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

Johannes Brahms: Symphonies Nos. 1-4

Wiener Symphoniker, Philippe Jordan. 4 CD, Wiener Symphoniker WSO21 (Edel)

There is truly no shortage of recordings of the four Brahms symphonies. But this latest one, created in Philippe Jordan’s last season as chief conductor of the Vienna Symphonics, is completely convincing. The »Brahms-Heimstatt« – the Vienna Musikvereinssaal – proves to be the ideal recording location. »Inner singing«, as Jordan calls it, so essential for Brahms, becomes the constituent, structural, and the tonal guideline of his interpretation. In addition to sensuality and sweetness, firm tempos, attention to detail, and a flexible, transparent music-making are the characteristics of these recordings. The melancholy Brahms can be experienced up close, as can the dramatic one. For the jury: Peter Stieber

Orchestral Music & Concertos

Transitions

Nikolai Kapustin: Cello Concerto No. 1 op.85; Alfred Schnittke: Cello Concerto No. 1. Eckart Runge, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Frank Strobel. Capriccio C5362 (Naxos)

In the first cello concerto by Nikolai Kapustin, who died July 2020, symphonic, chamber music, and jazz are combined in an inspiring way. Kapustin entrusted the sheet music for the work to the soloist Eckart Runge; this is the first recording. The polystylistic world of sound of Alfred Schnittke, who created a masterpiece with his first cello concerto that is part of the standard repertoire today, is no less fascinating. Runge, the long-time cellist of the Artemis Quartet, is stylistically at home in both worlds of expression: relaxed and with a light hand with Kapustin, playing Schnittke with an intensity that gets under the skin. And one thing is always evident: this is about the existential. For the jury: Norbert Hornig

Chamber Music

Paris – Moscou: Trio Goldberg

Sergej Tanejew: String Trio B minor; Jean Françaix: String Trio; Joseph Haydn: String Trio op.53 Nr.1; Zoltán Kodály: Intermezzo; Franz Schubert: String Trio Movement D 471; Hans Krása: Dance; George Enescu: Aubade. Trio Goldberg. SACD, Ars Produktion ARS 38 309 (Note 1)

On its musical route from Paris to Moscow, the Monaco-based trio Goldberg stops, among others, at Jean Françaix, Hans Krása, George Enescu, and Sergei Taneyev. The beauty of this does not only stem from the excellent selection of lesser-known string trios, but also the dramaturgic arrangement of the works: One could think that – despite the many years that lie between their creation – they emerged almost seamlessly from one another. Music at the highest level, in a flawlessly cultivated harmony. The characteristics of the individual national sound languages are realized in a lively manner. A maximum of entertainment. For the jury: Lotte Thaler

Chamber Music

Vienne 1900

Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Piano Trio op.1; Alexander von Zemlinsky: Clarinet Trio D minor op.3; Gustav Mahler: »Rheinlegendchen«, »Oft denk ich, sie sind nur ausgegangen«; Alban Berg: Piano Sonata B Minor op.1, Four pieces for Clarinet and Piano op.5, Adagio from Chamber Concerto; Arnold Schönberg: Chamber Symphony No.1 op.9. Emmanuel Pahud, Paul Meyer, Daishin Kashimoto, Zvi Plesser, Éric Le Sage. 2 CD, Alpha Classics ALPHA 588 (Note 1)

Naming a soundtrack for the pandemic these days is a no-go for a variety of reasons. And yet one listens to this expanded Viennese school with the most acute fascination. The search for the new, the unheard-of around 1900 becomes the mirror of the mental state of a music scene that questions itself. Arrangements become a characteristic of music about music – as a source of inspiration, to create art in the hermetic. Hear this »Little Rhine legend«: And immediately you are on your knees and believe everything that follows! An album that is inviting and sovereign in the best sense of the word: no awareness of possible future recognition is put before the score. For the jury: Julia Kaiser

Keyboard Music

Reinhard Febel: 18 Studies for Two Pianos

based on Johann Sebastian Bach’s »The Art of Fugue«. Duo Yaara Tal & Andreas Groethuysen. 2 CD, Sony Classical 19439784132

Reinhard Febel does not skip a single note of the Bach original but enriches the highly complex work with added tones, (reverb) effects, and rhythmic changes in a way that adds new dimensions, tensions, and drama to it. He aptly calls this working method: »painting over«. Yaara Tal and Andreas Groethuysen, who commissioned these eighteen studies, play them with breathtaking clarity and conciseness. The most intricate rhythms take on natural ease, the elaboration of themes and secondary voices, the most refined dynamic gradations, and, last but not least, an extremely changeable piano sound that makes this recording a breathtaking experience. For the jury: Gregor Willmes

Keyboard Music

Mahan Esfahani – Musique?

Modern and electro-acoustic works for Harpsichord by Tōru Takemitsu, Henry Cowell, Kaija Saariaho, Gavin Bryars, Anahita Abbasi, Luc Ferrari. Mahan Esfahani. Hyperion CDA68287 (Note 1)

The harpsichord is commonly associated with early music or, at best, with the neo-baroque soundtrack of the Miss Marple films, in which the keyboard instrument quirkily chirps and purrs. But now Mahan Esfahani presents a furious recording that exclusively contains works from the 20th and 21st centuries. In doing so, he literally unleashes the instrument and opens the gates to new dimensions of sound, and at times even treats it percussively. The panorama ranges from Tōru Takemitsu’s sharply outlined »Rain Dreaming«, over Henry Cowell’s noisy »Set of Four«, to breathtaking electronic experiments by Kaija Saariaho and Anahita Abbasi. For the jury: Regine Müller

Opera

Pietro Antonio Cesti: La Dori

... overo Lo schiavo reggio.
Francesca Ascioti, Emöke Baráth, Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli, Rupert Enticknap, Federico Sacchi, Alberto Allegrezza, Pietro Di Bianco, Rocco Cavalluzzi, Konstantin Derri, Accademia Bizantina, Ottavio Dantone. 2 CD, cpo 555 309-2 (JPC)

This three-act play, which premiered in Innsbruck in 1657, is located between the Venetian operatic aesthetics and the intrigue theater of the Opera seria and is a work of transitions. The lively theatrics and the variety of musical figures fascinate, so do the expressive monodies and the arias of flattering melodies. Sometimes funny, sometimes dramatic dialogues, servants’ drastic bickering, and charming duets follow in quick succession – the soloist ensemble and the Accademia Bizantina under Ottavio Dantone bring the richness of contrasts of this music to life with a fine eye for details. A rediscovery that is a pure listening pleasure! For the jury: Max Nyffeler

Opera

Hector Berlioz: Benvenuto Cellini

Michael Spyres, Sophia Burgos, Maurizio Muraro, Lionel Lhote, Tareq Nazmi, Adèle Charvet, Vincent Delhoume, Ashley Riches, Duncan Meadows, Monteverdi Choir, Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, John Eliot Gardiner. DVD, Chateau de Versailles Spectacles CVS020 (Note 1)

One of the highlights of the Berlioz year: John Eliot Gardiner’s costume concerts with »Benvenuto Cellini«. Sir John stands elated at the podium of the colorful, whispering and roaring Orchester Revolutionnaire et Romantique and an agile, witty Monteverdi Choir. Everyone is in flow, all roles are well cast: It is pure pleasure to experience this most colorful, frivolous, and multifaceted artist’s opera by Berlioz taken directly from the life of the Roman Renaissance. Michael Spyres sings Benvenuto with sure-footed charm. Sophia Burgos brings delicate tones, and temperament, to his beloved Teresa. An absolute opera must-have! For the jury: Manuel Brug

Early Music

Johannes de Cleve: Missa Rex Babylonis

& Carole cui nomen, Laudate Dominum, Carole qui veniens, Timete Dominum, Es wel uns Gott genedig sein. Jacobus Vaet: Rex Babylonis. Cinquecento. Hyperion CDA68241 (Note 1)

The five singers from Cinquecento struck gold again with the hitherto undiscovered Flemish composer Johannes de Cleve. He lived from 1528 to 1582 and was one of the Habsburg’s court composers. An artful mass and five motets identify him as an architecturally impressive counterpoint artist, which comes into focus with this recording: the works are interpreted in a beautiful tone, rich in sound and yet equally rich in nuances, made possible by the homogeneously mixing and simultaneously weightlessly flowing voices of this outstanding vocal ensemble. For the jury: Uwe Schweikert

Contemporary Classical Music

Clara Iannotta: earthing

– dead wasps (obituary), a failed entertainment, you crawl over seas of granite, dead wasps in the jam-jar (iii). Jack Quartet. Wergo WER 6433 2 (Naxos)

In the music of the Italian composer Clara Iannotta, conceptual thinking and technique are combined with imagery and subtlety. This is particularly evident in the four-string quartets, interpreted here by the phenomenal Jack Quartet. In the oldest from 2013, the natural sound remains untouched, and it is only enhanced by materials such as bird songs or styrofoam. Sometimes it shimmers sharply, sometimes it scratches darkly. This evocative, mysterious soundscape full of acoustic creatures is electronically amplified and distorted in the newer pieces. A sound full of elemental, deeply moving energy! For the jury: Thomas Meyer

Historical Recordings

Sir John Barbirolli – The Complete Warner Recordings

The Complete Warner Recordings. Jascha Heifetz, Alfred Cortot, Arthur Rubinstein, Janet Baker, Benjamino Gigli et al.; various orchestras, John Barbirolli. 109 CD, Warner Classics 9029538608

The life’s work of the conductor John Barbirolli reflected in 130 hours of music on 109 CDs: This goes beyond a carefully restored legacy of a great individualist. Barbirolli was just as at home in the music of Berlioz, Brahms, Dvořák, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, and Sibelius as he was with Elgar, Vaughan Williams, or Delius, he conducted a Strauss waltz with the same devotion as Wagner and Puccini. This edition presents a pivotal chapter of British orchestral culture, and it invites you to a journey through forty-two years of recording history, with much left to be discovered, even for insiders. For the jury: Thomas Voigt

Crossover Productions

Blueblut: Andenborstengürteltier

Chris Janka, Pamela Stickney, Mark Holub. DL / CD / LP, Plagdichnicht PDN 040 (direct sales)

Wonderfully weird are these pieces of the Viennese underground trio! Pamelia Stickney (theremin), Chris Janka (guitar), and Mark Holub (drums) are jesters in the best sense of the word and playing with utmost wit. They serve you the title track as a tongue-twisting monster of words, only to put an end to it after just 42 seconds. This introduction is followed by a brilliant and always surprising musical adventure through a wild sound jungle. Jazz, punk, rock, pop, electronics, and Janka’s MIDI orchestra, as well as boisterous improvisations, resulting in a resounding madhouse one loves to get lost in. Pretty crazy, the three of them, they don’t take anything overly serious. Best just to turn it up. For the jury: Heinz Zietsch

Film Music

John Williams in Vienna

Film music from Hook, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Wiches of Eastwick, E.T., Jurassic Park, War Horse, Jaws, Indiana Jones, Star Wars. Anne-Sophie Mutter, Wiener Philharmoniker, John Williams. Deutsche Grammophon 483 6373 (Universal)

John Williams, by now five-time Oscar-winner, did not only embrace the big orchestral sound of film music pioneer Erich Wolfgang Korngold but also his idea of making his scores available for the concert hall. Shortly before his eighty-eighth birthday, he now celebrates a high point of his career in the historic Golden Hall of the Wiener Musikverein. In terms of composition, Williams once again proves himself to be Hollywood’s master of ceremonies when it comes to superlatives: he is also one of the very few who has the conducting prowess to lead a top orchestra. A meeting that can already be called legendary! For the jury: Matthias Keller

Music Film

Beethoven’s Ninth – Symphony For The World

A film by Christian Berger. With Teodor Currentzis, Tan Dun, Gabriel Prokofiev, Yutaka Sado, Armand Diangienda, Paul Whittaker, Isaac Karabtchevsky. DVD, C Major 756408 (Naxos)

Christian Berger is on the trail of Beethoven’s last symphony and its worldwide impact: in concert halls, outdoors, in the studio. He asked conductors and composers, instrumentalists, and choir singers, including the deaf musician Paul Whittaker and, particularly striking, the viola-playing young Brazilian Nicoli Martins, who truly burns for Beethoven’s music: »… you play that with goosebumps«. The members of the Orchester Symphonique Kimbanguiste in Brazzaville make music with the same enthusiasm. So it turns out: Beethoven’s Ninth truly is a, if not the, symphony for the world. For the jury: Helge Grünewald

Jazz

Joe Haider Sextet

As Time Goes By. Double Moon Records DMCHR71371 (in-akustik)

After six decades as a pianist, composer, arranger, and teacher, Joe Haider shows no signs of fatigue. The title of the album might sound like a retrospective, but, in reality, it is a work exhibition of a musician who always kept an eye on the next generation while performing with the current stars of jazz. Wherever a pianist with a broad traditional jazz repertoire was needed, Joe Haider was there. Now he plays in a sextet with three generations of musicians who create the most beautiful timbres playing lively jazz waltzes, blues, and hardbop. Classic jazz, the bebop, as beautiful as you can imagine. For the jury: Lothar Jänichen

Jazz

Ambrose Akinmusire

On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment. Blue Note 0892619 (Universal)

In the face of the ever-growing list of black lives taken by police violence, it must seem to the trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire as though nothing has changed since his first Blue Note album in 2011. In his current compositions, Akinmusire focuses his experiences as a black American: the resilience, the pain, the beauty, and the optimism of blackness. With »Hooded Procession (Read The Names Outloud)« this great work ends in mourning, with gently swaying sounds, without words. The names are on everyone’s lips right now. For the jury: Christian Broecking

World Music

Babylon ORCHESTRA

sungroove SG008 (Broken Silence)

The Orchestra Babylon from Berlin, founded in 2016, represents the slogan »We can do it!« in a unique way: Twenty-two musicians from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Russia, Italy, France, Kurdistan, and Germany along with six guests have found an answer to the current migration movements with their album. With a wide range of musical roots, they create worlds of sound that naturally combine tradition, classic, and modernity. It is a contemporary, urban, and dynamic crossover of Orient and Occident with breathtaking changes between solo interludes and a bombastic orchestral sound. For the jury: Rainer Skibb

Traditional Ethnic Music

Synergia – Music from the Island of Cyprus

Katerina Papadopoulou, Eda Karaytuğ, Michalis Kouloumis, Yurdal Tokcan, Vagelis Karipis, Dimitri Psonis. Alia Vox Diversa AV9938 (harmonia mundi)

A sextet from both parts of the island of Cyprus has gathered around the string instrumentalist Dimitri Psonis, unrolling the traditions of this Mediterranean hub in an extremely exciting and contemporary manner – with lute, oud, violin, percussion, and human voices, in love songs and lullaby, wedding accompaniments, couples, and Solo dances. What is also particularly charming is how the vocal shading of Katerina Papadopoulou and her Turkish colleague Eda Karaytuğ are woven together. A refreshing portrait of this little-known island culture. For the jury: Stefan Franzen

German language Singer/Songwriters

Jens Böttcher & Das Orchester des himmlischen Friedens

VI: Haben oder Sein.
schwarzweissradio 0737669096937 (direct sales)

Jens Böttcher’s raw, mature singing reveals clear parallels to Erich Fromm’s socially critical classics »Haben oder Sein« or »Die Kunst des Liebens«. Also resonating on his sixth solo album: the violoncello-viola arrangements contributed by »Das Orchester des himmlischen Friedens«. Many of the new songs of the free-thinking musician and author do indeed show a striking resemblance to the more artistic Fromm. »Tomorrow we will bloom / And all will be light« is quoted with »Bury me somewhere where nobody knows me« – the latter is hard to imagine as possible! It is foreseeable, however, that Böttcher will soon achieve Fromm-like classic status in the song genre. For the jury: Jochen Arlt

Folk and Singer/Songwriters

Fiolministeriet: Et Nyt Liv

GO’ Danish Folk Music GO0520 (Galileo)

The three classically trained ladies of the Danish »Fiddle Ministry« once again prove to be true masters of violin, viola, and cello on their second album. They find their inspiration primarily in the traditional music of their homeland but also range beyond it, visiting other Scandinavian countries such as Sweden and even across the Atlantic. Instrumental music is their starting point and their strength, no question: but in contrast to their first CD, Ditte Fromseier in particular shows that she has a voice to disappear into. Endless talent in the north! For the jury: Mike Kamp

Rock

Haim: Women In Music Pt. III

Vertigo Berlin 0813816 (Universal)

»We’re made for summer« – that’s what the sisters of the band Haim once said. And their music sounds like it: sun, freedom, wild side and catchy tunes. But when you listen to their third album »Women in music pt. III« a little more attentively, it quickly becomes clear that the world is not all right under the Californian sky. Danielle, Alana, and Este Haim sing about depression, their friend’s cancer, or sexist music journalists. Sometimes they strum the guitars like in the seventies, sometimes they indulge in the pop of the nineties. Soft rock in a good sense, for every season! For the jury: Juliane Streich

Hard and Heavy

Sorcerer: Lamenting Of The Innocent

CD/LP/DL, Metal Blade 03984157302 (Sony)

Founded in the late eighties, the Swedish epic metal band Sorcerer had actually disbanded in the early nineties. Since their reunion in 2010, they have now celebrated their greatest successes – commercially, but also artistically. Their third album represents a step forward in all respects. The band moves a little further away from pure Doom and turns to traditional heavy metal. Often enough, Sorcerer remind the listener of Black Sabbath at the time of »Headless Cross« with Tony Martin – not least thanks to their great singer Anders Engberg, who refines and enriches headbang material such as »The Hammer Of Witches« and moving hymns like the title track. For the jury: Sebastian Kessler

Club and Dance

Kelly Lee Owens: Inner Song

Smalltown Supersound STS 372 (Cargo)

Welsh singer Kelly Lee Owens blurs the lines between dancefloor, pop, and singer-songwriter. For her »convention blurring techno«, as she calls it, she puts Radiohead through the sequencer on »Inner Song«, gets inspired by Avant-disco pioneer Arthur Russell and gets Velvet Underground founding member John Cale on board for a spoken word feature. The artfully layered towers of sound are held together by the sparkle of their celestial vocals. A strong second album, providing just the right mix of conceptual bulk and catchy meta-pop. For the jury: Laura Aha

Blues and Blues-related

Ginger Blues: unknowable journey

Berlin Blue Records (direct sales: www.janhirte.com)

In English, »ginger« does not just refer to just the spice, but also to red hair. The award-winning Australian jazz and blues singer Jessie Gordon from the Ginger Blues Quartet is an avowed redhead. The four send their listeners on a »journey into the unknown« – this is how Jan Hirte, the guitarist, singer, and initiator of the group translates it – a journey on which ragtime, boogie, swing, country, blues classics, and jazz standards alternate with their own compositions: a contemporary, lively and for the most part cheerful tour through the history of popular music. For the jury: Tom Schroeder

R&B, Soul and HipHop

Joy Denalane: Let Yourself Be Loved

CD / LP / DL, Motown 0887357 (Universal)

With this album, Joy Denalane might as well have been knighted: a German soul singer is rarely published by the legendary US label Motown. Denalane had already been the sole master of her domain: her songs always had soul. Emphatically retro and old school, she now delivered a nostalgically beautiful »What’s going on« with her label debut. And so the Berliner deserves to stand next to Kraftwerk, KMFDM, Scorpions, and Rammstein – the few German Pop acts with international relevance – if you ignore the Tokyo Hotel hype in Asia… For the jury: Torsten Fuchs

Spoken Word

Leonid Zypkin: Ein Sommer in Baden-Baden

Read by Sylvester Groth, Director: Walter Adler. 5 CD, hörkultur ISBN: 978-3-906935-42-3 (Audiopool Hörbuchvertrieb)

It could all have been like this, and nothing had to be like this, or as Susan Sontag, who accidentally discovered this forgotten novel in a book box, writes: »Nothing is made up. Everything is made up.« A biographical fiction, a dream book: Leonid Zypkin describes the world and life of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. We are drawn in and carried throughout by the excellent interpretation of Sylvester Groth, from whom director Walter Adler compels only the finest of nuances. The framework of the story is the author’s journey in the footsteps of the admired writer, and we accompany him on a truly fantastic audio journey. For the jury: Manuela Reichart

Recordings for Children and Youth

Stefanie Höfler: Tanz der Tiefseequalle

Alexandra Ostapenko, Benedikt Paulun. 4 CD, derDiwan Hörbuchverlag ISBN: 978-3-941009-63-9

One in the center, the other on the outside: Her, Sera, pretty, popular, integrated, adored – him, Niko, overweight and fleeing into fantasy worlds, alone, a victim of bullying. Both are fourteen years old and on a school trip together. Stefanie Höfler vividly tells of a cautious meeting, funny, fresh, and with depth. Through changes of perspective, she succeeds in revealing internal beliefs without giving just them away. Alexandra Ostapenko and Benedikt Paulun imbue both characters with great authenticity and immediacy – the perfect line-up for an audiobook that is ultimately about developing an attitude and standing up for it. For the jury: Juliane Spatz

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