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: Long List 3/2024, published on 5th July 2024

Quarterly Critic’s Choice

Orchestral Music & Concertos

Bernd Alois Zimmermann: Recomposed

Original compositions & arrangements after works by Darius Milhaud, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Alfredo Casella, Franz Liszt, Ferruccio Busoni and others. Sarah Wegener, Marcus Weiss, Ueli Wiget, WDR Sinfonieorchester, Heinz Holliger. 3 CDs, Wergo WER 7387 2 (Naxos)

This small box of three CDs is exceptional in three regards. On the one hand, it documents Heinz Holliger’s and the WDR Symphony Orchestra’s continuing commitment to the music of Bernd Alois Zimmermann with recordings made over a period of 18 years. Secondly, in addition to some compositions that are now rarely heard, previously completely unknown orchestral arrangements have been recorded for the first time – colourful arrangements between bread-and-butter everyday and artistic originality. And thirdly, this amazing treasure trove makes it vividly clear how diverse radio was in the 1950s. For the jury: Michael Kube

Orchestral Music & Concertos

Beethoven, Stravinsky: Violin Concertos

Ludwig van Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major op. 61; Igor Stravinsky: Violin Concerto in D major. Vilde Frang, The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Pekka Kuusisto. Warner 0190296677403

With esprit and effortless ease, Vilde Frang and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, conducted by Pekka Kuusisto, create a wonderfully transparent picture of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. The over-familiar pinnacle of classical violin literature appears here in a new light, carefully shaped in the solo part as well as by the orchestra, and subtly graded in timbre and dynamics. In addition, the cadenzas after Beethoven’s piano version of the work are worthy of note. The coupling with Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto is unconventional but delightful, and the interpretation is full of energy and rhythmic conciseness. For the jury: Norbert Hornig

Chamber Music

Williams, Holst: String Quartets

Ralph Vaughan Williams: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2; Gustav Holst: Phantasy Quartet on British Folksongs op. 36. Tippett Quartet. Somm Recordings SOMMCD 0656 (Naxos)

This labour of love goes far beyond the 150th anniversary of Vaughan Williams’ birth. The Tippett Quartet leaves no doubt as to where the two string quartets from 1922 and 1942 belong: in the core repertoire. While the first could still be considered the sonorous and sensual work of an unknown Frenchman, the second, with its pallid Largo, reads like a topical commentary on the mental devastation of war. In addition, this work is a feast for any quartet violist. In the Tippett Quartet this is Lydia Lowndes-Northcott, who suggestively sets the dark keynote. For the jury: Lotte Thaler

Chamber Music

Debussy, Hahn, Stravinsky: Works for Violin & Piano

Claude Debussy: Sonata No. 3 for violin and piano; Reynaldo Hahn: Sonata in C major for violin and piano; Igor Stravinsky: Duo Concertant. Aylen Pritchin, Lukas Geniušas. Mirare MIR 572 (harmonia mundi/Bertus)

The world was coming apart at the seams at the beginning of the 20th century; it demanded re-invention. Social-political or personal events and their accompanying artistic searches are reflected in the three works on the album – not in a superficial manner, but with individual and poetic expression. Violinist Aylen Pritchin and pianist Lukas Geniušas perform with incredible sensuality of sound, whether in Debussy’s evocative, floating sonata, Reynaldo Hahn’s sonata full of tenderness and nostalgia or in Stravinsky’s modernist »Duo Concertant«, which is infused with lyricism. For the jury: Elisabeth Richter

Keyboard Music

Szymanowski: Piano Works

Karol Szymanowski: Preludes op. 1 Nos. 1, 2, 7, 8, Masques op. 34 Nos. 1-3, Mazurkas op. 50 Nos. 13-16, Variations on a Polish Folk Theme op. 10. Krystian Zimerman. Deutsche Grammophon 486 3007 (Universal)

Kudos, Krystian Zimerman, for a stirring recording that presents the handwriting of the widely-underrated Pole Karol Szymanowski (1880-1937) in such detail and with so many layers. His music is so often perceived as »in-between«: between Chopin and Bartók, between Debussy and Stravinsky, between import and expressionism, between folklore and a penchant for the Oriental. Krystian Zimerman succeeds in merging all these diverse elements into a coherent portrait of Szymanowski. This in-between also fits perfectly into the here and now. For the jury: Kalle Burmester

Keyboard Music

Belgian Symphonic Organ

Works by Camille Jacquemin, Raymond Moulaert, Léon Jongen, Joseph Jongen, Jean-Marie Plum, Pierre Froidebise. Peter Van de Velde. SACD, Aeolus AE-11351 (Note 1)

Belgian organ music is often like Belgium in general when it comes to the French-speaking world. Compared to the »Grande Nation« France, the country is hardly noticed. Peter van de Velde’s recording shows that this is a mistake, and it shows it impressively. Names like Jacquemin, Moulaert, Plum or Froidebise are barely known even in the organ scene. Van de Velde has unearthed a treasure that demands much more intensive exploration, and he does so on a Belgian instrument that could not be better suited to it. The editorial preparation by Aeolus is, as always, excellent. Outstanding! For the jury: Guido Krawinkel


Jean-Baptiste Lully: Acis et Galatée

Cyril Auvity, Ambroisine Bré, Edwin Crossley-Mercer, Bénédicte Tauran, Robert Getchell, Deborah Cachet, Enguerrand de Hys, Philippe Estèphe, Les Talens Lyriques, Chœur de chambre de Namur, Christophe Rousset. 2 CDs, Aparté AP269 (harmonia mundi/Bertus)

»Acis et Galatée«, Lully’s last completed opera, seldom receives attention. Not only is it overshadowed by Handel’s settings of the same ancient myth, but it is also more modest in scale than Lully’s previous operas. Christophe Rousset’s recording is dramatically taut, which benefits the stringency of the plot and the emotional intensity of the characters. With a light touch, the ensemble Les Talens Lyriques illuminates the formal refinements of the late Lully, who, like Handel, also adds comic highlights to the figure of the furious giant Polyphemus. For the jury: Michael Stallknecht


Nikolai Rimski-Korsakow: Christmas Eve

Georgy Vasiliev, Julia Muzychenko, Enkelejda Shkoza, Alexey Tikhomirov, Andrei Popov, Frankfurt Opera- and Museum Orchestra, Choir of the Frankfurt Opera, Sebastian Weigle, Stage Direction: Christof Loy. DVD/Blu-ray, Naxos 2.110738/NBD 0154V

How does Frankfurt’s opera house of the year also achieve the »performance of the year«? Curtain up – and: Stage magic (Johannes Leiacker); lighting magic (Olaf Winter); cast magic (witch, devil etc. fly through the stage cosmos); fantasy magic (snow from a plastic bag; a prima ballerina’s dream of »everything« and and and…); sound magic (GMD Sebastian Weigle, orchestra and choir); vocal magic (soprano Julia Muzychenko and tenor Georgy Vasiliev in front of a dream ensemble)… and finally directorial magic by Christof Loy. Actually quite simple! For the jury: Wolf-Dieter Peter

Choral Music

Mateo Flecha »El Viejo«: Ensaladas

El Fuego, El Toro a.o. Cantoría, Jorge Losana. Editions Ambronay AMY315 (Note 1)

These »side salads« for political or spiritual occasions contain everything. With all metaphor and all kinds of metrics and melodies, Renaissance master Mateo Flecha arranges his »Ensaladas«. The quodlibet recipe itself tastes like the French »fricassée« of the »chef« Clément Janequin. When sounds go through the stomach in this manner, the serious abstractions of the spiritual and the profane become deliciously sensual – and as funny as slapstick. With wit and temperament, Cantoría, a quartet of vocal gourmets, lets this very Mediterranean-sounding culinary delicacy melt on the tongue and vocal chords. For the jury: Martin Mezger

Early Music

Vicente Lusitano: Motets

The Marian Consort, Rory McCleery. Linn Records CKD 694 (Note 1)

Vicente Lusitano, son of an African mother and a Portuguese father, was arguably the first black composer in European notated music history. Rory McCleery, the leader of the English vocal ensemble »The Marian Consort«, has discovered Lusitano’s only print, published in Rome in 1551, and presents this spectacular find for the first time in a recording that is also outstanding in terms of interpretation. In their dense, complex counterpoint and bold chromaticism, the ten motets turn out to be masterpieces of Renaissance polyphony. The Marian Consort lets their high art shine with magical clarity and beauty. For the jury: Uwe Schweikert

Contemporary Classical Music

Brigitta Muntendorf: Trilogy for two pianos, Theater des Nachhalls

GrauSchumacher Piano Duo. CD with Blu-ray, bastille musique bm022 (rudi mentaire distribution)

This trilogy for two pianos, live electronics and playback is quite something, especially as it is accompanied by the audiovisual concert installation »Theater des Nachhalls«. The fascinatingly virtuosic Piano Duo GrauSchumacher tackles Brigitta Muntendorf’s music with an attempt to confront its transience. In the process, the voices of the two pianists also have a special significance – for example when they comment on the presence or meaning of the sounds they produce: »I wish that sounded like it will never sound again.« It sounded like that! For the jury: Marita Emigholz

Crossover Productions

Barry Guy, London Jazz Composers Orchestra: Kraków 2020

6 CDs, Not Two Records MW-2 1027-2 (direct sales)

It is a brilliant achievement to develop exciting progressions over three days with a large ensemble of first-class improvisers from all over Europe and to document the whole thing on six CDs. The London Jazz Composers Orchestra, founded by double bassist Barry Guy, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with the concerts in Kraków and at the same time impressively demonstrated the undiminished topicality of a synthesis of spontaneous playing and structural influence, highly individual musical languages and jointly realised sound form. For the jury: Bert Noglik

Film Music

John Williams: The Fabelmans

(Original Motion Picture Soundtrack). Joanne Pearce Martin, Studioorchester, John Williams. Digital, Sony Classical 196587800727

Director Steven Spielberg and composer John Williams have released 31 films together since 1974. »The Fabelmans« probably marks the end of this collaboration: not with a loud final chord, but rather in a minimalistic manner. At the centre is the piano of Spielberg’s mother, a disabled concert pianist to whom he owes much of his career. Her nostalgic, sentimental main theme runs like a thread through the plot. This deliberate reduction – also in the orchestration – reveals greatness and cinematic empathy at the same time. For the jury: Matthias Keller

Music Film

»Fuoco sacro« – A Search for the Sacred Fire of Song

A film by Jan Schmidt-Garre. Asmik Grigorian, Barbara Hannigan, Ermonela Jaho. DVD/Blu-ray, Naxos 2.110710/NBD 0141

In this film, Jan Schmidt-Garre succeeds in getting very close to three exceptional singers in their personality and art of interpretation. We experience Asmik Grigorian, Ermonela Jaho and Barbara Hannigan not only in conversation or in rehearsal and performance situations, but also as they listen to recordings of their performances and comment on what goes through their minds on stage. The film provides fascinating insights into the most physical, intense form of music-making. For the jury: Juan Martin Koch


Martial Solal: Live In Ottobrunn

2 CDs, Edition Collage EC 607-2 (Edel)

At the age of 91, the French jazz pianist Martial Solal decided to call it quits. And that, although the virtuoso did not seem old or failing in any way at his penultimate concert on 14 December 2018. Full of playful wit, humour and fun with surprises, he tackled the keyboard during this solo evening and brought jazz standards and lesser-known pieces to life in an individual mix of styles. He hints at the themes, he changes rhythms and tempos, he digresses, he stops the main melody and brings it back out of the accompaniment in an amazing new form: a brilliant farewell concert. For the jury: Werner Stiefele


Michael Wollny Trio: Ghosts

CD/LP, ACT 9956-2 (Edel)

Wollny makes phantoms dance once again. His haunting journey through the realm of ghosts made even the British »Times« rave about a new genre: Gothic Jazz. This label is also a kind of haunted castle, but it shows how eerily the pianist (with Tim Lefebvre on bass and Eric Schaefer on drums) keeps us on tenterhooks. Wollny has long had a soft spot for the eerie. With »Ghosts« he crowns the gathering of ghosts: sound drifts from Schubert’s »Erlkönig« to Ellington’s »In A Sentimental Mood«. – »Songs are like ghosts,« says the master. Long live Hauntology! For the jury: Guenter Hottmann

World Music

Callejera: La Perla

Digital, Mambo Negro Records (direct sales)

From the streets of Bogotá to the international stage: the three women of La Perla have been touring the globe for the past eight years. And yet »Callejera« is the first complete studio production by Karen Forero, Giovanna Mogollón and Diana Sanmiguel. Colombia is a country of choral singing, drums and flutes. In the cities, hip hop is flourishing. This is the musical melange of La Perla. Their themes are social injustice, women’s power, solidarity, and the natural environment. This attitude is interpreted with pride, commitment and credibility. For the jury: Jodok W. Kobelt

Traditional Ethnic Music

Prima Materia – Al-Rahem Al-Aoual

Sanstierce, Ars Choralis Coeln, Nouruz Ensemble. Heaven & Earth HE 29 (direct sales)

From the primordial matter of existence, the womb of the Mother, Mater, Mary in the Bible and the Koran, PRIMA MATERIA – this cosmos becomes music here. The cover of the CD shows the vision of the circle of life that Hildegard von Bingen herself created. Her thousand-year-old melodies flow into it as well as melismas and rhythms of Arabic-Islamic music. Certainly it is a matter of faith, of the great intercultural encounter into which one is spun: in the spirit of Gregorianism, early German mysticism and a lyricist from Bethlehem. An incredible collaborative work based on ideas by Maria Jonas and Bassem Hawar. For the jury: Jan Reichow

German language Singer/Songwriters

Helmut Debus: Angst legg di slapen

Fuego 3396-2 (Jaro Medien)

From Rostock to Garmisch, there is nobody else quite like Helmut Debus. That could also be said of this album. A masterpiece. For the past half century, Debus has been making emotional movement tangible from the Wesermarsch region with Low German, guitar, band plus a constantly maturing voice. You have to understand his dialect poetry, which comes from the depth of his soul, word for word. Even the first fragments of text that are picked up have the effect of flavouring the messages, which are also critical of the times. They are cautiously devoted to Dylan and Waits, Cohen and Jeff Hardy. All this is conveyed through sounds which are nobly melting, but never mushy. Debus has long been on a par with May, Wader, Wecker or Wenzel. For the jury: Jochen Arlt

Folk and Singer/Songwriters

Breabach: Fàs

Breabach Records BRECD7 (Bertus)

Five Scots who have been active for over 15 years with the double drone of the drones, i.e. two Highland bag pipes, have produced their eighth CD. The central theme, according to the album title, is environmental protection and regeneration, which means to grow, develop or sprout. The quintet embeds these contents in a multi-layered sound, in which an infinite number of sound ideas are hidden. Furthermore, producer Inge Thomson has paid attention to various rhythmic subtleties. A masterpiece of contemporary Scottish folk music! For the jury: Mike Kamp


Arctic Monkeys: The Car

CD/LP/MC, Domino Records WIGCD455 (GoodToGo)

This is an album of transformation. Two decades after their beginnings, the Arctic Monkeys dare to step into the unknown. »The Car« offers no stadium anthems, no garage sounds with indie myths, but rather strong, grown-up songwriting around themes of self-perception and society. Alex Turner and his team look back on success and stardom, without nostalgia and with the musical means of a mid-tempo guitar rock, vocally daring in places, but skilfully ornamented. It is also about artistic ageing in the context of musical youth. The Arctic Monkeys manage this aesthetic transformation with bravura. For the jury: Ralf Dombrowski


Jeb Loy Nichols: The United States Of The Broken Hearted

CD/LP, On-U Sound ONUCD161 (Rough Trade)

American Jeb Loy Nichols, who has lived in rural Wales for ten years, advises his contemporaries: Don’t get rich. Raised on country and soul, he encountered punk, reggae, hip-hop and dub in London in the 80s, lived in squats and strove for the impossible: the fusion of urban and folk. Now he is realising his vision of a Cosmic American Music that offers space for many: Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, all processed in Nichols’ country-soul reggae style. Producer Adrian Sherwood enriches it with fine dub nuances, rounds the whole thing out of a radical spirit with an old soul and musical depth to a coherent album. For the jury: Christine Heise

Hard and Heavy

Candlemass: Sweet Evil Sun

CD/2 LPs, Napalm Records NPR1052DGS (Universal)

With their comeback album »The Door To Doom« and the return of original singer Johan Langquist, Candlemass had a real coup in 2019. The Scandinavians also know how to surprise with »Sweet Evil Sun«: Band head Leif Edling has written individual vocal lines for the frontman. There are more elements of doom, fewer epic metal parts. The songs seem slower, more minimalistic, yet dynamic and catchy. Discreet Hammonds, Ohohoh backing vocals, unpolished guitar sounds give the sound a latent 70s flair. And independence within the band’s oeuvre. For the jury: Felix Mescoli


Die Nerven (The Nerves)

CD/LP, Glitterhouse Records 4015698053173 (Indigo)

This Stuttgart trio hits the nerve of dark times – with post-punk which is so accessible that nobody could avoid its astute observations about our present. Brutal guitars, drums and vocals raise bombastic walls of sound that collapse in on themselves. A longing for hope can be heard resonating. Hard though the musicians hit us with their unembellished social criticism, there is a commensurate sense of relief that all this is being said. This is one of the reasons why the three members have together become one of the most important German bands with this record, which is excellent in terms of songwriting, production and lyrical flair. For the jury: Sandra Gern

Club and Dance

Massimiliano Pagliara: See You In Paradise

2 LPs/DL, Permanent Vacation PERMVAC247-1 (Rough Trade)

»See you in paradise«, wrote Hi-NRG pioneer Patrick Cowley in his diary at the end of the 70s. It was his farewell to his lover. The young Cowley’s tragic death of AIDS inspired the Italian Berliner-by-choice Massimiliano Pagliara to write his latest album. On it, the Panorama Bar resident not only delivers disco-infused dancefloor bangers, but also maps out the range of his virtuosity between Dub Techno, Acid, New Wave and Chicago House. Pagliara hits the sweet spot between world-weariness and uninhibited euphoria on the dance floor: heavenly! For the jury: Laura Aha

Electronic and Experimental

Y Bülbül, Yumurta: Not One, Not Two

DL/LP, Pingipung 076 (Kompakt)

ülbül is the Turkish name for the nightingale, and Yumurta means egg. This may raise the question of which came first: the improvised percussion tracks of Istanbul-based musician Yumurta or the synthetic-real ambient-dub-kraut sounds of London-based multi-instrumentalist Y Bülbül, sent back and forth between the two cities. The music makes such questions obsolete. The result of the musical exchange is – another obvious pun – »Not One, Not Two«, but a multi-faceted kaleidoscope of sound and groove. For the jury: Guido Halfmann

Blues and Blues-related

Larkin Poe: Blood Harmony

CD/LP, Tricki-Woo Records TWR01CD (Indigo)

»Blood Harmony« is the eighth album of Sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell, who call themselves Larkin Poe after one of their ancestors. The album brings Southern Rock, a type of blues rock that has been popular since the seventies and incorporates elements of genres native to the US South, such as country, gospel, soul and jazz, to new heights. The singers, songwriters and multi-instrumentalists, who come from Atlanta but now live in Nashville, bring the music new power without abandoning its »roots«. For the jury: Christian Pfarr

Spoken Word

Franz Schubert/Wilhelm Müller/Stefan Weiller: Die schöne Müllerin

Brigitta Assheuer, Jens Harzer, Dagmar Manzel, piano: Hedayet Djeddikar. 2 CDs, speak low ISBN 978-3-948674-14-4

Schubert’s song cycle forms the basis for this touching and sensitively-composed audio book. Music and poems are linked with contemporary fates full of love’s sorrow and despair, descents and betrayals. Stefan Weiller has noted sad life stories in counselling centres, homeless shelters and women’s shelters, which are impressively interpreted here. When Dagmar Manzel slips into the role of a woman who has been abandoned by her husband after a long marriage, has no money left and now also has cancer, one hears the typical Berlin defiance of fate: »I won’t let it get me down.« For the jury: Manuela Reichart

Recordings for Children and Youth

Jens Digel: Vielfalter

Self-published 4064832932157 (direct sales)

When you open this CD cover, its wings unfold. Such lovingly designed details arouse curiosity about the 13 songs Jens Digel has written and set to music, which he also sings himself: inspiring miniatures of inner strength, of fantasy, of joyful affirmation, and playful juggling with language for younger listeners. As colourful as the detailed booklet is the musical arrangement, which cheerfully includes children singing along. A lively listening experience that adults will also enjoy. For the jury: Regina Himmelbauer