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

Maurice Ravel: La Valse; Modest Mussorgsky (arr. Ravel): Bilder einer Ausstellung

Les Siècles, François-Xavier Roth. harmonia mundi HMM 905282

Some symphonic compositions have been recorded so often in the last few decades that it is easy to believe that one knows them tonally inside and out. This includes »Bilder einer Ausstellung« in the ingenious orchestration by Maurice Ravel as well as his »La Valse«, which quivers with an inner glow. François-Xavier Roth and his orchestra Les Siècles show that all has not been said: The tensions between delicate sophistication and roaring force that can be felt in every note are inspiring, as are the sometimes warm, sometimes sharp timbres of the historical instruments. The recording opens up new perspectives on old friends. For the jury: Michael Kube

Orchestral Music & Concertos

Giuseppe Tartini: Violin Concertos

Giuseppe Tartini: Violin Concertos e-moll D56, A-Dur D96, d-moll D45; Concerto G-Dur; Concerto d-moll D44. Chouchane Siranossian, Venice Baroque Orchestra, Andrea Marcon. Alpha Classics ALPHA 596 (Note 1)

On the 250th anniversary of Giuseppe Tartini’s death, the Franco-Armenian violinist Chouchane Siranossian and the conductor Andrea Marcon recorded five of his numerous violin concertos, including a previously unpublished work in G major. The Venice Baroque Orchestra also works out the contrasting effects in pure strings with vibrant colors – without flashy effects or a well-behaved routine. Metastasio verses noted in the autograph (D44 and 45) feed an immense song-likeness. Siranossian handles the virtuoso solo part effortlessly: the filigree decorations organically complement a freely breathing musical phrasing. For the jury: Wiebke Roloff

Chamber Music

Beethoven around the world – The complete string quartets

Ludwig van Beethoven: Complete string quartets. Quatuor Ébène. 7 CDs, Erato 0190295339814 (Warner)

Saying something new about Beethoven in the jubilee year 2020 does not come easy to everyone, but it does for the four young Frenchmen from Quatuor Ebène. They neither follow the deeply run, interpretational trenches which have developed around experiencing the sixteen Beethoven quartets nor are they turning everything upside down with their live recording. Instead, they turn the music just enough so that its fearless cleverness can be heard, which seems to encompass everything from holy seriousness to mocking arrogance. It’s refreshing. And in so far as »around the world« – here an ensemble opens up the perspective on Beethoven substantially once again and adds a new experience. For the jury: Benjamin Herzog

Chamber Music

Masterpieces Among Peers

Frank Bridge: Piano Trio No.2 H178; Johannes Brahms: Piano Trio No.1 op.8. Namirovsky-Lark-Pae Trio. TYXart TXA18104 (Note 1)

Frank Bridge, born in 1879, taught Benjamin Britten and is rightly considered one of the most important British composers of the twentieth century. The Namirovsky-Lark-Pae Trio uses its very own, traditional yet visionary tonal language, partly inspired by Debussy, but also by Schönberg and the Second Viennese School, with precise knowledge of the compositional mixture, with a refined sense for timbres and transparency, always gripping. Qualities that also enrich Brahms’ much better known Trio op. 8. Two excellently interpreted masterpieces, which complement each other splendidly in their stylistic contrast. For the jury: Elisabeth Richter

Keyboard Music

Samuil Feinberg: Piano Sonatas

Samuil Feinberg: Klaviersonaten Nr. 1-6. Marc-André Hamelin. Hyperion CDA68233
(Note 1)

The 1890-born composer Samuil Feinberg was also successful as a pianist and piano teacher, but he never achieved the fame of Prokofiev, Rachmaninow, or Skrijabin. The first six of his twelve piano sonatas move from late Romanticism to modern times, and the music often appears gloomy and expanding, especially in the three-movement third sonata. The emotional pressure of these works results not least from the enormous technical difficulties that Marc-André Hamelin overcomes with astonishing dexterity, but he also ensures broad dynamism, an abundance of timbres, and immense structural clarity. Congratulations! For the jury: Gregor Willmes

Keyboard Music

Johann Sebastian Bach: The Complete Works for Keyboard, VOL. 3

In the french Style / À la française. Benjamin Alard. 3 CDs, harmonia mundi HMM 902457.59

The idea of truly recording every single piece that Bach ever composed for keyboard instruments might seem a little megalomaniac. And going even further, Benjamin Alard, the titular organist at the Church of St-Louis-en-l’Île in Paris, wants to uncover the aesthetic roots of Bach’s work with this life’s project: He also plays works that Bach encountered in the different phases of his life. Now the third album »À la française« is available, which reflects Bach’s time in the service of the Duke of Saxony-Weimar. Alard’s playing is astonishingly eloquent, crystal clear, and expressive in phrasing and choice of tempo, without ever drifting into mannerisms. For the jury: Regine Müller


Leonardo Vinci: Gismondo, Re di Polonia

Max Emanuel Cenčić, Yuriy Mynenko, Sophie Junker, Aleksandra Kubas-Kruk, Jake Arditti, Dilyara Idrisova, Nicholas Tamagna, {oh!} Orkiestra Historyczna, Martyna Pastuszka. 3 CDs, parnassus arts productions 9120104870017 (Note 1)

It is unusual enough that a baroque opera deals with sixteenth-century Polish history, but already the libretto for »Gismondo, Re di Polonia« convinces with its psychological coherence and the closed-off, gloomy atmosphere. A new instant hit by the versatile countertenor Max Emanuel Cenčić, who likes to uncover elaborate pieces from the world of opera seria with his own label. With four very distinct countertenors, including Cenčić himself, and three female voices, concertmaster Martyna Pastuszka ignites Leonardo Vinci’s vivid melodic creation without losing sight of the stringent drama of the story. For the jury: Michael Stallknecht


Richard Wagner: Tannhäuser

Stephen Gould, Lise Davidsen, Elena Zhidkova, Daniel Behle, Markus Eiche, Wilhelm Schwinghammer, Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele, Valery Gergiev; Regie: Tobias Kratzer. 2 DVDs, Deutsche Grammophon 0735757 / Blu-ray, Deutsche Grammophon 0735760 (Universal)

Director Tobias Kratzer and his team weren’t intimidated by Bayreuth’s atmosphere in 2019. They transformed the romantic story of the social outsider into a road movie, whose cast also includes drummer Oskar Matzerath and drag queen La Gateau Chocolat. While Tannhäuser sings about sex and sensuality in front of the Wartburg society, Venus adorns the harp with the rainbow flag. The premieres audience declared this celebration of diversity to be a cult piece, impressed not least by the skill of the singer-actor Stephen Gould, but also by Elena Zhidkova as Venus and Lise Davidsen as the highly dramatic Elisabeth. For the jury: Robert Braunmüller

Choral Music

Carlo Gesualdo: Tenebrae

Graindelavoix, Björn Schmelzer. 3 CDs, Glossa GCD P32116 (Note 1)

The Belgian vocal ensemble Graindelavoix with its director Björn Schmelzer has not just been performing in concert halls for the past ten years, but it has also been present in the inner cathedrals of historically-minded music lovers, who trust the music of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance to add more than just preliminary vocals to the occidental symphonic. With this award-winning new recording of Gesualdo’s Good Friday music Graindelavoix again achieved a level of sensory immediacy, multi-layered complexity, and spiritual intensity that emphasizes that this soundscape is anything but a museum piece. Instead, it confidently outshines the musical development of the following centuries. For the jury: Helmut Mauró

Lieder and Vocal Recital

Robert Dussaut & Hélène Covatti: Mélodies

Adriana González, Iñaki Encina Oyón, Thibaud Epp. Audax Records ADX 13722 (harmonia mundi)

One couple, two compositional styles: Robert Dussaut received the Rome Prize in 1924, he earned his living as a teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, but also played the violin in the Opéras orchestra and wrote specialist articles on acoustics. Hélène Covatti, fourteen years younger, also taught. The complete recording of their songs is a genuine discovery in a market that has long since worn out the concept of discovery. Adriana González, 2019 Operalia winner, will be accompanied by Iñaki Encina Oyón, who unearthed and edited the pieces. The informative booklet has been diligently prepared and contains professional translations throughout. For the jury: Stephan Mösch

Early Music

Johann Paul von Westhoff: Suites for Violin

Plamena Nikitassova. Ricercar RIC 412 (Note 1)

In the past, several interpreters have already made a convincing plea for Johann Paul Westhoff on both old and modern instruments: his suites for violin without bass, composed in 1696, are among the most important forerunners of Bach’s sonatas and partitas BWV 1001–1006. Nevertheless, the CD of the Bulgarian violinist Plamena Nikitassova is of particularly high value, because she elicits from her instrument an extraordinarily open, resonant sound in which the complex music seems to unfold almost by itself. For the jury: Matthias Hengelbrock

Contemporary Classical Music

Luigi Nono, Salvatore Sciarrino: Parole e Testi

Schola Heidelberg, ensemble aisthesis, Walter Nußbaum. Divox CDX-21701 (Bertus)

Under the direction of Walter Nussbaum, the Schola Heidelberg and the ensemble aisthesis have developed a production that is worthy of prizes in more than one way. There is the flawless beauty of the interpretations, benefiting two key vocal works by Salvatore Sciarrino and one by Luigi Nono. Then there is the fact that Nono’s »Polifonica – Monodia – Ritmica« can be heard here for the first time as the reconstruction of an original, never before heard version. The Darmstadt premiere in 1951, shortened to a third of the duration by Hermann Scherchen and published here as a bonus track, speaks volumes! For the jury: Marita Emigholz

Historical Recordings

Rudolf Kerer – Piano Concertos and Sonatas

Werke von Franz Liszt, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Georgy Moushel, Georgy Sviridov, Sergeij Prokofieff, Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann, Sergeij Rachmaninow. Rudolf Kerer, Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, Moscow Radio Large Symphony Orchestra, Kirill Kondrashin, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Viktor Dubrovsky; Viktor Pikaizen, Lev Evgrafov. 5 CDs, Doremi DHR-8086-90 (Naxos)

Rudolf Kerers’ family was exiled to southern Kazakhstan in 1941. To keep his piano skills, he »practiced« for thirteen years using a painted keyboard, and during this time, he likely learned to concentrate on the essence. Regardless of the origin, this approach of stripping away everything but the musical core runs through all of his interpretations, requiring the listeners’ willingness to collaborate: exhausting, but rewarding! Kerer’s interpretation of Brahms’ first piano concerto sets standards of its own. Liszt’s first Mephisto waltz becomes a lesson in extreme audibility, and Beethoven’s moonlight sonata can once again be experienced as revolutionary music. His Mozart could be from today. For the jury: Wolfgang Wendel

Crossover Productions

Witch ‘n’ Monk

Heidi Heidelberg, Mauricio Velasierra: Witch ‘n’ Monk. Tzadik TZ 7817 (Bertus)

Me-ow, me-o! It starts with caterwauling underlaid by a bell towers clockwork, as Kater Murr from Hoffmann’s stories could have played it for the conductor Johannes Kreisler to dance. Who would have thought that there are so many timbres in the exhibits from the Colombian Mauricio Velasierra flute collection! In a duo with the British vocalist and guitarist Heidi Heidelberg, Velasierra created his own road movie from scat vocals and overdub recitations, string accents, and beatbox rhythms, cloudy or dissonant chords – an acoustic Panamericana that combines punk with free jazz and connects Stravinsky with Latin American folklore. For the jury: Nikolaus Gatter

Music Film

Aretha Franklin: Amazing Grace

With Mick Jagger, James Cleveland, C. L. Franklin; Direction: Alan Elliott and Sydney Pollack. DVD, Weltkino Filmverleih UF11970 (Sony)

In 1972 Aretha Franklin gave two gospel concerts at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles – for the »Queen Of Soul« a return to the music of her youth. The live album for it became the best-selling in the gospel genre. Only now, half a century later and using modern digital technology, could a film project be realized. We experience an Aretha Franklin who preaches her gospel message with indescribable fire: a celebration of life that leaves the audience in ecstasy. Even the singers from the Southern California Community Choir and their fellow musicians are moved: Gospel legend Reverend James Cleveland leaves the piano and weeps. For the jury: Andreas Kunz


Kenny Barron, Dave Holland Trio feat. Johnathan Blake: Without Deception

Dare2Records CD-DARE-011 (Bertus)

How witty, elegant, and captivating are these three! Kenny Barron, a virtuoso of nuances, has played with the ingenious bass player Dave Holland repeatedly for thirty-five years, always at a high level. Johnathan Blake, a dynamically differentiated drummer, has often been at the pianist’s side, but working with Holland is new to him. This equation of the known and the unknown harbors both familiarity and the potential for a surprise – the best prerequisites for an honest trialogue »without deception«, predominantly with original compositions based on a timeless, classical style anchored in jazz of the sixties. Everything is just right here: inspiration, integration, interaction. For the jury: Marcus A. Woelfle


Nduduzo Makhathini: Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds.

Blue Note Records 00602508596896 (Universal)

With his ninth record as a bandleader, Nduduzo Makhathini is the first South African jazz musician to make a debut with the renowned Blue Note label. What an album! The pianist, who grew up in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, draws from tribal cultures and church music, links up with pioneers like Abdullah Ibrahim and Bheki Mseleku and connects with Afro-American jazz, while simultaneously knowing how to create fascinating soundscapes using his spiritual messages. When he conjures up the traditions of his ancestors together with wind players, percussionists, and singing voices, his music, which is of the present, is like the reawakening of a ritual. For the jury: Bert Noglik

World Music

Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela: rejoice

World Circuit / BMG WCD094 (Warner)

Ten years ago, the first and only meeting of these two grandmasters of (not only) African music took place: the recently deceased drummer Tony Allen from Lagos, born in 1940, co-invented the Afrobeat as the musical mastermind of the band Africa ‚70 by Fela Kuti. The one year older trumpeter Hugh Masakela helped shape jazz in South Africa, he carried the styles of Kwela and Mbaqanga into the pop world. The powerful and best moments of this session in London, entirely made up of original tracks and only published posthumously after ten years, can be seen as the late climax in the work of both musicians and a worthy legacy. For the jury: Johann Kneihs

Traditional Ethnic Music

Damir Imamović: Singer Of Tales

Wrasse Records WRASS364 (harmonia mundi)

The stories, in an epic tone, speak of love, pain, and an insatiable longing called »Sevdah«. Typical for Bosnia and Herzegovina are the added hues of Roma musicians and Sephardic Jews, sometimes in Ladin – the rabbi of Sarajevo gave his blessing. Above all, however, the ancient, borderless sentiment evoked by the singer Damir Imamoviæ, when urban life was shaped by Ottoman rule for centuries. An instrumental garment, filigree, woven from the lines of violin and jazz bass, kemenche, and tambour, a sound image for which one of the most famous producers of Balkan-toned world music is responsible: Joe Boyd. For the jury: Jan Reichow

German language Singer/Songwriters

Manfred Maurenbrecher: Inneres Ausland

Reptiphon REP 051 (Broken Silence)

His twenty-fifth album was released on Friday 13 March. »A happy day!« says Manfred Maurenbrecher. But also the same day the lockdown was declared. If one didn’t know that songs are made long before the release one could think that some, like »Erdrutsch« (Landslide) or »Jetzt plötzlich geht’s« (Suddenly it works), were created during the Corona crisis. Mauerbrechers songs have always had their way with words, but now they surprise with several musical additions, such as a choir called »Jazzomat«, which can be heard in »Puppen«, set to music by Andreas Albrecht, Mauerbrechers longtime producer and comrade-in-arms. Maurenbrecher has taken a liking to this kind of modernist music, he wants more of it soon. For the jury: Petra Schwarz

Folk and Singer/Songwriters

Džambo Aguševi Orchestra: brasses for the masses

Asphalt Tango Records CD-ATR 6020 (Indigo)

Is one marching band like the other? Definitely not! But what is the difference between the local fire brigade band and the Dzambo Agusevi Orchestra from Macedonia? Aside from the entirely different cultural background, this ten-piece wind orchestra, in which trumpets and tenor horns dominate, is open to a lot of funk and jazz influences, so that the already fast and rhythm-focused Balkan music gets the legs moving even quicker. Add to this a production on a high international level, and the perfect dance music for this summer is ready – but please with social distancing! For the jury: Mike Kamp


The Weeknd: After Hours

Republic Records B0031990-02 (Universal)

Nothing is safe from him: like an octopus, the Canadian rapper Abel Tesfaye alias The Weeknd grabs all conceivable genres from hip-hop and R&B to electro-pop, drum ‚n’ bass or rock. He invites you on a journey out of the dark to the light and back again, with shaky falsetto, accompanied by threatening electronics or streaks of creaking autotune. Glaring dance floor hymns are on the program as well as outrageously catchy schmaltz for mainstream radio. And yet the sound keeps tipping into the unpredictable, sinister, claustrophobic: a thrilling trip through the longings and fears of a dazzling musical artist. For the jury: Christof Hammer


Lilly Hiatt: Walking Proof

CD / LP, New West Records NW6473 (Rough Trade)

The fourth album by Lilly Hiatt, daughter of John Hiatt, is her most resolute and, at the same time, most stylistically balanced. »Walking Proof« is already elevated through the crystal clear production by Lincoln Parish, the former guitarist of the band Cage the Elephant, but on top of that and the soft, introspective country-pop, it offers several rock tracks with sharp-edged guitar chords, the hardness of which are the real surprise of this album. »P Town« and »Never Play Guitar« are outstanding in this regard, and take Hiatt a lot further on the way to becoming the female Tom Petty of our time. For the jury: Edo Reents

Hard and Heavy

Dool: Summerland

CD / 2 LPs / DL, Prophecy PRO286 (Soulfood)

»Summerland« represents the keeping of a promise that Dool made three years ago with the debut »Here Now, There Then«: from rough diamond to jewel! Urgent, but not intrusive, emotional, but not overbearing, allowing weaknesses but not pathetic, sad, and euphoric at the same time, marching on the precipice and yet certainly keeping the balance. The sounds have become more open, more post-punk, and wavy. And if you want to hear again how »Postrock« is given relevance, you lose yourself in the finale »Dust & Shadow« with the congenial counterpart of the opener »Sulfur & Starlight«, which was also composed to the limit. Heavy Rock 2.0. For the jury: Boris Kaiser


Car Seat Headrest: Making a door less open

CD / LP, Matador OLE1571CD (Indigo)

Will Toledo took four years to create this highly inspiring album. He recorded it twice: in a full band line-up with guitars, drums and bass, and in a MIDI version, using only synthetically generated sounds – then interweaving both versions and adding additional recordings. The result is not only sound-aesthetically innovative. The album also draws its brilliance from the interlaced songwriting, the play with minimalisms and maximalisms, samples wafting in opposing frequencies to canned lo-fi drums, and stoic bass runs as the resting poles of each song. Elaborate without losing detail, stylistically diverse, it reveals enormous depth. For the jury: Götz Adler

Blues and Blues-related

Dr. Will: I Want My Money Back

Solid Pack Records RP107 (Galileo)

Five years ago, with their album »Cuffs Off«, Dr. Will and his band have made it onto the quarterly critics’ choice before. Now the man with the unique sound, who lives in Munich while his heart beats for New Orleans, climbed a new peak of creativity and ingenuity. Once more, he comes out as a man of conviction, unerringly doing his thing and showing himself to be in top form again and again, as a singer, musician, composer, and arranger. »I Want My Money Back?« – Definitely not. Those who buy these fourteen marvelous songs have invested their money extraordinarily well! For the jury: Karl Leitner

R&B, Soul and Hip-Hop

Run the Jewels: RTJ4

Download, Jewel Runners / BMG 405053861729 (Warner)

The fourth album by the two hip hop veterans feels as though it was broadcast directly from a recent Black Lives Matter protest. This only underlines the eternal relevance of the topic. The African-American rapper Killer Mike from Outkast in the southern state of Georgia has been working with El-P since 2012, producer with European-Jewish roots and pioneer of the New York underground of the nineties. They combine a timelessly brute, industrial-influenced funk with rapping that is as witty as it is outraged and bitter. But never before have they been so consistently dense and noisily intense as here. The hardest kick in the ass of the zeitgeist since Public Enemy. For the jury: Markus Schneider

Recordings for Children and Youth

Julia Walton: Wörter an den Wänden (Words on Bathroom Walls)

Jonas Minthe. mp3-CD, Hörcompany ISBN: 978-3-96632-017-7

Schizophrenia is not an easy topic when young adults are your target audience. But Julia Walton succeeds in doing just that with the invention of the character of Adam. This boy is not »normal«, he hears voices and sees people who do not exist. Adam writes to his therapist because he cannot have a conversation with him, and it is precisely this diary-like account that creates intense closeness. Jonas Minthes voice perfectly reproduces the mood swings typical of the illness: it smiles and radiates, is desperate, rushed, insecure or ironic, and slips plausibly into real and imagined figures: touching cinema of the mind that holds the tension until the very end. Absolutely worth hearing. For the jury: Carola Benninghoven