BRITTEN, B.: War Requiem (Noseda)
You know how sometimes when you go to a live performance, it's so great and so vivid that you don't remember just the music, you recall the little details of the exact time and place — where exactly you sat, the temperature of the air, the smell of the space? That was my experience hearing the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, perform Britten's War Requiem last year at New York's Avery Fisher Hall: haunting, sobering, even shocking — and utterly gorgeous. Tenor Ian Bostridge and bass Simon Keenlyside's elucidation of the poetry by Wilfred Owen was just heartbreaking. It this recording the LSO and company made as they were touring the Britten equally memorable? Yes, yes, yes.
HOLMBOE, V.: Chamber Symphonies (Lapland Chamber Orchestra, Storgards)
In 1996, when Danish composer Vagn Holmboe died (at age 86) his music was practically unknown in this country. But the few adventurous listeners who followed the series of Holmboe symphony recordings released on the Swedish label BIS in the 1990s got to know a fascinating artist of great integrity and compositional prowess. Now the Danish label Dacapo has released energetic performances of his three chamber symphonies with Jan Storgårds leading the agile Lapland Chamber Orchestra. Holmboe's music can be austere with melancholy or buoyant with color, but is always expertly crafted. Think of these three solid chamber symphonies in terms of sleek mid-century modern Danish furniture: deceptively simple, even glamorous lines; smooth, a little aloof, yet very sturdy. (TH)
Chamber Music - HARRISON, M. / BACH, J.S. / GOUNOD, C.-F. / PART, A. (Time Loops) (Beiser, Harrison, MacDonald, Nunez)
Maya Beiser is a gifted, TED Talk-ing young cellist, unafraid to push her instrument in many genre-blurring directions. On her recent album Time Loops, she conjurs a chorus of cellos, looping herself electronically in a handful of fascinating compositions by Michael Harrison (with stops along the way for music by Arvo Pärt and Bach). "Just Ancient Loops," with its evocative drone and pizzicato opening, unfolds like a journey. The music, with its blend of East and West, soars in interlocking swirls of color, rests in a central chorale and builds steam to an ecstatic conclusion, sounding as if it had always been here.
WALLACE, WV: Chopinesque (Tuck, Bonynge)
During 2012 I've been much involved with bicentenary commemorations of William Vincent Wallace, Victorian opera composer and piano virtuoso. Of three Naxos CDs of his piano compositions and arrangements I particularly commend 'Chopinesque,' performed with aplomb by Rosemary Tuck, supported by Richard Bonynge.
DELIUS, F.: Mass of Life (A) / Prelude and Idyll (J. Watson, Wyn-Rogers, A. Kennedy, Opie, Bach Choir, Bournemouth Symphony, D. Hill)
Listening joy has come not least this year from a crop of young pianists blazing with talent, perhaps foremost among them Jan Lisiecki and Ben Grosvenor. There was also a hauntingly dramatic Brahms German Requiem from John Eliot Gardiner. But the real revelation on record in 2012 came from the Bach Choir's recording of Delius's A Mass of Life. Strong choral singing, penetrating direction from David Hill and a heroic turn in the lead role from Alan Opie.
WEBER, C.M. von: Clarinet Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 / Clarinet Concertino / Horn Concertino (M. Collins, Stirling, City of London Sinfonia)
I've always had a soft spot for Weber's two oft-recorded Clarinet Concertos but Michael Collins plays (and conducts) them with an irresistible exuberance that I've not heard equalled. Placed between them is Stephen Stirling's jaunty account of the E minor Concertino for horn and orchestra. It's a disc that can't help but put a spring in your step.
PARRY, H.: Te Deum for Coronation of George V / England / The Birds / Jerusalem / The Glories of Our Blood and State (Jarvi)
Central to this splendid collection of choral works is Jerusalem in its original form, with its first verse as a soprano solo, alongside its long-neglected counterpart, England, Parry's glorious setting of John of Guant's speech from Shakespeare's Richard II, also dating from 1918. The other works all have royal connections, even the incidental music from The Birds of Aristophes, the Bridal March used at the present Queen's wedding. Neeme Jarvi proves a most sympathetic conductor with passionate Welsh forces. A heart-warming disc.
PROKOFIEV, S.: Piano Sonatas Nos. 6-8 (War Sonatas) (Giltburg)
The young Moscow-born pianist Boris Giltburg brings pungency, panache and personality to Prokofiev's thee 'War' Sonatas, harnessing authoritative bravura to underline the music's nervous energy and also penetrating deep into the emotional substance of the lyricism's apprehension and unease. These are strong, shrewd performances, played with stylistic understanding and compelling presence.
BACH, JS: Motets, BWV 225-230 (Monteverdi Choir, Gardiner)
On the strength of Jonathan Freeman-Atwood's review I made a journey expressly to HMV in Oxford Street and I'm still playing this lot. Three of the xis motetes I felt I knew well; high time to do something about the others. We learn from Gardiner's most readable essay that they have been his constant companions since he was a boy and he draws out much from them. 'Now there is something one can learn from' as Mozart said, discovering Singet dern Herm in 1789 in Leipzig and being dazzled by a performance of it. You will be dazzled by the music and the choral virtuosity here.
WAGNER, R.: Meistersinger von Nurnberg (Die) (M. Janowski)
Janowski's urgency and attention to detail, along with the superlative singing, orchestral playing, choral work and recorded sound, make this a competitive set among modern recordings.
CASELLA, A.: Donna serpente Suites (La) / Introduzione, aria e toccata /
Partita (Sun Hee You, Rome Symphony, La Vecchia)
RAMEAU, J.-P.: Harpsichord Works (Complete) (Vinikour)
Far from specialists' repertory, these Baroque solo keyboard pieces are replete with charming musical invention. The Chicago-born harpsichordist is fully inside the French style, which you would expect from a musician who's long been based in Paris.