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

Dimitri Schostakowitsch: Symphony No. 10

Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Mariss Jansons. BR Klassik 900185 (Naxos)

For conductor Mariss Jansons, the Shostakovich symphonies were throughout his life both a matter of the heart and a challenge. Since the composer’s centenary, Jansons has been present in the catalog with a complete recording. The recently released live recording of the symphony, made in 2010, is also part of his artistic legacy: not a superficially emotion-laden painting of the Stalin dictatorship, but instead a confident view of the musical cosmos of this music. A tremendous arc of tension holds the disparate first movement together, the furious scherzo is a virtuoso attack. The excellent BR orchestra plays under its longtime conductor, who recently faded away, with an expertly differentiated balance of sound and high contrasts in the tempo-relations. For the jury: Peter Stieber

Orchestral Music & Concertos

Ludwig van Beethoven: The Piano Concertos

Ronald Brautigam, Die Kölner Akademie, Michael Alexander Willens. 2 SACDs, BIS Records BIS-2274 (Klassik Center)

There are many complete recordings of Beethoven’s piano concerts, but period player’s recordings are still rare. Pianist Ronald Brautigam and Michael Alexander Willens, with Die Kölner Akademie, have set a new benchmark. The characteristic sound of the two forte-pianos used alone gives the interpretations each a distinctive profile. The music breathes lightness and freshness, the much-quoted dust on the scores feels blown away: a substantial contribution to the Beethoven 2020 anniversary. For the jury: Norbert Hornig

Chamber Music

Beethoven around the World: Vienna

String quartets Nos. 7 & 8 (op.59 Nos. 1 & 2). Quatuor Ébène. Erato 9029539602 (Warner)

If the world tour of Quatuor Ébène playing Beethoven’s complete string quartets continue as it started in Vienna, one should follow the ensemble around the world. For those who, due to climate-related feelings of shame prefer not to, will at least benefit from the live recordings of the individual concerts of what probably is currently the ultimate Beethoven rendition. The Ébène Quartet prepared this figurative ascent of Mount Everest with skillful accuracy. The Result: A total immersion in music making you forget the world around you. For the jury: Lotte Thaler

Chamber Music

Contrasts

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Trio KV 498; Robert Schumann: Fairy Tale Narrations op.132; Johannes Brahms: Two Songs op.91; Béla Bartók: Contrasts Sz 111; Ilan Rechtman: Jazzical 2. Sharon Kam, Ori Kam, Matan Porat. Orfeo C 983 191 (Naxos)

Chamber music is a passion of Sharon Kam, outstanding clarinetist. Together with her brother Ori Kam, an excellent viola player and member of the Jerusalem Quartet, she has been performing since childhood. This creates a rare familiarity in musical thinking, an almost uncanny symbiosis, despite all the differences in voice, expression, color or phrase. Kam and Kam performed the program of their new album together with the pianist Matan Porat several times before they went to the studio, it is built like an ideal concert: wandering across the peaks of the rare original literature, from Mozart to Schumann, and including a jazz-loving encore. Changing the sound arrangement for the two core pieces: for Brahms, the clarinet sings in place of the human voice. The dark viola dares to play the tricky violin part for Bartók. Grandiose, thrilling! For the jury: Eleonore Büning

Keyboard Music

Volodos

Franz Schubert: Pianio Sonata D.959, Menuets D.334, D.335, D.600. Arcadi Volodos. Sony Classical 19075868292

While the world is all about Beethoven this year, Arcadi Volodos has decided to express his deep connection with the music of Franz Schubert. Anyone who still considers this pianist to be a virtuoso keyboard acrobat, treated as such since his first appearance, as appropriate successor to Vladimir Horowitz, will now be instructed otherwise. Volodos is a proven Schubert specialist, he maps the changing poetic perspectives and illuminates the bold harmonies. He »lived for years« as he said, with the late A major sonata from 1827. You can hear that. For the jury: Christian Kröber

Keyboard Music

Wolfgang Rihm and the organ

as well as recordings with original German voice of Wolfgang Rihm (Talk with artists Vol. 12). Martin Schmeding, Mirjam Wiesemann, Wolfgang Rihm. Cybele Records 4SACD KiG 012 (Klassik Center)

The first time a musician comes into contact with the queen of instruments often means the entry into a rich and unfathomable, overwhelming and infinitely complex experimental field of sounds. Many great composers have valued the organ as an inexhaustible sound laboratory for the senses, including Wolfgang Rihm – a great musician of our time who, as is often said, cannot be classified. This incredibly worthwhile production accompanies him as he tracks a path to himself. Wolfgang Rihm himself and Martin Schmeding play Rihm’s entire organ work and talk about it. Simply fantastic! For the jury: Martin Hoffmann

Opera

Ludwig van Beethoven: Leonore op.72a

Marlis Petersen, Maximilian Schmitt, Dimitry Ivashchenko, Robin Johannsen, Johannes Weisser, Tareq Nazmi, Johannes Chum, Florian Feth, Julian Popken, Zürcher Sing-Akademie, Freiburger Barockorchester, René Jacobs. 2 CDs, harmonia mundi HMM 902414.15

The problems with Beethoven’s only opera are well known. Now grandmaster René Jacobs makes a brilliant plea for the first version of 1805 with the unique Freiburg Barockorchester, the Züricher Sing-Akademie and a carefully chosen and convincingly »different« soloist ensemble. Finally, one can experience tempos of the kind that René Leibowitz once presented for the symphonies. The Sonnleithner dialogue version, which has been acceptably modernized by Jacobs, supplements and connects the music in impressive radio play quality, and even carries the dungeon scene well. The Result: a captivating and brilliant alternative to all »Fidelio« recordings. For the jury: Wolf-Dieter Peter

Choral Music

Hector Berlioz: Messe solennelle H20

Le Concert Spirituel, Hervé Niquet. Alpha Classics ALPHA 564 (Note 1)

The 20-year-old Berlioz sweeps completely undogmatic through the mass ordinary, complete with Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Although the premiere of his Messe Solennelle brought him first fame, he later considered this autodidactic stroke of genius an embarrassment. He (supposedly) threw the material into the flames, only the autograph score escaped the self-critical auto-da-fé. In 1992 it was rediscovered in an Antwerp church library. Hervé Niquet and his Concert Spirituel rush across the liturgical rollercoaster at full risk, sometimes almost derailing, but the melange of sacred opera, youthful passion and eccentric drama is made all the more exciting for it. And the in monarchical France customary hymn to the king and king’s divine rights sounds like the storm on the Bastille. Splendid! For the jury: Martin Mezger

Lieder and Vocal Recital

Edith Mathis

Lieder by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Béla Bartók, Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann, Richard Strauss and Hugo Wolf (Lucerne Festival 1975). Edith Mathis, Karl Engel. Audite 95.647 (Note 1)

Grace – this term comes to mind immediately when you hear the historical live recording of a recital by Edith Mathis. Grace has to do with poetry, with naturalness and artistic simplicity. Grace, however, can also include pragmatic aspects: Edith Mathis, then, in 1975, at the top of her game, had always adhered to the possibilities of her voice. She remained true to herself in order to be a versatile interpreter. So she meets Schumann’s lyrical inwardness as well as the graphicness of the »Village Scenes« by Bartók, the enthusiastic composure of Mozart’s »Abendempfindung« as well as the punch lines of Richard Strauss. You can feel the concentration of the audience. And share their enthusiasm. For the jury: Stephan Mösch

Early Music

Johannes Ockeghem: Complete Songs, Volume 1

Blue Heron, Scott Metcalfe. Blue Heron BHCD 1010 (Klassik Center)

With this recording, part of a large-scale Ockeghem project, the vocal ensemble Blue Heron from Boston sheds new light on one of the most influential composers of the fifteenth century. In contrast to Ockeghem’s sacred music, his secular songs are limited to three-part music, sometimes enriched in color by the subtle use of harp and vielle. Serene, yet sensually interpreted, vivid and transparent at the same time, these neglected chansons gain an unprecedented aura that reaches heart and mind alike. For the jury: Carsten Niemann

Contemporary Classical Music

Flock

Works by Carola Bauckholt, Jan Martin Smørdal, Henrik Strindberg, Malin Bång and Natasha Barrett. Karin Hellqvist. Lawo Classics LWC1179 (Klassik Center)

The Swedish violinist Karin Hellqvist is one of the most active specialists in contemporary music in the north. In addition to her solo performances, she is active in various ensembles, including Cikada, Oslo Sinfonietta and Ensemble neoN. On her new CD, she gathers works that question the »tool« violin about timbral changes and prelude virtuosity. It’s all about fine details, be it in terms of timbre, dynamic or rhythmic nature. »Listening as a method«, Hild Borchgrevink, the author of the album notes, writes accurately. Karin Hellqvist plays with high accuracy, lightness and delicacy. Some compositions integrate electronics or playbacks, which Hellqvist makes interact organically with her violin sounds. For the jury: Nina Polaschegg

Historical Recordings

Moura Lympany. The Decca Legacy

Works by Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Schumann, Grieg etc. National Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, New Symphony Orchestra, Boyd Neel, Royalton Kisch, Sidney Beer, Warwick Braithwaite, Anatole Fistoulari, Adrian Boult et.al. 7 CDs, Eloquence/Decca 482 9404 (Klassik Center)

Moura Lympani’s musical roots go back to Clara Schumann via her teacher Mathilde Verne. She earned an excellent reputation for the Russian repertoire: in total, Lympany has recorded the Rachmaninoff preludes three times (two included in this edition), and her Khachaturian concert was one of the very first studio recordings of the piece. Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Grieg represent the romantics in this edition, and concerts and sonatas by Liszt, Chopin and Saint-Saëns are further pianistic highlights. Anglo-Saxon modernism comes into its own with the first-ever published BBC recordings of Barber’s and Rawsthorne’s works. For the jury: Stephan Bultmann

Crossover Productions

Synesthetic4: Pickedem

Peter Rom, Manuel Mayr, Andreas Lettner, Vincent Pongrácz. JazzWerkstatt Records JWR 03/19 (Lotus)

Dolphy, Zappa, Tony Williams? Big names immediately come to mind for the sake of comparison, but the sound of the quartet Synesthetic4 proves to be an unmistakably unique, challenging mix. Sophisticated brass movements, acrobatic guitar riffs, a wild stage show with mask and light effects as well as precise rap lyrics à la Chaplin in a self-invented, sound-appropriate language: the Viennese clarinetist and composer Vincent Pongrácz present with »Pickedem« a furious, and even danceable adventure – not only to be enjoyed in the CD drawer; but even more so there! For the jury: Nikolaus Gatter

Film Music

Hildur Guðnadóttir: Joker

(Original Motion Picture Soundtrack). The Hollywood Studio Symphony Orchestra. CD / DL, Watertower Music 9404320322 (Warner)

The soundtracks of the Icelander Hildur Guðnadóttir have nothing in common with the pounding certainty of the superhero blockbuster. Alongside her equally impressive work for the HBO mini-series »Chernobyl«, the atmosphere compression she composed for the film »Joker« by Todd Phillips, leaves conventional film scores far behind. Her music intervenes in the film. Parts of »Joker« were only filmed she had created the music for it, such as the strongest, bleakest scene: the one-man ballet by Joaquin Phoenix to a sinister cello lament, after his transformation into a beast. Guðnadóttir’s composition, desperate and disturbing, plays an invisible, unforgettable main role in this psychodrama. For the jury: Joachim Mischke

Music Film

The Brahms Code

A music documentary by Christian Berger; Johannes Brahms: The Complete Symphonies. Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Paavo Järvi. Blu-ray C-Major 735004 / DVD C-Major 734908 (Naxos)

The title sounds like a thriller. And indeed, there is a thrilling, yet lucid introduction to the work within this documentary. The director Christian Berger accompanies the Bremen Kammerphilharmonie and its conductor, Paavo Järvi, as they work on the recording of the Brahms symphonies. Berger builds his film montage on the process of how they research these works and how each orchestral part acquires importance on the way to polyphony. Excerpts from rehearsals and concerts are supplemented by individual interviews with musicians on note excerpts and details of the work. Brahms is thus visually traced and re-composed. The eye is positively listening along. In short: a brilliant cinematic accompaniment on the path to deeper, fuller listening. For the jury: Thorsten Lorenz

Jazz

Jacky Terrasson: 53

Blue Note 080819 6 (Universal)

The title of the album alludes to the age of the pianist: at the time of recording, Jacky Terrasson was fifty-three years old. The sixteen pieces sound as relaxed as he is about his age. He composed fifteen of them himself. The sixteenth, Lacrimosa, comes from Mozart’s Requiem. A great melodist is Terrasson, a master of the spaces in which his changing trio partners continue the melodies or respond to them, on contrabass, electric bass and drums. He has mastered the art of entertaining pleasantly at a very high musical level. For the jury: Werner Stiefele

Jazz

Shake Stew: Gris Gris

2 CDs, Traumton Records TT 4678-2 (Indigo)

Brilliant wind instruments pave the way through bubbling rhythms. The drums are double staffed, as is the bass. The trumpeter and the two saxophonists cheer. The history of jazz resounds, with African and futuristic vibes. The rapid game of the Austro-German septet around the bassist Lukas Kranzelbinder is unmistakable in the here and now. The music screams out and reflects at the same time; even without verbal vocalization you can feel the urgency of the message. This spells unspoken words are magic and energy, requiring at least a double album. Shake Stew brings something cult into the current jazz. An enrichment. For the jury: Bert Noglik

World Music

La Repetition (Orchestra senza confini): Mondo!

CD / DL, Finisterre FT80 (Direktvertrieb)

It’s about the world with a capital W! The album lives up to this task. Here world music in the best sense has come into being – out of a meeting of musicians in Salento in southern Italy, of locals and those that found their way to the heel from not too faraway Africa. »We are the same,« says the programmatic first piece. The result sounds gratifyingly little like a moral imperative, instead it is brimming with the joy of making music and living itself. Rhythmically and melodiously sometimes at home in West Africa, sometimes more in Puglia: on both sides of the common sea. For the jury: Johann Kneihs

Traditional Ethnic Music

Misagh Joolaee (with Sebastian Flaig): Ferne (Distance)

CD / DL, Pilgrims of Sound 4260187722201 (direct distribution)

With its tiny resonance body, the Kamancheh produces a unique sound, made of intoxicating overtones – delicate, whispering, poignant. The virtuoso Misagh Joolaee, who lives in Germany, has expanded its spectrum in an exciting way: Accompanied by Sebastian Flaig’s fresh percussion art, he experiments with surprising new plucking and bow techniques, he extends the means of expression through unusual intervals and double stops. And beyond pure craftsmanship, »Ferne« is always a touching, wordless mirror of the intense mind-states of an exile. For the jury: Stefan Franzen

German language Singer/Songwriters

Felix Meyer & project île: Die im Dunkeln hoert man doch

2 CDs, SPV Recordings 288190 2CD (SPV)

Felix Meyer made music on the streets of Europe for many years, now he is back to living in Berlin. He makes songs – so he can live with being called a »songwriter«. He named his fifth album in reference to Bertolt Brecht’s famous Mack the Knife-song. Being highly creative with words is his way, as is pondering about the world. He sings of Europe, and proclaims in the piece »Steh auf«: »If you can think it, you can also move it.« That sounds good, yet Meyer himself says: »That’s not true. But: It is a beautiful utopia.« Stylistically, his songs, which he interprets together with a band, are located between chanson, folk, pop and a little bit of jazz. His powerful voice is unmistakable. For the jury: Petra Schwarz

Folk and Singer/Songwriters

Unterbiberger Hofmusik: Dahoam und Retour

CD + DVD, Himpsl Records HPS1901 (Galileo)

It doesn’t even take a minute, then it is over with the Bavarian brass music of the conventional kind. The Unterbiberger Hofmusik has never been fully satisfied with the sounds found in the Alpine country. The expanded family business Himpsl promises oompah music with a lot of drive; in the past it was mainly jazz, but today sounds from the Arab world are also mixed into the traditional movements. What the Unterbiberger bring with them from their trips to other countries can surprise everyone: the domestic and the foreign audience. In this respect, the title Dahoam und Retour (TN: At home and back) is well chosen for this delicious concert recording from Taufkirchen. And who listens to it, might also want to see it – a DVD provides. For the jury: Imke Turner

Pop

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds: Ghosteen

2 CDs, Ghosteen Ltd BS016CD (Rough Trade)

A deeply human album: A father speaks of the loss of his fifteen-year-old son who died in an accident. Nick Cave divides the double album into a children’s and an adult’s side. With his partner Warren Ellis, he creates his own, sometimes paradisiacal cosmos. For the first time, Cave sings in falsetto, accompanied by flute and violin. Choirs gospel in the background, synthesizers whir. The sometimes meditative, otherworldly atmosphere is comforting. In these songs, you can feel the »ghosteen«, the spirit of a teenager whom the music commemorates. For the jury: Philipp Holstein

Hard and Heavy

Avatarium: The Fire I Long for

Nuclear Blast 2736146750 (Warner)

Avatarium around singer Jennie-Ann Smith can do something that most bands lack today: create an atmosphere. »Voices« is a great dark Black-Sabbath-show. »Rubicon« spreads a cozy Uriah-Heep-bonfire-in-front-of-the-magic-cave-warmth and »Porcelain Skull« is among the heaviest things that the main songwriter Leif Edling has ever let out of the crypt. The brisk »Shake That Demon« is the booty shaker for the next Walpurgis Night. But it doesn’t stop at indulging in the golden era of rock: Avatarium goes beyond the genre limits of Doom Metal with »Lay Me Down«. Maybe the big breakthrough will still happen. Baphomet would approve … For the jury: Felix Mescoli

Alternative

FKA twigs: Magdalene

Young Turks 05181782 (Indigo)

The work of Tahliah Barnett as FKA twigs can be confidently described with the much-strained word Gesamtkunstwerk. Videos, performance and dance are the means by which she enriches her music. That is not entirely necessary, however, because like her excellent debut album »LP1« from 2014, »Magdalene« is a musical gem. With her alternative R’n‘B, the young Brit cleverly defies all genre classifications. Her nine songs sparkle with ideas, her fragile singing voice rises crystal clear over the often spherical tracks. For the jury: Jan Ulrich Welke

Blues and Blues-related

Toronzo Cannon and The Chicago Way: The Preacher, The Politician or The Pimp

Alligator ALCD 4995 (in-akustik)

If a well-known blues label like Alligator Records signs a semi-professional who works as a full-time bus driver in Chicago, it might be a surprise at first glance. However, listening to this album immediately clarifies things: Toronzo Cannon is not just a virtuoso guitarist and emphatically expressive singer. He is also a creative songwriter who knows how to blend elements of traditional Chicago blues with modern, rock-inspired sounds to create a new harmonic sound structure. For the jury: Michael Seiz

R&B, Soul and HipHop

Terri Lyne Carrington & Social Science: Waiting game

2 CDs, Motéma 39147222 (Rough Trade)

Presented by Motéma Music, New York, the two-course menu »Waiting Game« by Grammy winner and drummer, composer and singer Terri Lyne Carrington from Boston is ambitious, aspiring and arduous. Not a snack for in between! Especially the improvised 42-minute jazz suite after the eleven tracks demands full dedication. The songs Carrington serves up with her band Social Science position themselves comfortably between jazz, soul, inspirational music, spoken word and hip hop. At the same time, they are a political statement made of a groovy variety of sounds – against police violence, homophobia and discrimination; for tolerance, freedom and social justice. For the jury: Torsten Fuchs

Spoken Word

Christopher Isherwood: Leb wohl, Berlin (Goodbye to Berlin)

Radio play with Mathieu Carrière, Laura Maire, Barbara Philipp, Matthias Bundschuh, Bernhard Schütz, Timo Weisschnur, Udo Kroschwald, Felix von Manteuffel, Friedhelm Ptok, Martin Engler, Wanja Mues, Christopher Nell, Direction: Leonhard Koppelmann, Adaptation: Heinz Sommer, Music: Jörg Achim Keller. 4 CDs, Der Hörverlag ISBN 978-3-8445-3631-7

Time goes off the rails, and within seconds you are right in the thick of it. With their adaptation of Isherwood’s famous portrait of society, Leonhard Koppelmann and Heinz Sommer have created living audio drama at its finest. Everything fits here: atmosphere, voices, sound bites, music. The latter comes from Jörg Achim Keller, who fortunately contributed a lot of wonderful, danceable bonus material on an extra CD. A brilliant dramaturgy, rapid scene changes and surprising effects ensure breathless listening, empathy, and excitement. For the jury: Jörn Florian Fuchs

Recordings for Children and Youth

Gwen Lowe: Kicheritis – Anstecken erlaubt! (Alice Dent and the Incredible Germs)

The Radio play. Victoria Schaay, Hermann Beyer; Regie: Robert Schoen; Musik: Henrik Albrecht. Der Audio Verlag ISBN 978-3-7424-1166-2

Order, cleanliness and hygiene are what the new policy dictates. Children who break the rules are brought to re-education homes where everything fun is prohibited. But Alice, the main character in this radio play, has the dangerous positivity virus – »Pirus« – that spreads childish chaos and good mood. Health fanatics begin a wild chase after her. Naturally, the imaginative children win in the end. Robert Schoen directs acoustically detailed and absolutely loving. The plot is adorably absurd, entertaining and funny. All roles – children and adults – are perfectly cast, and the congenial supportive music by Henrik Albrecht is indispensable. For the jury: Carola Benninghoven

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