Great Recordings of 2011…

Record Matrix Room, Berliner Gramophone Company, Montreal, QC, 1910(Photo: Notman Photographic Archives - McCord Museum)
Record Matrix Room, Berliner Gramophone Company, Montreal, QC, 1910(Photo: Notman Photographic Archives - McCord Museum)

As always, it’s difficult to know where to begin with a year’s worth of recordings.  Therefore, this is a very subjective list which, hopefully, connects you with something you haven’t heard and something you’d forgotten you liked.  I’d love to hear what caught your ear in the last year!

ProMusica Chamber Orchestra

My first choice is actually two recordings.  In a world of instant communication and worldwide connectivity, it’s easy to forget to look in your own backyard.  ProMusica has released two new recordings this year of World Premiere works commissioned  by the orchestra.  These two discs, Triumvirate and Resounding, represent one of the key aspects of this organization. ProMusica has commissioned over 50 pieces and has presented more than 100 premieres.  A third collection of World Premieres is set to be released early next year.  (ProMusica Columbus)

Portals – St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra

Though this was recorded in Russia, a local connection still exists.  Rick Sowash is a native Ohioan, born near Mansfield OH and currently living in the Cincinnati area.  Like many composers, he finds inspiration in his surroundings.  His newest release, Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, has a movement entitled “The View from Carew.”  Those who have spent time in the Queen City will recognize the name of the tallest building in Cincinnati, the Carew Tower.  I have spent some time atop that landmark and can confirm that Sowash has repainted the panorama in my mind with his concerto.  Also on the recording is Pastorale Variee by Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim, and a short piece written the Tom Hanks film The Terminal, called Viktor’s Tale.  I found myself listening to the entire disc in one sitting, rather than just checking it out in snippets.  (Marquis Classics)

Bach: A Strange Beauty – Simone Dinnerstein

The story of Ms. Dinnerstein’s rise to prominence in the music world reads like a screenplay.  However, she deserves every bit of the recognition, glowing reviews, and audience accolades she has received.  Her newest recording finds her performing with Staatskapelle Berlin.  Her interpretations are truly her own and will help you hear Bach in a new way.

(Arkivmusic.com)

 Brahms on Brass – Canadian Brass

Hearing Brahms’ music arranged for brass quintet (16 Waltzes, Op. 39, 11 Chorale Preludes, Op. 122) and brass octet (Ballade in d, Op. 10, No. 1), evoked several responses.  During some of the waltzes, I felt the urge to find a bierstube and order a cold lager.  In some of the Chorale Preludes, I sensed the presence of a 19th century Gabrieli, wishing I could hear the almost antiphonal music in an old stone cathedral.

(Arkivmusic.com)

Nico Muhly: Seeing is Believing

Upon opening the CD booklet, the first thing that struck me was that the title track, Seeing is Believing, was written for a six-string electric violin.  Don’t let that keep you from giving this recording a ride.  If your experience with electrified orchestral instruments is limited to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, this ain’t them.

Nico Muhly is a 30-year-old composer who wrote the music for this recording with one foot in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.  In between each of Muhly’s pieces are tasteful (and tasty) arrangements of the music of William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons.  (arkivmusic.com)

Watch Nico Muhly and John Rutter talk about Seeing is Believing

Tahiti – Michael Torke

Where Nico Muhly’s music has a cerebral aspect to it, Michael Torke’s Tahiti is just plain fun from the word go.  You might recall his Color Music which, as you might expect, uses the orchestral palette to paint visual pictures.  Tahiti, according to Torke, “explores melodically the idea of humidity.”  The movements “attempt to capture the perfume of leisure time in a very warm and sunny beautiful place, where worries are few.”  Perfect for this time of year!  (arkivmusic.com)

Lumieres – Music of the Enlightenment

The 18th century was a golden age of musical advancement.  Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, Couperin, and many others at one end, with Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven rocketing toward (and into) the 1800′s.  Harmonia Mundi assembled a marvelous 30-disc boxed set from their amazing vaults, giving us everything from Baroque concertos to Mozart operas, sacred music by Pergolesi and the joyful thunder of Beethoven’s 9th.  Fabulous!  (arkivmusic.com)

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