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

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 6 to 9

Sara Gouzy, Laila Salome Fischer, Mingjie Lei, Manuel Walser, La Capella Nacional de Catalunya, Le Concert des Nations, Jordi Savall. 3 SACDs, Alia Vox AVSA9946 (harmonia mundi)

When music is celebrated as Jordi Savall and Le Concert des Nations are able to, it becomes pure pleasure to devote oneself to the symphonic cosmos of Beethoven. Savall, now eighty, a top star of the early music scene for decades, turns to the nineteenth century with youthful exuberance. His original sound orchestra, excellently set in all vocal groups, almost explodes, with the utmost rhythmic precision, but never to the detriment of detail or beauty. Beautiful confusions and surprises can be experienced when listening to the four symphonies recorded here. A must listen for all Beethoven fans. For the jury: Peter Stieber

Orchestral Music & Concertos

Weinberg: Works for Cello

Mieczysław Weinberg: Cello Concertino op. 43b, Fantasy for Cello & Orchestra op. 52, Chamber Symphony No. 4 op. 153. Pieter Wispelwey, Jean-Michel Charlier, Les Métamorphoses, Raphaël Feye. Evil Penguin EPRC 0045 (Bertus)

In the year of the murder of his father-in-law by the Stalinist terror regime of the Soviet Union, Weinberg, who had fled from Poland to evade the Nazis, wrote his Concertino op. 43b in just four days. The overwhelming sadness of the first phrase of the cello steals our breath, with Pieter Wispelwey’s hands guiding us on the pale as ash balance of the string chords of »Les Metamorphoses«. Here simple singing becomes the most penetrating form of speech about a hopeless present: an incredibly overwhelming listening experience up to the last second of this forgotten music. For the jury: Jörg Lengersdorf

Chamber Music

Weinberg: Sonatas for Violin Solo

Mieczysław Weinberg: Sonatas for Violin Solo No. 1 op.82, No. 2 op.95, No. 3 op.126. Gidon Kremer. ECM Records 2705 (Universal)

First it was about Weinberg’s chamber music, then about his chamber symphonies, and now the solo works of this still not fully discovered composer are on the line: Gidon Kremer tackles »his« Weinberg systematically. The three violin solo sonatas each tell a completely different story. Sometimes quite personal, sometimes more structural. Radically (should one say: with typical radicality?), Kremer sheds light on this music, uncompromisingly at the highest level of playing technique. All that with his now seventy-five years. A phenomenon! For the jury: Benjamin Herzog

Chamber Music

Kodály: Chamber Music for Cello

Zoltán Kodály: Sonata for Cello Solo op.8, Cello Sonata op.4, Sonatina for Cello & Piano, Duo for Violin & Cello op.7. Marc Coppey, Barnabás Kelemen, Matan Porat. audite 97.794 (Note 1)

In 1915, when Kodály wrote his cello solo sonata, the performers still despaired of the then unusual techniques, the high positions, for example, or the use of the left thumb. Today, no cellist can get ignore it. For French cellist Marc Coppey Kodály’s musical language has moved into his flesh and blood, so natural and light, so freely is he able to present it. He lets his wonderfully sonorous Goffriller cello shine in many colors, whispers the most exciting stories, or tells them with energetic emphasis. In the pianist Matan Porat and the violinist Barnabás Kelemen, Coppey has found similarly ingenious partners. For the jury: Elisabeth Richter

Keyboard Music

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Sonatas & Rondos

Marc-André Hamelin. 2 CDs, hyperion CDA68381/2 (Note 1)

In our extremely polarized world, the music of CPE Bach can be staged as a kaleidoscope of passions. That’s what, for example, Mikhail Pletnyev once did. Twenty years later, Marc-André Hamelin goes a step further. His phenomenal technique allows him to present CPE’s antics so freely and easily that new dimensions open up. Instead of individual sparks of emotion, something extremely personal is created. Hamelin produces pure musical energy, dynamic, diverse and refreshingly vital. Contrasts no longer work against each other but unite to form more comprehensive structures. It is music from a better future. For the jury: Kalle Burmester

Keyboard Music

Aquila altera (Early Keyboards)

Works by Jacopo da Bologna, Andrea Antico, Francesco Lambardi, Girolamo Cavazzoni, Antonio Valente, Paolo Quagliati, Andrea Gabrieli, Francesco Landini, Ercole Pasquini. Federica Bianchi. passacaille PAS 1111 (Note 1)

With this album, Federica Bianchi opens a window into the early days of keyboard music. On a reconstructed medieval clavicymbalum and two different harpsichords – each a world of sound in itself – she opens up works from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries with an overwhelming imagination and virtuosity. The appeal that intabulations such as these exerted on listeners and players directly affects even today – admirably so with music created half a millennium before our time. For the jury: Friedrich Sprondel

Opera

Jean Philippe Rameau: Les Paladins

Sandrine Piau, Anne-Catherine Gillet, Mathias Vidal, Florian Sempey, Nahuel Di Pierro, Philippe Talbot, La Chapelle Harmonique, Valentin Tournet. 3 CD, Château de Versailles Spectacles CVS054 (Note 1)

A venerable senator wants to protect his ward from young lovers, but he gets involved with an ugly fairy sung by a tenor: in »Les Paladins«, his last opera to premiere during his lifetime, Jean-Philippe Rameau congenially mixed the means of the fantastic baroque theatre with those of the newly emerging Opera buffa. It’s a good thing that Valentin Tournet and his La Chapelle Harmonique take care of this long underestimated work! With an excellent vocal ensemble, they prove that it is unparalleled in harmonious and instrumental wealth, lightning-fast affect changes, and not the least: humor. For the jury: Michael Stallknecht

Opera

Riccardo Zandonai: Francesca da Rimini

Sara Jakubiak, Jonathan Tetelman, Ivan Inveradi, Charles Workman, Chor und Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin, Carlo Rizzi, Stage Direction: Christof Loy. DVD/Blu-ray, Naxos 2.110711/NBD0142V

The artistic relationship between Sara Jakubiak and the director Christof Loy is is in full bloom: after Korngold’s »Wonders of the Heliane«, they have now rescued Zandonai’s »Francesca da Rimini« from being an underestimated musical drama and brought it to the height of great women’s tragedies and thus recovered a work. Her versatile, colorful soprano radiates to Jakubiak’s captivatingly nuanced playing. To prove the heroine’s lovesickness and marriage error, a gorgeous »Paolo il Bello« must enter her life – and that is Jonathan Tetelman, reminiscent of the young Franco Corelli, both in both presentation and voice. For the jury: Wolf-Dieter Peter

Choral Music

Ligeti/Kodály – Lux Aeterna

György Ligeti: Two a cappella choruses (Luy Aeterna), Three Fantasias after Friedrich Hölderlin, Mátraszentimrei Dalok; Zoltán Kodály: Esti Dal, Este, Mátrai képek. Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Marcus Creed. SACD, OUR Recordings 6.220676 (Naxos)

Marcus Creed and the Danish National Vocal Ensemble let the purest eternal light since Frieder Bernius shine: Ligeti’s »Lux aeterna« is not an odyssey in the vocal sound cosmos but a clearly structured echo of infinity. A highlight are the Hölderlin fantasies Ligetis, from 1982. Here, too, the close-meshed polyphony of up to sixteen voices, enriched with gestures of postmodern expressivity, acts as a kinetic impulse for stratospheric ecstasy. In addition, both early works by Ligeti and exemplary works by Kodály stand for a combination of friction and detachment. For the jury: Martin Mezger

Lieder and Vocal Recital

Dissonance

Songs by Sergej Rachmaninoff. Asmik Grigorian, Lukas Geniušas. Alpha Classics ALPHA 796 (Note 1)

The fact that Asmik Grigorian, celebrated as Salome in Salzburg and Senta in Bayreuth, is committed to Sergej Rachmaninoff’s songs, with the ideal piano partner Lukas Geniušas and the label alpha, which specializes in qualities on the edge of the repertoire, is not only a sovereign objection to the usual rules of the classical music market. Out of the monotony of what can be expected, this album stands out above all for its artistic excellence. A Lithuanian-Armenian singer, a Lithuanian-Russian pianist, with passion and soul, multicolored between inwardness and great opera performance, bring Russian music to life: a quiet consolation in these sad days. For the jury: Holger Noltze

Early Music

Jean-Marie Leclair: Concerti per Violino

opp. 7 & 10, Nr. 4 & 5. Leila Schayegh, La Cetra Barockorchester Basel. Glossa GCD 924206 (Note 1)

In the fusion of the Italian concert style of Antonio Vivaldi and his contemporaries in the playing tradition of the French Baroque, the violin concerts of the Frenchman Jean-Marie Leclair enrich the eighteenth century’s body of concerts in both an exciting and unusual way. Leila Schayegh’s recording with La Cetra fascinates with her richness of colors, organic transitions of moods, and a virtuosity that radiates serene mastery even in the most intricate moments. For the jury: Carsten Niemann

Contemporary Classical Music

Iannis Xenakis: Plèiades & Persephassa

Les Percussions de Strasbourg. CD & Book, Percussions de Strasbourg PDS121 (Note 1)

The influence of Indonesian gamelan music in the »Pleiades« for six drummers, which Xenakis composed in 1979 for »Les Percussions de Strasbourg«, is unmistakable. Together with »Persephassa«, which he also wrote for Strasbourg ten years earlier, these are two classics of percussion music which can be experienced here, bringing the imposing universe of an enormously diverse sound body to your ears. The combination of the dynamic bandwidth of the instruments, noticeable joy of playing, and musical perfection all led to a piece of music history being written. For the jury: Marita Emigholz

Historical Recordings

Johannes Brahms: Symphonies Nos. 1-4

(Command Classics Recordings). Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, William Steinberg. 3 CDs, Deutsche Grammophon 486 1815 (Universal)

Unlike previous Capitol recordings, these were made under excellent conditions for Command Classics Recordings. This was not only ensured by the palpably better-developed recording concept but also by the recording location: the »Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall« in Pittsburgh. Steinberg, who trained in Cologne with Abendroth and Klemperer, is one of the European conductors who successfully worked with major American orchestras after their emigration. As the »Classic Record Collector« reports, the audience’s reaction was not: »What did Steinberg do to the work«; but: »What a wonderful work!« For today’s ears, the recording’s sound fits just as well. For the jury: Stephan Bultmann

Crossover Productions

Roraima

Sigurd Hole, Trygve Seim, Frode Haltli, Håkon Aase, Helga Myhr, Tanja Orning, Per Oddvar Johansen. CD/DL, Elvesang ELVESANG006 (Direct Sales)

Jungle sounds from the Amazon, chirping and bird calls, lead us to the northernmost region of Brazil: to Roraima, the home of the Yanomami, who are in distress due to ruthless deforestation. The piece of the same name by the Norwegian double bassist Sigurd Hole integrates the voices of nature into the composition, whereby the call of the red beak toucan in the improvisations – outstanding here: the percussionist Per Oddvar Johansen – is extended to soundscapes that also include the creation myth, of which the shaman Davi Kopenawa tells in the book »The Falling Sky«. The music fades away, akin to a mourning march. The rest belongs to the rainforest, which seems to weep. For the jury: Heinz Zietsch

Film Music

John Williams: The Berlin Concert

(Deluxe Edition). Berliner Philharmoniker, John Williams. 2 CD & 2 Blu-ray, Deutsche Grammophon 486 1713 (Universal)

John Williams, Hollywood’s great musical master of ceremonies, is the one we most likely have to thank for the survival of orchestral film music – through his Star Wars score in the late seventies. His album »The Berlin Concert« shows the class of this composer and conductor. The Berliner Philharmoniker participated as real partners, partly rejuvenated by young musicians eager to join in this event. One senses this enthusiasm in each and every piece performed. Special praise goes to Deutsche Grammophon: Whether in stereo, Dolby Atmos, multi-channel, or as a concert video – this box is a statement! For the jury: Matthias Keller

Music Film

Billie. Legend of the Jazz

Direction: James Erskine. Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett, Sylvia Syms, Charles Mingus, Count Basie. DVD, Prokino 208 750 (EuroVideo Bildprogramm)

Billie Holiday is a legend. Her vocal power, expressiveness and suggestiveness as a jazz singer was extraordinary, her life turbulent. There was a lot of alcohol in it, in addition to drugs, rape and affairs. James Erskine is trying to shed light on this semi-darkness. In doing so, he uses exciting interview material by journalist Linda Lipnack Kuehl, who had interviewed the singer in the 1970s, supplemented by quotes of insiders, which he stages in a cinematically appealing manner, with gorgeous documentary material. An impressive film about the life and suffering of the jazz icon and last but not least her politically scandalous song »Strange Fruit«. For the jury: Helge Grünewald

Jazz

Per Møllehøj, Kirk Knuffke, Thommy Andersson: ’S Wonderful

Stunt Records STUCD 21102 (in-akustik)

A cornet player from New York, a Danish guitarist, and a Swedish double bass player devote themselves to early New Orleans jazz – yet play quite contemporary: they are modern musicians. Kirk Knuffke, who also sings, comes from the experimental scene, approaching W.C. Handy and Louis Armstrong in Lester-Bowiescher fashion (»Beale Street Blues«, »St. Louis Blues«). Stile-wise fittingly arranged songs by Ellington, Gershwin and a few Originals complete the program. Tradition from the point of view of today, chamber-jazz-like reprocessed, extremely relaxed in play. For the jury: Berthold Klostermann

Jazz

Avishai Cohen: Naked Truth

With Yonathan Avishai, Barak Mori, Ziv Ravitz. ECM Records 2737 (Universal)

When playing with his quartet colleagues, the Israeli trumpeter Avishai Cohen conjures up an atmosphere of inner contemplation and meditative reflection: every note gains emotional depth. Everything develops out of the moment: the shared search for meaning takes shape in the process of well-placed action and devoted holding back. With downright reverent sounds that can shine in the night, music of existential seriousness, great truthfulness, and harsh beauty is created that concentrates on the essential. For the jury: Bert Noglik

World Music

Jun Miyake: Whispered Garden

CD/2LP, yellowbird yeb-7818 2 (Edel)

Hardly any musician takes you as far into fantastic worlds as the Japanese trumpeter Jun Miyake, who also composed for Pina Bausch and her dance theatre. His new album also connects to it. Time seems to stand still while a proven international cast of voices tells stories, each in their own language: Lisa Papineau, Bruno Capinan, Arthur H, and, a new discovery, Bron Tieman, are brought into interaction with beautifully utilized instruments and subtle sounds. It is an enchanting hour in the »forbidden garden« – according to the composer – between inner and outer reality. For the jury: Johann Kneihs

German language Singer/Songwriters

Tobi Thiele & Die Kundschafter des Liedes: Es brennt

RedHeadMusic 4270000038143 (Direct Sales)

Tobi Thiele’s third album is the quintessence of remarkable development. In 2017 already, the jury of the Liederbestenliste awarded him a sponsorship prize. More awards didn’t take long. With his band, the »Kundschaftern des Liedes«, he brings handmade music to the disc, wonderfully versatile in terms of composition. The texts are all written to the point. The title song »Es brennt« denounces the destruction of the environment and our handling of climate change. In »So klein« there is a critique of capitalism that is as clever as it is poetically formulated – yes, that is possible! Each of the thirteen songs is a self-contained chapter of a comprehensive story. For the jury: Hans Reul

Folk and Singer/Songwriters

The Longest Johns: Smoke & Oakum

CD/LP, Decca 3876697 (Universal)

Twelve years ago, four young Englishmen discovered their love of sea shanties at a barbecue party – and The Longest Johns were born. The 2021 hit »The Wellerman« by Nathan Evans sends his regards, which he had heard on a Longest Johns CD. On their current album, they cleverly mix the hearty a cappella songs of the seven seas with songs that usually include instrumental accompaniment and clean harmonies. This is rousing and has a very high sing-along factor throughout. A great thing to fall back on when one needs to take a break from the current times. For the jury: Mike Kamp

Rock

Big Thief: Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You

CD/2LP/DL, 4AD 0408 (Indigo)

20 songs, 80 minutes running time: With this double album, the US band Big Thief serves an opulent menu, and its traditional ingredients reveal new dimensions of enjoyment. The spectrum ranges from folk-rock in the spirit of British ensembles of the seventies such as Steeleye Span or Fairport Convention to down-to-earth country flair with vielle and mouth harp to TripHop moods. Singer and songwriter Adrianne Lenker keeps the broad spectrum of overflowing creativity together. And a colorful kaleidoscope is created: a double album to fall in love with that you never want to stop listening to. For the jury: Manfred Gillig-Degrave

Hard and Heavy

The Neptune Power Federation: Le Demon De L’Amour

CD/LP, Cruz Del Sur Music CRUZ132 (Soulfood)

This band from Sidney is our salvation from the soulless rock’n’roll’s vale of tears: they marry motörhead’s hardness, queen’s pomp, stoner-rudeness, the exhilaration of early AC/DC, and smartly implemented occult image with a strong feeling for melody. Front Woman and High Priestess Screaming Loz Sutch has an impressive falsetto – and a fitting personality. She celebrates her masses in a black wedding dress and with antler-adorned tiaras. Oh, and with »We Beasts of The Night«, The Neptune Power Federation now has the best glam rock ballad Meat Loaf has never sung. Those who refuse to join this cult await eternal damnation! For the jury: Felix Mescoli

Alternative

Nilüfer Yanya: Painless

CD/LP, ATO Records 880882463816 (Rough Trade)

This London musician writes an important chapter with her second album. Guitar effects bore almost uncomfortably deep into the ear canal, while Nilüfer’s distinctive voice convincingly assures us that it won’t hurt – and we believe her until it hits. »Let’s keep going!« shout the drums, the cool kids of the city – a short breather on velvety soft synths before melodies sweep you off your feet again, for which Thom Yorke would pat himself on the shoulder. So »Painless« turns our hearts around with honest vulnerability and casual coolness and is wonderfully on point – without a single irrelevant second. For the jury: Sandra Gern

Club and Dance

Violet: Transparências

CD/DL, Rádio Quântica QTC005 (Direct Sales)

This third release by Portuguese Inês Coutinho – aka Violet – is a concept album. But it doesn’t get needlessly complicated or abstract. The program looks as simple as it is ingenious: Each track is intended for an activity, and the titles indicate which one. So the »Música para ler« (music to read) or the music to look at nature are full of washed-out, melancholic drones and a barely noticeable beat. This thoughtful calm runs through all ten tracks to the drum’n’bass,  for dancing. These »Transparências« are versatile yet add up to a captivating whole. For the jury: Cristina Plett

Electronic and Experimental

Carmen Villain: Only Love From Now On

LP/DL, Smalltown Supersound STS399 (Cargo)

Fourth World, Dub, Ambient and Cosmic Jazz are the terms with which the Norwegian-Mexican producer and multi-instrumentalist Carmen Villain describes her music. On her fourth album, she interweaves her own recordings with field recordings and guest contributions by Arve Henriksen (trumpet, electronics) and Johanna Scheie Orellana (flutes). Subtle surreal sound worlds develop an irresistible pull. The title »Only Love From Now On« seems like a prophetic incantation given the current world situation – the album was released just on that fatal 24 February 2022. For the jury: Guido Halfmann

Blues and Blues-related

John Mayall: The Sun Is Shining Down

CD/LP, Forty Below Records FBR 026 (Bertus)

R&B, Soul and HipHop

Mary J. Blige: Good Morning Gorgeous

CD/DL, Warner 0810043688567

She is the queen of hip-hop soul. Mary Jane Blige has nothing left to prove. For her forty-seventh birthday, she was given star number 2626 in Hollywood. Her debut album came out in 1992. Now, thirty years later, the musician and actress once again shows why she wears the crown with her new album – an all-star lineup of friendly artists, including names like Usher, Dave East, and Cardi B to DJ Khaled. Her path hasn’t been an easy one, and perhaps it’s that pain, combined with her distinctive voice, that makes her music so great. And as it says so beautifully in the title song: »I wake up every morning and tell myself: Good morning gorgeous!« For the jury: Jörg Wachsmuth

Spoken Word

Werner Herzog: Vom Gehen im Eis

München-Paris 23.11. bis 14.12.1974. Unabridged author reading. mp3-CD, tacheles! ISBN 978-3-86484-748-6 (ROOF Music)

In 1974, the director, producer, actor, and author learned of the life-threatening condition of the film historian Lotte Eisner, whom he cherishes greatly. His idea was that if he went to her in Paris on foot from Munich, he could save her. The project succeeds. Here he reads his diary notes in his unique, earthy voice and lets us share his arduous journey through storm, hail, and mud. We freeze with him in abandoned haystacks, sit with him at the table with farmers, and trot with him over endless country roads. The authors’ reading turns into a fascinating meditation on life. For the jury: Dorothee Meyer-Kahrweg

Recordings for Children and Youth

Hans Joachim Schädlich: Der Sprachabschneider

Thomas Nicolai. sauerländer audio ISBN 978-3-8398-4402-1 (Argon Verlag)

This story is now a classic of children’s literature. It’s the story of the imaginative Paul, who gradually leaves his language to an unknown man in return for homework. Thomas Nicolai tells this story in a calm voice, entirely in harmony with the dreamy attitude of the young protagonist, framed by a chilling saxophone solo. As tensions mount, the speaker becomes more agitated and develops diabolical facets of expression that show how this ill-conceived business takes on existentially frightening forms. For the jury: Regina Himmelbauer

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