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

Koechlin: The Seven Stars’ Symphony / Matiakh

Charles Koechlin: The Seven Stars’ Symphony op.132 (1933), Vers la voûte étoilée op.129 (1923-1933, rev. 1939). Sinfonieorchester Basel, Ariane Matiakh. Capriccio C5449 (Naxos)

Charles Koechlin wanted to become an astronomical scientist in his youth, but when he wrote his »Seven Stars Symphony« in 1933, he had no celestial bodies in mind but movie stars: from Douglas Fairbanks to Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich to Charlie Chaplin. These sound pictures are more subtle than theatrical portraits, rich in colors and facets, a loving, always surprising homage. The Basel Symphony Orchestra under Ariane Matiakh illuminates the suspense: curtain up and lights on! For the jury: Rainer Wagner

Orchestral Music & Concertos

Saint-Saëns: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 / Kantorow

Camille Saint-Saëns: Piano Concertos No. 1 op.17 & No. 2 op.22, Africa op.89, Allegro appassionato op.70, Rhapsodie d’Auvergne op.73, Wedding Cake op.76. Alexandre Kantorow, Tapiola Sinfonietta, Jean-Jacques Kantorow. SACD, BIS Records BIS-2400 (Klassik Center)

Elegance, intelligence, esprit: This recording is the capstone of the young French Tchaikovsky prizewinner Alexandre Kantorov’s complete recording of the piano concertos and concert pieces by Camille Saint-Saëns, and it is impressive. A perfect reference, also as far as the orchestra under the direction of his father is concerned. In the best »jeu perlé«, the music shines in all colors without falling into superficial brilliance or painted-on pathos. Above all, the concerts show themselves as quasi-Cartesian, surprising formal experiments, to which Kantorov gives form and conviction. For the jury: Michael Stegemann

Chamber Music

From Vienna to Hollywood

Fritz Kreisler: String Quartet, Erich Wolfgang Korngold: String Quartet No.3, 3 Pieces from »Much ado about nothing« op.11. Hegel Quartet. SACD, Ars Production ARS 38 345 (Note 1)

They were both Viennese prodigies and emigrants in the USA. Her two here presented works were created at historical turning points: Kreisler’s only string quartet in 1919 and Korngold’s third quartet in 1945. The Hegel Quartet from Stuttgart ideally combined these works of survival between grief, memory, hope, and joy of life. The quartet takes the greatest pleasure in all the required stylistic levels of music between heaven and earth. It revels in salon music as well as in construction and espressivo, with which Korngold summons Schönberg’s first string quartet: Vienna remains Vienna, despite Hollywood. For the jury: Lotte Thaler

Chamber Music


Béla Bartók: Suite op.14, Maurice Ravel: Ma Mère l’Oye, Walter Feldmann: figurations de mémoire, Claude Debussy: Suite Bergamasque. BlattWerk Quintett. Schweizer Fonogramm 7629999248137 (Direct Sales)

Characterized by work-in-progress: This positive impression is conveyed by the BlattWerk Quintet. It seems as if these musicians reinvent what they put into the music in terms of colors and impulses at the very moment they are playing it. Everything is cleverly arranged, even didactically, yet it makes you want to learn and approach new things. The processing of Ravel’s »Ma Mère l’Oye« looks like a picture book in pastel tones, which opens the senses to all the aerial formations and levitations that Walter Feldmann depicts in the title work: »figurations de mémoire« is a Hubble telescope for ears, through which one can listen into deep, sonorous black holes. For the jury: Julia Kaiser

Keyboard Music

Schumann: Novelletten / Helmchen

Robert Schumann: Acht Novelletten op.21, Gesänge der Frühe op.133, Clara Schumann: Soirées musicales op.6. Martin Helmchen. Alpha Classics ALPHA 857 (Note 1)

The pianist Martin Helmchen has recorded an exciting Schumann album, with works by her and him. He chose a Bechstein grand piano from 1860, which he knows inside and out. Whether stop or pedal use, whether the clever phrasing or the relationships between the tempi – Helmchen always finds the suitable means to equip this romantic piano lyric with a maximum of colors. The focus is on Robert Schumann’s eight novelettes. The »ballad narrator« Helmchen performs the jaunty, lyrical, and dramatic with a lot of imagination. For the jury: Christoph Vratz

Keyboard Music

In modo Pastorale

Bernardo Storace: Pastorale, Capriccio sopra Ruggiero, Ciaconna, Recercar, Bergamasca et al. Marouan Mankar-Bennis. L’Encelade ECL 2101 (Klassik Center)

We don’t know much about the composer Bernardo Storace. He is said to have been a fervent admirer of Frescobaldi when he was the vice-chapelmaster at the Cathedral of Messina. He takes over the soggetto of the Ricercar from Frescobaldi’s »Messa della Madonna« transforming it into a kind of triple fugue in his own »Recercar« next to a chromatic theme. The versatile harpsichordist Marouan Mankar-Bennis transforms this highly complex music with playful ease into a cheerful bucolic idyll. The elegant »Ballo della Battaglia« also sounds »in modo pastorale« and comes across quite dance-like on the organ. For the jury: Martin Hoffmann


Francesco Sacrati: La finta pazza

Mariana Flores, Paul-Antoine Bénos-Dijan, Carlo Vistoli, Fiona McGown, Anna Piroli, Alejandro Meerapfel, Julie Roset, Marcel Beekman et al., Cappella Mediterranea, Leonardo García Alarcón. 3 CD, Château de Versailles Spectacles CVS070 (Note 1)

The war hero Achilles in women’s clothes, a captivating scene of madness – presumably the first in opera history –, add to it the mockery of the gods and a great role for women: this Homerian-travesti from sensual Venice from 1641 pulls all the stops between comedy and seriousness and awaits with an abundance of inspired ariosi, duets and terets. Leonardo García Alarcón has put together a top-class ensemble for the no less than nineteen roles and celebrates a rich variety of sounds with his Cappella Mediterranea. A shining find and a listening pleasure in a class of its own! For the jury: Max Nyffeler


Jacques Offenbach: Le Voyage dans la Lune

Violette Polchi, Sheva Tehoval, Matthieu Lécroart, Pierre Derhet, Raphaël Brémard, Thibaut Desplantes, Marie Lenormand, Christophe Poncet de Solages, Ludivine Gombert, Chœur et Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie, Pierre Dumoussaud. 2 CD, Bru Zane BZ 1048 (Note 1)

This recording once again refutes the preconception that Jacques Offenbach’s music lost its originality after the end of the second French Empire, the Belle Époque. »Le Voyage dans la Lune« (1875), based on the novel by Jules Verne, fascinates in particular in the mixture of Bouffonnerie and Féerie. The conductor Pierre Dumoussaud and the Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie powerfully work out the different musical spheres between Cancan and fantastic opera in a dry tone. The choir and soloists are committed, yes, champagne – on a homogeneous level. For the jury: Alexander Dick

Choral Music

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Carré, Mauricio Kagel: Chorbuch

Christoph Schnackertz, Christoph Lehmann, Chorwerk Ruhr, Bochumer Symphoniker, Florian Helgath, Rupert Huber, Matilda Hofman, Michael Alber. SACD, Coviello Classics COV92113 (Note 1)

The combination of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s »Carré« (from 1960) and Mauricio Kagel’s »Chorbuch« (from 1978) exists thanks to two concerts at the Ruhrtriennales 2016 and 2018. On the one hand, monumental sound strolling for four choirs and orchestra each, mainly in Slow Motion, and on the other hand, a partly ironic, partly extremely serious creative workshop around 21 Bach chorales. With the Chorwerk Ruhr, the Bochum Symphony Orchestra, and three other conductors, Florian Helgath works out the idiosyncrasies of the works precisely and even brings silence and effect to peaceful coexistence with Stockhausen. For the jury: Susanne Benda

Lieder and Vocal Recital

Franz Liszt: Der du von dem Himmel bist

Songs (Vol. II). Konstantin Krimmel, Daniel Heide. CAvi 8553495 (Bertus)

»Es war ein König von Thule«, »Freudvoll und leidvoll«, »Die Loreley«: Lied-Schlager is what they are. But not in the setting of Franz Liszt. On his second solo CD, Konstantin Krimmel, arguably the most outstanding young talent in the baritone section, explores the edges of the repertoire. Though only twenty-nine years young, he surprises with a high level of reflection, in the discernment of the texts as well as in the balance in expression: Krimmel meets the somnambulistic, otherworldly sound of the songs without theatricality and with exemplary clarté. He and pianist Daniel Heide become masters of nuances and delicate drama. For the jury: Markus Thiel

Early Music

Draw On Sweet Night

John Wilbye: Madrigals. I Fagiolini, Robert Hollingworth. Coro COR16190 (Note 1)

»We hope,« I Fagiolini say in the preface to her CD, »that this first pure Wilbye recording since the eighties inspires to sing his madrigals again.« And it does! But as imminently as the singers create the atmosphere of a private circle of friendly musicians who exchange ideas about their romantic endeavors, it is hard to imagine that someone will be able to replicate their feats of intimacy and expressivity, power, depth, and crystal-clear intonation any time soon. For the jury: Carsten Niemann

Contemporary Classical Music

George Crumb: Black Angels / Music for a Summer Evening

Quatuor Hanson, Philippe Hattat, Théo Fouchenneret, Emmanuel Jacquet, Rodolphe Théry. B-Records LBM 040 (Note 1)

When George Crumb passed in 2022, the world did not only lose a talented sound explorer and stylistic world wanderer but also a mystic and romantic. This is exemplified by these live recordings from a concert at the Deauville Festival last year. They couple the electrically amplified string quartet »Black Angels« with the »Music for a Summer Evening« for two pianos and percussion, which was created in the seventies. With their dramatic insight and atmospheric compression, the young musicians reveal an unprecedented sound sensuality. This is unique and lasting. For the jury: Marco Frei

Historical Recordings

Dimitri Mitropoulos – The complete RCA & Columbia Album Collection

Arthur Whittemore, Harold Gomberg, Robert Casadesus, Egon Petri et al., Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic. 69 CD, Sony Classical 19439888252

Whether in the concert hall or the opera house – when Dimitri Mitropoulos raised the baton, musical intensity and maximum tension were guaranteed. After his spectacular debut as a conductor and pianist with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1930, he made a meteoric world career. Because of his charisma, he was also called a »priest of music«. His artistic legacy includes the epochal first recording of Alban Berg’s opera »Wozzeck«. This exemplary edition with the covers of the original publications in CD format sets a discographic monument to the Greek conductor, who died in 1960 at the age of sixty-four. For the jury: Norbert Hornig

Crossover Productions

BartolomeyBittmann: Zehn

Preiser Records PR91560 (Naxos)

Anyone who has missed the force of their stage presence believes to hear a Mahavishnu Orchestra or at least a half-dozen multi-instrumentalists. Klemens Bittmann (violin) and Matthias Bartolomey (violoncello) have released four CDs in ten years and count among their fans, among others, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Arik Brauer. »Zehn« is their newest road movie, set in motion with the time machine, which sets epoch markers in vibration, rhythmically supplemented by plucked mandola and percussive use of the bows. This duo has the blues, as well as a remarkable virtuosity: HipHop from the late Renaissance, a passacaglia that rocks off, and an acrobatic tight-rope walk at an exceptional level. For the jury: Nikolaus Gatter


Bill Evans, Marc Johnson, Joe LaBarbera: Inner Spirit

The 1979 Concert At The Teatro General San Martín, Buenos Aires. 2 CD, Resonance HCD-2062 (harmonia mundi)

A year before his death, Bill Evans performed in Buenos Aires in 1979. The concert of his »Last Trio« with bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joe LaBarbera documents how far a creative person can rise above his circumstances. Already seriously ill, marked by his brother’s suicide and fueling himself with cocaine, he knew there would be little time for him to entrust everything that had not been said to the keys. Unreservedly, intensely he devoted himself to the music in order to chisel an »eternal introduction« to »Nardis« or to sing »I Loves You, Porgy« on the piano with penetrating obsession. An enchanting document, an outstanding, richly illustrated edition. For the jury: Marcus A. Woelfle


Brave New World Trio: Seriana Promethea

David Murray, Brad Jones, Hamid Drake. Intakt Records Intakt CD 381 (harmonia mundi)

The Brave New World Trio alludes to the dystopian novel by Aldous Huxley. They see themselves as a resistant formation against tyranny and conspiracy – in a reflective resort to proven virtues. For David Murray and his fellow musicians, jazz is a musical and social entity that needs freedom of movement. The articulatory richness and sophistication of music are simultaneously striking and subtle. The new album’s titles and the individual compositions raise questions and refer to a musical cosmos brought about and multiplied by the trio’s experiences. For the jury: Hans-Jürgen Linke

World Music

Oumou Sangaré: Timbuktu

CD/LP, World Circuit BMG WCD101 (Warner)

Her impressiveness has become irresistible music again. In melodiously enumerating vocal articulation, Oumou Sangaré gives factual explanations about the economic power of her homeland Wassoulou in Mali and imparts emancipatory instructions to the women of Africa. »The whole world« is taught about Timbuktu, a city of knowledge. Great, bouncing rhythms and circular phrases wind around sweeping melodies, reliably supported by inconspicuous bass lines. Above it sits the voice of Her Majesty Sangaré on a beautiful throne, she recorded most of it, including some traditional instruments, in Baltimore. For the jury: Johannes Theurer

Traditional Ethnic Music

In the Footsteps of Rumi

Ghalia Benali, Kiya Tabassian, Constantinople. Glossa GCD 924502 (Note 1)

From kitschy postcards to meaning-distorted translations – the words of the Persian mystic Rumi have to endure much eight hundred years after their creation. But it can also be done differently, as in this overwhelming setting, which also covers less well-known Arabic poems by Rumi. The voice of the Belgo Tunisian Ghalia Benali hits the hearers like a dark arrow of longing. The Canadian ensemble Constantinople around bridge builder Kiya Tabassian weaves the metaphysical flood of love in tones with long-necked lute, casket zither, violins, oud, and percussion. For the jury: Stefan Franzen

German language Singer/Songwriters

Lüül: Der stille Tanz

CD/DL, Singapore Rec. 4260000320416 (Direct Sales)

For fifty years, Lüül has been walking between Krautrock (Ash Ra Temple), wonderful world music (17 Hippies), and modern songwriting. His voice is striking, his compositions are never arbitrary and always excellently interpreted by a fantastic band, and his lyrics are sometimes poetic, sometimes biting. That’s the case in »Der stille Tanz«, with reflections on the corona pandemic that led Lüül, the globetrotter, to a standstill (»Die Welt hält an«). Melancholy meets world pain without falling into sentimentality. On the contrary: this musical jack of all trades succeeds in entertaining us at the highest level. For the jury: Hans Reul

Folk and Singer/Songwriters

Jens Kommnick: Stringed

SACD/LP, Stockfisch Records SFR 357.4105.2 (in-akustik)

Jens Kommnick is both a Celtic Fingerstyle guitarist with influences from classical music, jazz, and rock, and a fascinating multi-instrumentalist. On his new solo album called »Stringed«, he presents – nomen est omen – various string instruments, masterful, touching, and amazingly beautiful. His delicate acoustic pieces, recorded in the naturally warm high-end sound of the legendary Stockfisch studios, are of exquisite audiophile quality. All fifteen works are animated by human warmth, as evidenced by the loving notes on their creation found in the booklet. For the jury: Jo Meyer

Hard and Heavy

Gggolddd: This Shame Should Not Be Mine

2 CD/LP, Artoffact 0628070639762 (Cargo)

The Dutch band GGGOLDDD, once launched as a hip retro hard rock band, have released a concept album with which singer Milena Eva processes a trauma: she was raped. The album resembles an emotional report, not a victim’s tale. Introspective passages, carried by dark bitter vocals, are underlaid with sometimes post-punky, sometimes psychedelic electro-surfaces and alternate with almost black-metallic aggression. Eva delivers the »performance of a lifetime«, both vocally and compositionally; an artistic, personal and feminist triumph and, at the same time, a pop product of the post-Me-Too world – shocking, poignant, challenging. For the jury: Thorsten Dörting

Club and Dance

Perel: Jesus Was An Alien

CD/LP, Kompakt CD171 (Rough Trade)

Was Jesus an alien? Possibly, according to Perel – and pictures herself in the cover picture as the Mother of God breastfeeding the alien Jesus. Perel’s sound is also provocative and extraordinary: via spherical old disco, house, and wave pop of the eighties, she intones philosophical lyrics with her typical dark timbre, which has often brought her the comparison with Hildegard Knef. A powerful second album! It takes Perel’s sound to another level – and besides, she deserves the award for the best record cover of the year. For the jury: Laura Aha

Electronic and Experimental

Toechter: Zephyr

(Edition Dur 01). LP/DL, KulturManufaktur 4252019300015 (Direct Sales)

Often it is the other way around: One is amazed at how much soul electronic sounds can carry within themselves. The debut of the German-Danish band toechter turns this effect upside down. Marie-Claire Schlameus, Lisa Marie Vogel, and Katrine Grarup Elbo are classically trained and assert that in the thirty-six minutes of this album, only violin, viola, violoncello, or their voices can be heard. Their goal was to explore all tonal possibilities in the sense of sound design – as an »ode to string instruments«. But much more has emerged: a fascinatingly irritating, often intimate challenge to listening habits, in which the rhythms often sound remarkably inorganic (»Pendulum«). For the jury: Jörg Peter Klotz

Blues and Blues-related

Rad Gumbo: Hot And Spicy

POA Records PAO CD 11350 (Direct Sales)

These musicians don’t publish much, but when they do, there’s plenty to praise. In 2014 Rad Gumbo had already made the Critic’s Choice, and now they do it again. This time, the songs are closer to Zydeco and New Orleans, with TexMex influences now more in the background. This band is, indeed, exceedingly hot! Dominating and still a force: the exceptional voice of Robert »Dackel« Hirmer and his accordion. Something award-worthy from the swamps of the Bavarian Danube Delta, with nine penetrating original compositions, presented with charm and wit. For the jury: Karl Leitner

R&B, Soul and Hip-Hop

Kendrick Lamar: Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers

CD/2 LP, Interscope Records 00602445886906 (Universal)

Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar’s fifth album grants us a deep look into his innermost. It is his most personal and diverse work to date, published 1855 days after his Pulitzer Prize-winning work »Damn« (2018) – and after a writing block. Self-criticism plays a part, along with social criticism, coping with the past, family stories, and traumas. It is about toxic relationships, cancel culture, life, and suffering. Never before has a rapper been praised positively in so many papers. And after one weekend, it was decided already: Lamar leads the annual streaming charts at Apple Music. For the jury: Jörg Wachsmuth

Spoken Word

Anja Kampmann: Kein Haus aus Sand

Katja Bürkle, Fridhelm Ptok, Barbara Nüsse, Regie: Ulrich Lampen. Stream, SWR

The basis of this impressively staged, polyphonic radio play is the »European Archive of Voices«: The author was fascinated by the collected memories of old people for whom a democratic, peaceful Europe was once a utopia. However, the Russian war of aggression changes the perspective, and the old stories about war and horror suddenly take on a new meaning. Her poems and those of the Ukrainian poet Ilya Kaminsky are put into conversation with the interviewees’ memories. Kampmann interweaves voices from then and now into a large piece about the dream of European peace and the nightmare of war. For the jury: Manuela Reichart

Photo: Actress Barbara Nüsse and director Ulrich Lampen during the recording sessions. © SWR/Christian Koch

Recordings for Children and Youth

Gertrude Kiel: Was der Himmel uns erzählt

Eine Geschichte über unser Universum und die, die es erforscht haben. Oliver Rohrbeck. mp3-CD, cbj audio ISBN 978-3-8371-5948-6 (Penguin Random House)

Communicating knowledge about the world to children via audio recordings can be done with dry facts or wrapped up in a captivating story to awaken the passion for the subject. Danish author Gertrude Kiel chose the latter route. It’s about young William, who has to spend a week with his cranky aunt Gunvor. But then she tells him about the earth and its place in the solar system, from various attempts to explain »celestial« phenomena to milestones in the exploration of the universe. The reading by Oliver Rohrbeck awakens the spirit of exploration and makes us curious for more adventurous journeys of discovery into space and back. For the jury: Regina Himmelbauer