2018 wasn’t a particularly exciting year for me in Jazz. I wasn’t too much impressed with Cecile McLorin Salvant’s and Shai Maestro’s releases this year, so I didn’t even bother to review then. And overall, this was probably the year of my lowest number of Jazz album reviews since I started this blog.
I also checked out the Top 2018 lists of many other reviewers, and didn’t see anything standing out there (except for the latest Wayne Shorter which I still have to check out).
Nevertheless, here are my 5 favorite Jazz albums of the year. Note a big victory for ECM with 3 out of my 5 albums coming from their great label.
My favorite live album of the year. And no, I didn’t just pick this for the cover. Check it out, Melody is at her best here. See my original review here.
Marcin Wasilewski Trio – Live
A lot of live albums this year. 3 out of 5. I completely forgot to review this. Marcin Wasilewski plays what regular readers by now understood to be my favorite trio style: intimate with beautiful melodies.
Not really a new recording, just a new release. But one really worth having. See my original review here. The only downside is the recording quality which is not on par with the regular ECM pristine sound.
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 some of my readers complained (rightfully so) that I’ve neglected the Jazz genre a bit on this blog. So just a handful of day before Christmas, let me point you to two beautiful Christmas Jazz compilations by two great labels.
A Concord Jazz Christmas
Concord Jazz is a great label that unfortunately has a bit disappeared from the map. Nevertheless, this best of Christmas Jazz is really worth it.
My favorite titles are Scott Hamilton’s Christmas Love Song, and obviously, being a great Gene Harris fan, I’ll Be Home For Christmas. But overall, the album avoids the overly cheesy territory and rather stays on the swinging side. Note that Concord also released a V2 of this album later, which I find much less appealing (even if it has some beautiful tracks)
Verve Presents: The Very Best of Christmas Jazz
The legendary Verve label obviously has released a number of Christmas albums over the years. However, this must be one of the best.
Look at the list: Ella Fitzgerald (obviously), but also Kenny Burrell, Shirley Horn, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Jimmy Smith, Oscar Peterson. Kind of the Verve All Stars.
You get a beautiful version of A Child Is Born with Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans Playing Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, and even a great Jingle Bells by Jimmy Smith. And yes, it also includes Rudolph, The Rednose Reindeer, Ella’s Christmas classic.
Again, an album that while giving you a nice Christmas feel, avoids the sugary overkill of some more contemporary collections.
Both are highly recommended.
My rating: 4 stars
Wishing all of you some relaxing Christmas days, or whatever other holiday you’re celebrating this year end!
You can find the albums here (Concord) and here (Verve)
I was hesitating a moment to call whether I should call this thread “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”, as I’ve no idea what religion my dear readers are following (if at all).
I then decided against it, for several reasons. A) I’m personally not religious at all, but grew up in Europe where Christmas is the most important holiday and B) I hope that if you’re following any other religion and don’t particularly care for Christmas, you either just skip this post or, even better, still check out the album below, as it is actually really nice.
This “EP” (a concept really a bit outdated in the world of streaming and downloads) of only 4 tracks features some outstanding musicians.
I haven’t mentioned Joey Alexander yet. A big mistake. It’s actually an amazing story. He comes from the Jazz hotspot of Bali (sorry, cheap pun), and played at the Lincoln centre at the age of 10, and started recording music at the age of 11!!!! Now he still is at the tender age of 15, and if you wouldn’t see it in the video below, you’d have now way of knowing.
He’s playing here both solo and trio. On the trio tracks we get Larry Grenadier of Brad Mehldau fame, on bass, and Eric Harland, who’s played with a lot of Jazz celebrities (MyCoy Tyner, Dave Holland, etc.).
This EP features two seasonally inspired tracks, O Come All Ye Faithful (see the Youtube clip below), and What A Friend We Have In Jesus.
As an add on, we get remastered versions of My Favorite Things, a duo with Larry Grenadier, recorded in 2015 (I’ll let you do the math of Alexander’s age at the time, but its just unbelievable), as well as a solo version of A Wonderful World. Both are just fantastic.
A truly enjoyable album that you shouldn’t limit only to the Christmas season!
My rating: 4 stars
You can find it here (Qobuz) or here (several others)
Camille Saint-Saëns is one of those composers that outside of his native France isn’t that well known. Sure, many of us will have heard his most famous piece, Le Carnaval des Animaux (The Carnival of the Animals), if you’re a little bit deeper into classical music, you may know his Organ Symphony (no. 3).
And typically, that’s where most average classical listeners wits will end. I must admit it was very similar for me until quite recently. In fact, this is the very first time I even write a blot post about this composer.
However, nicely enough in the recent months, two new recordings of some of his piano concertos were released, triggering my interest. Both feature his apparently most famous concerto, no. 2. The first new release, with Louis Lortie, Edward Gardner, and the BBC Philharmonic, is more complete, featuring also concertos no. 1 & 4. You’ll find it on the Chandos label (and here on Qobuz). However, I overall have a slight preference for the other new release of 2018, namely:
Saint-Saëns: Piano Concertos No. 2 and 5 – Bertrand Chamayou – Emmanuel Krivine – Orchestre National de France (Erato 2018)
The 2nd concerto starts like a Bach solo work, which as a great fan of Johann Sebastian I really appreciate. But obviously, this is concerto of the romantic era (written in 1868), and once the orchestra sets in, there is no doubt about that. The concerto isn’t very “balanced”, the first movement being nearly as long, and “heavier” than the two other movements together.
You’d never be able to tell this work was written in only 17 days (it was written in a rush for Anton Rubinstein), and it is for a good reason the best known of the concertos.
That said, don’t skip concerto no. 5. It is a bit more intimate, but has many beautiful moments as well.
I’ve praised Chamyou for his beautiful Ravel box, and his playing is brilliant here as well. The ONF does a great job too, I believe they have a natural advantage over foreign orchestras as Saint-Saëns still gets much more air time in his home country and abroad.
To complete the album, Chamayou also plays several of Saint-Saëns Piano works, which were completely unknown to me. A particularly beautiful example are the 6 Etudes op. 111, that really show a close relationship to Debussy and Ravel, reminding us that Sain-Saëns lived long into the 20th century (he died in 1921).
Overall, a very enjoyable album that I highly recommend
My rating: 4 stars (5 star playing, 4 star repertoire)
You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Prestoclassical)
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!