I receive more than a few classical CDs every year — more than I could ever hope to adequately praise or pan — so an end-of-the-year listing is a great way for me to play catch-up. And for all loyal Loaf readers, particularly those of you engaged in the religious ceremony of exchanging holiday gifts, you can now skip merrily to the bottom line. Without any specious pontificating on the plights of classical music and the recording industry, here are my best for 2011:
Brahms: Haydn Variations, Rhapsodies, Piano Pieces — Murray Perahia (Sony) — After cementing his reputation in the Mozart concertos, Perahia’s voice has darkened over the years as he traversed the Beethoven concertos and began exploring the piano’s solo repertoire more intently. He seems to reach these Brahms pieces at the perfect moment, his phrasing as natural and right as ever, the touch still light and sensitive, delving effortlessly into the music’s fullest depths.
Copland: Quiet City — Christopher Brellochs and Paul Cohen, saxophones (Sono Luminus) — I’ve probably played this recording more often, with more pleasure, than any other classical or jazz recording I’ve acquired over the last year. Truth is, the music bridges the borderline between classical and jazz with its modern, syncopated rhythms and its emphasis on the sax. Brellochs plays an ultra-smooth alto sax on a world premiere of Aaron Copland’s Quiet City in its original quartet version. Cohen, who actually unearthed the Copland manuscript, plays alto on Leo Ornstein’s Ballade, tenor on Walter S. Hartley’s Lyric Suite, and soprano on Lawson Lunde’s Sonata for Soprano Saxophone and Piano — all of these recorded for the first time. Brellochs appears with his alto on all the lengthiest premieres, including Robert Aldridge’s Sound Moves Blues, Seymour Barab’s Suite for Trumpet, Alto Saxophone and Piano, and the Copland. Donald Batchelder on trumpet, Mitchell Kriegler on clarinets, and Allison Brewster Franzetti at the keyboard are the other notable contributors to this tasty chamber music feast.
Bach: Concertos and Sinfonias for Oboe — Camerata Bern/Heinz Holliger (ECM) — Nonpareil oboist Holliger appears to be getting a second wind with his double reed of choice after slackening off on his instrumental recording in favor of his other gifts, composing and conducting. This new recording, on a label that has staunchly supported Holliger’s own compositions, shows us that the master isn’t even slightly rusty in his early seventies. On this bankable baroque repertoire, Holliger repays his supporters with wonderful readings, on oboe and oboe d’amore, of three concertos, supplemented by sinfonias plucked from two cantatas and the Easter Oratorio. Robust orchestral support from Camerata Bern, beautifully recorded.
Chopin Recital — Anne-Marie McDermott, piano (Bridge) — Anyone who has enjoyed McDermott’s lively performances at the lunchtime chamber music series at Spoleto Festival USA will no doubt be interested in giving this solo recording a listen. It’s a pretty nifty traversal of Chopin’s pianistic soundworld, offering a Barcarolle, seven Mazurkas, a Berceuse, a Ballade, and two Nocturnes before concluding with three opus 64 Waltzes. The sparkle and the enthusiasm are unmistakable, with a dreamy lyricism drenching the Nocturnes, and no want of authority in the Barcarolle and the Ballade No. 1.
Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem — Seraphic Fire (SFM) — It was a good year for Scott Allen Jarrett, the former director of Oratorio Singers newly promoted to the title of Charlotte Symphony’s Director of Choruses & Assistant Conductor. Somehow, I suspect Jarrett’s elevation may have been connected to his presence on this Grammy-nominated recording. You’ll be surprised to hear that he doesn’t lead the gorgeous Seraphic Fire chorus or the Professional Choral Institute (a joint venture of Seraphic and the University of South Florida). No, he’s on the album cover as one of the two piano accompanists in this very fresh “parlor” version of the more massive orchestral work of 1869. Although the English translation originally sung with this four-hand piano reduction has been lost, the arrangement is genuine Brahms — and a genuine revelation, ideally suited to home listening.