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

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Simon Rattle; Documentary: Echoing an Era 2002-2018, a film by Eric Schulz. 2 CDs & 1 Blu-ray, Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings BPHR 180231

When Simon Rattle first came to the Berlin Philharmonic in 1987, he conducted Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. After 31 years, including 16 years as chief conductor, Rattle said goodbye to the Berliners with this very Sixth. The well-equipped luxury edition of the concert shows Rattle at the height of his mastery. While the early interpretation was still characterized by youthful gruffness and over-emphasis, we now experience the relaxed sovereignty of an experienced musician. The furor and energetic music-making have remained unchanged, but today Rattle shapes Mahler’s rugged world of sound into compelling proportions. It is not defined by timeless beauty, and instead cool virtuosity and a sense for the dramatic rule, complete with a soulful orchestral song in the Andante. The passionate rhythmist is still there, but he is joined by the prosaic visionary. For the jury: Peter Stieber

Orchestral Music & Concertos

Magnus Lindberg: Tempus fugit, Violin concerto No. 2

Frank Peter Zimmermann, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Hannu Lintu. SACD, Ondine ODE 1308-5 (Naxos)

Magnus Lindberg has written highly complex music, that with large line-ups also fascinates through its elegant orchestration. In the five-movement work »Tempus Fugit«, the tonalities change in rapid succession, which Hannu Lintu and his orchestra’s highly demanded soloists analyze masterfully. The dedicatee Frank Peter Zimmermann has to give even more as a soloist in the violin concerto. Almost in perpetual mobile-like use, he masters carefully considered melodies even in the highest registers, interacting flawlessly with the orchestra. Last but not least, the excellent sound quality of this recording made at the Helsinki Music Center makes it shine even brighter. For the jury: Lothar Brandt

Chamber Music

Debussy: Les Trois Sonates – The late Works

Claude Debussy: Troisième Sonate pour violon et piano; Berceuse héroique pour piano; Page d’album – Pièce pour piano pour l’Œuvre du Vêtement du blessé; Deuxieme Sonate pour flûte, alto et harpe; Élégie pour piano; Première Sonate pour violoncelle et piano; Les Soirs illuminés pour piano. Isabelle Faust, Alexander Melnikov, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Javier Perianes, Xavier de Maistre, Antoine Tamestit, Magali Mosnier, Tanguy de Williencourt. harmonia mundi HMM902303

A hundred years after Claude Debussy’s death many excellent recordings of his works have been published. This album of the late sonata triad is exemplary of the enormous level at which not only the French musicians approach this genius of clarity. How color, structure and contour fall into each other, with sensitivity and precision – to describe the playing of the artists involved in this recording, from violinist Faust to harpist de Maistre, is to describe Debussy. Everything becomes transparent and all the more poetically unfathomable, always »léger et nerveux«. The sound engineer could be named in the same breath as the musicians. A treasure! For the jury: Volker Hagedorn

Keyboard Music

Johann Sebastian Bach: Die Kunst der Fuge BWV 1080

Bob van Asperen. SACD, Aeolus AE-10154 (Note 1)

Bob van Asperen, grand master of his field, once again demonstrates his skills as both scholar and musician with this album. Why Bach’s Art of the Fugue is a consummate work, he illustrates in an essay. His arrangement of the canons and fugues – without the famous unfinished one – culminates in the mirror fugues for two harpsichords in which he is supported by Bernhard Klapprott. Grand the scope of this interpretation! Van Asperen’s play is characterized not by strictness, but rather by infinite freedom, exemplified not just through the application of french ornaments. In his hands, the counterpoint compendium turns into an exciting journey into the miracle of Bach. For the jury: Michael Gassmann

Keyboard Music

Schubert 1828

Franz Schubert: Klaviersonaten c-moll D 958, A-Dur D 959, B-Dur D 960; Drei Klavierstücke D 946. Alexander Lonquich. 2 CDs, Alpha 433 (Note 1)

The naked truth: In the booklet text, Alexander Lonquich stresses the »emphatically narrative character» of Schubert’s last three sonatas but then examines their structural complexity with a Beethoven’s rigor and a «naked« clarity and stringency that reflect the composition process, which identifies them as manifestos of visionary modernity. His fascinating touch, his perfect, flexible timing, conciseness and the dramatically sharpened narrative flow reveal the profound desolation and hopelessness of these works in an unprotected openness and decisively refuse any trace of false emotion: Simultaneously captivating and unsettling. For the jury: Attila Csampai

Opera

Alessandro Stradella: La Doriclea

Emöke Barath, Giuseppina Bridelli, Xavier Sabata, Gabriella Martellacci, Luca Cervoni, Riccardo Novaro, Il Pomo d’Oro, Andrea De Carlo. 3 CDs, Arcana A 454 (Note 1)

Already this excellent complete edition of the oeuvre by Alessandro Stradella is at the fifth volume. Conductor and former contrabass player Andrea De Carlo has dedicated himself to it fully – going so far as to create a festival in Stradella’s birthplace Nepi, north of Rome. Stradella was a productive but overlooked composer with that certain something. His violent death in 1682, after he was chased out of Venice for procuring, likely made him better known than his works did. The swashbuckler opera »La Doriclea«, his debut in this genre in 1670, is a comedy of confusions within the early Baroque opera. The fabulous Hungarian soprano Emöke Baráth elevates this recording. The highest marks for this rediscovery! It teaches how colorful and capricious things are even in the fine print of the Baroque period. For the jury: Kai Luehrs-Kaiser

Opera

Alban Berg: Wozzeck

Christopher Maltman, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Frank van Aken, Marcel Beekman, Sir Willard White, Chorus of Dutch National Opera, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, Marc Albrecht, Stage Direction: Krzysztof Warlikowski. DVD, Naxos 2.110582 / Blu-ray, Naxos NBD0081V

All productions by Krzysztof Warlikowski circle the secret of love and desire. His version of Alban Berg’s »Wozzeck« therefore shifts the social drama into the background and places the plot in a mesmerizingly strange, surreal and melancholic atmosphere of instinct and abyss. Christopher Maltman’s Wozzeck is shaped by the inevitability of his destruction. Eva-Maria Westbroek’s Marie shows off with a sensual soprano and underlying eroticism. The child (Jacob Jutte) moves up to become the third main character in his unsuccessful effort to steer the fate of the family through the dangerous waters of temptation and hostility. The Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra plays with piercing precision. Music and theater become an inseparable unit in this exciting performance. For the jury: Robert Braunmüller

Choral Music

The Liberation of the Gothic

Thomas Ashwell: Missa Ave Maria; John Browne: Salve Regina, Stabat Mater. Graindelavoix, Björn Schmelzer. Glossa GCD P32115
(Note 1)

With a lot of expertise and creativity, the Graindelavoix ensemble has managed to revive the vocal polyphony of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance in a way that is both surprising and deeply moving. Especially through the obvious, but so far unused reference to traditional singing practices of the Mediterranean region, whereby the individual is given corresponding freedom of sound design and decoration: they create a profound musical effect that has rarely been heard before. The singers’ and their leader Björn Schmelzer’s fearlessness and lust for music produce results that are equivalent to those of period players in the field of instrumental music. For the jury: Helmut Mauró

Lieder and Vocal Recital

Frage. Sämtliche Lieder Vol. 1

Robert Schumann: Zwölf Gedichte op. 35; Romanzen und Balladen op. 49; Drei Gesänge op. 83; Sechs Gesänge op. 107; Warnung op. 119/2; Vier Gesänge op. 142. Christian Gerhaher, Gerold Huber. Sony 19075889192

The twelve Schumann songs op. 35 based on freely arranged texts by Justinus Kerner are less of a self-contained cycle than a kaleidoscopic compilation of introspections. Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber explore them with an impressive willingness to take risks; pursuing every syllable, every emotional vibration and still creating a network of formal and architectural references. These two artists outdo themselves. The CD is part of a recording project of all of Schumann’s songs, a collaboration between Bayerische Rundfunk, Sony and Heidelberger Frühling, which is slated for completion in 2020. How unconventional Gerhaher approaches the pieces can be seen, for example, in the Heine setting »Die beiden Grenadiere« which in this interpretation comes across as a pale grotesque, fractured repeatedly by the mixture of comedy and madness. For the jury: Stephan Mösch

Early Music

Giuseppe Tartini: Sonate op.1

Giuseppe Tartini: Sonata op.1 & 12 and op.26 No.15 & 17; Pastorale. Evgeny Sviridov, Stanislav Gres, Davit Melkonyan. Ricercar RIC 391 (Note 1)

With their unmistakably large number of trills, their virtuoso passages and endless double and triple stops, Giuseppe Tartini’s violin sonatas demand quite a bit of technique from a soloist – and yet Evgeny Sviridov succeeds at all of it in the service of an incredible sensitive and poetic expression. His violin tone captivates with immense cantabile and subtle nuances, his articulation is very rhetorical, his phrasing strikes wide, emphatic arcs. A better case for the late baroque lone wolf Tartini is hard to imagine. For the jury: Matthias Hengelbrock

Contemporary Classical Music

Anna Korsun: ulenflucht

Anna Korsun: ulenflucht, tollers zelle, plexus, auelliae, wehmut. Anna Korsun, Gustavo Brinholi, Moritz Eggert, Andreas Fischer, Alina Gehlen, Nataliya Hnativ, Sergey Khismatov, Alessia Park, Katharina Schmauder, Roman Sladek, Maciej Straburzyński, Dominik Susteck, Diana Syrse, Stefan Ullmann, Gijs van der Heijden, Johanna Zimmer, Flavio Virzì, Looptail. Wergo WER 6426 2 (Note 1)

Anna Korsun predominantly composes for acoustic instruments, skillfully throwing their history and tradition overboard. She creates, through the inclusion of numerous everyday objects, sounds that almost seem to be electronically generated. She writes for voices and as a trained soprano contributes very effectively to several pieces. For example in »tollers zelle«, in which her voice melts into the glissandi of a Bottleneck guitar. At the center of this fascinating CD is the organ piece »auelliae«, in which Korsun elicits astonishing results from two wind throttle registers! For the jury: Marita Emigholz

Historical Recordings

Nathan Milstein

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy: Violinkonzert e-Moll op. 64; Antonín Dvořák: Violinkonzert a-Moll op. 53. Recorded live at Lucerne Festival 1953 & 1955. Nathan Milstein, Swiss Festival Orchestra, Igor Markevitch, Ernest Ansermet. Audite 95.646 (Note 1)

These violin concerts, shining brilliantly in the »Luzerner Festspiele« edition, are notably linked to the soloist Nathan Milstein. Dvořák died in 1904, the year Milstein was born. For him and his contemporaries Adolf Busch and Vasa Prihoda, engaging with this work was an act of pioneering. The same applies to Milstein’s performances of the Mendelssohn concert (early evidence for this is a Toscanini live recording; who also conducted the founding concert of the Lucerne Festival, with Milstein in the audience). Here now Milstein plays both violin concerts with the unfathomable lightness of a virtuoso, who has no need to romp through the technically demanding passages, and instead confidently allows the listener to explore the music. For the jury: Stephan Bultmann

Crossover Productions

Fabrizio Cassol: Requiem pour L.

Inspired by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, conducted by Rodriguez Vangama, staged by Alain Platel. 7 Wheels/Outhere OUT 663 (Note 1)

Mozart’s last work, surviving only as a fragment, has inspired many later artists to work on it. During several years of research, the Belgian jazz arranger Fabrizio Cassol too delved into these notes. To an unknown woman, although »L.« as in »elles« also stands for all women, he dedicated a world music requiem for accordion, guitar, bass and drums, euphonium and the lamella harp, with seven singers performing in five African languages as well as Latin. The choreographer Alain Platel from Les ballets C de la B arranged the dance transposition and the Congolese hip-hopper Fredy Massamba for a dies irae potently shaped by African afterlife beliefs. A stirring, sensual contribution to ars moriendi, likely the most important world- and life art! For the jury: Nikolaus Gatter

Music Film

Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic, Vol. 1

New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein. 7 DVDs, Unitel edition 800208 / 4 Blu-rays Unitel edition 800304 (Naxos)

The recordings of these exemplary concerts are now finally accessible to German listeners, digitally processed and subtitled. Each episode shows that Leonard Bernstein gives his all and has his musicians and the young audience in Carnegie Hall do the same. He applies his enormous musicality, his charisma, his eloquence and his intellect, presents examples of music on the piano, lets the orchestra play them, he sings – and encourages the girls and boys to join in. A mixture of lecture, presentation, conversation concert and show – always serious and at the highest level, spontaneous, yet meticulously prepared. These recordings should be required reading at schools and universities, and they are also worth experiencing for every music lover. For the jury: Helge Grünewald

Jazz

Cécile McLorin Salvant: The Window

CD/2 LPs, Mack Avenue MAC1132 (in-akustik)

The singer Cécile McLorin Salvant covers classics from the American songbook, but also lesser-known pieces, often defying the usual approach. With her versatile voice, she imbues each word with unique and meaningful nuance. Sullivan Fortner supports these interpretations on the grand piano and the organ, by withdrawing, putting pressure, delaying; skillfully adapting to the needs of the piece, to intensify the message. The sixteen tracks on this album, recorded live in New York’s Club Village Vanguard and in the studio in 2017, reveal a deep-seated musical understanding. For the jury: Werner Stiefele

Jazz

The Art Ensemble Of Chicago And Associated Ensembles

21 CDs & 1 Book, ECM 2630 (Universal)

This musical milestone brings together all the albums that the Art Ensemble of Chicago has recorded for the ECM label. It also documents the ever-widening ripples that emanated from this creative core group. Broadening horizons, opening up completely new sound spaces in the process of free and collective music-making, reflecting on African-American heritage, grounding in the present with a vision of a humanistic future – all of this is reflected in multifaceted recordings of varying line-ups and transatlantic bridging. The comprehensive box is accompanied by a three-page book with illuminating texts and beautiful images. An editorial feat! For the jury: Bert Noglik

World Music

Gaye Su Akyol: İstikrarlı Hayal Hakikattir

CD / LP / DL, Glitterbeat GBCD/LP 062 (Indigo)

Singer and studied anthropologist Gaye Su Akyol mixes stiles that are worlds apart. Psychedelic rock from the Anatolia of the 1970s and dramatic Turkish Arabesk songs from the 1960s, plus Nirvana, Jefferson Airplane or Nick Cave: everything comes into the pot. How wonderful then, that the result is no undefined broth, but an album with a clear profile! Gaye Su Akyol and her musical partner and band leader Ali Güçlü Şimşek use the power of rock, the imagination and playfulness of psychedelic music and the pathos of Asian storytellers to create a world music pop pearl. For the jury: Jodok W. Kobelt

Folk and Singer/Songwriters

Fara: Times From Times Fall

CPL-Music CPL027 (Broken Silence)

There are no drums, no bass, yet the four women from Fara develop a tremendous drive. What’s more, the forces of nature play an important role in their music. Fara comes from the weather-beaten Orkney Islands in northern Scotland, their songs invoke wind, waves and the wild coast. Dense, pushing arrangements to get your feet moving right from the start. But there are also islands in between, with enchanting ballads in clear harmony vocals and three perfectly fusing violins: female power with finesse. For the jury: Imke Turner

Pop

Neneh Cherry: Broken Politics

CD/LP/DL, Smalltown Supersound STS343CD (Rough Trade)

Neneh Cherry takes her time – hits in the nineties, a comeback four years ago, and now »Broken Politics«: an album that doesn’t need to show off. Cherry denounces modern politics, singing against capitalism and the fetishization of firearms, against politics of selfishness, marked by their lack of empathy. Cameron McVey produced smartly. Despite the abundance of details, this is more of a chamber play than fireworks, which serves to make the music strong and focused: a compendium of electronics, world beat, jazz inlays, and, last but not least, the voice of an artist whose presence makes the songs pulsate. For the jury: Ralf Dombrowski

Rock

Element Of Crime: Schafe, Monster und Mäuse

CD/2 LPs, Vertigo Berlin 602567887034 (Universal)

Element Of Crime has always been unapologetically indifferent to the current trends of the zeitgeist. Sven Regener sang about the everyday problems of longing lovers at the bar when all the nice singer/songwriters of the past few years weren’t even allowed to drink beer yet. And so he sings on this fourteenth album of the thoughts of a Berliner who stumbles, sometimes desperate, sometimes smitten, through the city, the spätis, swimming pools and life. Under the exclamation »There is still love in me« he rushes through nights full of smoke, tears and good stories – with timpani and trumpets and this element-of-crime-ish mix between chanson, urban sailor’s song, and rock. Seldom has someone sung so beautifully of how wonderful it is that summer is finally over. For the jury: Juliane Streich

This album won in the jury Rock as well as in the Jury German Singer/Songwriter.

Hard and Heavy

Chapel Of Disease: …And As We Have Seen The Storm, We Have Embraced The Eye

CD/LP/DL, Ván Records 260 (Soulfood)

While the first two albums of the Cologne band Chapel of Disease were decidedly death metal in nature, they now, notwithstanding the cliché of a band »going their own way«, confidently present themselves as a borderless collective. With their extreme sound, they not only stalk the realms of death and black metal, but they also process classic metal and hard rock sounds and even evoke memories of seventies prog-rock royalty. However, the greatest achievement is that these six, at times overlong songs never sound too abstract, instead feeling more organic than almost the entire competition. A potential classic! For the jury: Boris Kaiser

Alternative

Low: Double Negative

CD/LP, Sub Pop SP1250 (Cargo)

The Trio Low from Duluth, Minnesota, surprises with a radical statement that sounds like an innovative mutation of their own, unmistakable musical DNA. The experimental album was developed and recorded with B.J. Burton, whose fingerprints in the studio had already enriched »22, A Million« by Bon Iver. The use of drones, effects and samples ensure unsuspected edges and crackling interference when the incisive band melodies are arranged in blazing or shimmering environments in which creaking sounds and deep bass beats, distortion blurs and wobbling ambient or noise sounds find themselves alongside angelic acoustic softness in a cathedral-like sphere. Often it sounds as though an immersion heater has been put into the music. For the jury: Götz Adler

Electronic and Experimental

Kelly Moran: Ultraviolet

CD/LP/DL, Warp 297 (Rough Trade)

For her last album »Bloodroot«, the New York composer and pianist was also celebrated by friends of contemporary classical music – the New York Times had voted the work among the twenty-five best »Classical Music Recordings« in 2017. Now Kelly Moran has left the straight path of Cage-like compositions. The prepared piano is still the focus of her minimalist, calmly tempered music, but improvisations and shimmering synthesizer layers expand the vocabulary. One thinks of nocturnal winter landscapes, covered in frost, reflecting the little light, and sometimes of the hypnotic clusters of an Indonesian Gamelan Orchestra. Seldom is there so much peace in the world. For the jury: Jürgen Ziemer

Blues and Blues-related

Colin James: Miles To Go

CD/LP, True North TND701 (Alive)

After »Blue Highways« the Canadian guitarist and singer Colin James has once again presented a multi-faceted and excellently produced album, for whose tracklist he primarily draws on songs by ancestors of the genre: Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Arthur »Big Boy« Crudup or Blind Lemon Jefferson. And once again he proves to be a musician who knows how to juggle different types of blues with confidence: genre classics are interpreted both respectfully and creatively, skillfully navigating the tension between tradition and modernity. For the jury: Michael Seiz

R&B, Soul and HipHop

Masta Ace & Marco Polo: A Breukelen Story

CD/2 LPs, Fat Beats l-FB5186

Boom Bap end of 2018? Yes! Because »Brooklyn is in the house«! With this concept album, Masta Ace and Marco Polo set their district, initially resettled by hipsters, now struggling with exploding rents and displacement, a memorial in LP length. The enigmatic poetry of the New York rap veteran and the finely chiseled beat arithmetic of the newcomers from Canada find each other effortlessly. With guests such as Pharoae Monch, Smif-N-Wessun and Styles P, as well as the boom-bap vibes, which have long since become Marco Polo’s trademark, »A Breukelen Story« becomes an eloquent and powerful ode, an outstanding artwork of hip-hop, the likes of which are created far too rarely in times of the ever-annoying autotune and fast-burning YouTube rap stars. For the jury: Torsten Fuchs & Jörg Wachsmuth

Spoken Word

The Poets’ Collection

English-speaking poetry in English and in German translation. Published by Christiane Collorio and Michael Krüger. 13 CDs, Der Hörverlag ISBN 978-3-8445-2141-2

A sensational find attracts attention here and it’s time to indulge in superlatives: a poetry anthology, in the original language by 94 authors, from Yeats to Auden, from artistry to onomatopoeia – globe-spanning poetry as authentic sound art! 192 English-language poems are made understandable for even inexperienced ears in exquisite German text translation and interpretation, and the magnificent booklet, enriched with short biographies and references, suggests decidedly scientific diligence. Michael Krüger, as the initiator of this mammoth project, has according to his account devoted at least four decades to it. The motto of the edition could be Robert Frost’s quote in the preface: »A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.« For the jury: Peter Fuhrmann

Recordings for Children and Youth

Davide Morosinotto: Verloren in Eis und Schnee (La sfolgorante luce di due stelle rosse)

The incredible story ot the Danilow siblings. Full length reading. Nicolás Artajo, Gabrielle Pietermann, Reinhard Kuhnert. 2 mp3-CDs, cbj audio ISBN 978-3-837143386

Once again, this author manages to weave historical facts into a narrative so exciting that even a story of life (and survival) during the war almost becomes an adventurous road trip. And yet, nothing is trivialized. It is the summer of 1941, the Germans are about to invade Russia, and Leningrad is particularly endangered. So all the children of the city, including thirteen-year-old twins Nadja and Viktor, are to be evacuated to the Urals. But they are separated from one another during transport. How the two try to find each other, what adventures and trials they each experience and how great history is reflected in small things is described in detail, sometimes painfully, often not without humor, in their diary notes – and wonderfully brought to life through the nuanced and youthful voices of Gabrielle Pietermann and Nicolás Artajo. For the jury: Carola Benninghoven

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