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.

NEW: Longlist 3/2021 with all nominations for the third Quarterly Critic’s Choice

Quarterly Critic’s Choice

Orchestral Music & Concertos

Tschaikowsky – Paavo Järvi

Peter Tschaikowsky: Symphony No. 5 E minor op.64; Francesca da Rimini op.32. Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, Paavo Järvi. Alpha Classics ALPHA 659 (Note 1)

The introductory, plaintive clarinet solo already emphasizes that crucial matters are being negotiated: it’s all or nothing. Paavo Järvi and his highly motivated Tonhalle Orchestra go through Tchaikovsky’s Fifth as a great drama. It’s direct, vivid, stringent, and until the end of this Russian fate symphony never sounds perfumed, always gripping. Also a musical matter of life and death, the often underestimated symphonic poem »Francesca da Rimini«. This is going to be an exciting Tchaikovsky cycle from Zurich! For the jury: Rainer Wagner

Orchestral Music & Concertos

Martinů, Bartók – Frank Peter Zimmermann

Bohuslav Martinů: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 H.226 & 2 H.293; Béla Bartók: Sonata for Violin solo Sz. 117. Frank Peter Zimmermann, Bamberger Symphoniker, Jakub Hrůša. SACD, BIS Records BIS-2457 (Klassik Center)

Bohuslav Martinů is still one of the composers you rarely encounter in concert halls outside the Czech Republic. One of the few violinists who take on his works is Frank Peter Zimmermann. His recording of the violin concertos with Jakub Hrůša from Brünn and his Bamberg Symphony is a great success! Splendid, blooming sound joyfully encounters a genuine understanding for the idiom of Martinů’s music. Zimmermann’s mastery of the technically complicated solo parts is outstanding. He also maintains this degree of quality in Béla Bartók’s solo sonata – creating one of the most inventive, most beautifully sounding interpretations of this work. For the jury: Norbert Hornig

Chamber Music

»Solo II« – Tabea Zimmermann

Johann Sebastian Bach: Suites for Violoncello solo BWV 1009 & 1010 (Arr. for Viola); György Kurtág: 6 Pieces from »Signs, Games and Messages« for Viola. Tabea Zimmermann. Myrios Classics MYR026 (harmonia mundi)

Tabea Zimmermann is an exceptional artist, unique when it comes to her instrument. When she plays the solo suites by Johann Sebastian Bach on a modern Vatelot viola from 1980, the listener feels right at home in the sound. The elegance of these interpretations, filled with warmth and dance-like ease, and also diligently and painstakingly recorded, meets six pieces from Kurtág’s cycle for string instruments in various settings, »Jelek, Játékok és Üzenetek« (Signs, Games and Messages), including, dedicated to her, the technically extremely demanding homage »… a flower for Tabea …«. For the jury: Bernhard Hartmann

Chamber Music

Variations on Folk Songs

Ludwig van Beethoven: Variationen über Volksweisen op.105 & op.107; Franz Doppler: Fantaisie pastorale hongroise op.26, Airs valaques op.10; Friedrich Kuhlau: Variations sur un ancien air suédois (from op.83 No.1); Eugène Walckiers: Rondo auvergnat (from op.47). Anna Besson, Olga Pashchenko. Alpha Classics ALPHA 639 (Note 1)

This flute is magical. Warm, dark, expressive, multicolored. So alive that we, contact starved listeners of canned music, don’t think we’re hearing a CD here, but that we are instead right there with Anna Besson and the brilliant Olga Pashchenko at the fortepiano. We understand again that the sound makes the music; that folklore and breathy fantasizing broaden the horizon just as much as genius concepts do – something Franz Doppler evidently knew better than Beethoven. And we understand that after the romantic keyed flute, the development of the modern flute was also a form of disenchantment. Here the magic is alive. For the jury: Volker Hagedorn

Keyboard Music

Silver Age – Daniil Trifonov

Sergej Prokofjew: Piano Concerto No. 2 op. 16; Sarcasms op. 17; Piano Sonata No. 8; Gavotte from Cinderella op. 95; Alexander Skrjabin: Piano Concero f sharp minor op. 20; Igor Strawinsky: Serenade A major for Piano; The Firebird (Suite) for Piano; 3 Movements from Petruschka for Piano. Daniil Trifonov, Mariinsky Orchestra, Valery Gergiev. 2 CD, Deutsche Grammophon 483 5331 (Universal)

For his double album with the Mariinsky team, Daniil Trifonov applies the Russian literature’s term »Silver Age« to Prokofiev, Scriabin, and Stravinsky, with two piano concertos and various solo works. Whether with jagged chords and wild leaps as in Prokofiev’s »Sarkasmen«, or mysterious and with a gentle keystroke in the atmospheric lighting of the Scriabin concert, Trifonov proves to be a brilliant guide through this musical landscape. His play always honors the promise of an authentic interpretation, with cleverly chosen techniques facilitating a multitude of nuances. For the jury: Christoph Vratz

Keyboard Music

Matthias Weckmann: Complete Organ Works

Léon Berben. 2 SACD, Aeolus AE-11261 (Note 1)

This recording of Matthias Weckmann’s organ works beautifully fulfills every implicit promise of the elements of the production: the Tangermünder Scherer organ from 1624 with two recently reconstructed reeds; the Stellwagen organ of the Jakobikirche in Lübeck from 1636; a brilliant recording team; and, last but not least, an artist whose expertise and charming musicality highlight Weckmann’s infinitely inventive counterpoint. Berben does not hold back, particularly in the choral cycles: they figuratively glow in the variety of sounds and the organ’s splendor. For the jury: Friedrich Sprondel

Opera

Marin Marais: Alcione

Lea Desandre, Cyril Auvity, Marc Mauillon, Lisandro Abadie, Hasnaa Bennani, Hanna Bayodi-Hirt, Antonio Abete, Le Concert des Nations, Jordi Savall. 3 SACD, Alia Vox AVSA9939 (harmonia mundi)

Three decades ago, thanks to a film with Gérard Depardieu (»Tous les matins du monde«), Marin Marais was recognized outside the circle of early music lovers as a legendary viola da gamba player. Only in the last few years has he come into focus as a composer of operas. And in parallel: the enormously productive Jordi Savall. The very same movie helped elevate him to the status of world star viola da gamba player. On this record, he performs with a large ensemble – fourteen vocal soloists alone! – an opulent and lively recording of »Alcione«, Marais’s most important tragédie lyrique, every detail fascinating. For the jury: Martin Elste

Opera

Jaromír Weinberger: Frühlingsstürme.

Stefan Kurt, Alma Sadé, Vera-Lotte Boecker, Dominik Köninger, Tansel Akzeybek, Tino Lindenberg, Luca Schaub, Dancers & Orchestra of Komische Oper Berlin, Jordan de Souza, Stage Direction: Barrie Kosky. Blu-ray/DVD, Naxos NBD0122V/2110677-78

As the director of the Komische Oper Berlin, Barrie Kosky regularly engages with the suppressed operettas of the Weimar Republic. He had Jaromir Weinberger’s operetta »Frühlingsstürme« reconstructed: it premiered in 1933 at the Metropoltheater with Richard Tauber but was removed by the Nazis, only surviving as a piano reduction. Brought back from the beyond after 87 years, the piece has now returned to the German stage: a love and espionage story from the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, staged in a bare wooden box, with lots of witty dialogues and well-done slapstick, topped off with exquisite soloists. Conductor Jordan de Souza dedicates himself to the operatic opulence of Weinberger’s music with great thoroughness. For the jury: Robert Braunmüller

Choral Music

Bruckner: Mass No.2 – Philippe Herreweghe

Anton Bruckner: Mass No.2 E minor WAB 27; Te Deum WAB 45. Hanna-Elisabeth Müller, Ann Hallenberg, Maximilian Schmitt, Tareq Nazmi, Collegium Vocale Gent, Orchestre des Champs-Élysées, Philippe Herreweghe. Phi LPH 034 (Note 1)

It’s the choir that bears the brunt here. There are no soloists, organs, strings. Herreweghe lets the winds act so sophisticated that the impression of a complete orchestra is created. He avoids broad wind charges, as we know them from Bruckner’s later symphonies, but by no means shuns tonal excesses, which he can gloriously live out with the flawless Collegium Vocale Gent. This creates grand magical moments, seemingly effortless, without the usual weight of the grave. Sometimes it even sounds like an attempt to stretch an airy bridge from Schubert’s longing for security to Berlioz’s expressive fury. For the jury: Helmut Mauró

Lieder and Vocal Recital

Erwin Schulhoff: Lieder

Sunhae Im, Tanja Ariane Baumgartner, Hans Christoph Begemann, Klaus Simon, Britta Stallmeister, Myvanwy Ella Penny, Delphine Roche, Filomena Felley, Philipp Schiemenz. 3 CD, bastille musique bm012 (rudi mentaire distribution)

For the first time, all 94 songs by Erwin Schulhoff are brought together in this edition. They range from slow foxtrot to skillfully condensed emotional anguish, up to a musical call to strike. The artistic engine of the production is the pianist Klaus Simon, he edited some of the pieces for the Schott Verlag for the first time. They were recorded by the SWR between 2016 and 2018. Tanja Ariane Baumgartner stands out among the soloists. The bastille musique label adds to the three CDs with a, as always, luxurious and lovingly designed booklet. For the jury: Stephan Mösch

Early Music

Josquin Desprez: Masses

Missa Hercules Dux Ferrarie; Missa D’ung aultre amer; Missa Faysant regretz. The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips. Gimell Records CDGIM 051 (Note 1)

With this CD, the Tallis Scholars conclude their complete recording of all masses by this most important master of Renaissance polyphony, just in time for the 500th anniversary of Josquin’s death. They started this project thirty-four years ago. It’s once again exciting to witness Peter Phillips succeed at unifying his singers under a single interpretive banner, combining the perfect homogeneity of the sound with the structural transparency of each individual voice. Mathematics becomes magic – an event that makes Josquin’s rigorous art immediately present in all its strangeness. For the jury: Uwe Schweikert

Contemporary Classical Music

Rebecca Saunders: Still / Aether / Alba

(musica viva #35). Carolin Widmann, Carl Rosman, Richard Haynes, Marco Blaauw, Symphonyorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Ilan Volkov, Peter Eötvös. BR Klassik 900635 (Naxos)

Compositional brilliance and originality, a vibrant sound, suggestive depth, and imagination: All this is combined here with a design style that is as dramatically gripping as it is supremely calm. The three concerts collected on this album are highlights of the recent work of British composer Rebecca Saunders, who was awarded the Siemens Music Prize in 2019. Playful soloists uplift this production of the Bavarian Radio – violinist Carolin Widmann and the trumpeter Marco Blaauw are outstanding. For the jury: Thomas Meyer

Historical Recordings

George Szell: The Warner Recordings 1934-1970

Works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Edouard Lalo, Johann Strauss, Antonín Dvořák et. al.. Bronislaw Hubermann, David Oistrakh, Pablo Casals, Mstislav Rostropovitch, Emil Gilels, Artur Schnabel, Benno Moiseiwitsch et.al., Cleveland Orchestra, Wiener Philharmoniker, London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic Orc. 14 CD, Warner Classics 9029526718

This Szell edition covers a wide range of contemporary history. The Hungarian-Austrian conductor, who was born as György Endre Szél, and who had made such a meteoric early career, recorded works by Dvořák with the Czech Philharmonic in 1937. The recording of his collaboration with musicians such as Casals, Huberman, and Schnabel, recorded on shellac records in 1939, also dates back to before his emigration. Later recordings with Rostropovich, Oistrach, or Gilels, were made in America thanks to the American-Soviet cultural exchange. In the end, it comes back to Dvořák, recorded in 1970 in Cleveland. For the jury: Stephan Bultmann

Crossover Productions

Gabriele Hasler: Herden und andere Büschel

Laika Records 3510384.2 (Rough Trade)

Tending a »herd of sounds«? Gets complicated when allophones and affricates, postalveolars and fricatives never stop moving. Gabriele Hasler is simultaneously cook, shepherd, and hunter: always on the right sound track. Names become hollow words – and words are put through the vowel mincer, worked on with a consonant grinder, and sensualized through repetition, omission, or seasoning. What she finds in Wikipedia phrases, recites from vocabulary books, or reads off of birds’ bills, she calls »Höricht« (‚Harwk’). Minimal interventions generate melodies from speech, noise from singing, and vice versa. You can listen to it again and again in amazement and, in the end, hum along. For the jury: Nikolaus Gatter

Film Music

Ludwig Göransson: Tenet

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. 2 CD, Watertower Music 9404320425 (Warner)

At one point in this magnificent example of overwhelming cinematic spectacle, a character says: »Don’t try to understand it, feel it«. Applies perfectly: both to Christopher Nolan’s film and to the music of Göransson, who had with »The Mandalorian« already proven that even simple recorder melodies can be hit. Here, in this soundtrack, he reinvents the term film music. Guitars are reduced to one tone, distorted, and used like the lash of a whip – an urgent, demanding music that is never cute or trivial. »Tenet« has the lofty goal of unsettling its viewers. The fact that it achieves it brilliantly is also due to Göransson’s music. A masterwork! For the jury: Peter Beddies

Music Film

Cunningham. Tanz ist Kunst

A film by Alla Kovgan DVD, good!movies 202810 (EuroVideo Medien GmbH)

With this portrait of the great dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham, director Alla Kovgan succeeded in making a film that goes far beyond the dance genre. Focused on the creative period up to 1972, film, sound, image, and sketch documents are brilliantly made into a collage, historical interviews, and added original material is interlaced with new productions today, danced by former members of the now-defunct Cunningham Dance Company, on roofs or in parks, on wonderous locations and in nature. It is breathtaking how the dance takes hold of space and simultaneously provides space for the music of John Cage, Morton Feldman, Conlon Nancarrow, or Christian Wolff. For the jury: Juan Martin Koch

Jazz

Ella Fitzgerald: The Lost Berlin Tapes

2 LP/CD, Verve 00602507450137 (Universal)

She brought scat to Berlin! Whenever Ella Fitzgerald came to Europe for concerts in the sixties, the island city was on the list. She brought syllabic scat singing to new heights, and her vocal solos were on an equal footing with the instrumental ones. The live recordings of the concerts in the Deutschlandhalle from 1960 and 1961, and the Sportpalast recordings from March 25, 1962, overflow with charisma and energy. That the music producer Norman Granz allowed a team of technicians and equipment to travel with them on all tours has once again proven to be a musical windfall. Ella can still be experienced in Berlin in outstanding form, even six decades later. For the jury: Lothar Jänichen

Jazz

Alexander von Schlippenbach: Slow Pieces For Aki

Intakt Records Intakt CD 346 (harmonia mundi)

To play this music requires the ability to concentrate on the quintessential – something that presumably only begins to develop at a more advanced age. Alexander von Schlippenbach designed twenty-one miniatures into a piano cycle pervaded by earnest lyric poetry, with compositional ideas and improvisational impulses complementing each other perfectly. Everything superfluous seems eliminated; every note is given the same heightened attention. Compared to the customary fast, loud, and excessive accentuation of free jazz, these pieces seem almost cautious. But they reveal – and that is what’s so fascinating – that same urge for freedom beneath the surface. For the jury: Bert Noglik

World Music

Ayom

flowfish records 195448938876 (Broken Silence)

The band Ayom sounds like they’ve been cultivating their Brazil-Cape Verde-Mediterranean mix for years. Yet the Brazilian singer Jabu Morales only met the Forró Quartet from Italy almost two years ago. The variety of rhythms used is overwhelming: Merengue, Samba, Cumbia, Calypso, Tarantella, Polka…. Not easy to get right! But they make it work remarkably well, contagiously cheerful, light-footed, and airy. A compact rhythm group, a multifaceted accordion, a radiant lead voice, a balanced production: the feel-good album of the season is ready. For the jury: Jodok W. Kobelt

Traditional Ethnic Music

Terra Incognita: TUVA

A journey among Nomads, Shamans and Musicians (incl. Music CD of Huun-Huur-Tu & DVD Documentation about Throat-Singing). Huun-Huur-Tu. Book, CD & DVD, Jaro Medien ISBN 978-39813509-6-8

Tuva: A place of longing for the west. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this small country in the heart of Asia only became known to us due to its singing techniques. They are associated with a mystical understanding of nature and shamanism. To what extent this complex acoustic world has to do with the vast horizon of the steppe and the blue mountains, the hard life of the tent nomads and their horses, you can experience nowhere more vividly than on this publication of overtone concert and larynx singing, realistic film and magical picture book: a physical inner world, a Tuvinian universe. For the jury: Jan Reichow

German language Singer/Songwriters

Max Prosa: Grüße aus der Flut

CD/LP, Prosa Records 770055/770056 (tonpool medien)

Max Prosa’s new CD sports a minimalist appearance, in simple black and white, but it convinces with quality and excellent poetic images. These are not encrypted enigmas but instead comprehensible and enriching for those willing to listen. Prosa interprets his songs passionately with a distinctive voice and uncommon melodies. Melancholy, bitter-sweet, and never without hope. »Sometimes I don’t really know whether these lyrics will be songs or poems,« he once said in a radio interview. One thing is certain: they can also be read as poetry. And with a lot to gain from. For the jury: Kai Engelke

Folk and Singer/Songwriters

Cinder Well: No summer

CD/LP, Free Dirt DIRT-CD-0098 (Galileo)

Guitar, piano, fiddle, and a haunting, almost mystical voice: this album is minimalist in nature, yet creates a magical cosmos of sound. On a rainy day, you almost feel like you are on a quest to Ireland’s musical heart. However, California-born Amelia Baker alias Cinder Well was not only inspired by the traditional tunes of the Emerald Isle, but also by the archaic folk music of the Appalachians. A folkloric gem that invites you to meditate. For the jury: Suzanne Cords

Pop

Idles: Ultra Mono

CD/LP, Pias/Partisan Records 39148402 (Rough Trade)

Lyrics against racism, exclusion, and hatred as pretended opinion, barked into the microphone by bandleader Joe Talbot with a bitter working-class accent, plus gritty guitars and a drum kit with the force of a steamroller: This is how the British quintet Idles resolutely takes their gloves off on their third studio album. And with a kind of punk rock 4.0, it shows what the genre can ideally be: politically explicit in its attitude, uncompromisingly rousing in its sound. Savages singer Jehnny Beth fits seamlessly into the picture, railing against male sexism in »Ne touche pas moi«. A real surprise: the appearance of rock and roll jazz musician Jamie Cullum in »Kill Them With Kindness«. For the jury: Christof Hammer

Rock

Bruce Springsteen: Letter to you

2 LP/CD, Columbia Records 19439811582 (Sony)

Bruce Springsteen called up his E-Street Band in autumn 2019, and the venerable warriors recorded twelve new pieces in just four days. All at the same time, together and live. The instruments combine into a brilliant sound – the audible expression of what Springsteen sings about in his lyrics. Topics like old age, death, and impermanence. And the way out of this earthly valley of tears leads straight to the »House Of A Thousand Guitars«, naturally on a Saturday evening! A studio album that feels like a great live concert, from the first minute to the very last. For the jury: Fritz W. Haver

Hard and Heavy

Sodom: Genesis XIX

2 LP/CD, Steamhammer 243581/243582 (SPV)

You don’t have to be part of the »everything-was-better-in-the-old-days«-faction to celebrate this new Sodom record – but it helps! But if you want to reduce »Genesis XIX« to the old-school debate, you miss the thrashing point: returnee Frank Blackfire. He not only has excellent song ideas, but he also makes even banal run-of-the-mill riffs sound like the freshest thing on the guitar since »Hit the Lights«. And all that without robbing this Ruhrpott institution of its rough charm by playing overly technical. So again, loosely based on Theresa May: »Sodom means Sodom«. For the jury: Felix Mescoli

Club and Dance

Avalon Emerson: DJ-Kicks

CD/LP, !K7 Records K7395 (Indigo)

This album is a high point in Avalon Emerson’s career to date – and not just because of the excellent reputation of the legendary mix series. Around a quarter of the songs are in-house productions by the American artist, her first releases since 2017. Vast synth spaces with a rumbling technoid substructure often play the central role in her tracks, as is the case here: they bind together this otherwise eclectic blend. Because Emerson plays with tempo and genres: wave, disco house, breakbeat, pop – there’s a bit of everything. With this wild mixture, Emerson shows that she knows how to cast a spell over the audience even without a DJ booth. For the jury: Cristina Plett

Blues and Blues-related

Kai Strauss: In My Prime

Continental Blue Heaven CBHCD 2038 (in-akustik)

Most recently, he won a spot on the Critic’s Choice in 2017 with the CD »Getting Personal«, and now he’s back for more. Asked about himself, Kai Strauss says he’s a blues fan who plays for blues fans. He found the optimal balance for himself: conscious of both the legacies of the ancestors and the demands of modern blues. Strauss carefully seasons the »primordial soup« with the latest flavors without ever diluting it. Placing great emphasis on the sound’s elegance, he never loses sight of blues’ original rough-and-tumble. This album is a real treat. For the jury: Karl Leitner

R&B, Soul and HipHop

Sault: Untitled (Rise)

CD/LP, Forever Living Originals FLO00006CD/FLO0006LP (directly sales)

A contemporary testimony. A distinction that applies to everything that has been published by the British collective Sault around the producer Inflo since May 2019. Musically, Sault draws on the early seventies, with explicit references and unflappable texts on the current political situation, especially the Black-Lives-Matter movement. All of it well-equipped with samples from the heyday of soul, jazz, and funk – a balancing act that only a few musicians and producers accomplish: a sound that hits the mark of the times. All proceeds are donated to charities. Names are not relevant – it’s about the message of the project. For the jury: Michael Rütten

This album won in jury R&B, Soul and HipHop as well as in jury Alternative.

Spoken Word

Garrett M. Graff: Und auf einmal diese Stille

Die Oral History des 11. September (Original Title: The Only Plane in the Sky. The Oral History of 9/11). Translated from the English by Philipp Albers and Hannes Meyer. Torben Kessler, Sascha Rotermund, Peter Lontzek, Robert Frank, Reinhard Kuhnert, Detlef Bierstedt, Julia Stoepel, Vera Teltz, Nils Nelleßen, Gabriele Blum, Alexander Doering, Uve Teschner. 3 mp3-CD, Hörbuch Hamburg ISBN 978-3-95713-222-2

The author researched archives and conducted interviews with people who witnessed and survived the murderous attacks on the 11th September of 2001. An impressive collage of terror was created out of five hundred testimonies. It was intelligently and sensitively realized as a seventeen-hour audiobook version, under the direction of Julia Ostrowski. Twenty-one speakers bring this oral history to life: the message from a flight attendant who knows that she is about to die; the last phone calls of the passengers; the question from an air defense employee: »Is this really happening or is it part of an exercise?« For the jury: Manuela Reichart

Recordings for Children and Youth

Linn Skåber: Being Young – uns gehört die Welt

(Original title: Til ungdommen). Leonie Landa, Katinka Kultscher, Julian Greis, Hendrik Kleinschmidt, Jule Hupfeld, Marlon Bartel, Lilly Lengenfelder, Malin Gerken, Philip Engeli, Inana Marie Benn. 2 CD, Goya libre ISBN 978-3-8337-4232-3 (Jumbo)

To portray the end of childhood and the beginning of the teen years, the Norwegian author Linn Skåber chose the image of a room that suddenly needs to be refurbished. Curiosity, a thirst for adventure, crushes and love, first sexual experiences, but also insecurity, defiance, anger, loneliness – an innumerable number of emotions flood the young person. Aided by interviews, the period of puberty is clad in powerful words: in literary, formally diverse monologues, sometimes thoughtful, sometimes happy, always touching – and read convincingly by different voices that give the range of experiences their own sound. For the jury: Regina Himmelbauer

Open