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

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 4

Sabine Devieilhe, Les Siècles, François-Xavier Roth. harmonia mundi HMM 905357 (harmonia mundi/Bertus)

Something sounds different when François-Xavier Roth stands at the conductor’s desk. This is especially true when he performs with Les Siècles, the symphony orchestra he founded, which uses instruments from the period in which the works they perform were created. And it stays true for Mahler’s fourth. The sound is not just characterized by unusual instrumental colors or the mindful playing style: for instance, the economical use of vibrato proves decisive. Mahler sounds light and bright but, above all, extremely lively. And in the final, Sabine Devieilhe joins in with a slender but not a boyish voice. For the jury: Peter Hagmann

Orchestral Music & Concertos


Sergej Prokofjew: Violin Concerto No.2 op.63; Benjamin Britten: Violin Concerto op. 15; Pablo de Sarasate: Carmen Fantasy (after Bizet) op. 25; Francicso Tárrega: Recuerdos de la Alhambra. Augustin Hadelich, WDR Sinfonieorchester, Cristian Măcelaru. Warner 0190296310768

The Spanish-inspired album »Recuerdos« presents the artistic profile of Augustin Hadelich in a radiant light. The technical mastery, clarity, and intensity of this violinist are compelling. Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy sounds imaginative down to the last detail. The interpretation of Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto is a fathomless exploration. The violin concerto by Britten, a long-neglected masterpiece, goes under the skin. Hadelich internalizes everything; he sincerely puts himself at the service of the music, free of mannerisms and showmanship. The WDR Symphony Orchestra and Cristian Măcelaru are highly attentive co-creators. For the jury: Norbert Hornig

Chamber Music


Eugéne Ysaÿe: Sonata No.5 op.27; George Benjamin: Three Miniatures; Hildegard von Bingen: Spiritus sanctus vivificans vita; George Enescu: Fantaisie concertante; Johann Sebastian Bach: Partita No.2 BWV 1004. Carolin Widmann. ECM 2709 (Universal)

The question »What do I really want to say with my instrument?« has been the object of intense focus for violinist Carolin Widmann lately. Her CD »L’Aurore« is an answer. On it, she combines classics of solo literature such as Bach’s D minor Partita or the fifth solo sonata by Ysaÿe with a rare discovery by Enescu or a simple melody by Hildegard von Bingen. Widmann reflects on questions of life through these works – with her style of play, she explores the cycle of life. The recording is astonishingly direct and contains only a few cuts: a courageous, honest decision in favor of intensive expression. For the jury: Susann El Kassar

Chamber Music

The Clarinet Trio Anthology

Works by Louise Farrenc, Michail Glinka, Johannes Brahms, Max Bruch, Vincent d’Indy, Alexander von Zemlinsky, Nino Rota, Wolfgang Rihm et al. Daniel Ottensamer, Christoph Traxler, Stephan Koncz. 7 CD, Decca 2894857375 (Universal)

Three top musicians made great use of the lockdown: they rehearsed their way through the history of the clarinet trio, from Beethoven to Widmann. They then recorded 27 pieces: only original works, no arrangements! This is remarkable, as clarinetist Ottensamer (Vienna Philharmonic) and cellist Koncz (Berlin Philharmonic), together with pianist Traxler, have so far enjoyed arranging with their band »Philharmonic«. Now they are expanding the repertoire just as joyfully. Even 30 seconds of unknown Schönberg appear in this surprise box, as well as unjustly forgotten things like the quarter-tone trio of Isang Yun. For the jury: Eleonore Büning

Keyboard Music

Johann Sebastian Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier

Vol. 1 BWV 846-869. Schaghajegh Nosrati. 2 CD, CAvi 8553509 (Bertus)

With crystal clear, almost pedalless conciseness, Schaghajegh Nosrati creates a fantastic, lively balance between structural logic and the deeper layer of changing emotional profiles. The result is a fascinating interplay between pulse and construction, between movement and architecture. The young pianist approaches the actual »naked« truth of these constellations without esoteric frills or spiritual fog but with a constantly flowing, purposeful tempo, which she sets in motion in an astounding clarity as a real polyphonic interaction so that the course of each individual voice is experienced in the fugues as a living human sound speech. For the jury: Attila Csampai

Keyboard Music

Liszt. The Friend and Paragon

Organ Works by Carl Müller-Hartung, Johann Gottlob Töpfer, Bernhard Sulze, Salomon Jadassohn, August Gottfried Ritter. Anna-Victoria Baltrusch. Audite 97.792 (Note 1)

This outstanding recording is dedicated to the long-neglected repertoire that can be found around Franz Liszt. It is exemplarily brought to light here in every respect with organ works by Töpfer, Sulze, Jadassohn, and others from the otherwise exuberant aura of Liszt’s oeuvre. With the old organ of the Zurich Tonhalle, Anna-Victoria Baltrusch has not only chosen an instrument ideally suited to this repertoire. She is also exemplary in using its tonal facets through her highly musical playing. All of it, she does exceptionally. For the jury: Guido Krawinkel


Claudio Monteverdi: L’Incoronazione di Poppea

Hanna Blažíková, Kangmin Justin Kim, Marianna Pizzolato, Gianluca Buratto, Carlo Vistoli, Anna Dennis, Lucile Richardot, Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner. DVD/Blu-ray, Opus Arte OA1346D / OABD7297D (Naxos)

It is rare for the quiet parts, the nuances, to be given as much weight as they are granted in this DVD recording of »L’incoronazione di Poppea«, the last part of John Eliot Gardiner’s traveling Monteverdi trilogy from 2017. With the many-faceted English Baroque Soloists, Gardiner unfolds ancient Rome’s human and social panorama from a masterfully unshakable overview. A perfectly cast singing ensemble performs the nuances of language with an inner glow, all of it supported by the semi-scenic staging. For the jury: Michael Stallknecht


Nikolai Rimski-Korsakow: The Golden Cockerel (»Solotoi petuschok«)

Dmitry Ulyanov, Nina Minasyan, Andrei Popov, Nina Minasyan, Margarita Nekrasova, Mischa Schelomianski, Orchestre et Chœurs de l’Opera National de Lyon, Daniele Rustioni, Stage direction: Barrie Kosky. DVD/Blu-ray, Naxos 2110731/NBD0150V

It tastes good. The plucked rooster has eaten the czar’s eyeballs. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s government satire »The Golden Rooster« is a frontal attack on authority with gripping topicality. Barry Kosky’s Russia at the Opéra de Lyon is a dusty gray post-Chornobyl. Tsar Dodon, in the spotted fine ribbing, fails to understand the world around him, even as he kicks the heads of his useless sons around. And the seductive queen of Shemacha makes a fool of everyone. Dystopian, surreal, Kafkaesque. The last motions of reason, magnificently sung, furiously conducted by Daniele Rustioni. For the jury: Manuel Brug

Choral Music

Michael Gielen – Szymanowski, Penderecki

Karol Szymanowski: Stabat Mater op.53, Krzysztof Penderecki: Dies irae, Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima. Elena Mosuc, Annette Markert, Anton Scharinger, Ewa Izykowska, Zachos Terzakis, Stephen Roberts, Chorus sine nomine, Wiener Konzertchor, ORF Radio Symphonie Orchester Wien, Michael Gielen. Orfeo C210311 (Naxos)

The recording of Szymanowski’s Polish Stabat Mater from the ORF archive, made in early 2000, posthumously unifies the work of conductor Michael Gielen. A masterpiece beyond well-trodden repertoire paths, fully realized just as Gielen realized each piece he performed – sensual strictness, proliferating transparency, indulgent asceticism. The Chorus and orchestra of the Austrian Radio follow smoothly, powerfully, and heavily, but not overly pathetically. This applies even to the additions from Penderecki’s best time. And what the sound engineers did in both cases makes the lush Orfeo-CD a treasure in terms of sound. For the jury: Peter Korfmacher

Early Music

Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber: Sonatae Violino Solo 1681, Vilsmayr Sonata

Plamena Nikitassova, Les Élémens. 2 CD, cpo 555 481-2 (JPC)

Plamena Nikitassova is one of the few musicians who tailor their technique precisely to the individual piece. In the present case, this means that she holds the violin deep under her collarbone, using a very short bow, held with the thumb under (not over) the frog. On the one hand, it creates an angular articulation and, on the other hand, a very concise sound that stands out from the aesthetics of later times. As a result, the characteristics of Biber’s violin sonatas, with their sophisticated double, triple and quadruple finger positions, and her expansive jumps of the left hand and challenging tasks for the right hand shine gloriously. For the jury: Matthias Hengelbrock

Contemporary Classical Music

Heiner Goebbels: A House Of Call

My Imaginary Notebook. 2 CD, ECM 2728/29 (Universal)

»A House of Call« can easily be understood as a distillation of the almost incongruent oeuvre of Heiner Goebbels: a collection of sound impressions that the ever-attentive composer has collected on journeys, during research, and in personal encounters. It goes through many times and spaces. Goebbels, never squeamish about the fullness of his inspiration, ennobles what he finds, increases their intensity, and overlays them with exuberant sophistication of sound, rhythmic absurdities, and puzzles. The two hours are like an audio film full of scratchy experiences, filled with contradictions, and therefore insanely modern. For the jury: Egbert Tholl

This album won in the jury Contemporary Classical Music as well as in the Jury Crossover Productions.

Historical Recordings

Gieseking – The first Columbia recordings

Claude Debussy: Préludes Vol I & II, Deux Arabesques, Réverie, Suite bergamasque et al.. Walter Gieseking. 2 CD, apr APR 6040 (Note 1)

Two months before the release of the 48 CD Warner edition »Walter Gieseking. His Columbia Grammophone Recordings«, the British historical label apr released a small CD collection of his first Debussy recordings from the 1930s. Compared to the famous recordings from the 1950s, which have set the standard for decades, these early versions come even closer to that perfection, the »Ethereal refinement«, which the pianist has always worked towards, without losing any of its fullness and warmth. All of it a must hear, especially in the excellent remasterings of Andrew Hallifax and Mark Obert-Thorn. For the jury: Thomas Voigt

Music Film

The Beatles: Get Back

Blu-Ray Collector’s Set. Direction: Peter Jackson, Michael Lindsay-Hogg. 3 Blu-ray, Apple BVSC-00004A (Disney Germany)

A listless John Lennon offends with cynical remarks, George Harrison wants to leave the Beatles immediately, and only Paul McCartney fights for the group, but his domineering style of leadership only leads to the opposite. The atmosphere at the beginning of the »Get Back« sessions is tense, even destructive. But after emergency sessions and the move to Apple Studios, the icy atmosphere thaws, and we experience the legendary rooftop concert. It is a rarity for the inner workings of a band to have been so illuminated – without any makeup. You become an up-close witness to the birth of rock classics. For the jury: Andreas Kunz

Foto: © 2022 Disney Apple Corps Limited


Julia Hülsmann Quartet: The Next Door

ECM 2759 (Universal)

Lyrical moods, which you can sink into while listening, can be found on this album alongside emotionally stirring passages. In close interaction with her band, Julia Hülsmann spans an arc between pianistic withdrawal and a forward-pushing dynamism. On her last CD with bassist Marc Muellbauer and drummer Heinrich Köbberling, there was already no doubt that the addition of tenor saxophonist Uli Kempendorff meant more than a simple expansion of the trio by way of a special guest. But now, the quartet succeeds in an intertwined play of almost magical ease. For the jury: Bert Noglik

World Music

Kolínga: Legacy

DL/CD/2 LP, Underdog Records UR 838051 (Broken Silence)

A province in the south of France. The singer Rébecca M’Boungou browses her multicultural life. She is surrounded by muted fusion pop with Congolese bonds, keyboards, guitars, drums, brass and many breaks. Her voice flies, sometimes as a choir. A wounded »In the eyes of all men, I search for the love that You never gave me« can be heard. Supposedly, the void left by her Congolese father left was filled by her single mother, a (white) dancer in the national ballet of the DR Congo. The band Kolínga touches deeply with »Legacy«. They whisper as a harmonious group with a unique voice. For the jury: Johannes Theurer

Traditional Ethnic Music

Misagh Joolaee, Sebastian Flaig: Qanat

CD/DL, Pilgrims Of Sound 0098931636306 (direct sales)

Qanat – Googling this word is worthwhile, even if you limit it to pure musicality: it refers to an ancient irrigation system, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A source of life, inspiration, incredible tonal cascades, and finely graded ornaments. Magic of a lamenting and cheering stringed instrument. Misagh Joolaee corresponds with fabulous rhythms that spring from electrically charged fingers. Sebastian Flaig has learned intercultural percussion in Leipzig and Istanbul, amalgamating it with melodic formulas from the folk music of Khorasan or from the hidden depths of Iranian classical music. The result is a fascinating document of intense West-Eastern dialogues. For the jury: Jan Reichow

German language Singer/Songwriters

Nur meine Lieder

Song companions sing Christof Stählin. Grosche, Max Prosa & Claudia Fink, Dietlinde Ellsässer, Reinhard Mey, Sebastian Krämer, Bodo Wartke, Linard Bardill, Joana Emetz & Barbara Thalheim, Thomas Felder & Johanna Zeul, Holger Saar, Manfred Maurenbrecher et al.. Buschfunk 08422

What a piece! The artists gathered on this CD make it one of a kind: artists such as Reinhard Mey, Manfred Maurenbrecher, Bodo Wartke, Barbara Thalheim with Joana, Max Prosa, Sebastian Krämer or Johanna Zeul, together with her father Thomas Felder, as well as others. These names guarantee an extraordinary variety of interpretations of songs from almost the entire creative period of the jubilee Christoph Stählin, who would have turned 80 this year. The CD is a worthy tribute to the »word magician, universal scholar, and philosopher, poet, writer, essayist, cabaret artist, linguist, musician, poetry teacher« (Lieder-poet Holger Saarmann). For the jury: Petra Schwarz

Folk and Singer/Songwriters

Kim Carnie: And so we gather

CD/DL, Cárn 880992153287 (direct sales)

It is the voice that makes this CD so unique. Kim Carnie, »Gaelic singer of the year 2021«, sings with a wonderful mixture of velvety and slightly smoky tones paired with a touch of maidenhood. This sound fits perfectly with the six Gaelic-traditional and four English-language pieces, the latter all original compositions with a catchy character. All of it supported by a 30-member band made up of the cream of the Scottish music scene under the direction of producer Donald Shaw: it’s clear that there was never even the chance for failure. For the jury: Mike Kamp


Jack White: Entering Heaven Alive

CD/LP, Third Man Records TMR 753 (Membran)

Only three months after his last album, »Fear Of The Dawn«, Jack White released »Entering Heaven Alive« – this time trading experimental noise with ballads. It is based on almost all the greats of the 1960s and 1970s, whether those are the Doors, Beatles, or Led Zeppelin. Whether acoustic guitar or piano, White, who has always demonstrated excessive joy in playing with his bands White Stripes, The Raconteurs or Dead Wheather, creates comparatively gentle blues and folk songs. A beautiful album that – of course! – is all about love. For the jury: Juliane Streich

Hard and Heavy

Blind Guardian: The God Machine

CD/2 LP/DL, Nuclear Blast NB5755-0 (Rough Trade)

With »The God Machine«, Blind Guardian succeeds in the feat of presenting themselves fresh again and, simultaniously, bringing back those fans who couldn’t follow every twist and turn of their twenty-year journey. The Krefeld band hasn’t sounded as violent and as straightforward as with »Violent Shadows« for a long time, while »Secrets Of The American Gods« relies on drama and great melodies, and in »Destiny« playful elements break their way. Less symphonic and with a clear focus on riffs and choruses, their eleventh studio album combines the best of all blind guardian worlds between power and progressive metal. For the jury: Sebastian Kessler

Club and Dance

Emeka Ogboh: 6°30’33.372”N 3°22’0.66”E

DL/2 LP, Danfotronics DNFTRNX001 (Direct sales)

The movement described by the Nigerian sound artist Emeka Ogboh on his second album apparently follows different rules than those of dance. With Field Recordings from the Ojuelegba bus stop in Lagos, he processes the activity of a place considered the busiest of the city; in 1975 already, Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti dedicated his album »Confusion« to Ojuelegba. Ogboh combines a serene and flowing tribalist beat with an echoing collage of traffic noise, voices, and electronic effects to create a sound portrait of the city in miniature, a rhythm you can trace with your body. For the jury: Tim Caspar Boehme

Electronic and Experimental

Ludger Brümmer: Spheres Of Resonance

2 CD, Wergo WER 2077 2 (Naxos)

Images inevitably arise in front of the inner eye. The works of Ludger Brümmer lead to sound spaces of hypnotic quality. Brümmer, who created important innovations for sound generation at the Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe (ZKM), is one of the most important composers of electronic music. All tracks of this double CD were produced with up to 42 channels for playback via a surround sound environment. With »Spheres of Resonance«, Wergo offers a kaleidoscope of examples of Brümmer’s methods of granular syntheses, such as early music and physical modeling. Fascinatingly perfect and beautiful. For the jury: Isabel Steppeler

Blues and Blues-related

Tedeschi Trucks Band: I Am The Moon

Episode I-IV: Crescent, Ascension, The Fall, Farewell. 4 CD, Concord/Fantasy Records FAN01572 / FAN01679 / FAN01681 / FAN01683 (Universal)

In May 2020, singer Mike Mattison advised his colleagues from the Tedeschi Trucks Band: »Read ‚Leila and Madschnun’.« The Persian love epic from the 12th century had already inspired Derek & The Dominos to the album »Layla and other assorted lovesongs« in 1970. The Tedeschi Trucks Band now wondered about Leila’s perspective on the story. The result: »I am the moon« was released as a four-part album cycle with a total of 24 songs, written jointly by the band. A deep musical-emotional journey through an ancient subject. A marvel! For the jury: Tim Schauen

Recordings for Children and Youth

Adam Silvera: More happy than not

Jonas Minthe. mp3-CD, Hörcompany ISBN 978-3-96632-067-2

Aaron’s world has fallen apart since his father committed suicide. So much so that he wants to kill himself, too. His family and buddies are no help, but the empathetic friend Genevieve is. But his real feelings are for his new friend Thomas. Being gay in the Bronx? Absolutely forbidden! We accompany Aaron (and his congenial alter-ego, the spokesman Jonas Minthe) on his roller coaster journey, fascinated and affected alike, at the provisional end of which he takes responsibility for himself and his feelings, even against resistance. The convincing reading of Adam Silvera’s debut novel is an absolute win: exciting, honest, and always surprising. For the jury: Carola Benninghoven