Thursday, December 21, 2006

2006's Top 10 Classical-Music Discoveries

2006's Top 10 Classical-Music Discoveries

Cincinnati-based NPR station WGUC plays classical music 24 hours a day, reaching out to the genre's newcomers and longtime aficionados alike. WGUC music director Kent Teeters compiled this list of the 10 best classical CD discoveries of 2006.

1. Osmo Vanska/Minnesota Orchestra: Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 8
Just when it seems like there are plenty of Beethoven symphony recordings to go around, at least six major new symphony cycles are being issued. Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra are in the midst of completing the recording and release of all nine symphonies. Vanska, in his early tenure with Minnesota (he was named music director in 2003), provides a worthy rival to other classic Beethoven interpreters.

2. Paavo Jarvi/Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra: Britten: Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra/Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes/Elgar: Enigma Variations
The latest installment from Telarc's Paavo Jarvi/Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra collaboration, this release features lush English orchestral music from two greats: Edward Elgar and Benjamin Britten. One of only a handful of American orchestras to have an ongoing recording contract, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performs at its peak under Jarvi's leadership. The much-loved Enigma Variations and non-narrated Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra don't disappoint in these fresh interpretations.


3. Alison Balsom: Bach: Works for Trumpet
For fans of the trumpet and the music of Bach, listening to this young, accomplished artist is a must. Balsom studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the Paris Conservatory, and then with world-renowned trumpet virtuoso Hakan Hardenberger. Balsom convincingly navigates these Bach transcriptions.

4. Paavo Jarvi/Estonian National Symphony Orchestra: Grieg: Norwegian Dances, etc.
The father-son conducting duo of Neeme and Paavo Jarvi is responsible for hundreds of recordings made with excellent orchestras from around the world. For this all-Grieg disc, Paavo Jarvi returns to his native Estonia to lead the National Symphony Orchestra in Grieg's tuneful Norwegian and Symphonic Dances and the familiar Holberg Suite.


5. Rolf Lislevand: Nuove musiche
It's been said that music from the 1600s had as much to do with what wasn't on the page as with what was. Rolf Lislevand has fully embraced that improvisatory concept, bringing early music into the 21st century. The unique and mesmerizing performances here are clearly "old wine in new bottles," yet the result is much truer in spirit to what likely would have occurred 400 years ago.

6. Daniele Gatti/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra: Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6/Serenade for Strings
If you already have the "mini-cycle" of Tchaikovsky's last three symphonies, you could wait until your old favorites are reissued on SACD, or you could start anew with Daniele Gatti's fresh and marvelous readings, all now available in that format. Gatti's recordings of Tchaikovsky's 4th and 5th symphonies came out earlier. This combination of the Symphony No. 6 and the Serenade for Strings was released in 2006.

7. Douglas Boyd/Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: Schubert: Symphony Nos. 8 & 4
Rather than utilizing a full-time resident conductor, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra is led by a collaboration of six "Artistic Partners." This recording marks a new era for The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: its first release with Artistic Partner Douglas Boyd, and the first CD released on its own label.

8. Stephen Layton: Eric Whitacre: Cloudburst and Other Choral Works
American composer Eric Whitacre's harmonic language is nothing short of stunning. And, as expected from the vocal group Polyphony, the performance is top-notch. Though Whitacre is only in his mid-30s, many of his works (several of them on this recording) have entered the standard choral repertoire. This is the future of classical choral music.

9. Esa-Pekka Salonen/Los Angeles Philharmonic: Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps/Mussorgsky: Night on Bald Mountain/Bartok: The Miraculous Mandarin
There's perhaps no better test piece for an orchestra, or for a recording engineer, than Stravinsky's Le Sacre. Esa-Pekka Salonen, the musicians of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the technicians from Deutsche Grammophon are all up to the task with this debut live recording from Disney Hall. And, for those who only know the Mussorgsky/Rimsky-Korsakov version, Mussorgsky's original orchestral score for Night on Bald Mountain will come as a revelation.

10. Gustavo Dudamel/Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela: Beethoven: Symphony Nos. 5 & 7
It's hard to believe that this is a youth organization of mostly teenagers performing. The recording is also the Deutsche Grammophon debut for young Gustavo Dudamel, whom Sir Simon Rattle calls "the most astonishingly gifted conductor I've ever come across." If this is what Dudamel can do at 25, imagine his gifts at 50.

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