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

Walter Braunfels / Gregor Bühl

Walter Braunfels: Prelude from »Don Gil von den grünen Hosen«, op.35; Divertimento op.42; Serenade op.20, Ariel’s Song op.18. ORF Radio Symphonie Orchester Wien, Gregor Bühl. Capriccio C5429 (Naxos)

The Capriccio label has already dedicated eight CDs to the highly gifted composer Walter Braunfels, who was very successful in the twenties and was later defamed and silenced as a half-Jew. This latest production with smaller, differently cast instrumental works shows him to be a wanderer between musical worlds: A range of styles characterizes his work. A brilliant example is the Divertimento for radio orchestra from 1929 in a small cast with five stylistically contrasting movements. Gregor Bühl, an excellent Braunfels connoisseur, and the RSO Vienna play the fabulously orchestrated works beautifully, flexibly, and with utmost precision. For the jury: Peter Stieber

Orchestral Music & Concertos

Mozart Momentum 1785

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concertos KV 466, 467, 482; Piano Quartet KV 478; Fantasia in C minor KV 475; Masonic Funeral Music KV 477 (479a). Leif Ove Andsnes, Matthew Truscott, Joel Hunter, Frank-Michael Guthmann, Mahler Chamber Orchestra. 2 CDs, Sony Classical 19439742462

The syncopated, urgent heartbeat with which the Mahler Chamber Orchestra spans the gloomy beginning of the first movement of Mozart’s D minor Concerto KV 466 indicates the technical qualities of this world-class orchestra in terms of spectacle, nuance, and articulation. At all desks sit aware and ready, sound-sensitive musicians who in interplay with pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, perform unrivaled chamber music. Apart from the audible joy of playing, there are also beautiful moments of flowing breath between the soloist and the orchestra in the slow movement of KV 467. Great love for Mozart! For the jury: Jörg Lengersdorf

Chamber Music

Augustin Hadelich – Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach: Sonatas & Partitas for Violin solo BWV 1001-1006. Augustin Hadelich. 2 CD, Warner Classics 0190295048747

Augustin Hadelich felt that playing Bach with the baroque bow was a »liberation«. But the listener also feels liberated. Because Hadelich’s interpretation of the solo sonatas and partitas begins where questions of technical perfection and style disappear behind a new ideal of expression: the emotional imagination. With the wonderful sound of his Guarneri violin, Hadelich discovers entire scenes, even dramas, in the individual movements, culminating in the »life story« of the Chaconne. No one else at the moment is more of a visionary. For the jury: Lotte Thaler

Chamber Music

Sophie Dervaux – Impressions

Camille Saint-Saëns: Sonata for Bassoon and Piano op.168; Charles Koechlin: Sonata op.71; Maurice Ravel: Pièce en forme d’habanera; Claude Debussy: Clair de lune, Beau Soir; Reynaldo Hahn: À Chloris; Gabriel Fauré: Après un rêve, Henri Dutilleux: Sarabande et cortège; Roger Boutry: Interférences. Sophie Dervaux, Sélim Mazari. Berlin Classics 0301708BC (Edel)

From the first note on the bassoon, the way to an ancient dream is revealed, to a vision that only a sound like this can uncover: imperceptibly as a third filling the pianos E minor, tenderly expanding, blossoming, warming. The way Sophie Dervaux plays the sonata by the eighty-five-year-old Camille Saint-Saëns brings tears to your eyes. And not just the sonata. The ice of cerebral prejudices (for instance, the bassoon as burlesque, the tonality regressive after 1918, editing a violation of the original text) melts away at breakneck speed, while a continuum of French musical thought from 1890 to 1972 flows and shines in tones that touch the heart and mind. For the jury: Volker Hagedorn

Keyboard Music

Bach Nostalghia – Francesco Piemontesi

Johann Sebastian Bach: Italian Concerto BWV 971; Ferrucio Busoni: Toccata K287; Bach/Busoni: Prelude & Fugue BWV552; Choral Preludes BWV645 & 659; Bach/Schnaus: Choral Prelude BWV 650; Bach/Kempff: Flute Sonata BWV 1031. Francesco Piemontesi. Pentatone PTC 5186 846 (Naxos)

Bach adaptions have always been fashionable. With his new album, the Swiss pianist Francesco Piemontesi takes us back to the great time of the transcriptions of Ferruccio Busoni and Wilhelm Kempff. With astonishing nuances, he develops a rich, authentic sound against the carefully orchestrated background of historically informed performance practice. Piemontesi conjures up organ, orchestral, and when required, even harpsichord sounds out of his grand piano. This »nostalgia« has a future! For the jury: Christian Kröber

Keyboard Music

Jeanne Demessieux: The Decca Legacy

Works by Dietrich Buxtehude, Jeremiah Clarke, Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Friedrich Händel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Charles Widor, César Franck, Franz Liszt, Olivier Messiaen, Edouard Mignan, Jean Berveiller. Ernest Ansermet, Suzanne Danco. 8 CDs, Eloquence/Decca 484 1424 (Klassik Center)

She was already a legend during her lifetime. She set standards on her instrument and had a lasting influence on organ music in the twentieth century as an interpreter, composer, and improviser: Jeanne Demessieux. The brilliant organist had a brilliant career, which came to an abrupt end when she died from cancer in 1968. Nevertheless, her fame lives on, and in this CD box with historical recordings, she receives an excellent and suitable acknowledgment. The edition published on the occasion of Demessieux’s 100th birthday offers a representative cross-section of her still topical and eminent work. For the jury: Guido Krawinkel

Opera

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Così fan tutte

Elsa Dreisig, Marianne Crebassa, Lea Desandre, Bogdan Volkov, André Schuen, Johannes Martin Kränzle, Wiener Philharmoniker, Joana Mallwitz; Stage Direction: Christof Loy. DVD, Erato 0190295050320 (Warner)

In the slightly overgrown segment of DVD operas, it feels good when a recording features vocals of such high quality that it can exist comfortably without a picture. Elsa Dreisig, Marianne Crebassa, or Andrè Schuen are right on that youthful point at which they can thoroughly re-examine Mozart’s psychological chamber play. Joana Mallwitz conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in an aromatic, light, and exemplary manner, focusing on the singers. This production from the corona year 2020 is overwhelming evidence of how big festivals, here the Salzburg Festival, can completely reinvigorate well-known artists – and inspire them to delightfully energized performances. As if you were seeing the piece for the first time. For the jury: Kai Luehrs-Kaiser

Opera

Nikolai Rimski-Korsakow: Snegurotschka

Aida Garifullina, Yuriy Mynenko, Martina Serafin, Maxim Paster, Thomas Johannes Mayer, Elena Manistina, Vladimir Ognovenko, Franz Hawlata, Vasily Gorshkov, Orchestre et Chœurs de l’Opéra National de Paris, Mikhail Tatarnikov; Stage Direction: Dmitry Tcherniakov. DVD/Blu-ray, BelAir classiques BAC186/BAC486 (Naxos)

Moscow’s star director Dmitry Tcherniakov wants to stage a kind of encyclopedia of Russian opera in the West, initially with music theater pieces by Rimsky-Korsakov, forgotten in this country. In 2017, he thrilled the audience in Paris with a sensitive reinterpretation of the »Snow Maiden« – this folklore figure, popular in Russia, is to be placed between a rustic idyll and a thorough psychological study. Mikhail Tatarnikov glazes with an exquisite sound brush. The lyrically nimble Aida Garifullina, all pink innocence in a white swan-down cap, leads an excellent ensemble of singers: a spring sacrifice of a different kind. For the jury: Manuel Brug

Choral Music

Berio To sing

Luciano Berio: Sequenza III; Folk Songs; Cries of London; There is no tune; Michelle II; O King; E si fussi pisci. Lucile Richardot, Les Cris de Paris, Geoffroy Jourdain. harmonia mundi HMM 902647

Cathy Berberian has already done it, and so has Barbara Hannigan. When the mezzo-soprano Lucile Richardot now too sings Berio with her exceptionally dark timbre, performing, among others, Sequence III vocally and theatrically refurbished, then she is proving her enormous stylistic and aesthetic range. Richardot is undoubtedly at the center of this recording, which with »Cries of London« – an acoustic image of the London street vendors – and the intimate folk song adaptation »There is no tune«, also contains worthwhile Berio rarities for the precise and expressive choir Les Contains Cris de Paris. For the jury: Susanne Benda

Lieder and Vocal Recital

Tiranno – Kate Lindsey

Alessandro Scarlatti: Il Nerone; La morte di Nerone; Georg Friedrich Händel: Agrippina condotta a morire HWV 110; Claudio Monteverdi: L’Incoronazione di Poppea; Bartolomeo Monari: La Poppea. Kate Lindsey, Nardus Williams, Andrew Staples, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen. Alpha Classics ALPHA 736 (Note 1)

That the American mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey is well-suited to the figure of Nerone, the scandalous image of the unscrupulous, sensual, power-hungry tyrant, was already evident in her sensational stage performance in Monteverdi’s »Poppea« in Salzburg and Vienna. Here she succeeds in transferring this extraordinary intensity to the sound stage of the CD, technically brilliant, incredibly daring: She is so unfettered. »Tiranno« places Monteverdi’s Nero alongside his baroque revenants and offers discographic premieres with Bartolomeo Monari’s »Poppea« and Alessandro Scarlatti’s »Morte di Nerone«. For the jury: Holger Noltze

Early Music

Heinrich Isaac: Missa Wohlauff

Heinrich Isaac: Missa Wohlauff gut Gsell von hinnen; Josquin Desprez: Comment peult avoir joye; Recordare, Jesu Christe; Quis dabit pacem populo timenti; Sive vivamus, sive moriamur; Parce, Domine, populo tuo; O decus ecclesiae; Judaea et Jerusalem. Cinquecento. Hyperion CDA68337 (Note 1)

Josquin’s chanson »Comment peult avoir joye?« supplied the cantus firmus of Isaac’s six-part »Missa Wohlauff gut Gsell von hinnen«, which offers everything your heart desires in more than forty minutes, from refined counterpoint to smooth vocals leading to representative splendor. The Ensemble Cinquecento, now for the eighth time awarded a spot on the critics’ choice list, puts Isaac on a par with the role model and once again impresses with the analytical clarity, the vocal homogeneity, and the calm, gently moving style of their interpretation. For the jury: Matthias Hengelbrock

Contemporary Classical Music

Enno Poppe: Filz; Stoff; Wald

Tabea Zimmermann, Ensemble Resonanz, Enno Poppe. Wergo WER 7399 2 (Naxos)

Complex glissando structures, microtonal friction, highly differentiated vibrato: the viola concerto »Filz« by Enno Poppe, composed in 2013/14 for Tabea Zimmermann and the Hamburg Ensemble Resonanz, places the highest of demands on the performers. In this premiere recording, a web of tonal sensuality is woven. The great soloist, Siemens Music Prize winner 2020, designs a dramaturgically concise sequence. With »Stoff« and »Wald« too, composed for Ensemble Resonanz, Poppe presents himself as a true string expert. Along the way, it becomes clear how much this arrangement enriches musical life. For the jury: Marco Frei

Historical Recordings

Erich Kleiber – The Complete Polydor 78s (1926-1929)

Works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Gioacchino Rossini, Hector Berlioz, Otto Nicolai, Bedrich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák, Johann Strauss II. Berliner Philharmoniker, Staatskapelle Berlin, Erich Kleiber. 3 CDs, Eloquence/Deutsche Grammophon 484 2049 (Klassik Center)

Measured by his ability and fame, Erich Kleiber left far too few studio documents. Next to the much-praised complete opera recordings by Figaro and Rosenkavalier, there are only a handful of symphonic recordings from the 1950s, with works by Beethoven, Schubert, and Mozart. This edition of the early Polydor records, carefully restored by Mark Obert-Thorn, is all the more important. In addition to Antonín Dvořák’s Ninth and two versions of Smetana’s Moldau, the collection contains many fine treasures, such as the excerpts from Mendelssohn’s »A Midsummer Night’s Dream«. For the jury: Thomas Voigt

Crossover Productions

As An Unperfect Actor

Nine Shakespeare Sonnets. Birgit Minichmayr, Quadro Nuevo, Bernd Lhotzky. CD/LP, ACT 9931-2 (Edel)

Time so far and yet so close: Birgit Minichmayr, known from film and celebrated on the theater stage, follows the trail of William Shakespeare’s enigmatic sonnets. Bernd Lhotzky wrote the compositions for her, which she stages musically together with the Ensemble Quadro Nuevo. Her voice, sometimes inspired by memories of Tom Waits, sometimes almost reverential, leads us through the labyrinth of passions and lets us experience the melancholy of the Elizabethan age as entirely present. For the jury: Bert Noglik

Music Film

Zubin Mehta: Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds

A Film by Bettina Ehrhardt. Gustav Mahler: Kindertotenlieder. Thomas Quasthoff, Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden. DVD, Arthaus Musik 109439

Born in India, raised British, and musically socialized in Europe, Zubin Mehta found his artistic home as music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. He managed to preserve the orchestra’s European sound character and also dared to perform works by Wagner. Historical footage shows these sometimes dramatic events. Mehta, the philanthropist, carries authority without being authoritarian. But he also possesses serenity. Bettina Ehrhardt’s film, less a chronological biography and more of a multi-faceted personality portrait, shows the enthusiasm and joy with which this conductor works, how he seduces orchestra and audience alike. For the jury: Helge Grünewald

Jazz

Sarah Vaughan: Live At The Berlin Philharmonie 1969

2 CD, The Lost Recordings TLR-2004037 (Bertus)

The upheavals in the late sixties also brought unrest to the Berlin Philharmonic. Traditional and modern jazz was suddenly no longer the great opposites to be discussed. Instead: jazz and pop. Amid these discussions, Sarah Vaughan – »the divine« – had her comeback at the Berlin Jazz Days. Booed two years earlier, her two concerts in 1969 became true triumphs. With swing songs and enchanting ballad interpretations from the Great American Songbook in a brilliantly captured concert atmosphere, »Sassy« can be experienced here in very personal statements. For the jury: Lothar Jänichen

Jazz

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

CD/2LP, ECM Records 2692 (Universal)

Uneasy, according to the American pianist Vijay Iyer, is a brutal understatement when it comes to the current situation. But the word also contains the opposite: within the unsettling, the redeeming and the simple are reflected. Out of this tension, Iyer develops highly complex, sensual music that thinks about the conflicts of our time without appearing overly cerebral for even a second. In the confident interaction with the double bass player Linda May Han Oh and the drummer Tyshawn Sorey, the trio format is both broken up and further developed – filled with tradition, pointing to the future. For the jury: Bert Noglik

World Music

Tania Saleh: 10 A.D.

Kirkelig Kulturverksted FXCD 476 (Indigo)

Tania Saleh creates sweet melodies for bitter times. The »A.D.« designates a personal notch on the Lebanese draftsman and songwriter’s lifeline, meaning: »after divorce«. Life as an independent woman in a patriarchal culture is not easy, even under normal circumstances. For a divorced woman, the situation becomes overwhelming. Saleh tells of anger and pain but with hope and self-assured pride. Ten emotional storms, packed in careful acoustic accompaniment with cleverly placed electronic accents. For the jury: Jodok W. Kobelt

Traditional Ethnic Music

Misagh Joolaee: Unknown Nearness

Pilgrims of Sound 4260187722447 (directly sales)

The abundance of vibrant treasures that can be coaxed from this inconspicuous string instrument is hard to believe! Amazed bewilderment grows from track to track, even for ears that experience Iranian sounds for the first time. It is only this uniquely treated Kamancheh that develops an intimate, unknown closeness – as if the music was recreated from its fundamental elements. A touch of a thousand and one nights, a micro-world of intonation, shades, and subtle bowing techniques: this journey between evening and morning, conjuring up old masters like Paco de Lucia and Parviz Meshkatian, is made real by a magician named Misagh Joolaee. For the jury: Jan Reichow

German language Singer/Songwriters

Dota: Wir rufen dich, Galaktika

2CD/2LP, Kleingeldprinzessin Records 03436 (Broken Silence)

As a street musician in Berlin, Dota Kehr was the princess of change and is now often referred to as the »indie queen«. She is the frontwoman of the band Dota, recently with a real bassist. With Galaktika, the purple fairy from »Hallo Spencer« is informing the album name. »The idea is tempting, that you could call a secular angel-like Galaktika when you’ve maneuvered yourself into hopeless situations,« says Dota. In her clever texts, she pokes fun at the blooming gendering, sometimes takes the blame for everything, including shopping and eating, and has a love-hate relationship with »this machine, so that the algorithm may also serve me.« Extraordinary. For the jury: Petra Schwarz

Folk and Singer/Songwriters

Tworna

Caterina Other, Jessica Jäckel, Frieder Zimmermann. Löwenzahn Verlag HD 20204 (Galileo)

German folk, positioned between pop and world music, played by an ethereal, delicate interacting trio: a debut CD. Tworna brings old German folk and dance songs into the here and now, always sublime and clever. Their hallmark is their extraordinary instruments: nyckelharpa, waldzither, guitar in New Standard Tuning, fretless bass, and all manners of percussion, from string drums to frame drums. Virtuoso instrumentalists are at work there, with percussive finesse and sensitive vocals. With playful energy and sensuality, they tell old stories anew and make the beautiful simplicity of their melodies shine. For the jury: Jo Meyer

Pop

Japanese Breakfast: Jubilee

CD/LP, Dead Oceans DOC225 (Cargo)

Japanese Breakfast is the project of the American-Korean musician and author Michelle Zauner. On »Jubilee«, she developed the dream-pop of the two previous albums in the direction of clearly structured and electronically oriented song formats. The album initially offers cheering pop enriched by horns and vibrant, visionary vocals. The second part seems more melancholy: ballads reveal exhaustion. Zauner processes personal crises, such as the death of her mother, in a universally touching form. In this way, she gives an insight into her personality and expresses trepidation as well as dedication. For the jury: Philipp Holstein

Rock

Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg

CD/LP, 4AD 4AD0254 (Indigo)

Every now and then, rock musicians manage to uncover a new side of the genre. Dry Cleaning come from the south of London, and they tie in with innovative bands such as Wire, Fontaines DC, or Portishead: in the rhythmic passages, you hear a touch of New Order. The quartet’s singer, Florence Shaw, captivates with urban situation poetry – her style consists of clever observations and irritations. Producer John Parish adds his knowledge of powerful performances and unusual sounds, he lets the band perform with their guitar moves and bass lines as if behind a curtain. And yet: The city mantra remains continuously impressive. For the jury: Christine Heise

Alternative

Wolf Alice: Blue Weekend

Virgin/Caroline 5060257962150 (Universal)

After a Grammy nomination and Mercury Prize, the third album is clearly the highlight for the British band around Ellie Rowsell: a work that could open colossal doors. The quartet moves confidently between snotty punk attitudes, grunge, and pop, with excursions to hymn-like piano ballads or stretches of dreamy folk and shoegaze. The moment you have grown used to one sound, you are thrown for a loop at the next genre change, only to end up gently in the arms of the beguiling voice of Rowsell a short time later. Wolf Alice have the wild ride of their debut under control at all times, even on new routes. For the jury: Sandra Gern

Club and Dance

Loraine James: Reflection

DL/CD/LP, Hyperdub HDBCD056/HDBLP056 (Cargo)

The London producer Loraine James used the year 2020 to reflect. Her second album, »Reflection«, only proves to be introspective in the lyrics. Thinking about her own situation is just one aspect of her concerns. The other more important one can be found in music. She combines the synthetic soul of today’s R&B and HipHop with electronically chopped-up sounds into a personal idiom that knows lyrical gentleness as well as bursting syncopation. This mixture becomes the outline of a new, promising club music. For the jury: Tim Caspar Boehme

Electronic and Experimental

Humanbeing

Rossano Baldini. DL/CD/LP, Rare Noise Records RNR0127 (Cargo)

Suddenly there’s time. New Horizons. A new life. During the pandemic, while his second child is away, Rossano Baldini turns his gaze inward. In the silence of the lockdown, he hears his circulation rustling, associates organs with sounds. And names himself, actually known as a film composer, simply »humanbeing«. Electronics merge with piano or cello. Nature and technology meet on the album of the same name in titles such as »Flesh«, »Blood«, »Skin«, »Lungs«, »Liver«, or »Heart«. Music becomes flesh and blood. Or is it the other way around? A remarkable digital homage to program music. For the jury: Isabel Steppeler

Blues and Blues-related

Anfürsich es et zo leis

& Anfürsich weed et widder laut. Kai Strauss, Wrecia Ford Band, Klöbner, Tommy Schneller Band, Hot n’ Nasty, Jimmy Reiter Band, Till Seidel & His Band. 2 CD, Torburg Records 4260312124045 & 4260312214052 (directly sales)

Hülya and Martin Wolf, operators of the small Cologne music pub »Torburg«, have to fight as innkeepers because of Covid-19, but have already initiated the second charity campaign for the German and international blues scene: With the proceeds of the double CD »Anfürsich es et zo leis« – »Anfürsich weed et widder laut« – variedly compiled and with an accompanying magazine of more than a hundred pages – the Cologne couple and their team help 34 artists who each contributed a title to this project: a big gesture in such a difficult time for the independent art scene! For the jury: Tim Schauen

Spoken Word

Paul Celan: Eine Annäherung

Jens Harzer. 2 CD, speak low ISBN: 978-3-940018-76-2

A great actor approaches a great poet. We hear impressive interpretations, exploratory variants. Jens Harzer finds the right tone, explains motifs, withstands the sadness, interrupts the recording, starts all over again, considers a colon, and struggles for his own melody, always with the poet’s voice in his head. Harzer is not just a brilliant actor and Celan interpreter. Above all, he lets us take part in the production of this audiobook in a fascinating way, which conveys the unique artistry of language and speech. For the jury: Manuela Reichart

Recordings for Children and Youth

Frank Schwieger: Ich, Kleopatra, und die alten Ägypter

Live aus dem Land der Pyramiden. Peter Kaempfe, Cathlen Gawlich, Arndt Schmöle, Kim Friehs, Christiane Reichert, Frank Bahrenberg; Illustrations: Ramona Wultschner. 5 CDs, Igel Records ISBN: 978-3-7313-1288-8 (Oetinger)

With his series of radio plays for children, Frank Schwieger has created vivid portrayals of antiquity that combine historical knowledge with adventure stories. In 12 complete chapters, the oldest historical testimonies of Egypt, from the mysterious inner life of a pyramid to the transformation of Egypt into a Roman province, are told from the changing point of view of rulers, servants, or children. Egypt’s deities also have their say: they report humorously about the creation of the world, the prevailing darkness, and their more and less successful ideas for their new world. For the jury: Regina Himmelbauer

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