Favorite Classical Recordings of 2012

Joyce Di Donato as Mary, Queen of Scots in "Maria Stuarda"(Photo: Houston Grand Opera)
Joyce Di Donato as Mary, Queen of Scots in "Maria Stuarda"(Photo: Houston Grand Opera)

Since I spend a lot of my time listening to opera broadcasts going back to 1933, I’m not the one to present a best of list.

I haven’t heard all the recordings released in 2012, however here are several that I especially liked and am happy to recommend:

Drama Queens with Joyce Di Donato, mezzo-soprano and Il Complesso Barocco

The Kansas born Di Donato is much in the news. She’s about to open in New York as Donizetti’s doomed Mary, Queen of Scots, in the Met premiere of Maria Stuarda. There have already been critical hosannas for this performance, and the New Year’s Eve premiere is a hot ticket.

This new CD features arias from baroque era composers who have mostly been lost to time, until now. Handel is there, and so is Orlandidi, Hasse, Keiser and Giacomelli.  These regal ladies are in love, rejected, annoyed, ecstatic and near death.

Joyce’s lovely full voice is well complemented by Alan Curtis and his Florence based orchestra Il complesso barocco. Enjoy this for fetching repertoire in performances sometimes heartful and sometimes joyous. Be sure to listen to track two first.

American Mavericks Michael Tilson-Thomas conducting the San Francisco Symphony

When I was quite young MTT was on the staff of the Boston Symphony. Great was the scandal when he, in a Nehru jacket yet, was busted at Logan airport for carrying dope. Today he’s world-famous and considered the leading curator of American music.

This new release on the San Francisco Symphony’s own label (good for them!) has music by Henry Cowell, Lou Harrison and Edgar Varese.

I’ve come along way in that I now find Varese and his experimental sounds fascinating. Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison, both Californians, get Rolls Royce treatment from their nearly hometown orchestra. These two need to be programmed more often. Give this to any music lover for whom you have no gift ideas.

Don Giovanni Mozart

I rearranged some long-planned programming to get this recording on air pronto. It comes from live performances given in 2010 at Baden-Baden, where in past years Turgenev, Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Wagner went to “take the waters.”

Canadian maestro Yannick Nezet-Segiun is the new Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He is a bold young guy who takes opera seriously as drama. Tempi are at a good clip, but never at the expense of the singers dramatic sense.

This recording will entertain and challenge those who think opera is boring. With Ildebando D’Arcangelo, Luca Pisaroni, Diana Damrau, Rolando Villazon and Di Donato.

The Complete Piano Music of Viktor Ullman

The story of artists lost to the holocaust has been told often in recent years. Less often have we sampled their art.  Viktor Ullman was held at Theresin-the Nazi “showcase” camp, and months later perished at Auschwitz. He continued to work to the very end.

Now comes a one CD collection of his complete works for piano. Jeanne Golan insures that Ullman will be mourned for his death and celebrated for his music.

>Sacred Works of Tomas Luis De Victoria

Victoria (1548-1611) was a Spanish composer who survived the Inquisition at flourished at the Court in Exile of the dowager Empress of Austria. I say exiled because her grace chose to retire at the monastery Los Decaslzas Reales. I doubt the Empress was eating salted fish and sleeping on boards.

Victoria had trained in Rome and attracted royalty with his pious and pungent liturgical settings. A lot of Victoria’s music sounds “modern” in the 21st century. Sedate, unceasing chant like beauty is there but alternates with dissonances that will keep your attention throughout.

This collection contains 10 CDs, which is a stretch, but there’s not a dull note to be heard. You can feel the chill of the cathedral, the heat of the Spanish sun, the dark eyes of a young Carmelite and the favor of an Empress.