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

Beethoven: Symphonies 5 & 7

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphonien Nr. 5 c-moll op. 67 & Nr. 7 A-Dur op. 92. NDR Radiophilharmonie, Andrew Manze. SACD, Pentatone PTC 5186 814 (Naxos)

The fifth and seventh of Beethoven’s’ nine symphonies are program-wise contentious and accordingly tricky to interpret, a singular challenge for conductors. Andrew Manze presents it all without the smallest hint of Pathos: clear, highly differentiated, sleek of sound, expressive at every turn and with an infectious joy of playing. Relying on an academical Kapellmeister-ethos in the best sense, he »makes« music as if it were self-evident, convincingly simple. Uniquely stunning. For the jury: Hanspeter Krellmann

Orchestral Music & Concertos

Franz Joseph Clement: Violin concertos Nos. 1-2

Franz Joseph Clement: Violinkonzerte Nr. 1 D-Dur & Nr. 2 d-moll/D-Dur. Mirijam Contzen, WDR Sinfonieorchester, Reinhard Goebel. Sony Classical 19075929632

Reinhard Goebel’s idea of making forgotten works from Beethoven’s surroundings accessible again proves to be a »collateral benefit« of the Beethoven Year. The Viennese violin virtuoso Franz Joseph Clement, for example, was previously primarily known for his witty dedication of the Violin Concerto op.61: »par Clemenza pour Clement«. In his two large-scale violin concertos, the ten years younger Clement, can now be discovered as a serious composer, interpreted absolutely convincingly by the magnificent Mirijam Contzen and the WDR Symphony Orchestra lead by Goebel. They give the music it’s due, taking it seriously, and demonstrate all of its nuance and subtlety. For the jury: Michael Stegemann

Chamber Music

Mendelsohn - Enescu: Octets

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy: Oktett Es-Dur op. 20; George Enescu: Oktett für Streicher C-Dur op. 7. Gringolts Quartet & Meta 4. SACD, Bis Records BIS-2447 (Klassik Center)

After a few discographic attempts it is finally here, the String Octet op. 7 by Georges Enescu. How delicately the eight musicians of the Gringolts and the Meta4 Quartet illuminate this polyphonic score, how naturally they combine cantabile with counterpoint and how devotedly they expose themselves to the emotional layers of the work, skips several rungs on the ladder. This also applies to the Mendelssohn Octet combined with it: one just has to listen to the scherzo, now truly haunted, no longer »romantic«, but noisy, modern. For the jury: Lotte Thaler

Chamber Music

A Tribute to Ysaÿ

Works by Eugène Ysaÿe, Ernest Chausson, Guillaume Lekeu, César Franck and Claude Debussy. Nikita Boriso-Glebsky, Elina Buksha, Renaud Capuçon, Hyeon Jin Jane Cho, Augustin Dumay, Lorenzo Gatto, Yossif Ivanov, Kerson Leong, Vladyslava Luchenko, Maria Milstein, Tedi Papavrami, Júlia Pusker, Miguel da Silva, Hélène Dessaint, Henri Demarquette, Gary Hoffman, Astrig Siranossian, Danilo Squitieri, Jonathan Fournel, Pavel Kolesnikov, Julien Libeer, Jean-Claude Vanden Eynden, Quatuor Hermès, Brussels Philharmonic, Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège, Stéphane Degout, Christian Arming, Jean-Jacques Kantorow, Francois-Xavier Roth. 5 CDs, Fuga Libera FUG 758 (Note 1)

Last year the Chapelle Musicale Reine Elisabeth in Brussels honored its founding father Eugène Ysaÿe. This anniversary box documents the extraordinary festival, which rolled out a red carpet for the Academy’s young and talented hopeful by way of a joint performance with famous graduates, alumni and teachers. In addition to the best-of show of the great Belgian violinist, composer and music networker, they perform key works of the Fin-de-Siècle, dedicated to him: an era is visited, a network of a past avant-garde becomes audible, with elegant cantilenas, long bowing and full tone, keeping with Ysaÿe’s ideal and the French violin school. For the jury: Eleonore Büning

Keyboard Music

Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji: Sequentia Cyclica

Super Dies Irae ex Missa Pro DefunctisJonathan Powell. 7 CDs, Piano Classics PCL10206 (Edel)

The Dies Irae sequence of the Mass for the dead has inspired many composers to write important works. But no one has ever created an opus magnum like the eccentric British composer, pianist and music critic Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji. For his »Sequentia Cyclica« he wrote 27 variations on this hymn, which together last more than eight hours. A modern tonal language is combined with baroque forms, sometimes meditatively simple, other times complex and highly virtuoso. Jonathan Powell, the world premiere pianist of the variations, now made the first recording in 2015. Musical greatness and clarity are perfectly mixed with a tremendous wealth of expression. For the jury: Gregor Willmes

Keyboard Music

Organic Creatures. Medieval Organs Composed Decomposed Recomposed

Works by Hildegard von Bingen, Catalina Vicens, Perotinus Magnus, Gherardello da Firenze, Francesco Landini, Antonio Zacara da Teramo, Adam Ileborgh, Gilles Binchois, Heinrich VIII., John Dunstable, Heinrich Isaac. Catalina Vicens. 2 CDs, Consouling Sounds SOUL0139 (direct sales)

Catalina Vicens is a specialist in bygone piano keys – an explorer of medieval soundscapes. She plays various instruments: from the portativ and reconstructions based on historical pictures all the way up to the oldest still playable organ in the world. With the tonal and technical possibilities of these, Vicens creates the fascinating and multifaceted sound of a distant past, and in doing so, magnificently unlocks old and traverses new spheres of sound. At the same time, she builds an exciting bridge into the 21st century. Outstanding! For the jury: Guido Krawinkel

Opera

Georg Friedrich Händel: Agrippina

Joyce DiDonato, Franco Fagioli, Elsa Benoit, Luca Pisaroni, Jakub Józef Orliński, Andrea Mastroni, Carlo Vistoli, Biagio Pizzuti, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Il Pomo d’Oro, Maxim Emelyanychev. 3 CDs, Erato 0190295336585 (Warner)

Agrippina, the mother of Emperor Nero, is a magnificent creature: Embodied by Joyce DiDonato, she can be imperious or submissive, rumormonger, nymphomaniac or best friend, all depending on her need for power. She was enticed to it by Maxim Emelyanychev, who with his ensemble Il Pomo d’oro provides the suspense in this operatic political thriller. The richness of the instrumentation is as brilliant as that of the voices. Jakub Józef Orliński as the eternally languishing Ottone, Franco Fagioli as the coloratura-slinging Nerone, Elsa Benoit as the beautifully coquettish Poppea: only a few studio productions today can muster such an all-star cast. For the jury: Michael Stallknecht

Opera

Jacques Offenbach: Maître Péronilla

Véronique Gens, Éric Huchet, Antoinette Dennefeld, Chantal Santon-Jeffery, Anaïs Constans, Tassis Christoyannis, Orchestre National de France, Chœur de Radio France, Markus Poschner. 2 CDs, Bru Zane BZ 1039 (Note 1)

A late work from 1878, recorded live from the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées for the Offenbach anniversary – it seems to have put the conductor Markus Poschner in a vivacious mood. Imaginary Spain sparkles, lightning flashes and castanet thunder surround the judicial, amorous and intriguing scandal: when the beautiful Manoëla supposedly signs the marriage contract with the rich old Guardona in the shadowy church but finds her beloved young Alvarès at the altar… turbulence enough for the twenty-five well cast parts, including Antoinette Dennefeld, who outshines everyone in her travesti role as notary’s assistant Frimouskino. For the jury: Wolf-Dieter Peter

Choral Music

Luciano Berio: Coro; Cries of London

Norwegian Soloists’ Choir, Norwegian Radio Orchestra, Grete Pedersen. SACD, Bis Records BIS-2391 (Klassik Center)

»Coro« is what Luciano Berio called his work in the mid-seventies, that’s the time when he was at his best. The major work he wrote at that time is as concise as this abstract oratorios approach is all-encompassing: Whichever way vocals the world over expressed madness, bliss and everything in between, Berio drew on it. And the Norwegian Soloists Choir under Grete Pedersen, with instrumentalists assigned to each of the 40 singers, readily passes it on. A major work of choral-symphonic modernism unpretentiously and sensuously performed – and fabulously produced for BIS. For the jury: Peter Korfmacher

Early Music

Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Orphée aux enfers

Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Orphée descendant aux enfers, H471; La descente d’Orphée aux enfers, H488. Déborah Cachet, Reinoud van Mechelen, Zsuzsi Tóth, Clara Coutouly, Victoria Cassano, Raphael Höhn, Philippe Froeliger, Geoffroy Buffière, Vox Luminis, A Nocte Temporis, Lionel Meunier. Alpha Classics ALPHA 566 (Note 1)

Denied the stage by Jean-Baptiste Lully’s monopoly on opera, Charpentier composed this work with a small cast for the private concert of a noble patroness. The mini-opera tells the story of the mythical singer Orpheus’ descent into the underworld where his singing soothes the torments of the guilt-stricken damned. The music enchants; the instrumental and vocal richness of color is magically brought to life in this new recording. Outstanding Renaud van Mechelen as Orphée, who with the elegiac-bitter sweetness of his lamentations conquers even the stone heart of the underworld god Pluto. A CD for the desert island! For the jury: Uwe Schweikert

Contemporary Classical Music

Luciano Berio: Chemins

Luciano Berio: Chemins I, II, IIb, IIc, III, IV, V, Kol od (VI), Récit (VII). WDR Sinfonieorchester, Christophe Desjardins, Pablo Márquez, Andreas Mildner, Andreas Langenbuch, Maarten Dekkers, Martin Griebl, Lutz Koppetsch, Peter Eötvös, Emilio Pomàrico, Mariano Chiacchiarini, Bas Wiegers, Manuel Nawri, Jean-Michaël Lavoie, Brad Lubman. 2 CDs, bastille musique bm011 (rudi mentaire distribution)

Luciano Berio composed a total of nine pieces with the title »Chemins«, each of which refers to one of his famous »Sequenze« – solo pieces that were written between 1958 and 2002. The »Chemins« add an orchestral ensemble to the solo parts, transforming them into small concert pieces that are well worth hearing. Berio did not plan them as a cycle. But the WDR Symphony Orchestra has now succeeded in the truly daring project of, for the first time ever, releasing all nine »Chemins« on one CD. An editorial sensation! Hats off to everyone involved! For the jury: Marita Emigholz

Historical Recordings

Dinu Lipatti plays Piano Concertos Vol. 3

Edvard Grieg: Konzert a-moll op. 16; Franz Liszt: Konzert Nr. 1 Es-Dur S.1247; Béla Bartók: Konzert Nr. 3 Sz.119; Dinu Lipatti: Concertino en style classique op. 3. Dinu Lipatti; Philharmonia Orchestra, Alceo Galliera; Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Ernest Ansermet; Orchester des Südwestdeutschen Rundfunks, Paul Sacher. Stream / DL, archiphon ARC-WU 247 (direct sales)

The label Archiphon from Kehl am Rhein, inspired and led by Werner Unger, has been working for decades in an exemplary manner for the preservation and restoration of old sound recordings – since 2012 also distributed via online formats. The special merit of the Dinu-Lipatti series is the discographical dispelling of the myths surrounding this exceptional pianist who died at an early age. The third album presents not only re-releases (Liszt/Grieg) but also rarities first released by Archiphon in 1990, which show Lipatti as an interpreter of contemporary works, as well as his own (Bartók/Lipatti) – all of it reconstructed from magnetic tape or test pressings from private collections. For the jury: Stephan Bultmann

Crossover Productions

Giorgi Mikadze: Georgian Microjamz

RareNoise Records RNR116 (Cargo)

Georgia is more than just a book fair – one of the oldest and richest musical cultures is bubbling between the Black Sea and the Caucasus. With his CD, jazz pianist Giorgi Mikadze conjures up all epochs simultaneously. He interweaves microtonal intervals with freestyle folklore and off-beat keyboard sounds to create brazenly colorful sound carpets he calls »microjamz«. Nana Valishvili contributes a dirge from the Russian-Georgian conflict of 2008. The Basiani choir ensemble add the overtones, and a globalizing perspective is provided by Drummer Sean Wright as well as electric guitarist David »Fuze« Fiuczynski and bassist Panagiotis Andreou – a polyphonic roller-coaster from a country of climatic extremes! For the jury: Nikolaus Gatter

Film Music

Thomas Newman: 1917

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Sony Classical 19439702762

What should a soundtrack for a two-hour war movie sound like, one without any clearly visible cuts? How do you react to the tempo, how do you preserve, and add to, the artfully constructed suspense? Sam Mendes took a very special cinematic risk with »1917«, and Thomas Newman found just the right tone for it. His soundtrack avoids the blaring action that is almost tradition for the genre by a large margin. Instead, Newman supplied atmosphere and friction, contrasts and commentary. For the jury: Joachim Mischke

Music Film

Lucas Debargue – To Music

A Film by Martin Mirabel. Lucas Debargue, Rena Shereshevskaya, David & Alexandre Castro-Balbi. Naxos DVD 2110639 / Naxos Blu-ray NBD0101V

This film shows a serious, open and reflective musician who, at the age of almost thirty, is not yet sure where his career should go. Successful as a soloist and chamber musician, Lucas Debargue’s great passion is composing. He modestly describes himself as an »instrument of music«, searching for »the core of a composer’s soul« in the pieces of music, and in doing so, he also risks making mistakes. Martin Mirabel, who has known Lucas Debargue for years, portrays his pianist friend subtly, in all his versatility and creativity, without shying away from his doubts and uncertainties. For the jury: Helge Grünewald

Jazz

Christoph Grab: Reflections (Live at Haberhaus)

Lamento Records 003 (direct sales)

The tradition lives on in the modern age, at least for the Swiss saxophonist Christoph Grab: he still considers the jazz visionary Thelonious Monk one of the most current, original and inspiring jazz composers. Thus, the pianist’s »play your own thing« becomes a motif for the saxophonist for a critical-creative dialogue. Monk’s compositions are not replayed, but they remain recognizable in the improvisations of the three-part wind section with saxophone, trumpet and trombone plus bass and drums: moments of reinvention and conversation, in a magnificent concert atmosphere. For the jury: Lothar Jänichen

Jazz

Jim Black Trio: Reckon

Jim Black, Elias Stemeseder, Thomas Morgan. Intakt Records CD 334 (harmonia mundi)

This is the reinvention of the piano trio out of the spirit of instant composing. Willful hip-hop rhythms, rattling percussion, then metronomic precision: Jim Black’s drums open up imaginative spaces. The pianist Elias Stemeseder reveals himself to be a stylistic multi-talent, surfing through romanticism, minimalism or bebop borrowings, and even in free passages, he creates an atmosphere of communicative familiarity. Where others would only fill gaps with their bass, Thomas Morgan lays out a red thread for improvisation. From mere experimental arrangements, integral treasures are created. For the jury: Peter Kemper

World Music

Lina_ Raül Refree

CD / LP, Glitterbeat GBCD/LP 085 (Indigo)

Re-creating fado is either an act of violence or sacrilege. The singer Lina, well versed in the classical repertoire of the icon Amália Rodrigues, dares to do it by changing the sound. For her production, she brought producer Raül Refree on board. He wraps the melodies in dark and lasting clouds of synthesizer sound and standing piano arpeggios, almost completely masking the guitar. And never does Lina’s voice sound with the otherwise typical, all-consuming fervor; instead, she sings reservedly, sometimes almost fragile: a convincing, new sound world for an old songbook. For the jury: Jodok W. Kobelt

German language Singer/Songwriters

Stoppok: Jubel

Grundsound GS0039 (Indigo)

Stefan Stoppok puts it in a nutshell in the song »Lass sie rein«: »Let them in, the future doesn’t work alone, be a human being, learn to share.« For this alone he has once again earned the German Record Critics’ Award! As in each of the eleven other songs on this album, it alternates musically congenial between blues, pop, rock and balladic songwriting. In »Pack mit an« Stoppok calmly and laconically sings against wars and capitalist egoism. In »100 Mio Follower« he takes aim at the illusory world of (oh so) social networks. An appeal to humanity, with a lot of subtle humor and wit. For the jury: Hans Reul

Folk and Singer/Songwriters

James Yorkston, Jon Thorne & Suhail Yusuf Khan: Navarasa – Nine Emotions

Domino Records WIGCD439 (GoodToGo)

There are not many fusion projects from the fields of folk, jazz and world music that actually convince the listener, and it is even rarer that a group creates such an absolutely independent and coherent sound out of the mixture of these three genres: music that has never been heard before. The three gentlemen Yorkston, Thorne and Khan (guitar, bass, sarangi) had already achieved this with their debut album »Everything Is Sacred«. A chance hit, one might think. Now, with »Navarasa – Nine Emotions«, they prove exactly the opposite: the music seems even deeper, more mature and thought-out, and yet also more emotional than before. For the jury: Mike Kamp

Pop

Grimes: Miss Anthropocene

CD / LP, 4AD 05184512 (Indigo)

Concept albums have become rare in pop. On her fifth album, Grimes more or less consistently circles around the story of the divine superheroine »Miss Anthropocene«, who fights against climate change and the extinction of species. Musically, she finds the golden mean between the hushed DIY spirit of her breakthrough album »Visions« and the high-gloss futurism of the previous CD »Art Angels«. An ambitious design that makes the now thirty-one-year-old singer from Vancouver the pop chameleon of the hour: Nobody else adapts to the spirit of the times as dazzlingly as she does. For the jury: Fabian Peltsch

Rock

William Prince: Reliever

CD / LP, Glassnote Music GLS-0274-02 (Rough Trade)

This album is a strong contender for the lonely desert island. It develops great appeal right from the start and becomes more intriguing with every listen. William Prince comes from the Canadian province of Manitoba, he describes his music as »singer/songwriter and country folk with a touch of gospel«. One may add that he also sometimes rocks hard with an accompanying troupe. Above all, however, his sonorous voice à la Johnny Cash fascinates, as a gentle giant he appeals to the listener’s emotions with sensitive lyrics and multi-faceted arrangements; and fosters mental peace. So »Reliever« is a real help. Not only for the island but also in other situations. For the jury: Manfred Gillig-Degrave

Hard and Heavy

Psychotic Waltz: The God-Shaped Void

CD / LP / DL, Sony Music 19439716932

When a band returns after twenty-four years of studio abstinence and presents an album like this one, the band must be something unique. Psychotic Waltz from California reinforces their special status with their new album. As always, they weave sophisticated song structures with goosebump-inducing melodies, crowned by the unique voice of Buddy Lackey. Songs like the fierce »Back in Black«, the balladic-hymnic »The Fallen« or the catchy tune »Sisters of the Dawn« make it clear how badly they have been missed. For the jury: Marc Halupczok

Blues and Blues-related

Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado: Come On In

Ruf Records RUF 1271 (in-akustik)

Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado were most recently awarded an annual prize. Now, the man with the extraordinary voice and his band make it once again on the Quarterly Critics’ Choice. They effortlessly manage the balancing act between earthy roots blues and refined elegance. These two factors usually don’t go together very well, but convincingly do so here. The album takes the listener into a smoky dive in the delta, with the musicians on stage repeatedly switching the rustic southern outfit for tuxedo and bow tie. An album that is incredibly fun from the first minute to the last. For the jury: Karl Leitner

R&B, Soul and HipHop

Gil Scott-Heron: We’re New Again

A Reimagining by Makaya McCraven. CD / LP, XL Records XL1006CD (Indigo)

A wonderful homage to the, 2011 departed, soul-jazz singer and proto-rap poet Gil Scott-Heron! The excitingly adventurous producer and drummer Makaya McCraven from the younger US jazz scene, has taken Scott-Heron’s last album »I’m New Here« – a comeback, after a long break due to drugs and prison time – apart. Keeping only the gnarled baritone, he re-recorded it with Chicago jazz colleagues to edit the result with a lot of freedom and samples on the computer. Thus, his »reimagining« takes Scott-Herons socially conscious, achingly raw soul with loving respect and the greatest elegance through African American music, from the sixties to the present day. For the jury: Markus Schneider

Spoken Word

Arthur Schnitzler: Reigen

Hilde Sochor, Helmut Qualtinger, Elfriede Ott, Peter Weck, Eva Kerbler, Hans Jaray, Christiane Hörbiger, Helmut Lohner, Blanche Aubry, Robert Lindner; Direction: Gustav Manker, Editing and Sound: Jürgen E. Schmidt, Hans Peter Strobel (Full length reading 1966). 2 CDs, Der Audio Verlag ISBN 978-3-7424-1398-7

Originally, this piece caused what is nowadays called a shitstorm. The hostilities directed at the author were so egregious that Arthur Schnitzler banned any further theater performance. But in 1966 this ban was cleverly circumvented by a staged reading. Wonderful, top-class actors engaged in this circle dance about changing sexual partners, stories full of lust and passion, but also crass and dirty. Schnitzler thus skillfully criticized the double standards of the time. The play is more than fifty years old but as exciting and fresh as on the first day. Absolutely worth hearing! For the jury: Dorothee Meyer-Kahrweg

Recordings for Children and Youth

Onjali Q. Raúf: Der Junge aus der letzten Reihe

Birte Schnöink. 4 CDs, Hörcompany ISBN 978-3-96632-010-8

Almost unbelievable, how the first-time author Onjali Q. Raúf succeeds in telling the story of an escape (from Syria) and arrival in a foreign country (England) in such a serious and delightful way. A clique of friends embarks on an adventurous search for the »lost« parents of their new, foreign classmate. Their childlike helpfulness as well as their rescue plans are full of fantasy and naivety; the end is hopeful. Yet the social and political reality is never ignored. Throughout, Birte Schnöinks warm voice allows us to truly share the feelings and thoughts of the nine-year-old narrator. For the jury: Carola Benninghoven

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