The Best Recordings of 2009

The best new recordings of 2009(Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/koonisutra/)
The best new recordings of 2009(Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/koonisutra/)

Recently, I perused the long, long list of 2009 classical new releases I have listened to and came up with a list of favorites. Here they are, though not in order of preference (they’re all so too good for that kind of comparison among them). Please write in with your favorite classical recordings of the year!

  • Monteverdi: Teatro d’Amore Christina Pluhar and L’arpeggiata. I blogged about this recording a while ago and still haven’t heard another Monteverdi recording nearly as fun and funky as this one. Slap this disc in your car CD player on your drive home and just see if it doesn’t lift your mood. L’Arpeggiata frees the L’Orfeo Toccata from the proverbial straightjacket into which most recordings have stuffed it, and their performance of Ohimè ch’io cado, complete with walking bass line, swung rhythms, blue notes, and improv passages, would be at home in any New York jazz club. This is really, really nifty stuff played and sung (by, among others, star countertenor Philippe Jaroussky) brilliantly.
  • Ravel Daphnis et Chloé Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Bernard Haitink.  Kudos must first go generally to the players and the conductor, who seem to have forged a phenomenal collaboration. Haitink and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra have been releasing some of the most stunning recordings of standard orchestral repertory out there (see my post on their recording of Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony), and their recording of the complete score of Ravel’s ballet Daphnis et Chloé rivals that of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra under Charles Dutoit (which to my ear, at least, had been well-nigh definitive).
  • Haydn Piano Sonatas, Vol. II Marc-Andre Hamelin. Two years after the release of volume I, we now have another installment of Hamelin’s exploration of the master’s keyboard sonatas. The music of Haydn and his younger contemporary Mozart is notoriously challenging to play, calling for deep interpretive insight and complete technical mastery. Hamelin’s recording of the Haydn sonatas have all this, along with an emotional unfetteredness that makes these works feel at once deeply moving and lighter than air.
  • Beethoven: The Complete Piano Concertos Richard Goode/Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer. While we’re talking about piano recordings, let’s talk about Richard Goode. This pianist made headlines with his cycle of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas, and he’s outdone himself with his recording of Beethoven’s piano concertos. The interpretations are assured and well executed. To say more would be to lapse into the kind of over-romanticized wrangling that Goode’s recording gives wide berth.
  • J.S. Bach: Orchestral Suites for a Young Prince. Ensemble Sonnerie/Monica Huggett. I blogged about this recording recently in a post that addresses the interesting interpretive issues oboist Gonzalo X. Ruiz’s reconstruction of the Orchestral Suite No. 2, BWV 1067 raises. But even without all the historical intrigue, this recording is as beautiful and lively a recording of Bach’s Orchestral Suites as any I’ve heard. It’s just a good listen. And I’m not alone in this opinion: the recording’s been nominated for a 2009 Grammy Award.
  • Mozart Sinfonia Concertante; Haydn Violin Concerti 1 & 4 Rachel Podger, Pavlo Beznosiuk/Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Violinist Rachel Podger has been steadily making a name for herself with corpus of beautiful period-instrument recordings.  As good and pleasant as this recording is, I have a feeling her best work is yet to come.  She’s definitely one to watch.
  • Brahms: The Symphonies Berlin Philharmonic/Simon Rattle. I am thinking outside the box (or at least outside the CD case) on this entry and 1) naming as favorites only two of the four Brahms symphonies in Berlin/Rattle’s recording and 2) claiming two spots on my Top 10 list for them. Symphonies Nos. 2 and 4 are given glorious performances of splendidly refined interpretations. Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3, to my ear, don’t reach the same heights. But how bad can they be? It’s the Berlin Philharmonic and Simon Rattle. Oh, sorry. That’s Sir Simon to us.
  • Schubert: Winterreise Mark Padmore, Paul Lewis. A few months ago, I blogged about this stunning recording, even while realizing that words are insufficient to describe the sensitivity with which Padmore and Lewis have crafted and executed their interpretation of this monumental set of late Schubert songs.  This recording was unjustly overlooked in the nominations for the 2009 Grammy Awards, the nominees in the category of Best Classical Vocal Performance favoring the operatic repertory. Shame on the Recording Academy. If you listen to only one art song recording this year, make it this one.
  • . . . that said, be sure also to listen to Schubert: Heliopolis Matthias Goerne, Ingo Metzmacher. Baritone Matthias Goerne’s voice appears in its full glory on this recording of Schubert’s songs set to texts that romanticize ancient Greece.  These songs form an important aspect of Schubert’s Lieder output, contributing as they do to the Romantic fascination with Greek antiquity as the source of the dramatic impulse in European art. This aspect of nineteenth-century aesthetic thought and its manifestations in the music of that period have only in recent years been getting the attention they deserve, and Goerne and Metzmacher’s recording is a tremendous contribution to this lively area of inquiry. It’s also chock full of beautiful performances of some of Schubert’s most alluring yet most overlooked songs.

Happy listening!

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