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

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 4 G major

Anna Lucia Richter, Bamberger Symphoniker, Jakub Hrůša. accentus music ACC30532 (Naxos)

Fourteen years after the respectable Mahler cycle of the Bamberg Symphony under Jonathan Nott, the current chief conductor Jakub Hrůša is showing us new sides of this Wunderhorn symphony. In the incredibly pure sound, the supposed idyll appears broken, and the second movement is an eerily beautiful dance of death, while the third moves calmly on thin ice. And Anna Lucia Richter’s soprano, artfully alternating between weakness and force, does not hide the fact that »heavenly joys« are above all a promise. Sonorous and exciting. For the jury: Rainer Wagner

Orchestral Music & Concertos

Carl Maria von Weber: Complete Works for Piano and Orchestra

Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major & No. 2 E flat major; Konzertstück in F minor. Ronald Brautigam, Kölner Akademie, Michael Alexander Willens. BIS Records BIS-SACD-2384 (Klassik Center)

With complete recordings of the piano concertos by Mozart, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn in period performance practice, Ronald Brautigam and the Kölner Akademie have already significantly broadened the interpretational horizon. They have now succeeded in doing the very same with Carl Maria von Weber. His piano concertos, which are still based on classical models, and the concert piece, which is mainly detached from them, appear here in a new light. The characteristic sound of the replica Graf-Fortepiano brings them to life in fresh colors, and Brautigam confidently adds pianistic bravura. A convincing case for piano works that are far too rarely encountered in the concert hall today. For the jury: Norbert Hornig

Chamber Music

Mieczysław Weinberg: String Quartets Vol. 1

No. 2 op.3/145; No. 5 op. 27; No. 8 op. 66. Arcadia Quartet. Chandos CHAN 20158 (Note 1)

This first chapter of a new complete recording of all seventeen string quartets that Mieczysław Weinberg composed between 1937 and 1986 is more than promising – the first created while still at home in Poland, the main works in his exile in Moscow, some in competition with his friend and mentor Shostakovich. Early recordings of this corpus, which has gradually reached its legitimate position in the repertoire, are often marked by the furor of discovery. The Arcadia Quartet creates just enough distance to let the urgent intensity unfold in quiet moments while showcasing the many beauties of this unique quartet world. For the jury: Benjamin Herzog

Chamber Music

Johannes Brahms: Sonatas for Viola and Piano op. 120

Wiegenlied op.49 No.4; Zwei Gesänge op.91; Nachtigall op.97 No.1. Antoine Tamestit, Cédric Tiberghien, Matthias Goerne. harmonia mundi HMM 902652

Tamestit and Tiberghien dress the late romantic sonatas by Brahms in cozy velvet. Her interpretation avoids pathos: it is powered solely by the beguiling variety of colors and a subtly toned sound, which is not least thanks to the historic Bechstein grand piano from 1899, whose twilight tone makes the Stradivarius viola glow extraordinarily tenderly. It is the same in the »encores« of the program: the song arrangements and Goerne’s baritone performance of the chants originally composed for alto op.91. His voice, filled with warm darkness, is deeper than that of the viola – a change of role that helps to hear how beautifully Tamestit’s instrument can sing. For the jury: Thilo Braun

Keyboard Music

(re)creations – Zlata Chochieva

Sergej Rachmaninoff, Franz Liszt & Ignaz Friedman: Transkriptionen für Klavier von Werken Johann Sebastian Bachs, Schuberts, Mendelssohns, Bizets, Mahlers, Tschaikowskys, Mussorgskys, Graziolis und Gärtners. Zlata Chochieva. accentus music ACC30531 (Naxos)

With her third album, the now Berlin-based pianist reveals the filigree structures and soulful parts of mostly large-format works. Going beyond technical mastery, she succeeds in uncovering the deeper meaning of such »transformations«. In Liszt’s adaptations of songs by Schubert and Mendelssohn, Chochieva transfers the vocal air of the melody to the piano with enchanting, ever-flowing legato. Rachmaninoff’s adaption of the scherzo from Mendelssohn’s »Midsummer Night’s Dream« becomes a suggestive homage to one of the greatest pianists of the past and at the same time a grandiose representation of pianistic sovereignty. For the jury: Attila Csampai

Keyboard Music

Charles-Marie Widor: Organ Symphony No. 8 op. 42/4

Joseph Guy Ropartz: 6 Pièces pour grand orgue; Camille Saint-Saëns: Cypriès et lauriers op. 156. Jean-Baptiste Dupont. Audite 97.774 (Note 1)

With a playing time – depending on the version – of up to an hour, it is the longest and most complicated of all Widor organ symphonies: his eighth. Jean-Baptiste Dupont, titular organist at the Cathedral of Bordeaux, succeeds in making this monument of French organ romanticism manageable, and at times almost compact and chamber music-like. He plays dramatically, briskly, with a deep lyrical feeling, and at the same time ensures the musical clarity serves the »grandeur« of this music. The Cavaillé-Coll organ from St. Sernin in Toulouse and excellent sound engineering do the rest. An outstanding recording and a truly great moment for organ symphonies! For the jury: Guido Krawinkel

Opera

Francesco Cavalli: Ercole Amante

Francesco Cavalli: Ercole Amante. Nahuel di Pierro, Anna Bonitatibus, Giuseppina Bridelli, Francesca Aspromonte, Krystian Adam, Eugènie Lefebvre, Giulia Semenzato, Luca Tittoto, Ray Chenez, Dominique Visse etc.; Choir and Orchestera Pygmalion, Raphaël Pichon; Stage Direction: Valérie Lesort & Christian Hecq. 2 DVD/Blu-ray, Naxos 2.110679-80/NBD0118V

When he wrote his opera »Ercole amante« for the court of the French Sun King, the Italian composer Francesco Cavalli was able to really go all out. Conductor Raphaël Pichon has staffed the choir and orchestra of his ensemble Pygmalion similarly extensive for a performance at the Paris Opéra Comique: achieving a rare splendor and variety of musical speech. Directors Valérie Lesort and Christian Hecq were just as prolific, they add a gentle ironic layer to the play with a mixture of baroque theater and contemporary comics, including show effects. A royal pleasure! For the jury: Michael Stallknecht

Opera

Reynaldo Hahn: Ô mon bel inconnu

Véronique Gens, Olivia Doray, Éléonore Pangrazi, Thomas Dolié, Yoann Dubruque, Carl Ghazarossian, Jean-Christophe Laniège; Orchestre National Avignon-Provence, Samuel Jean. Bru Zane BZ 1043 (Note 1)

His friend Marcel Proust confirmed it as early as 1903: »This ›instrument of musical genius‹ called Reynaldo Hahn embraces all hearts«. Thirty years later, Hahn and Sascha Guitry form the top duo of Paris’ entertainment theater scene. Witty dialogue and musical esprit are always guaranteed, and so it is in this comédie musicale, which has been unearthed again: The »beautiful stranger« is a Parisian hatmaker who posts a personal ad and receives spirited responses from his wife, daughter, and maid. Corresponding turbulence is provided by conductor Samuel Jean, the Orchester National Avignon-Provence, and an audibly amused soloist ensemble in a festive mood. For the jury: Wolf-Dieter Peter

Choral Music

Ludwig van Beethoven: Missa Solemnis op. 123

Polina Pastirchak, Sophie Harmsen, Steve Davislim, Johannes Weisser, RIAS Kammerchor Berlin, Freiburger Barockorchester, René Jacobs. harmonia mundi HMM 902427

This is small but welcome compensation for the Beethoven year falling victim to the corona pandemic: René Jacobs, his soloists, plus the Berliners and Freiburgers – they are now presenting, with only a short delay, the complete Missa Solemnis. It does not look for the monumental in volume, but in firm conciseness, never buckling under the demands put on voices and instruments but instead transitioning into a classicism that makes people the measure of the divine – a sentiment fabulously reflected in the music. For the jury: Peter Korfmacher

Lieder and Vocal Recital

Out-rageous

Lieder by Richard Strauss. Krämerspiegel op.66; Gesänge des Orients op.77 etc. Daniel Behle, Oliver Schnyder. Prospero PROSP 0011 (Note 1)

Seldom has anyone so mischievously uncovered the gruff, form-conscious elegance of the seduced seducer! What Daniel Behle and Oliver Schnyder do with the »Krämerspiegel«, which Richard Strauss unleashed at the beginning of the twenties as a critical volley against supposedly ignorant music publishers, is »unheard« of in more ways than one. The wonderfully free-sounding tenor and his piano partner, who never fears to showcase pianistic prestidigitation, perform a dance on a fine line here, which perfectly mixes the figures, poses, and wit of Eulenspiegel-style tomfoolery. Early songs, the late oriental chants as well as an aperçu satirizing the singer’s Straussian sound attitude complete this gem. For the jury: Albrecht Thiemann

Early Music

Johannes Ockeghem: Missa Prolationum

L’ultima parola. Raumklang RK 3902 (harmonia mundi)

This canon mass by Flemish Johannes Ockeghem, who died in 1497, with its contrapuntal artistry, is an absolutely exceptional work. Only two of the four voices are notated, with the other two being canonically derived, with each part following a different time signature. This exciting recording is the first CD of the young ensemble »L’ultima parola«, they merge both the mathematic and symbolic order into a perfect soundscape, opening up an infinite space of complete freedom for the listener – pure magic! For the jury: Uwe Schweikert

Contemporary Classical Music

Christophe Bertrand: »Vertigo«

Complete Instrumental Works. Zafraan Ensemble, KNM Berlin, WDR Sinfonieorchester, GrauSchumacher Piano Duo etc., Premil Petrović, Victor Aviat, Brad Lubman, Peter Rundel, Baldur Brönnimann, Emilio Pomàrico. 3 CDs, bastille musique bm014 (rudi mentaire distribution)

The narrow œuvre of the French composer Christophe Bertrand, who died tragically at an early age, is a discovery. This edition – a bold first recording with carefully chosen interpreters – bears witness to a promising composer who tried to reinterpret various developments in contemporary music. As Bertrand once confessed in an interview, the tense interplay he called his home is a mixture of historical awareness, freedom, and the pressure to innovate. His compositions live from their complex structure, their highly emotional energy, and from a virtuosity coupled with a splendid sonority. For the jury: Nina Polaschegg

Historical Recordings

Gabriella Lengyel

Jenö Hubay’s last pupil. Works by Béla Bartók, Benjamin Britten, Johannes Brahms, Ernst von Dohnányi, Ferenc Farkas, Joseph Haydn etc. Various orchestras and conductors. 9 CDs, Rhine Classics RH-018 (Bertus)

Gabriella Lengyel won the second prize in an international music competition in Vienna in 1937. In the review of the award winners’ concert, it said: »A petite, dark-haired girl, the violinist Gabriella Lengyel, appears and plays a virtuoso Valse Caprice with such gorgeous verve and dazzling technique that one was involuntarily reminded of Erika Morini when she was still an adolescent teenager celebrating her first triumphs.« That was no exaggeration. The recordings made available for this edition by the Swiss violinist, composer, and conductor Urs Joseph Flury demonstrate a system of values primarily oriented towards substance. For the jury: Wolfgang Wendel

Crossover Productions

Identigration

Compositions and Arrangements by Andrés Rosales, Hassan Skaf, Antonio Vivaldi, Pejman Jamilpanah, Peter Klohmann, Rabie Azar. Bridges-Kammerorchester, Nabil Shehata, Gregor A. Mayrhofer, Harish Shankar. Bridges – Musik verbindet 0730706001123 (directly sales)

Twenty-eight instrumentalists from a variety of cultures make up the »Bridges – Musik verbindet« chamber orchestra. A stroke of luck for the audience that these often migratory paths crossed! Leaving the stylistic isolation did not lead to a potpourri of arbitrariness. Played on the instruments of the respective homeland, folk music, funk, and Frankfurt-basement-jazz, flute choirs, and baroque folia flow together and form a refreshing river that carries you away. The title piece translates the dialectic of identity and integration into a language of sound and rhythm that expands the heart when listening – coherent and full of surprises. For the jury: Nikolaus Gatter

Film Music

Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross: Soul

Original Score; Jon Batiste: Jazz Compositions and Arrangements. LP/CD, Walt Disney Records 8742425 (Universal)

»Soul« is the most complex animated film in terms of film music in recent years. Jazz musician Jon Batiste undoubtedly has the largest share in this, even if he officially only worked on the »jazz arrangements«, while the duo Reznor / Ross is responsible for the »original score«. But Batiste’s quasi-scenic musical contribution provides the pulse for the plot about the music teacher Joe Gardner, who dreams of his big break as a jazz musician. So much analog jazz art, hand-made, has seldom been found in an animated film! Jon Batiste is Joe Gardner – so intense that even his movements have been transferred to the main character. For the jury: Matthias Keller

Music Film

Piazzolla – The Years Of The Shark

A film by Daniel Rosenfeld DVD, EuroArts 2078848 (Warner)

Just in time for the 100th birthday of the legendary bandoneon player and composer Astor Piazolla, Daniel Rosenfeld processes unseen material from the family archive into an inspiring portrait. Private amateur films and tape recordings document the artistic absolutism of a musician who artfully revolutionized tango against some resistance. How Astor Piazzolla found his extraordinary idiom through his studies in Europe is told in an entertaining chronological way – undercut with TV interviews and interspersed (undated) concert excerpts. Some of the original voices are difficult to assign. A recommended addition: the BBC documentary »Tango Maestro« from 2005. For the jury: Thorsten Lorenz

Jazz

Tommy Flanagan: In His Own Sweet Time

Enja Records ENJ 9687 2 (Edel)

For a decade and a half, he was the companion of the »Lady of Song« Ella Fitzgerald, as a versatile improviser and humble musician who said of himself: »I don’t like making a name for myself at all.« In addition to trio and duo productions, his solo recordings are archival treasures. And so is this recording from the »Birdland« Jazz Club in Neuburg an der Donau from 1994. His velvet play unfolds in the confined club atmosphere in ten magical ballads, he grows his piano sound out of the bebop: with this, Tommy Flanagan left behind a legendary piece of solo music. For the jury: Lothar Jänichen

Jazz

Archie Shepp & Jason Moran: Let My People Go

2LP/CD, Archieball Records ARCH2101 (Broken Silence)

The melancholy, sadness, and confidence of Black Music solidified in improvisational dialogues: Archie Shepp, the ancestor of the avant-garde, sometimes sounds as silky-smooth as Ben Webster. His declamations on the tenor sax are soaked in blues and gospel, and combined with his characteristic fraying are similar to a bear’s hiss and growl. Adding to it, his play is charged with sharp-edged splinters. With Jason Moran on piano, Shepp has once more intoned his greatest songs live at festivals in Paris and Mannheim, and when you hear the steely groove of bonus-track »Ujama«, it should be clear that at the age of eighty-three, he is still bursting with energy. For the jury: Guenter Hottmann

World Music

Urban Village: Udondolo

LP/CD, No Format NØF. 49 (Indigo)

Soweto – this name stands for violent repression and the protests during the time of apartheid. The township for non-whites, today one of the districts of Johannesburg, is at the same time a microcosm of South Africa, made up of working-class families of all ethnicities that were settled here. With a correspondingly large musical variety, the Urban Village quartet tells of neighborhood and community, of the eponymous »village in the city«. And leaves no stone unturned stylistically: with soulful choir and brass sections, indie songwriting or South African maskandi, alternating atmospheric-calm, funny, rousing. For the jury: Johann Kneihs

Traditional Ethnic Music

Excavated Shellac

An Alternate History of the World’s Music (1907-1967). Various artists. Digital, Dust-to-Digital (directly sales)

Around the world in a hundred tracks – this collection of rare audio documents revives a time in which the very idea of the globalization of music was unimaginably far away. From Brazilian choro to Japanese geisha songs, from Albanian saze from the mountains to Ghanaian ragtime: here you can listen to a diversity that we have lost. This box carries the analog musical legacy of mankind into the digital age and, at the same time, thanks to the uniquely opulent supplement, tells the checkered history of an exciting chapter in the record industry. For the jury: Stefan Franzen

German language Singer/Songwriters

Magdalena Ganter: Neo Noir

LP/CD, Revolver Distribution RDS186 (Cargo)

The title suggests dark songs. And there are dark moments, for example, when »In the fog« at first everything »doesn’t make sense«. But a compass shows the way out, and we consequently find the way »Into the Light« in the very next song. This all-around successful solo debut by Magdalena Ganter is a journey through very personal yet never revealing stories of a generality that affects us all – musically wonderfully balanced between piano ballad, variety music of 1920s-style, jazz feeling, and dense string arrangements. And on top of it all, Ganter’s expressive voice, profound, with a well-measured portion of situational comedy. For the jury: Hans Reul

Folk and Singer/Songwriters

Staritsa: Klyukva

CPL Music CPL047 (Broken Silence)

Staritsa hails from the western edge of Russia. The folk-rock duo presents twelve songs on their debut album and makes you sit up and take notice with their confident creative will. Each of these songs is orchestrated differently: different in character, different in sound. Yet every note emits a deep love for the traditional themes, melodies, harmonies, and rhythms of Russian folk music. The voice of Natalia Soldatkina, who founded Staritsa together with Oleg Soldaitkin only two years ago, has an almost timeless quality to it. The two have set out to dress folk music in modern garb, and they succeed in doing so in an exhilarating way. For the jury: Imke Turner

Pop

Masha Qrella: Woanders

2LP/CD, Staatsakt AKT850 (Bertus)

When it comes to poetry set to music, one thinks more of older texts, of romantic sounds. It sounds different with Masha Qrella. The musician, born in East Berlin, has transformed seventeen of Thomas Brasch’s poems and prose works into musical and linguistic gems. Qrella sings the texts of the director, dramaturge, and poet, who died in 2001, in an emotional and controlled manner, with an audible kinship with their originator. Drummer Chris Imler, multi-instrumentalist Andreas Bonkowski, and guests such as the Berlin electro duo Tarwater contribute precise soundscapes positioned somewhere between new wave, post-rock, and chamber music. An event – also for West-germans. For the jury: Christof Hammer

Hard and Heavy

The Ruins Of Beverast: The Thule Grimoires

2LP/CD, Ván Records van333 (Soulfood)

Beyond blind furor, Meilenwald, head of The Ruins Of Beverast, has presented another breakneck Black Metal exercise here, which demands maximum attention and rewards it with atmospheric density. It is about seven mystical prophecies that stem from the island of Thule and tell of the end of mankind. Calling a successful album like this a »Gesamtkunstwerk« may have long since become a cliché. But here it fits and is more than just a stopgap in the absence of linguistic alternatives: catharsis is the artistic fuel that takes the listener with it. For the jury: Boris Kaiser

Club and Dance

Yu Su: Yellow River Blue

LP, Music From Memory MFM052 (Rush Hour)

With her debut album, Yu Su pays tribute to her hometown, which lies at the Yellow River in China. At the same time, the now Canada-based musician expresses her restlessness: Yu Su composes a world in which references to dub, wave, and Balearic stand alongside poppy melodies and club-friendly bass. A fluid palette of sounds holds the sometimes rushing (»Xiu«, »Melaleuca«) sometimes meditative tracks (»Touch-Me-Not«, »Klein«) together. It bubbles and flows. Even if we can’t travel right now – with »Yellow River Blue« it is possible to dream of it. For the jury: Cristina Plett

Electronic and Experimental

Intermission

Compiled by Mat Schulz and Gosia Płysa. Various artists. 2LP & Buch / DL, Unsound UNS001 (directly sales)

The Unsound Festival is one of the most important addresses for musicians in the experimental electronics scene. It offers the opportunity to perform but also assigns composition commissions. So it was a logical step to capture and document the volatility of this live streaming event. Fifteen original compositions, including transcontinental collaborations, delineate the varieties of the genre and the 330-page book uses both poetry and essays to approach not just the musical issues of our time. This excellent, holistic view of our current troubled existence shortens the wait until the return to more direct communication. For the jury: Jean Trouillet

Blues and Blues-related

Jimmy Reiter: LIVE

Pogo Pop JGOP004 (Membran)

His fourth album is the first to consist of concert recordings: lively, intense, and yet with a relaxed and cheerful lightness. Born in 1975, Jimmy Reiter, the singer, guitarist, composer, and Werder fan from the blues city of Osnabrück, came up with a nice 4-letter word for the title of the CD: LIVE. One leg is firmly planted in tradition (Freddie & BB King, Magic Sam), but with the other, he creates this unmistakable rider mix of modern electric blues, R&B, rhythm & soul. LIVE is, to put it with a different 4-letter word, simply: COOL. For the jury: Tom Schroeder

R&B, Soul and HipHop

Arlo Parks: Collapsed in Sunbeams

LP/CD, Transgressive Records TRANS509 (PIAS)

The British poet and singer-songwriter Arlo Parks is only twenty and speaks about youth and the people and experiences that shaped her. She also makes her bisexuality a topic in her songs. She strived for »Collapsed In Sunbeams« to sound both universal and specific. And she succeeded. Seldom has a mixture of soul, poetry and pop sounded so homogeneous and so light-footed, and at the same time seemed so haunting and encouraging. The gentle voice of Parks is paired with catchy melodies without ever coming off as mainstream pop or R&B. For the jury: Michael Rütten

Spoken Word

Saal 101. Dokumentarhörspiel zum NSU-Prozess

Michael Rotschopf, Katja Bürkle, Thomas Thieme, Bibiana Beglau, Barbara Nüsse, Martina Gedeck, Florian Fischer, Thomas Schmauser etc.; Music: Jakob Diehl, Sven Pollkötter; Direction: Ulrich Lampen. 12 CDs, der Hörverlag ISBN: 978-3-8445-3938-7

The NSU trial was the largest trial concerning right-wing terrorism in German history. Based on transcripts from ARD court reporters, the twenty-four-part radio documentary play »Saal 101« directed by Ulrich Lampen makes this process audible, without resorting to fictionalizations. The attempt to »let the material speak for itself«, as it is called in the booklet to the CD box, conveys honest authenticity: In the sober, never psychologizing reading of logged witness statements, in the petitions, interviews, and pleadings of the negotiation, contemporary history becomes a linguistic experience. For the jury: Michael Grote

Recordings for Children and Youth

Richard Adams: Unten am Fluss

Radio play by Leonhard Koppelmann and Mark Ginzler. With Peter Fricke, Marc Hosemann, Jens Wawrczeck, Sophie Rois, Christiane Rossbach, Georg Breitfuß, Oliver Kraushaar, Matthias Haase etc. Music: Henrik Albrecht. 3 CDs, Der Audio Verlag ISBN: 978-3-7424-1940-8

The novel about the wild rabbits who set out to find a new home has long become a classic. It enchants people of all ages because behind this simple story of flight and a fresh start, there are levels of meaning dealing with the fundamental questions of our existence. What distinguishes this 2006 SWR radio play and justifies not only the new edition but also the spot on the Critic’s Choice, is the special role granted to the music. Henrik Albrecht uses the rich palette of orchestral colors both for musical commentary and to create tension, peace, and quiet – and thus awakens the idea of beauty. For the jury: Friederike C. Raderer

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