorded with 10 years between them.

In a nutshell, that program confirmed my clear preference for Carmignola. The three experts in the program liked it as well, but in the end found it a bit too middle of the road (and they have a point in a way) and preferred in the end the more extreme recordings by Diego Faso’s,  very theatrical, worth checking out, but a bit “too much” for me, and Midori Seiler with the Akademie für Alte Musik, a really good recording but I personally don’t like the sound of Seiler’s violin very much).

Carmignola’s 2nd recording of the Four Seasons

Vivaldi Four Seasons Giuliano Carmignola Andrea Marcon Venice Baroque Orchestra Sony

So what does Carmignola do? Well nothing special, just everything right, and very right. His Guarneri has a beautiful voice, and the Venice Baroque Orchestra plays with just the right level of energy, speed and drive, and a lot of transparency (which by the way luckily is very well recorded, so you get the same transparency transported very well).

Ah yes, and you also get two world premiere recordings of two previously unknown violin concertos as a filler. But in a way, we’re back here to Stravinsky’s 400 times the same, there don’t really disturb, but I really don’t feel you would have missed anything if these had stayed unrecorded for just a little bit longer.

My rating: Four stars (It’s a true five-star performance though, but I just cannot get myself to give 5 stars to Vivaldi, so just ignore the star rating and get it anyhow).

You can get it here (Prestoclassical) and here (Qobuz).

Gramophone Award Nominees – Baroque Instrumental – A Quick Note Before It’s Too Late

The list of nominees in the Baroque Instrumental category looked less attractive to me this year, already driven by the fact that I didn’t own any of the listed recordings. Plus the fact that the list contains 3x Vivaldi, who isn’t very high on my priority list.

But given that the winners will be formally announced tomorrow, I had a quick rather unprofessional scan, and let me pull out my crystal ball here on who should win in my humble rather biased opinion. Please take this with a huge grain of salt, it is based on rather limited listening and even more on gut feel than my previous posts here (instrumental), here (concerto), and here (chamber), where I actually spent some decent amount of time listening.

Too much Vivaldi

Just looking at the nominee list, without listening to the albums, I would have predicted Rachel Podger to win, as I usually love what she does. Based on the snippets I heard, she does well on the Vivaldi, too. But I don’t care enough about Vivaldi to actually buy this album.

Same goes for the two other candidates with Vivaldi albums, which I quickly streamed. I didn’t particularly like the Venice Golden Age album, although I usually like AKAMUS a lot. Maurice Steger’s flute concerto sounds ocasionally like Papageno on speed, but actually is quite a bit of fun. I may end up buying this eventually just for the good mood.

I only quickly skimmed the CPE Bach album of Rebecca Millers approach to the symphonies, but this is not repertoire I listen to a lot (CPEs keyboard concertos with Staier are much better), and what I heard didn’t motivate me to go much further.

I like Mahan Esfahani’s work elsewhere, but Hyperion is another label not allowing streaming, so I didn’t properly listen to this one either. I’m also much less familiar with Rameau overall, so anyhow I wouldn’t be a good judge. Probably worth checking out.

David Watkin

So let me get to the positive surprise of this lot: David Watkin’s Cello Suites on Resonus. I must admit that initially I kind of thought to myself “Seriously, another recording of the Cello Suites is all what we need” (note that I’ve recently praised Steven Isserlis excellent recording here).

I even had missed all the praise in the press this recording had previously received, probably due to the same biased thinking.

David Watkin Bach Cello Suites Resonus

But then I started listening.

And honestly, I was very positively surprised, this version sounded incredibly “right” to me, intuitively exactly like it should have sounded. The historic cello he plays is probably part of it, I don’t know what it is, but if this recording doesn’t win in the category I’d be very surprised!

In less than 24h we’ll know more.