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MusicWeb International Recordings of the Year 2009

December 12, 2009

Among the 152 selections made from 74 different labels by 32 members of the MusicWeb International reviewing team, Naxos is delighted to note that the following recordings have been chosen.

MusicWeb International notes that ‘As in 2008, Naxos is Label of the Year, with 18 nominations. While this is obviously helped by the number of Naxos recordings we review, it must also be said that if they weren’t any good, they wouldn’t have been chosen here.’

We also note here some albums, both CDs and DVDs, from labels that Naxos distributes worldwide.



MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL FOUNDER Len Mullenger



ALWYN String Quartets 
Maggini Quartet
8.570560

Nearly 15 years ago MusicWeb International was born as the William Alwyn website because I loved his music and wanted more to hear it. We are now well provided with recording from Lyrita, Chandos and lastly Naxos. They came late to the scene although Rob Barnett and I pushed the cause when we met Klaus Heymann some years ago. They may have been late but they have been thorough and their recordings are always superb and at superbudget price. With limited time (and a vast over-exposure to recordings) I have not listened to the chamber works often enough. From the pessimism of the second quartet, the third was his last work but was bright and energetic and with a consoling ending.


JANÁČEK Orchestral Suites from the Operas Vol 1
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra • Peter Breiner
8.570555 (February 2009)

Through the ardent advocacy of a friend I hear a lot of the Janáček opera recordings and frankly sometimes emerge feeling rather battered. I think I am one of those for whom these suites have been arranged—now into three volumes [8.570555, 8.570556 & 8.570706 – Ed]. Even my opera-loving friend admits they are much more successful than he expected. To quote Dominy Clements’ review “Suites like these can release fine compositional work from their dramatic context and win new audiences as a result.”


Maurice RAVEL L’enfant et les sortilèges, Shéhérazade
Julie Boulianne (mezzo)
Nashville Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
Alastair Willis

8.660215 (March 2009)

I was recently delighted to find a near perfect copy of The Boy and the Magic which was a book of illustrations to Colette’s tale by Gerard Hoffnung. The Frogpool can be seen here. Of Ravel’s opera April saw the near simultaneous release of Simon Rattle’s EMI recording and the Alastair Willis above. My preference was actually the reverse of Dominy Clements on side by side comparison because the voices on the Naxos are nearer my picture of this opera, raised, as I have been, on the old Maazel recording (still available). William Hedley in his review is of the same mind. But the clincher, and really the reason for choosing this disc, is the spellbinding performance of Shéhérazade. Buy it for that alone and you will feel the money well spent.


SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony 11
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra • Vasily Petrenko
8.572082 (March 2009)

Great things are happening in Liverpool and I am so pleased that Petrenko is to record all the Shostakovich symphonies. If this debut is anything to go by it will be a major (and inexpensive achievement). Dan Morgan complained that knob-twiddling was required with this recording. I have found with all recordings that the opening of this symphony is a distant foreboding as only Shostakovich can write—David Barker in his survey of the symphony describes it as having a stark and forbidding beauty—and then the symphony suddenly leaps into life. I am sure the answer will be found in the score, not the recording. Petrenko has a fast young man’s approach but is thrilling with it.


Nick Barnard



BÉRIOT Solo Violin Music Vol 1
Bella Hristova (violin)
8.572267 (August 2009)

A disc I had little enthusiasm for when it dropped through the letterbox to review. What a delight to be so humblingly wrong! An extraordinary disc of marvellous music full of character, virtuosity, wit and beauty. Played by the brilliant Bella Hristova—a violinist previously unknown to me—who has the personality and technique to be measured with the very very best. An excellent example of Naxos’ superb exploration of little known repertoire.


GINASTERA String Quartets 1–3
Ensō Quartet • Lucy Shelton (soprano)
8.570780 (June 2009)

Major repertoire played with white-hot commitment by a simply phenomenal quartet. Three very different quartets providing an excellent overview of this composer’s work—by turns muscular, mysterious and complex. I don’t find the performance of soprano Lucy Shelton quite to my taste in the 3rd Quartet but this still strolls into my top six.


Hubert Culot



LINDBERG Complete Piano Music
Ralph van Raat (piano)
8.570542

The complete recording of Lindberg’s present output for piano provides a fair appreciation of his stylistic journey over the years. Ralph van Raat’s immaculate playing and deep musicality cannot be bettered.


Robert Farr



DONIZETTI Lucrezia Borgia
Dimitra Theodossiou (soprano) • Roberto De Biasio (tenor)
Bergamo Music Festival Chorus & Orchestra
Tiziano Severini, conductor

2.110264 (February 2009)

Whilst not perfect, this recording serves as an excellent introduction to a Donizetti work that is becoming increasingly part of the opera house and Festival scene.


DONIZETTI Roberto Devereux
Dimitra Theodossiou (soprano)
Massimiliano Pisapia (tenor)
Bergamo Music Festival Chorus & Orchestra
Marcello Rota, conductor

2.110232

A very fine performance of one of Donizetti’s most dramatic operas in a traditional set and with opulent costumes.


DONIZETTI Maria Stuarda
Anna Caterina Antonacci (mezzo) • Mariella Devia (soprano)
La Scala Chorus & Orchestra
Antonino Fogliani, conductor

ARTHAUS MUSIK 101361

With Anna Caterina Antonacci and Mariella Devia, as the Queens of Scotland and England, sparking flames off each other in the infamous scene between them, and aided by Pier Luigi Pizzi’s sets, costumes and direction as well as Antonino Fogliani in the pit, this is La Scala at its very best and is unmissable.


Göran Forsling



Lieder by Schubert, Beethoven, Britten, Grieg & Trojahn
Daniel Behle (tenor) • Oliver Schnyder (piano)
PHOENIX EDITION Phoenix154 (April 2009)

Mellifluous, agile, beautiful, technically spotless and with enough heft to make his top notes ring out—and he is a fine interpreter as well. An auspicious debut disc.



Ian Lace



GERMAN Tom Jones
Marianne Hellgren Staykov • Richard Morrison
National Festival Chorus & Orchestra
David Russell Hulme, conductor

8.660270–71 (August 2009)

It is quite inexplicable why this jolly, tuneful operetta has remained unrecorded so long. David Russell Hulme is clearly passionate about Tom Jones; he leads the National Festival Orchestra and Chorus and his soloists in a wholehearted and sparkling performance with many keenly observed, animated solos.


TCHAIKOVSKY Nutcracker
Elizabeth Powell • Davit Karapetyan
San Francisco Ballet & Orchestra
Martin West, conductor

OPUS ARTE OA1002D (November 2008)

A magical production of Nutcracker, cleverly conceived with fascinating associations with San Francisco. It is set in the San Francisco of 1915, the year the City was host to the Panama Pacific International Exhibition. The sets and costumes are absolutely gorgeous. Truly magical. The ideal family Christmas present.


FAURÉ Piano Quintets 1 & 2
Cristina Ortiz (piano) • Fine Arts Quartet
8.570938 (June 2009)

What entrancing music this is: elusive and enigmatic. It demonstrates how unjust is the relative neglect of Fauré’s chamber works. Alluring performances by the Fine Arts Quartet and Cristina Ortiz.


Kirk McElhearn



HAYDN Complete Piano Trios
Haydn Trio Eisenstadt
PHOENIX EDITION Phoenix161

With the Haydn year, I have been rediscovering this composer who I had often considered to have made “pretty music” but not much more. I discovered his piano trios, works that had not moved me in the past (when listening to the Beaux Arts Trio). I got—by download from Amazon—a budget set by the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt—which, on modern instruments, gives all three voices the attention they deserve. This set has convinced me that these are, indeed, some of Haydn’s finest works.


Rob Maynard



R STRAUSS Orchestral suites: Der Rosenkavalier
Die Frau ohne Schatten & Josephs-Legende

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra • JoAnn Falletta
8.572041 (September 2009)

Strauss’s lushly romantic scores will delight sweet-toothed listeners, especially in such intelligent and captivating interpretations. The very accomplished orchestra and its charismatic conductor are captured in exemplary sound.


DVOŘÁK Slavonic Dances
Carnival Overture (1935 recording)

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra • Václav Talich
8.111331 (March 2009)

Talich’s pre-war Czech orchestra was one of the glories of European music making. These intensely idiomatic accounts are as enjoyable – and enlightening – today as when they were first recorded almost 75 years ago.


TCHAIKOVSKY The Sleeping Beauty
Viviana Durante • Zoltán Solymosi
Royal Ballet • Royal Opera House Orchestra
Barry Wordsworth, conductor

OAR3107D (July 2009)

Maria Björnson’s stunning designs enchant the eye and provide a glorious setting for the action on stage. Viviana Durante and Zoltán Solymosi are charismatic and engaging performers and are well supported by the rest of the Royal Ballet company. This DVD now heads a very competitive field.


Glyn Pursglove



FRESCOBALDI Keyboard Music
Martha Folts (harpsichord)
8.570717 (March 2008)

A striking collection of work not published during Frescobaldi’s lifetime, played with well-judged freedom by Martha Folts; player and instrument alike (the latter made by Jerome de Zentis in Rome in 1658 and restored by Keith Hill) do justice to Frescobaldi’s brilliant and expressive work.


Brian Reinhart



BERNSTEIN Mass
Jubilant Sykes (baritone)
Morgan State University Choir • Peabody Children’s Chorus
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop, conductor

8.559622–23 (August 2009)

Without question my recording of the year; this is the kind of album we will be calling ‘legendary’ decades from now. The part of the Celebrant was destined for Jubilant Sykes, and Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony single-handedly rewrite our view of this controversial masterwork. Beyond spectacular.


KHACHATURIAN Cello Concerto, Concerto-Rhapsody
Dmitry Yablonsky (cello)
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra
Maxim Fedotov, conductor

8.570463 (on CD February 2010)

The Khachaturian Cello Concerto kept me company over a long road trip this summer, and Yablonsky’s is the best performance currently available. Digital download only; physical release will be in 2010.


Simon Thompson



VERDI La Forza del Destino
Violetta Urmana (soprano) • Marcello Giordani (tenor)
Chorus & Orchestra Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Zubin Mehta, conductor

DVWW-OPFORZA (January 2009)

Not everyone agrees with me, but I though this splendidly sung performance one of the finest Verdi performances of modern times. The production is solidly traditional but nothing gets in the way of the fantastic singing.


Raymond Walker



GERMAN Tom Jones
Marianne Hellgren Staykov • Richard Morrison
National Festival Chorus & Orchestra
David Russell Hulme, conductor

8.660270–71 (August 2009)

A brisk and bright reading of a work that should have been in the catalogue decades ago.


Brian Wilson



DOWLAND Lute Music Vol. 4: The Queen’s Galliard
Nigel North (lute)
8.570284 (March 2009)

The recommendation is for the whole series, of which this forms the splendid conclusion. [8.504016]


Leslie Wright



SIBELIUS Night Ride & Sunrise, Pan & Echo
Belshazzar’s Feast Suite, Two Pieces for Orchestra
Kuolema 

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra • Pietari Inkinen
8.570763

This superbly played and recorded disc of Sibelius orchestral music is a real bargain. The young conductor is a natural Sibelian and the selection is as varied as it is unusual. The Night Ride and Sunrise is especially fine, but the whole disc is terrific!


BERNSTEIN Mass
Jubilant Sykes (baritone)
Morgan State University Choir • Peabody Children’s Chorus
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop, conductor

8.559622–23 (August 2009)

The revival of Bernstein’s Mass in recent years is heartening, as the work was disparaged for a long time after its premiere. The work seems more timely than ever and this new recording may be the most exciting since the original one conducted by the composer. Jubilant Sykes as the Celebrant is particularly outstanding.










 
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