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

Herbert Blomstedt: Mahler IX

Gustav Mahler: Symphonie Nr. 9. Bamberger Symphoniker, Herbert Blomstedt. 2 CDs, Accentus Music ACC30477 (Naxos)

More than fifty recordings of Mahler’s ninth symphony exist, so with every new one, the question needs to be asked: is this necessary? In the case of Herbert Blomstedt and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, the answer is clearly: Yes! Not because the now ninety-two-years-old conductor has long been stylized into one of the shining lights of classical music; but because this recording convinces the listener of it, without fail. Blomstedt makes the orchestra sing and shine, wholly without pathos and sentimentality. His music-making is characterized by simplicity, intimacy and utmost intensity: whether it is Ländler or burlesque, everything is illuminated in a carefully differentiated way, and the colossal Adagio finale becomes a breathtaking song, with magnificent sound culture. For the jury: Peter Stieber

Orchestral Music & Concertos

Walter Braunfels Vol. 4

Walter Braunfels: Hebridentänze für Klavier und Orchester op. 70; Sinfonia Concertante op. 68; Orchester-Suite op. 48 (Braunfels Edition Volume 4). Piers Lane, Ernst Kovacic, Thomas Selditz, BBC Concert Orchestra, Johannes Wildner. SACD, Dutton Epoch CDLX 7355 (harmonia mundi)

In the course of the well-deserved, long overdue rediscovery of the music by Walter Braunfels, which has been going on for several years, this recording is another small milestone. With their gripping, precise and expressive interpretation of the two late works – the Sinfonia Concertante from 1948 and the Hebridentänze from 1951 – Johannes Wildner and the BBC Concert Orchestra commit to music that has found its very own language beyond the avant-garde of its time. The soloists are outstanding too: Piers Lane on the piano, violinist Ernst Kovacic and Ernst Selditz, viola. For the jury: Michael Stegemann

Chamber Music

Poland abroad

Ignatz Waghalter: Streichquartett D-Dur; Ignace Strasfogel: Streichquartett Nr. 1; Karol Rathaus: Streichquartett Nr.5 op.72. Polish String Quartet Berlin. eda records EDA 043 (Naxos)

The National Socialists drove three Polish Jewish composers into exile: Ignatz Waghalter, Ignace Strasfogel and Karol Rathaus, who at the beginning of the twentieth century regarded Germany as their artistic and spiritual home. Although they survived the Holocaust, they could not, or only under difficult conditions, continue their path. While Waghalter is connected to the tonal, late romantic-impressionistic idiom – yet singular and imaginative – Strasfogel and Rathaus are closely related to the second Viennese school. You can feel the passion of the Polish String Quartet Berlin for the excellently written and more than worthwhile works of the three. The ensemble fascinates with a captivatingly consistent sound and structural clarity. A discovery! For the jury: Elisabeth Richter

Keyboard Music

Joseph Haydn: The seven last words of Christ

Joseph Haydn: Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuz Hob. XX:1C; Andante con variazioni f-moll Hob. XVII:6. Nicolas Stavy. SACD, BIS Records BIS-2429 (Klassik Center)

Haydn composed the last seven words on behalf of a Spanish clergyman, the work was premiered during the Passion Week in 1787 in Vienna and Cadiz. Anyone who knows the marvelous intensity and legato culture of the quartet version will be amazed at the spiritual strength and depth Nicolas Stavy also gains from the seemingly ascetic piano version. With pure, serious sound and crystal-clear touch, he teases out of the large Steinway a variety of characters and moods, which Haydn creates in seven slow movements. For the human powers found in Haydn’s music, this is one of the most beautiful, most moving manifestos: they act on the listener in an almost quintessential density. As an encore, there are the late, no less profound F minor variations. For the jury: Attila Csampai

Keyboard Music

Suzuki - Johann Sebastian Bach: Organ Works Vol. 3

BWV 531, 537, 546, 566a, 582, 709, 711, 715, 717, 726, 770 (Silbermannorgel Freiberg). Masaaki Suzuki. SACD, BIS Records BIS-2421 (Klassik Center)

Masaaki Suzuki uses the colors of the Freiberg Cathedral organ, including the magnificent reed stops, free from dogma and with a delightful imagination. His Bach album in C features weighty works, including the Fantasy and Fugue BWV 537, the Preludes and Fugues BWV 531 and 546, the Passacaglia BWV 582 and the Toccata BWV 566 develop a radiance in the uneven temperament. Together with Suzuki’s distinguished drive and virtuoso bite, they help to place this remarkably well-done recording at the forefront of the broad field of »Bach on Silbermann organs«. For the jury: Friedrich Sprondel

Opera

Antonio Salieri: Tarare

Cyrille Dubois, Karine Deshayes, Jean-Sébastien Bou, Judith van Wanroij, Enguerrand de Hys, Tassis Christoyannis, Jérôme Boutillier, Philippe-Nicolas Martin, Marine Lafdal-Franc, Danaé Monnié, Les Chantres du Centre de musique baroque de Versailles, Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset. 3 CDs, Aparté AP208 (harmonia mundi)

Two years before the revolution and shortly before his return to Vienna, Antonio Salieri managed to receive a libretto directly from Beaumarchais. Through sprawling recitatives in which the famous author demands his right, »Tarare», a monstrously complex work, creates the paradoxical anticipation of the Parlando-style opera. With French stars such as Cyrille Dubois, Karine Deshayes and Jean-Sébastian Bou, baroque master Christophe Rousset brought the revolutionary-minded Seraglio story back to the opera stage. After »Les Danaïdes» and »Les Horaces«, he has with »Trarare« completed an edition of each of the three operas that Antonio Salieri wrote for Paris. A great feat, admirable! One might greet it with, what Beaumarchais considered as an alternative title, a heartily proclaimed: Trara! For the jury: Kai Luehrs-Kaiser

Opera

Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Das Wunder der Heliane

Sara Jakubiak, Brian Jagde, Josef Wagner, Okka von der Damerau, Derek Welton, Burkhard Ulrich, Chor und Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin, Marc Albrecht; Stage Direction: Christof Loy. Blu-ray Naxos NBD0083V / 2 DVDs Naxos 2110584-85

Scenically, charisma, death, revival and disempowerment are certainly a risk in our sober, realistic days – but director Christoph Loy still trusts the power of utopia in the here and now. In doing so, he also relies on the overwhelming potential of Korngold’s music. Rightly so! Conductor Marc Albrecht wonderfully unfolds the opulent radiance of this underrated score. For the complex role of Heliane, Sara Jakubiak is, within a first-class ensemble, downright a dream cast. A worthwhile completion of our previous Korngold picture. For the jury: Wolf-Dieter Peter

Choral Music

EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble - Gesualdo: Madrigali

Carlo Gesualdo: Madrigali a cinque voci (aus den Büchern V & VI). Exaudi Vocal Ensemble, James Weeks. Winter & Winter 910 259-2 (Edel)

Anyone who hears Carlo Gesualdo’s madrigals will feel peculiar. They have a wandering, placeless feel, and sometimes they switch from one harmony to another so suddenly that one almost starts to doubt the composer’s mind. But Gesualdo pursued a master plan: his madrigals describe the fickleness of the soul, the instability of the heart, the illusions of the senses. The intonation of this eccentric music is delicate. It is fantastic how the Exaudi Vocal Ensemble captures these ghostly sounds. After just a short time listening you can tell: It is perfect. And it stays that way. For the jury: Wolfram Goertz

Lieder and Vocal Recital

Sandrine Piau – Si j’ai aimé

Works by Hector Berlioz, Charles Bordes, Théodore Dubois, Henri Duparc, Benjamin Godard, Alexandre Guilmant, Jean-Paul-Égide Martini, Jules Massenet, Gabriel Pierné, Camille Saint-Saëns, Louis Vierne. Sandrine Piau, Le Concert de la Loge, Julien Chauvin. Alpha Classics 445 (Note 1)

They are announced as pastels, but these miniatures are so much more – at least when they are sung by Sandrine Piau. The soprano leaves nothing to the vocal sfumato and instead creates with clarity and a fine application of color. The album was created in collaboration with the archive miners of the Palazetto Bru Zane. Some of the songs, such as those by Camille Saint-Saëns, Louis Vierne, or Théodore Dubois, accompanied delicately oscillating by Le Concert de la Loge, are the missing links between piano song and French aria. Interpreting them is a balancing act: the style-conscious Piau succeeds effortlessly. For the jury: Markus Thiel

Early Music

Bach family - Cantatas

Heinrich Bach: Ich danke Dir Gott; Johann Michael Bach: Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ; Herr, der König freuet sich; Johann Christoph Bach: Die Furcht des Herren; Herr, wende Dich und sei mir gnädig; Es erhub sich ein Streit; Johann Sebastian Bach: Christ lag in Todesbanden BWV 4. Vox Luminis, Lionel Meunier. Ricercar RIC 401 (Note 1)

After the motets, the cantatas: Lionel Meunier and Vox Luminis have dedicated themselves to the relevant works of the Bach relatives Heinrich, Johann Christoph, and Johann Michael Bach. The result is a recording with a strong pull: meticulous yet with a warm timbre, in perfect harmony between word and music, and with a strong presence of the large gallery organ. But it is also interesting because three ancestors are brought out of the overwhelming shadow of the Thomaskantor. Sebastian’s early cantata »Christ lag in Todes Banden« BWV 4 in the appendix shows how strongly he was influenced by his relatives and how he later differentiated himself. For the jury: Thomas Ahnert

Contemporary Classical Music

Philippe Manoury: Le temps, mode d’emploi

GrauSchumacher Piano Duo, SWR Experimentalstudio. SACD, Neos 11802 (harmonia mundi)

From the beginning, this music has something intoxicating, yet it never confuses. With their inimitable joy of playing, Andreas Grau and Götz Schumacher drift through a labyrinth, they pursue and are pursued. Hearing becomes joyful, timeless, truly in the moment. Time stands still and flies by the next second. How this is accomplished? The pianists give impulses to the digital playing field and have to improvise in reaction to its algorithms. Sometimes technically virtuoso on the edge of the playable, sometimes poetic in the deepest, darkest blue. This recording was created as a collaboration with the Experimentalstudio, it is a magical game with live electronics, which in virtuosity no one has mastered like Philippe Manoury. For the jury: Margarete Zander

Historical Recordings

Brigitte Fassbaender: The great Lieder recordings

Lieder, Arias and Duets by Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Franz Liszt, Friedrich von Flotow, Hugo Wolf, Gustav Mahler und Alban Berg. Brigitte Fassbaender, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Nicolai Gedda, Lucia Popp, Anneliese Rothenberger, José Van Dam, Patricia Wise, Karl Engel, Irwin Gage, Aribert Reimann, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Erik Werba, Willi Boskovsky, Lawrence Foster, Sir Neville Marriner, Willy Mattes, Jeffrey Tate. 8 CDs, Warner Classics 509996829682

Brigitte Fassbaender’s eightieth birthday gives reason to look back and to the future, even for the big labels. This edition presents the early recordings excellently – including Fassbaender’s very first recording ever. The repertoire of this exceptional singer is much broader than the perpetual association with the Octavian part in the »Rosenkavalier« makes it out to be. It ranges from religious music, Bach and Handel, to the limits of modernity, Berg and Schönberg. She also sang the Iokaste in Enescu’s »Oedipe«, alongside Nicolai Gedda, as well as Schubert’s »Winterreise«, and operettas and gypsy songs. For the jury: Stephan Bultmann

Crossover Productions

Mia Brentano’s River of Memories – A Mystery Trip

Benyamin Nuss, Andy Miles, Klaus Martin Kopitz, Marie-Noëlle Fileyssant, Timkehet Teffera, Jóhanna Eydís Pórarinsdóttir, Ayo Ajayi, Katrin Gralki, Yun-Kyung Lee, Heiner Reinhardt, Johannes Ernst, Shiori Doi, Hans Dekker. Mons Records MR874621 (NRW Vertrieb)

Blue is the moon in the opening piece, with its blue notes as the colorant. In »River of Memories« we enter a wide listening landscape of stories that our dreams are made of; stories in which the surreal and real, nostalgic-romantic, silky melodic and nightmarish-ghostly meet. Mia Brentano (as the musicologist Klaus Martin Kopitz calls himself when he composes) offers a remarkable range of styles that includes the classic-romantic repertoire as well as jazz and modern electronics with their popular offshoots. Different languages serve as radio drama-like sound material and become a tribute to authors such as André Breton or Paul Auster. Kopitz takes us on a fantastic journey into unheard-of dream and sound worlds. For the jury: Heinz Zietsch

Music Film

Asi mit Niwoh. Der Etwas andere Heimatfilm – Die Jürgen Zeltinger Geschichte

A film by Oliver Schwabe. Jürgen Zeltinger, Dennis Kleimann, Arno Steffen, Heiner Lauterbach, Wolfgang Niedecken, Christian Kahrmann, Anton Claassen, Susanne Zeltinger-Lehmköster, Tanja Meyer, Tom Schönberg, Robbie Vonddenhoff & Wolfgang Günnewig. DVD, mindjazz pictures 6419316 (Alive)

He was a cult figure in Cologne. Jürgen »de Plaat« Zeltinger started as a street musician and became a scene celebrity as a punk rocker. Today he feeds fish in the garden pond, drives through the neighborhood on his scooter, and if he puts on a show on stage, then while sitting. Immobile and lounging on his couch, the now sixty-eight-year-old bald punk grandpa speaks of his eventful life and doesn’t keep documentary filmmaker Oliver Schwabe at arm’s length. Colleagues, companions and lots of archive material complete the portrait. Even if Zeltinger flirts a little with his shady past, you can hardly avoid finding him, somehow, likable. For the jury: Berthold Klostermann

Jazz

Scott Hamilton Quartet: Danish Ballads ... & More

CD / LP Stunt Records STUCD 18192 / STULP 18101 (in-akustik)

Scott Hamilton once said that he tries to do something new and original every night to dispel any suspicions of eclecticism. After all, the tenor saxophonist, born in 1954, has often been referred to as the gestalt revenant of Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and Lester Young. This was not meant disparagingly but rather as a triple compliment. On this latest album, Hamilton continues to develop a powerful, equally soft personal tone. If you could make a smoothie out of tones – the result should sound something like the »Danish Ballads«. The quartet musicians mix gently swinging, clearly accentuated melodies in perfectly balanced interplay: a listening experience that simply guarantees a good mood. For the jury: Rainer Nolden

Jazz

Stephan-Max Wirth: Live Experience

25 years SMWE – the legendary live recordings of the 2010s. Stephan-Max Wirth, Jaap Berends, Bub Boelens, Florian Hoefnagels. 4 CDs, Bos.Rec 239-19 (Galileo)

The Berlin saxophonist and composer Stephan-Max Wirth has been active with his band for more than a quarter of a century. The live box with 21 pieces on 4 CDs, now released for the twenty-fifth anniversary, kaleidoscopically unites the stylistic diversity of contemporary jazz: whether in daring post-bob concepts, jazz-rock excursions, free jazz borrowings or longing ballads of often vocal quality. Wirth demonstrates weightless virtuosity with the musicians of his German-Dutch quartet, combined with an incorruptible sense for sound. For the jury: Peter Kemper

World Music

Mísia: Pura Vida (Banda Sonora)

Galileo MC GMC086

She wishes for a »silky, velvet, woolen, little fado« – of all places in a song that was musically inspired by Irving Berlin’s frivolous »Puttin ‚on the Ritz«. But Mísia’s new album has never been less small and cozy. Portugal’s largest fadista »does not want to belong to any tribe or genre«, she spreads her wings wide and lands even in Argentine tango – a highly dramatic connection. The fact that this »soundtrack of a life« has the qualities of a concept album despite all the variety of styles and instrumentation is also thanks to the great arrangement skill of Fabrizio Romano, Mísia’s long-time colleague. For the jury: Jürgen Frey

Traditional Ethnic Music

Kudsi Ergüner: La Mélancolie Royale

Méditation Soufie. Seyir Muzik 2GN009 (Galileo)

In the Orient, the sound of the reed flute Ney is associated with the breath of God. Their soft, airy tone and their plaintive melodies awaken melancholy and, for example, put Sufi dervishes in a state of spiritual immersion. The Turkish virtuoso Kudsi Ergüner comes from a family that has been playing the Ney for many generations. His album »La mélancolie royale« enchants with intimate sounds: delicate lines, the finest nuances in the tone, tiny embellishments, and microtonal subtleties. In addition, a calm breath, long melody arcs, and pauses in which time stands still. For the jury: Tom Daun

German language Singer/Songwriters

Rainald Grebe & Die Kapelle der Versöhnung: Albanien

CD / 2 LPs, Versöhnungsrecords 00953 / 00954 (Broken Silence)

Rainald Grebe remains connected to his simultaneously realistic and absurd vinyl topography. The singer, cabaret artist, and theater man recently added the album »Albania« to the Thuringia, Frechen, or Brandenburg anthems, which have long grown into weird evergreens. Seventeen pieces – and the title song says, among other things: »I no longer know the ropes, so little is clear … everyone speaks English, H&M everywhere, only airport people everywhere. But in Albania, Albania, in Albania everything is as it used to be.« The turtle lying on its back on the front cover exemplifies the conditions in Germany as well as the rest of the globe: A tear goes through time. It is conciliatory to hear the innovative Grebe in perfect harmony with its tried and true wild Kapelle der Versöhnung (Chapel of Reconciliation). For the jury: Jochen Arlt

Folk and Singer/Songwriters

Lata Donga: Variācijas

CPL Music CPL032 (Broken Silence)

You don’t hear folk music from Latvia every day. But Lata Donga has what it takes to convince music lovers from all over the world. The heart and soul of the band is a family in which the Latvian folk tradition has been upheld for three generations. Equipped with Kokle zithers, oriental percussion, and the most beautiful voices of the Baltic States, father, mother, and the two daughters bring centuries-old melodies to life and pay homage to both the feminine and the divine. »Variācijas« is the debut album of this family ensemble, one can only say: more of that! For the jury: Suzanne Cords

Hard and Heavy

Sacred Reich: Awakening

CD / LP, Metal Blade Records 03984156622 / 03984251231 (Sony)

»A new broom sweeps clean«, is a common saying. It doesn’t seem to apply in Thrash Metal. Because after Exhorder with »Mourn the Southern Skies«, Sacred Reich is now the second veteran combo to blow our ears away with an incredible album. »Awakening« reminds us harshly of the reasons why we fell for this kind of metal in the first place: razor-sharp riffs, overwhelming energy, invigorating hooks! Sacred Reich delivers these in the typical sound arrangement of Slayer-like recklessness, punk attitude, and electrifying groove. What turns titles such as the harsh »Divide & Conquer«, the nimble »Revolution« or the glorious »Something To Believe« into thrash hymns are the superior songwriting skills of Phil Rind and his men. The Arizona foursome 2019 can even build on heroic deeds such as »The American Way«. Surf’s up! For the jury: Felix Mescoli

Alternative

Thom Yorke: Anima

CD / 2LPs, XL Recordings XL987 (Indigo)

The singer of Radiohead leads us through an emotionalizing solo album, written by himself and produced by Nigel Godrich, with his excellent and finely dosed voice. He penetrates the subconscious, encounters himself and his fears in dreams and nightmares on an album like a river that flows on and on. The electronic textures also warm up thanks to the bass beautifully providing a foundation, on which Yorke sleepwalks through surreal worlds again and again. And as he immerses himself in REM-phases, he subtly and progressively lets guitar runs circle themselves. Electronic stardust trickles. With an enormous pull and idiosyncratic expression, with eeriness and minimalism, this music captivates completely. For the jury: Götz Adler

Blues and Blues-related

Coco Montoya: Coming In Hot

Alligator Records ALCD 4994 (in-akustik)

With this album, produced by Tom Braunagel, Coco Montoya gets to the point: his connection with classic blues, but also the high art of constantly developing new forms of play by adding elements that are alien to the genre. You can feel the admiration for his mentor Albert Collins, you admire the power to create his own personal style, the dazzling technique, combined with intense joy of playing. With »Coming In Hot« the blues guitarist with the soulful voice has found the right title for an outstanding album. For the jury: Karl Leitner

R&B, Soul and HipHop

Cool Million: Stronger

CD / 2 LPs, Lounge Records 22083 / 22084 (Broken Silence)

The 2015 award winners have fine-tuned their screws: This time, Cool Million worked with guest vocalists again, screwing together sound frameworks from soul, funk, and boogie and polishing them up in the studio. Much is quoted this time from the early nineties, tracks like »Skintight« bowing to S.O.S. lead to Jade, Joyce Sims, and MoKenStef. Now, grouchy critics could accuse the Danish-German duo of shying away from experimentation and simply duplicating themselves at a high level. With a stronger focus on the nineties soul in the 13 songs, Rob Hardt and Frank Ryle elegantly overturned such a – purely hypothetical – argument. For the jury: Torsten Fuchs

Spoken Word

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa: Der Leopard (Il Gattopardo)

Thomas Loibl. 8 CDs, Osterwold audio ISBN 978-3-86952-429-0 (Hörbuch Hamburg)

Thomas Loibl conjures up a world of upheaval in the nineteenth century in a calm narrative tone in »The Leopard«. The novel is a work of the century by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, published sixty years ago. It places the downfall of Prince Salina, representing the decline of »old« Italy, in a scintillating scenario, because the »new Italy«, Garibaldi’s Italy, struggling for unification, is violently hewing its own path – symbolized by Tancredi, the prince’s favorite nephew. Loibl always hits the right note and the right tempo whether the Sicilian sun burns relentlessly or the prince ponders about love, courtesy, and the necessity of change – of renewal. (For the jury: Anja Reinhardt) For the jury: Anja Reinhardt

Recordings for Children and Youth

Dirk Kummer: Alles nur aus Zuckersand

Charly Hübner. 3 CDs, Silberfisch ISBN 978-3-7456-0123-7 (Hörbuch Hamburg)

In the shadow of the Berlin Wall, Fred and his best friend Jonas experience big and small adventures, preferably of the secret kind, in abandoned factory buildings near the heavily guarded border. When Jonas’ mother applies to leave the GDR, the children seal their blood brotherhood and begin digging a tunnel through the fine sand of the border area. Director Dirk Kummer, who grew up in the GDR himself, tells of the great friendship between two ten-year-olds and simultaneously provides glimpses into everyday life in the GDR and into different ways of life. The story, first filmed in 2017 with a dark ending, now contains a glimmer of hope, without talking down the wrong. Charlie Hübner reads the audiobook not with furor, but with great tranquility. All this ensures that children, even today, can identify with the two boys. For the jury: Juliane Spatz

Open