The Chicago Tribune's John von Rhein rounds up his top 10 classical recordings from the past year. A recording by Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony makes the list.
It was another banner year for classical recordings. Of the new issues I returned to again and again these past months, here are 10 that I found both exceptional and important:
1. Wagner: “Der Ring des Nibelungen.” Soloists; Orchestra and Chorus of la Comunitat Valenciana, Zubin Mehta, conductor (C Major, DVD and Blu-ray). The 2007-09 production comes as close as any in recent memory to realizing Wagner’s ideal of Gesamtkunstwerk (total art work) in its fusion of video technology, lighting, sets and musical performance.
2. Szymanowski: Symphony No. 3 (“Song of the Night”), Violin Concerto No. 1. Vienna Philharmonic, Pierre Boulez, conductor; Christian Tetzlaff, violin (DG). Boulez’s first recording of Polish impressionist Karol Szymanowski’s music gets inside its bejeweled fantasy with stunning acuity.
3. Verdi: Requiem. Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Riccardo Muti, conductor (CSO Resound). The CSO music director has the full measure of Verdi’s great “ecclesiastical opera,” while the recording captures the intensity, immediacy and blazing conviction he drew from the Chicago forces.
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4. Bruckner: Symphony No. 8. Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Rafael Kubelik, conductor (BR Klassik). This live account of Bruckner’s greatest symphonic monument, from May 1977, is an eloquent tribute to the art of a beloved former Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director.
5. “Colbran, the Muse.” Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano (Virgin Classics). Today’s reigning Rossini singer inhabits his tragic heroines with a technical brilliance and deep musical and dramatic understanding worthy of the legendary Spanish diva Maria Colbran, for whom the arias were composed.
6. Hamelin: Études. Marc-André Hamelin, piano (Hyperion). The French Canadian virtuoso makes the knuckle-busting bravura of his witty and charming piano pieces sound like child’s play.
7. Shostakovich: Symphony No. 8. Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Vasily Petrenko, conductor (Naxos). The young Russian maestro achieves a deeply personal identification with the bitter intensity and weary desolation that pervade this wartime masterpiece from 1943.
8. “Argerich Plays Chopin.” Martha Argerich, piano (DG). Among the discs heralding the Chopin bicentennial, none got my pulse racing faster than these hitherto-unpublished recordings the then-young Argentine pianist made for German radio in 1959 and 1967.
9. Schuman: Symphony No. 8. Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz, conductor (Naxos). The conductor’s survey of the published symphonies of William Schuman concludes triumphantly with this brooding and powerful work.
10. “Pierre Boulez and the Lucerne Festival Academy: Inheriting the Future of Music” (EuroArts, DVD). This documentary offers extraordinary insights into Boulez not only as composer and conductor but also as educator, as he works with the gifted young instrumentalists who gather in Lucerne, Switzerland, each summer to learn and perform the most challenging 20th- and 21st-century music under his direction. With 70 minutes of bonus concert material.