written by Robert Rowat and Michael Morreale
A recent letter to the editor of The New York Times asked the question, "Is classical music dying?" The ensuing online dialogue among readers was not too encouraging, drawing attention to the financial difficulties facing many orchestras today, and the slow death of the classical music recording industry.
But one contributor to that discussion pointed out, "Classical music is not dead; it’s not even resting. The classical world is evolving." If this year's releases are any indication, what hasn't killed the classical music recording industry may be making it stronger.
From among the many fine releases of the past year, here are our picks for the top five classical music albums of 2012:
1. Album: Schumann Piano Concerto
Artists: Angela Hewitt, piano; Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin; Hannu Lintu, conductor
Label: Hyperion Records
We could easily have selected Hewitt's recent all-Debussy release for our top five list, but her album of works by Schumann for piano and orchestra is undeniably awesome. Hewitt applies her usual good taste and breathtaking articulation to this familiar piano concerto, avoiding flashy display in favour of clarity and momentum, especially in the dance-like final movement. The seamless collaboration with Lintu and the orchestra is fabulous, as is the sound quality. It was recorded in the very space favoured by Herbert von Karajan.
As a bonus, two lesser-known, but gorgeous, works by Schumann round out the program. If this is how Hewitt's first-ever major concerto recording sounds, we can’t wait for the second.
2. Album: The Silver Violin
Artists: Nicola Benedetti, violin; Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; Kirill Karabits, conductor
Label: Decca Classics
Twenty-five-year-old Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti stepped onto the stage at this year’s Last Night of the Proms as a rising star, and waltzed off as the most beloved violinist of her generation. Her allure as Prom queen brought immense success to this collection of elegant music with a warm glow from the early days of the silver screen. Nestled comfortably among Hollywood’s musical bonbons is a stirring rendition of Korngold’s Violin Concerto, making The Silver Violin an obvious pick for this year’s top five.
Benedetti won hearts worldwide with this musical close-up, and we can't wait to see her continue her role as leading lady in 2013. In this video, Benedetti presents the album:
3. Album: Mozart: Don Giovanni
Artists: Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, bass-baritone; Luca Pisaroni, baritone; Diana Damrau, soprano; Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano; Rolando Villazón, tenor; Mahler Chamber Orchestra; Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor
Label: Deutsche Grammophon
They could have called this release Hot Giovanni, since it brings so much sizzling talent to bear on Mozart's masterpiece. In the title role, Italian bass-barihunk D'Arcangelo sounds as seductive as he looks on the CD cover. Damrau, better known for her Queen of the Night, digs into Donna Anna's heavier vocal lines with gusto. They and the rest of the all-star cast shine under the expert baton of Nézet-Séguin, who's got a contract with Deutsche Grammophon to release six more Mozart operas in the near future. This practically makes us drool with anticipation.
Here's a video montage of the recording sessions that took place in Baden-Baden in 2011:
4. Album: Philip Glass: Symphony No. 9
Artists: Bruckner Orchester Linz; Dennis Russell Davies, conductor
Label: Orange Mountain Music
On the morning of Philip Glass’s 75th birthday last January, fans were treated to a surprise release of his brand new Symphony No. 9. The buzz even shot the recording to the top 20 pop charts. In Glass’s Ninth, we hear his trademark sense of drama. It throbs and repeats longer than you’d expect, then leaves you breathless as you hit its surprisingly subdued conclusion. Will the legendary curse of the ninth that affected Beethoven, Schubert and Mahler also hit Glass? Absolutely not. He quickly penned a tenth. “I wasn’t going to wait to find out,” he quipped.
5. Album: Water Night
Artists: Eric Whitacre Singers; Julian Lloyd Webber, cello; Hila Plitmann, soprano; London Symphony Orchestra; Eric Whitacre, conductor
The anticipation that greeted the April 3 release of Eric Whitacre's latest album, Water Night, catapulted it straight to the top of the iTunes classical music charts. Following his 2011 Grammy Award-winning Light and Gold, Water Night did not disappoint Whitacre fans or critics. The singing was praised for its, “glistening, white-light clarity,” while the instrumental works gave us a new perspective of Whitacre as more than just a choir geek.
Here's Whitacre introducing the album:
What were your top five classical music releases of 2012? Let us know in the comments below.
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on Dec 17, 2012