Quarterly Critic’s Choice

The best and most interesting new releases of the previous three months are awarded a place on the Quarterly Critic’s Choice. Evaluation criteria are artistic quality, repertoire value, presentation, and sound quality. From 2014 onward, the Long Lists are stored directly with each Quarterly Critic’s Choice.

Quarterly Critic’s Choice

Orchestral Music & Concertos

Mahler: Symphony No. 6

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 6. Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Simon Rattle. BR Klassik 900217 (Naxos)

Simon Rattle’s fourth recording of the Sixth Symphony is undoubtedly the culmination of his many years of Mahler interpretation. With fervent intensity and passion, he has made a benchmark recording of this »feral, wildly extroverted« symphony, a work of tragedy and conflict, full of dramatic outbursts and a vast spectrum of colours. The BR Symphony Orchestra creates a breathtakingly grandiose aural landscape, with the support of excellent sound engineering. For the jury: Peter Stieber

Orchestral Music & Concertos

Stravinsky, Bartók, Martinů: Works for Violin & Orchestra

Igor Stravinsky: Violin Concerto in D, Béla Bartók: Rhapsodies No. 1 & 2, Bohuslav Martinů: Suite concertante, Méditation. Frank Peter Zimmermann, Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, Jakub Hrůša. SACD, BIS Records BIS-2657 (Klassik Center)

Rarely has Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto been heard with so much verve and rhythmic concision, yet also with such a beautiful sound as in this recording. The folkloristic idiom of Béla Bartók’s Violin Rhapsodies is no less captivating. Frank Peter Zimmermann has already demonstrated his special affinity for the music of Bohuslav Martinů in a recording of the two violin concertos with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and Jakub Hrůša. Their interpretation of the little-known Suite concertante is also a blazing plea for this still-underrepresented composer. For the jury: Norbert Hornig

Chamber Music

Grieg, Smetana: String Quartets

Edvard Grieg: String Quartet No. 1 op. 27, Bedřich Smetana: String Quartet No. 1 »From My Life«. Quatuor Modigliani. Mirare MIR682 (harmonia mundi/Bertus)

Perhaps it takes interpreters like the Quatuor Modigliani to fully grasp the significance of Grieg’s String Quartet in G minor. The work is unjustly neglected by today’s concert programmers. In this fantastic recording, the work is highly-strung, played with emotional intensity and scorching passion. The four French musicians colour their sound with extraordinarily subtlety, making the listening experience even more pleasurable. The depths of Smetana’s quartet in E minor, »From My Life,« are plumbed with just as much fervour; it is a meeting of minds. For the jury: Bernhard Hartmann

Chamber Music

»Take 3«

Works for violin, clarinet & piano by Francis Poulenc, Paul Schoenfield, Béla Bartók, Șerban Nichifor. Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Reto Bieri, Polina Leschenko. Alpha Classics ALPHA 772 (Naxos)

Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Reto Bieri and Polina Leschenko take us on a journey into their memories in search of dirty sounds and grinding rhythms. »Take 3« is an encounter. On the one hand, of three excellent, unconventional musicians. On the other, of three composers who waltz on a tightrope between humour and hopelessness. This recording is entertaining and moving from the very first note. It has character, and permits a view of the world through the indecision, the hesitation, the courage of the music. Three chairs; that’s all you need. For the jury: Ida Hermes

Keyboard Music

Hamelin: Works for piano

Marc-André Hamelin: Paganini Variations, Barcarolle, Pavane variée, Chaconne, Toccata on L’homme armé, Suite à l’ancienne, Variation diabellique sur des thèmes de Beethoven, My feelings about chocolate, Meditation on Laura. Marc-André Hamelin. Hyperion CDA68308 (Note 1)

Marc-André Hamelin, super virtuoso and pianist/ composer, has worked his way through the well-known and lesser-known piano repertoire with encyclopaedic precision. As if that were not enough, he now also tackles it with compositional ease. Hamelin fills baroque genres with new content, expanding the boundaries of tonality without abandoning them. His Paganini Variations provide intellectual pleasure, and rank alongside those of noteworthy predecessors. And shrinking Beethoven’s enormous Diabelli Variations down to a miniature? That gives us a glimpse Hamelin’s sense of humour. For the jury: Gregor Willmes

Keyboard Music

Sherwood: Organ works

Kevin Bowyer. Sonus Eterna 37423 (JPC)

Gordon Sherwood is one of the great solitaires of music history. His oeuvre stands alone between all styles and conventions, even though there are some points of connection. Nowhere is this more evident than in his organ works. His admiration for Bach is clearly audible, but what British organist Kevin Bowyer has captured on this CD is typical Sherwood. When it comes to bringing the rare, the curious, the off-the-beaten-track out of obscurity, Bowyer is once again the right man for the job. He, too, is a solitaire, enriching the organ world enormously with extraordinary recordings like this one. For the jury: Guido Krawinkel


Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre: Céphale et Procris

Ema Nikolovska, Déborah Cachet, Lore Binon, Gwendoline Blondeel, Marc Mauillon, Lisandro Abadie, Samuel Namotte, Chœur de Chambre de Namur, a nocte temporis, Reinoud van Mechelen. 2 CDs, Château de Versailles Spectacles CVS119 (Naxos)

Once again, the work of an unjustly neglected composer has been brought to light. Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre (1665-1729), who won the Sun King’s favour on the harpsichord at the age of five, was the first woman to gain admission to the exclusive Académie royale de musique with a tragédie lyrique. First performed in 1694, Céphale et Procris follows the formal style established by Lully, but de La Guerre also had the courage to adopt her own fresh, personal tone. This well-rounded recording beautifully showcases the qualities of a work well worth rediscovering. For the jury: Max Nyffeler


Louise Bertin: Fausto

Karine Deshayes, Karina Gauvin, Ante Jerkunica, Nico Darmanin, Marie Gautrot, Diana Axentil, Thibault de Damas, Les Talens Lyriques, Flemish Radio Choir, Christophe Rousset. 2 CDs, Bru Zane BZ 1054 (Naxos)

Louise Bertin (1805-1877) composed the first-ever opera based on the Faust story to her own libretto. The work was premièred in Paris in 1831, the same year as Giacomo Meyerbeer’s »Robert le Diable«, which Bertin’s work strongly resembles in its Italian-French hybrid style and its fantastical nature. Christophe Rousset conducts this first recording of the work with the original-instrument orchestra Les Talens Lyriques. Karine Deshayes sings the leading role, conceived for mezzo-soprano. Anyone who hears the work will agree: The fact that Bertin gave up composing operas soon afterwards is a loss to music history. For the jury: Robert Braunmüller

Choral Music


Works by Jacobus Clemens non Papa, Orlando di Lasso, Thomas Morley, William Byrd, Carlo Gesualdo, Johannes Brahms, Max Reger, Stefan Heucke and others. Cologne Vocal Soloists. Genuin Classics GEN 24857 (Note 1)

The title of the CD, and with it the idea of an a cappella programme based around the four elements, might seem a little arbitrary, but the artistry of the Cologne Vocal Soloists is sublime. In »Elements«, the sextet (with two sopranos) celebrates the high art of giving and taking, as well as the fine blending of voices – and demonstrates impressive stylistic flexibility in works from the 16th to the 21st century. For the jury: Susanne Benda

Lieder and Vocal Recital


Orchestral songs by Hector Berlioz, Henri Duparc, Charles Koechlin, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Benjamin Britten. Sandrine Piau, Orchestre Victor Hugo, Jean-François Verdier. Alpha Classics ALPHA 1019 (Naxos)

The Orchestre Victor Hugo and Jean-François Verdier’s first encounter with songs by Zemlinsky, Berg and Strauss in 2021 was already a dark-to-light, shimmering triumph. Now soprano Sandrine Piau follows up with gems from the workshop of Berlioz, Debussy, Duparc, Ravel, Koechlin and the 14-year-old Britten, a fan of Hugo and Verlaine. »Reflet« is a Francophone echo of the German-language previous album, characterised by colourful brilliance and playful reflection. It is a statement of beguiling elegance, perfectly tempered, animated by inner maturity, free breath and a seventh sense of sound, built on a foundation of experience. For the jury: Albrecht Thiemann

Early Music

»Lost Majesty«

George Jeffreys: Sacred Songs and Anthems. Solomon’s Knot. 2 CDs, Prospero PROSP0086 (Note 1)

Like no other composer of his time, George Jeffreys (ca. 1610 to 1685) championed the establishment of the »seconda prattica« in England, expressed in extravagant melodic arcs and expressive dissonances. These sacred anthems and motets also show him to be an important link between Byrd and Purcell. »Lost Majesty«, a passionate, thoroughly convincing plea for this forgotten composer, is sung with somewhat more vibrato and a more individualised timbre than we have come to expect from English vocal ensembles. However, this seems to suit the Italian madrigal tradition upon which Jeffreys draws. For the jury: Matthias Hengelbrock

Contemporary Classical Music

Harry Vogt, Martina Seeber (ed.): Radio Cologne Sound

The Studio for Electronic Music of the WDR. Works by Karlheinz Stockhausen, Iannis Xenakis, Marco Stroppa, Youngi Pagh-Paan, Nicolaus A. Huber, York Höller and others. Book with 5 CDs, Wolke Verlag ISBN 978-3-95593-259-6

An epic success story: 288 pages and 28 original recordings portray the legendary WDR electronics studio in Cologne, the first of its kind, from its foundation in 1951 to the turn of the millennium. The technology may be outdated, but the value of the results is not. Music history was written here. Although the studio’s survival is basically assured, it is still not clear where in Cologne it will be able to continue, nor exactly how. This edition is therefore politically timely. It is also an impressive documentation of the outstanding importance of public broadcasting for the development of music culture. For the jury: Marco Frei

Historical Recordings

Edward Power Biggs

plays Historic Organs of Europe (Columbia Recordings 1961-1970). Edward Power Biggs. 6 CDs, Sony Classical 19658826772

Eine Orgelreise durch Europa auf sechs LPs – in den 1960er-Jahren war das weitgehend Neuland, vor allem mit der Konzentration auf die Orgelmusik bis Bach, Telemann oder Dandrieu. Gerade die kleinen, wenig bekannten Instrumente in der Schweiz, Spanien, Italien, Frankreich, England, den Niederlanden und Norddeutschland erkundet Edward Power Biggs liebevoll, in sorgfältig zusammengestellten Programmen, die nun mit großer Sorgfalt für die CD-Veröffentlichung aufgearbeitet worden sind und liebevoll ausgestattet präsentiert werden. For the jury: Jürgen Schaarwächter

Crossover Productions

Adam Bałdych & Leszek Możdżer: Passacaglia

ACT 9057-2 (Edel)

On their first, long-awaited duo album, violinist Adam Bałdych and pianist Leszek Możdżer roam through European soundscapes with virtuosity and verve. Among the most prominent jazz musicians in Poland, both have a background in classical tradition and strive for contemporary expression. They achieve this here through their own pieces and improvisations, inspired by traditional formal models, as well as through compositions from past eras, which they illuminate with an intriguingly new sound. For the jury: Bert Noglik

Film Music

Jerskin Fendrix: Poor Things

(Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) Digital, Hollywood Records G010005154486V (Sony)

The young songwriter and musician Jerskin Fendrix’s his first score for a major film is a stroke of genius. Director Giorgos Lanthimos was so convinced by his style that, for the first time, he broke with his principle of using a soundtrack from existing classical music. Fendrix’s experimentation is courageous, and his music closely echoes the style and content of Lanthimos’ images. Instruments are alienated and pitches bent. Bella, the film’s protagonist, is reanimated through experimental surgery; Fendrix’s sounds, too, seem to have been vivisected. For the jury: Malte Hemmerich

Music Film

The Greatest Night In Pop

Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Harry Belafonte, Diana Ross, Tina Turner and others, directed by Bao Nguyen. Stream, Netflix 81720500

In 1985, the world’s leading pop stars came together for a spectacular charity project. They recorded »We are the world«, composed by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson. The 46 very individual artists became a collective for the project. In just one night, the participants gave their best. Lionel Richie and Quincy Jones held the team together admirably, encouraging the artists and strengthening their motivation. This film captures the spirit, the drive and the humanitarian power of the ensemble. A rousing lesson about the integrative and solidary power of music. For the jury: Helge Grünewald

Artwork © Netflix / The Greatest Night in Pop


Yes! Trio: Spring Sings

Jazz&People JPCD824001 (harmonia mundi/Bertus)

For three decades, these three musicians have been playing jazz together as a small unit. There are a great many jazz trios, but the Yes! Trio stands out from the crowd with its respect for jazz tradition, especially bebop, and its love of swing, bringing together different musical backgrounds in a marvellous way. The trio plays compositions by drummer Ali Jackson and pianist Aaron Goldberg, grouped around two standards by Cy Coleman and Irving Berlin. This evocation of tradition is carried on a marvellous collective breath. For the jury: Lothar Jänichen


Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh, Tyshawn Sorey: Compassion

ECM Records 2760 (Universal)

This recording brings them together for the first time: American pianist Vijay Iyer, bass-player Linda May Han Oh, and percussionist Tyshawn Sorey. And with what exuberance they swarm, wrestle, and generate friction together – their communication seems almost telepathic. The trio moves powerfully, with remarkable elasticity and a certain crispness through compositions full of odd metres. Vijay Iyer himself comments that the pieces convey »the feeling of unease or fear. It’s a mood,« he says, »a tone that lies over everything. There is a lot of thoughtfulness and angularity on the album, but also much tenderness.« For the jury: Guenter Hottmann

World Music

Lina: Fado Camões

CD/LP, Galileo Music Communication GMC106 (Galileo)

Fado singer and composer Lina has chosen verses by Portuguese national poet Luís Vaz de Camões for her new album »Fado Camões«. De Camões’ epic 16th century poem »Lusíadas« is a kind of Portugese Odyssey. His sonnets and poems have the structure of a classic fado melody. In this album, Lina has brought together the literary and musical traditions of Portugal and moulded them into a common, contemporary form. The English guitarist and producer Justin Adams ensures an up-to-date sound with his transparent, restrained instrumentation. For the jury: Jodok W. Kobelt

Traditional Ethnic Music

Aga Khan Master Musicians: Nowruz

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings SFW40497 (Galileo)

Since 2013, the Aga Khan Master Musicians have been playing the music of the Middle East in an unusual line-up: with pipa, saxophone, kanun, dotar, frame drum, viola d’amore and a hybrid of clarinet and duduk. And the musicians, including celebrities such as Wu Man, know the boundaries between traditional oriental soundscapes, jazz and western classical music; they cross them purposefully but gently. The sound of the viola, rich in overtones, delights alongside the sparkling kanun; the melismatic saxophone shimmers, and at the end of the recording, the ensemble unites for the eponymous New Year’s celebration. Refined and rich in nuance. For the jury: Stefan Franzen

German language Singer/Songwriters

Stoppok: Teufelsküche

Glitterhouse Records 4015698958508 (Indigo)

For some time now, those who don’t know Stoppok’s folksy vocals and tough band sound have been considered to have a gap in their education. His catchy lyrics are also always memorable, even when the folk-rock-R&B ace quotes the 1950 pop schmalz »Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück« (»In the waiting room for great happiness«), or when he casually interpolates »Da Da Da« into »Vom Tod kein Wort« (»No mention of death«). Timelessly weird songs like »Klugscheißeralarm« are part of Stoppok’s epic repertoire anyway. Furthermore, the Bavarian-by-choice remains collegial – this year, Alin Coen, Cäthe, Olli Schulz, Fortuna Ehrenfeld and others are the guests in the purgatory of Stefan Stoppok’s 11-star »Teufelsküche«. For the jury: Jochen Arlt

Folk and Singer/Songwriters

Rant: Spin

CD/Digital, Make Believe Records MBR 12CD (direct distribution)

The facts: Four distinguished Scottish fiddlers who have been playing together for ten years have now released their fourth CD, featuring tunes that inspired them in their youth. But it’s not just about playing the tunes, or even about particularly clever arrangements, although Rant’s members have perfectly mastered this art. They wanted to find what they describe as »that brief moment that gave us butterflies in our stomachs when we heard the songs for the first time.« And they have succeeded. Varied and imaginative, easy and relaxed, yet also complex – this is fiddle music at its best! For the jury: Mike Kamp


Vera Sola: Peacemaker

City Slang SLANG50552 (Rough Trade)

It is an event in itself when a new female artist does not orientate herself on current models of success. Her debut »Shades« arrived through the »Bandcamp« platform, and her second album »Peacemaker« via »City Slang«. Vera Sola, daughter of actor Dan Aykroyd, presents personal, refined, atmospheric and darkly dramatic revenge songs with a band of superlatives; Elvis Perkins and Anthony Da Costa are also distinguished songwriters. Craft and inspiration are combined in a delicate and powerful manner, but the album also exudes emotional vulnerability. »File under rock«? The music of Vera Sola transcends that. For the jury: Christine Heise

Hard and Heavy

Chapel Of Disease: Echoes Of Light

CD/LP/Digital, Ván Records VAN 379 (Soulfood)

Even though they were good, on their debut album »Summoning Black Gods« from 2012, Chapel Of Disease were merely a death metal band. Today, twelve years later, they are so much more. On »Echoes Of Light«, the Cologne-based band does not negate its own past, but they help themselves to both left and right, below and above. Interweaving goth rock coolness with warm, progressive rock sounds in the spirit of the seventies, they evoke the darknesas of the most sophisticated black metal colleagues, and just moments later play themselves back into the light. Because if hope dies, at least it dies last. For the jury: Boris Kaiser


Marika Hackman: Big Sigh

CD/LP, Chrysalis Records BRVC 106 (Cargo)

In their most intense moments, Marika Hackman’s songs tell of silent and passionate resistance to the world and to lonliness. But the Brit is not alone. She can accompany herself with classical guitar pop, and she belongs to a group of younger female musicians (like Adrienne Lenker, like the German Katharina Kollmann alias Nichtseattle) who create songs like sketches which gradually reveal the image of this world in which we live and love in all its grandeur. »Big Sigh« is Hackman’s fifth album. To call it the best would be to commit an injustice against the four that preceded it. For the jury: Tobias Rüther

Club and Dance

Seven Davis Jr.: Stranger Than Fiction

Digital, Secret Angels SAR007 (direct distribution)

When in doubt, choose house. Producer Seven Davis Jr. has always relied on the rules of the genre, with a programmed quadruple bass drum and the hiss of hi-hats in between. But since a formula alone cannot bring happiness, he approaches the necessary subtleties with the requisite messiness. This can be a slightly delayed cymbal hit, a beat that bounces like a bumblebee, or an organ that seems to be out of control. He emphasises the affinity to soul through his vocals, as if to dispel any prejudices about »cold« machine music. The result is an infectious celebration of life. For the jury: Tim Caspar Boehme

Electronic and Experimental

Jan Bang: Reading The Air

CD/LP/Digital, Jazzland Recordings 3779473 (Edel)

Think of it as »Nordic Americana«: the bell of a wooden church in the snow, muffled drums, a lightly plucked guitar, bubbling electronic structures, and – always – the voice and keyboard instruments of Jan Bang. All of this blends into a floating, tastefully-balanced electronic crossover. Also on board are long-term partners like guitarist Eivind Aarset, trumpeter Arve Henriksen and sound producer Erik Honoré. Is this jazz? Is it chamber pop mixed with music of the spheres? In any case, this album rests in a contemplative space, with meditations on loss and transience, yet full of hope and reconciliation. For the jury: Olaf Maikopf

Blues and Blues-related

JJ Grey & Mofro: Olustee

CD/LP, Alligator Records AL 5018 (Bertus)

Few other US bands today cover the musical facets of the South with as much authenticity and elegance as this one. The horizon reaches from passionate singing with gospel-like fervour to dry-as-dust coolness, riff-oriented Southern rock, heated swamp funk and Memphis soul. The blues hover above it all. Everything is allowed, even the unusual: strings, orchestral parts, a trumpet solo. The range is vast. In the end, however, the eleven small masterpieces miraculously come together to form one big one. Olustee is the band’s tenth album; their most diverse to date, and probably also their best. For the jury: Karl Leitner

R&B, Soul and Hip-Hop

The Color Purple

(Music From And Inspired By). Halle Bailey, Phylicia Pearl Mpasi, Corey Hawkins, Danielle Brooks, Fantasia Barrino, Alicia Keys and others, The Color Purple Ensemble. Digital/2CDs/3LPs, Watertower Music 39156702 (Rough Trade)

Soundtracks are often just haphazard bundles of songs, lovelessly assembled – with the nutritional value of a giant box of popcorn. This 37-song longplay is the profound exception, with an immediate place in the team of classic cinema companions like »Shaft«, »Purple Rain«, »Super Fly«, »Beat Street« and »Black Panther«: 18 tracks interpreted by the acting ensemble of the cinematic remake, supplemented by 19 tracks »inspired by« the original – created at the place where R&B, soul and contemporary gospel respectfully meet. Despite its length, there’s no tedium; just great cinema. For the jury: Torsten Fuchs

Spoken Word

Maxi Obexer: In the eye of the storm

The Capitol on 6 January 2021. Radio play. With Sabrina Ceesay, Claudius Steffens, Victoria Trauttmansdorff, Hans Gerd Kilbinger, Glenn Goltz, Enno Kalisch, Friederike Linke, Mi Hae Lee, directed by Gerrit Booms. Stream, WDR

The subject of Maxi Obexer’s documentary radio play is the storming of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on 6 January 2021 by supporters of the out-voted American President Donald Trump. Based on original sound recordings from inside the Capitol, Obexer’s radio play makes the battle for American democracy audible as a linguistic confrontation. In their speeches and statements, representatives reflect on the foundations of the democratic process, while at the same time giving a practical demonstration of the power of the word in times of crisis. For the jury: Michael Grote

Recordings for Children and Youth

Klaus-Peter Wolf: Really now?

Felix and real life. Hanno Koffler. mp3-CD, Argon Hörbuch ISBN 978-3-8398-4319-2 (Argon Verlag)

Best-known as the author of the Ostfriesland crime novels, Klaus-Peter Wolf also writes books for children and young people. »Really now? – Felix und das wahre Leben« tells the story of Felix, who lives alternately with his separated parents. His mother is well-organised, while his father is a chaotic, unsuccessful musician. And Felix interferes, especially with his father. A love message texted to a wrong number causes trouble – and Felix claims it’s from him! He copes with the ensuing turbulence with ingenuity and humour. Wonderfully read by Hanno Koffler, this audiobook is fun – not only for young readers. For the jury: Margit Hähner