Krzysztof Penderecki

Krzysztof Penderecki
Krzysztof Penderecki (1933-2020) conducting his oratorio "Seven Gates of Jerusalem" at the Winter Palace, St Petersburg, in 2001. Photo by Dmitry Lovetsky

Saturday, January 05, 2019

The Faces of Classical Music Choose the 20 Best Albums of 2018

By Alexandros Arvanitakis *

The Faces of Classical Music Choose the 20 Best Albums of 2018.


Anima Sacra – Jakub Józef Orliński, Il Pomo d'Oro, Maxim Emelyanychev

"Anima Sacra" presents a unique selection of early 18th century masterpieces of sacred music by still to be rediscovered Italian composers of the Neapolitan School like Fago and Sarro, combined with some well known composers working at the catholic Dresden Court such as Hasse, Zelenka and Heinichen – and – last but not least: Antonio Vivaldi.

The compositions are united by their captivating beauty and technical perfection in displaying a most intimate yet theatrical essence of baroque spiritual life – the Anima Sacra.

The young Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński, Grand Finals winner of the 2016 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and winner of the 2015 Marcella Sembrich International Vocal Competition, is quickly gaining a reputation as a singer of striking vocal beauty and daring stagecraft.

In his first recording for Erato he teams up with il pomo d'oro under its chief conductor Maxim Emelyanychev.


Gustav Mahler – Symphony No.6 – Berliner Philharmoniker, Sir Simon Rattle

The end of an era and a musical highlight: Simon Rattle's farewell as chief conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker with Gustav Mahler's stunning Sixth Symphony was given a standing ovation by the audience. In a high-quality edition you can relive this special moment on CD and Blu-ray. There is also an audio recording of Sir Simon's Philharmoniker debut conducting the same work, a documentary about his tenure, and an extensive companion book with many articles and photos.

On 14 November 1987, the young Simon Rattle first took to the conductor's podium of the Berliner Philharmoniker. "I had the feeling that I would find my voice that day", says Rattle in retrospect. At the same time, the young conductor demonstrated his total mastery of this vast work with its brutal eruptions.

The fact that Mahler's work was also part of this farewell concert had a symbolic as well as a musical dimension: it brought both a circle to a close and also a great chapter in the history of the Berliner Philharmoniker to an end. At the same time, the performance reminded us that performances of Mahler's music marked highlights of the Rattle era on numerous occasions. The tumultuous applause expressed not only enthusiasm for a uniquely intense, multi-faceted performance but also gratitude for 16 fulfilling years.


Johann Sebastian Bach – The Well-Tempered Clavier, Books I and II – Alexandra Papastefanou

Pianist Alexandra Papastefanou performs The Well-Tempered Clavier, Books I and II in a complete 4CD recording of the works.

Papastefanou was a finalist at the Clara Haskil Competition in Switzerland and received the Liebstoeckl and Fazioli Prizes at the International Geneva Competition, as well as the Spyros Motsenigos Prize from the Academy of Athens.

She has performed all of Bach's keyboard works and, in a series of recitals, has presented his complete Well-Tempered Clavier, Goldberg Variations, The Art of Fugue, and The Musical Offering as well as his keyboard concertos.

Papastefanou performs keyboard music from the Baroque through to modern repertoire including the music of George Crumb, Gyorgy Ligeti, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Toru Takemitsu. She has performed solo and chamber recitals, concertos across Europe (Germany, France, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Spain, the Czech Republic, Russia, Finland and Hungary), the United States and Canada.

“How refreshing and deeply compelling to encounter Alexandra Papastefanou's no-holds-barred, red-blooded, freely yet subtly pedalled responses to this era-defining compendium. As if entranced by the music's purely expressive contours, Papastefanou imbues Bach's imperious musical logic with a rich humanity and emotional narrative. Inauthentic? Almost certainly. Musically in the moment and convincing? Absolutely.” — BBC Music Magazine, October 2018

“Salient aspects of harpsichord technique inform Papastefanou's approach, such as varied legato articulations and arpeggiations, strong finger independence, plus the occasional use of agogic caesuras and tenutos to demarcate phrase groupings and points of harmonic tension... Beyond question, Papastefanou more than holds her own alongside the catalogue's top piano versions of the "48".” — Gramophone, October 2018


ARC / Handel & Glass – Anthony Roth Costanzo, Les Violons du Roy, Jonathan Cohen

American countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo performs works of baroque master George Frideric Handel and minimalist 20/21st century composer Philip Glass, all played by the orchestra Les Violons du Roy and conducted by music director Jonathan Cohen. Anchored by Costanzo's alternatingly powerful and sweet sound, ARC is a startlingly original work that weaves together the twin threads of Costanzo's artistic life, while putting familiar works in a novel context that allows the listener to hear them anew. The track sequence alternates between Glass and Handel, stringing together arias, songs, and excerpts like gemstones on a chain.” —


Sergei Rachmaninov – Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 4 – Daniil Trifonov, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Following their much-praised release of Rachmaninov's "Paganini Variations", Daniil Trifonov, the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin start with what will become a complete cycle of the Rachmaninov Piano Concertos. This release includes the famous Second Concerto, along with the less popular Fourth, the later recorded live in Philadelphia.

“These are performances of such musical awareness, tonal variety and dazzling virtuosity that even the Second, one of the most popular of all piano concertos, has every trace of routine and over-familiarity stripped away. Trifonov has the gift of making something compelling out of the least attention-seeking piano lines... the woodwind playing is superb, but it's the simple eloquence of Trifonov's playing that constantly draws the ear.” — The Guardian, 25 October 2018


Memory – Hélène Grimaud

Hélène Grimaud's new Deutsche Grammophon album, Memory, stirs profound emotions through the elegant simplicity of miniatures by Chopin, Debussy, Satie, Valentin Silvestrov and Nitin Sawhney.

Music has been described as a means of rescuing that which is lost – a simple yet persuasive idea and one which informs Hélène Grimaud's working definition of the art form. The French pianist's latest Deutsche Grammophon recording addresses music's unique ability to bring images of the past back to life in the present moment, to conjure up vivid evocations of time and place. Memory, set for release on 28 September 2018, explores the nature of recollection through a series of exquisite pianistic miniatures. Grimaud's choice of repertoire embraces everything from impressionistic reveries by Chopin and Debussy to the timeless, folk-like melodies of Valentin Silvestrov.

"Music peels back the layers of time to reveal the essence of experience", she observes. "Momentary pain, distress, elation, fades – what remains is sensation. Sensation is the resonance of experience in the space of memory. And it is the space where music resonates within each of us – touching us, moving us, bringing us closer to ourselves. In that way, music can also help remind us that for all in our daily lives that is trivial, there's a place where meaning is stored. And that it is not forgetfulness that is our burden, but the capacity to reflect and remember that is the wonder of being alive." The pianist's eloquent discourse on memory touches both the universal and the particular. It reveals, above all, much about her sensibility for music as a natural process, one shaped in the moment of creation and re-creation by instinct and intuition.

Grimaud chose compositions that speak directly to memory, creating a programme of works which through their simplicity can bypass the barriers of rational thinking to unlock powerful moods, feelings and sensations. These miniatures are not weighty structures; rather, they possess what she aptly describes as immaterial qualities. Each of the album's fifteen tracks suggests fleeting impressions of a thought recollected, a dream reimagined, an experience recalled to mind. Memory, she says, "serves to conjure atmospheres of fragile reflection, a mirage of what was – or what could have been".


Ludwig van Beethoven – Piano Sonatas Nos. 30, 31, 32 – Alexandre Tharaud

Alexandre Tharaud's first album devoted entirely to Beethoven was released on October 12, 2018. It comprises the composer's last three piano sonatas: No.30 (Op.109), No.31 (Op.110) and No.32 (Op.111).

"I waited a long time before recording this Everest of Romantic music", says Tharaud. Here (in the video below) he performs excerpts from the sonatas and discusses their genius. "To play this music is to enter into Beethoven's immense mind", he says. "I believe that his late works are the most exciting for an audience to experience."


Doctor Atomic – Opera by John Adams

Libretto by Peter Sellars

Gerald Finley, Julia Bullock, Brindley Sherratt, Andrew Staples, Jennifer Johnston, Aubrey Allicock, Marcus Farnsworth, Samuel Sakker

BBC Singers | Matthew Morley, chorus master | BBC Symphony Orchestra | John Adams, conductor

Nonesuch released the first recording of John Adams' 2005 opera, Doctor Atomic, on June 29, 2018. Longtime Adams collaborator Peter Sellars created the libretto for Doctor Atomic, drawing from original sources. The composer leads the BBC Singers and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in this recording, which features a cast led by Gerald Finley, who originated the role of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer. The two-CD boxed set includes a 64-page bound booklet with archival photos, libretto, and an essay by Mark Swed.

In addition to the San Francisco premiere, Finley has sung Oppenheimer in productions in New York, Amsterdam, Chicago, and London. He is joined on the album by Julia Bullock (Kitty Oppenheimer), Brindley Sherratt (Edward Teller), Samuel Sakker (Captain James Nolan), Andrew Staples (Robert Wilson), Jennifer Johnston (Pasqualita), and Aubrey Allicock (General Leslie Groves). This recording was made possible in part through generous support from New Music USA.

"His most visionary and ambitious stage work to date", said the Guardian. "Adams' conducting, second to none in his own music, had tremendous conviction and unique authority, with every facet of the score's terrible beauty laid bare... thrilling playing and choral singing... Gerald Finley conveyed Oppenheimer's moral agony with singing of great refinement and subtlety."

"A magnificent accomplishment that easily takes its place alongside the other Adams-Sellars triumphs", exclaimed the Los Angeles Times. "It contains music of unearthly splendor... gorgeous lushness and... rich expressivity."

Doctor Atomic concerns the final hours leading up to the first atomic bomb explosion at the Alamagordo test site in New Mexico in July 1945. The focal characters are the physicist and Manhattan Project director, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer; his wife Kitty; Edward Teller; and General Leslie Groves, US Army commander of the project.

Sellars' libretto draws on original source material, including personal memoirs, recorded interviews, technical manuals of nuclear physics, declassified government documents, and the poetry of Muriel Rukeyser, an American poet and contemporary of Oppenheimer.


Ballad in Red – Works for Harp – Emmanuel Ceysson, harp | Quatuor Voce

We hardly need to introduce Emmanuel Ceysson: multi-award winning prodigy harpist, soloist at the Opéra national de Paris and now at the MET Opera in New York. His meteoric rise evokes that of the Frenchman Carlos Salzedo, born in the nineteenth century, who became in New York the greatest harpist of his time, and revolutionized the repertoire of his instrument.

This new album crosses the twentieth century in a program inspired by the Gothic, under the sign of mystery and fantasy.

The luminous Ballade de Salzedo resonates here with the works of famous composers: the impressionistic atmospheres of a Debussy shimmer, the fantastic settings of Caplet come to life, and the beauties of Hindemith's writing play the incredible sound palette of this instrument.

Powerful in the bass, crystalline in the treble, Emmanuel Ceysson's unusual red harp-conceived from Salzedo's harp himself-blossoms fully in virtuoso solo pieces as well as in dialogue with the strings of the Voce Quartet in the very Argentinian Quinteto Rojo of Gustavo Leone.


Johannes Brahms – Cello Sonatas, Hungarian Dances – Jean-Guihen Queyras, Alexandre Tharaud

Pianist Alexandre Tharaud and cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras are long-established as a duo team, but this is the first time that Queyras has joined Tharaud for an Erato recording. They have chosen works that lie at the heart of the Romantic repertoire, all by Brahms: his two cello sonatas and the duo's own transcriptions of six of the Hungarian Dances, music originally conceived for violin and piano.


Claude Debussy – Suite bergamasque, Works for solo piano – Nikolai Lugansky

The distinguished Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky plays works for solo piano by Claude Debussy.

Harmonia Mundi's centenary edition of the works of Claude Debussy necessarily includes several different interpretations of his keyboard music, and Nikolai Lugansky's single-disc contribution offers only a selection of well-known pieces, featuring the Suite bergamasque and including L'Isle joyeuse, the Deux Arabesques, La plus que lente, Jardins sous la pluie, three pieces from Images II, and the Hommage à Haydn. For the most part, this is an album of reflective pieces that don't require a big sound, and the program shows mostly Lugansky's quiet side, emphasizing his polished technique and ability to glide nearly effortlessly over the keys with a delicate touch and warm tone. These qualities were noted in Debussy's own playing, and the restraint and control displayed here gives us an idea of how the composer's contemporaries likely heard his playing. Listeners new to Debussy may try the famous Clair de lune or the Passepied from the Suite Bergamasque, which are among the composer's greatest hits, though the whole album deserves sampling, if only to get an idea of Lugansky's technical flexibility and refined expressions. Highly recommended. — Blair Sanderson (


Orfeo ed Euridice – Opera by Christoph Willibald Gluck

Philippe Jaroussky (Orfeo), Amanda Forsythe (Euridice), Emőke Baráth (Amore)

Coro della Radiotelevisione Svizzera | I Barocchisti | Diego Fasolis, conductor

Star countertenor Philippe Jaroussky continues his exploration of operatic settings of the Orpheus myth with the most famous of the many operas inspired by the story of the Greek poet who searches for his dead wife in the Underworld: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice. It contains one of the world's best-loved operatic arias, Orfeo's restrained, but moving lament, "Che farò senza Euridice".

Conducted by Diego Fasolis, his is the world premiere recording of a version of the opera that was performed at the Royal Palace in Naples in 1774, 12 years after Orfeo ed Euridice was staged in Vienna as the first of Gluck's "reform operas". In these works Gluck emphasised simplicity of form and directness of expression, consciously rejecting the extravagances of opera seria, which dominated the early 18th century and was typified by convoluted plots and extended showpiece arias.

2017 brought the release on Erato of Jaroussky's own retelling of the myth, La storia di Orfeo, which comprised arias by three Italian composers from the 17th century – Monteverdi, Rossi and Sartorio. His Euridice was the Hungarian soprano Emőke Baráth, who in the Gluck opera moves over to the role of Amor, god of love. Euridice is sung in the new recording by the American soprano Amanda Forsythe, who already features in the Erato catalogue alongside Jaroussky in Agostino Steffani's opera Niobe, Regina di Tebe.

In addition to La storia di Orfeo, Diego Fasolis has collaborated with Philippe Jaroussky on Erato recordings of Vinci's Artaserse (audio and video albums), Handel's Faramondo and Pergolesi's Stabat mater.


Augusta McKay Lodge – Beyond Bach & Vivaldi: Rare Unaccompanied Works for the Baroque Violin

Though Bach's set of six Sonatas and Partitas represents the pinnacle of writing for the solo violin, the Baroque repertoire was rich in compositions for the unaccompanied violin, much of which remains little explored. On this recording Augusta McKay Lodge, hailed as "the real thing, a true virtuoso" (Seen and Heard), explores masters of the genre such as Biber, Locatelli and Pisendel but delves deeper to include the impassioned works of Nicola Matteis, the Franco-Italian warmth of Thomas Baltzar and a series of other long-overshadowed works by their contemporaries.


Johann Sebastian Bach – St John Passion

Georg Poplutz, tenor (Evangelist)
Yorck Felix Speer, bass (Jesus)
Julia Kleiter, soprano
Gerhild Romberger, alto
Daniel Sans, tenor (Petrus)
Matthias Winckhler, bass
Victoria Braum, soprano (Ancilla)
Erik Reinhardt, tenor (Servus)
Bernd Sucké, tenor (Servus)
Christian Wagner, baritone (Pilatus)

Bachchor Mainz | Bachorchester Mainz | Ralf Otto, conductor

Johann Sebastian Bach's St John Passion is, along with the St Matthew Passion, without doubt one of the most important works he ever composed. It established a new tradition for Good Friday vespers in Leipzig, and with sublime skill Bach managed to retain a spirit of church worship while creating an almost operatic narrative that movingly depicts Christ's trial, death, and ultimate apotheosis. Bach's numerous revisions always demand a certain amount of scholarly decision-making, and this recording of the St John Passion uses the final 1749 version that not only draws on and reinforces the best of Bach's original concept, but incorporates the additional movements of the 1725 version.


Franz Schubert – Piano Sonata No.21, D.960 & 3 Klavierstücke, D.946 – Volodymyr Lavrynenko, piano

Volodymyr Lavrynenko (b. 1984 Zhitomir, Ukraine) was first educated at the Lysenko Special Music School and at the P. I. Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Kyiv in the class of Prof. B. Archimowitsch. In 2006 he started his studies at the Bern University of Arts with Prof. Tomasz Herbut and finished with the highest distinction in 2009. He then continued his studies at the Lucerne University of Music with Prof. Konstantin Lifschitz and received his Master of Arts Solo Performance Degree with distinction in 2012. From 2012 to 2013 he worked as an assistant of Prof. Lifschitz at the Lucerne University of Music. In 2014 he entered the Artist Diploma Course (Konzertexamen) at the Hamburg University of Music and Theater in the class of Prof. Evgeni Koroliov and Prof. Anna Vinnitskaya.

Volodymyr Lavrynenko is a laureate of many international and national competitions. Among others he received the Special Prize of the Jury at the 1. Int. Vladimir Horowitz Competition for young pianists in Kyiv (Ukraine) in 1995, in 1997 he was awarded 2. prize at the 1. Int. Carl Czerny Piano Competition in Prague (Czech Republic), in 2003 3. Prize at the 5. Int. Vladimir Horowitz Competition for young pianists in Kyiv, and in 2005 he was the winner of the 5. Int. A. Karamanow Piano Competition in Simferopol (Ukraine). In 2007 he won 3. prize and the prize of the audience at the Val Tidone Competition (Italy) and 2010 the Prize of the Kiefer Hablitzel Foundation in Zurich (Switzerland). At Trio di Trieste in Italy he was awarded 1. prize and audience prize in 2015. The same year he was the winner of the German Competition of Polish Music and in 2016 he received the 1. prize of the Int. Schubert-Competition in Dortmund (Germany). In 2017 the Berenberg Foundation in Hamburg (Germany) honoured him with its culture prize.

Volodymyr Lavrynenko took part in many master classes with renowned musicians, among them are Andrey Gavrilov, Dmitri Bashkirov, Alfred Brendel and Leon Fleisher.

As a soloist and chamber musician he performed in various Ukrainian cities as well as in Switzerland, in the Czech Republic, in Poland, Romania, Russia, France, Germany and Italy.


Bach – Benjamin Appl, Concerto Köln

What a great gift it is to be able to sing Johann Sebastian Bach's cantatas and Passion settings. For me, they are indescribably powerful. During performances of Bach's music I have noticed that many listeners take an almost active role and I am constantly amazed at how directly his music speaks to people, how it moves them and how this intensity of experience is reflected in their eyes. As a singer, this kind of interaction with an audience is incredibly fulfilling.

Whilst preparing for this new album, I wanted to be able to recreate this interaction during the recording process and so I began to think back to try to identify the sense of what this music embodies for me personally. Even as a very young singer, I realised that Bach's compositions have something special about them. If only it were always as easy as Bach himself stated that "All you have to do is touch the right key at the right time".

Despite this, or perhaps precisely because of it, Bach has been a huge well of inspiration for me over the years. His is a music that breaks down inner barriers and because of its brilliant construction is one that has a unique spiritual and emotional power.

However, what made me pause and reflect more than anything else during the recording process with the wonderful Concerto Köln is the recognition that especially in these times, when values are constantly changing or being redefined, Bach's music remains a pillar of strength. Bach always seems to find the right note and in a wholly authentic way. He is a highly credible, level-headed and wise source of counsel; a reliable, sensitive and understanding friend, full of creativity and passion. He is someone who, despite the occasional moment of levity, never diverts from good taste and always retains his dignity. He is a model of discipline and humility yet a person who never takes himself too seriously. He is someone whose statements are full of meaning and above all, someone who makes me think and re-evaluate over and over again.

I hope that Bach's music will speak to you and enrich your own life in a similar way as surely we all need more of that, now more than ever. It would be the very best way for this great art to turn our own lives into art.

Benjamin Appl


Domenico Scarlatti – Sonatas, Vol. 1 – Federico Colli, piano

Chandos' new exclusive collaboration with the recent Salzburg and Leeds competition winner Federico Colli is kicking off with this first volume in a unique Scarlatti series.

Playing on a modern Steinway, the Italian pianist – internationally recognised for his intelligent, imaginative interpretations and impeccable technique – here explores the keyboard sonatas of Scarlatti, taking a fresh approach from a philosophical angle, by grouping the compositions into "chapters" in order to reflect the many contrasts of his life and his contradictory personality.

In personal booklet notes Colli reveals: "I conceived a map of a journey into transcendental thought, beyond the works' phenomenological meaning. Each chapter has a title and the individual sonatas in each chapter refer back to the permeating image of its basic idea".

This album is an exceptional start to what promises to be an exciting, long-lasting partnership.


César Franck, Rita Strohl, Francis Poulenc, Fernand de La Tombelle – Edgar Moreau,  David Kadouch

Cellist Edgar Moreau and pianist David Kadouch have some pleasurable surprises in store with this programme of French sonatas from the late 19th and 20th centuries. The composers are Franck, Poulenc and two little-known figures, Rita Strohl and Fernand de La Tombelle. Forming an adjunct to the programme is the world premiere recording of a piece by Poulenc, titled Souvenirs and written in 1944. As the French magazine Téléramahas wrote: "Both known as outstanding soloists, David Kadouch and Edgar Moreau also form a close-knit, well-balanced chamber duo, playing with passion and commitment".


Debussy Centenary 1918-2018 – Vincent Larderet

In celebration of Claude Debussy's Centenary in 2018, the French pianist Vincent Larderet presents a recording of three masterpieces: Images (Book I), Préludes (Book II), and the world premiere recording of André Caplet's transcription of the Symphonic Fragments from Le Martyre de saint Sébastien, revised and completed by Vincent Larderet. Following three highly acclaimed recordings that won 23 awards worldwide and were nominated for the prestigious ICMA Award, ARS Produktion presents an 80-minute album by a pianist whose interpretations have been compared to legends of the piano such as Michelangeli, Arrau and Zimerman and who was praised for his "astonishing range of pianistic colours" (PIANO News, Germany). Mr. Larderet is the Artistic Director of the Piano au Musee Wurth international festival in France, and in 2014 was appointed "Honorable International Artist-In-Residence" of the Hong Kong Music and Performing School.


Béla Bartók – Concerto for Orchestra, & Piano Concerto No.3 – Javier Perianes, piano – Münchner Philharmoniker, Pablo Heras-Casado

Neither the disillusionment that set in after his exile to the United States nor his declining health stopped Bartók from fulfilling his commission for the Concerto for Orchestra nor from writing the Third Piano Concerto, his final work, intended to secure his wife's future. Hence his gloomy circumstances led to two masterpieces (and gained him a long-awaited American reputation). They are magnificently served here by Javier Perianes and the musicians of the Münchner Philharmoniker under the direction of Pablo Heras-Casado.

* Alexandros Arvanitakis is owner and blog editor of "Faces of Classical Music"

More photos

See also

The Faces of Classical Music Choose the 20 Best Albums of 2019

The Best Classical Albums of 2018 – By Zev Kane for WQXR

Christmas with the Faces of Classical Music

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