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

Haydn 2032 – Vol. 13: Hornsignal

Joseph Haydn: Symphonies No. 31 D Major Hob. I:31 »With the Horn Signal«, No. 48 C Major Hob.I:48 »Maria Theresia«, No. 59 A Major Hob.I:59 »Fire Symphony«. Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini. Alpha Classics ALPHA 692 (Note 1)

»Haydn 2032« may still be a long way off, but this complete recording of his symphonies is already making history. It does away with the ubiquitous friendly »Papa« of Viennese Classicism, brings the futuristic freshness of his style to the fore, compares and relates. This also succeeds excellently with three symphonies from the widely-overlooked middle period of the 1760s and 1770s. The ensemble’s playing under Giovanni Antonini once again resembles sparking fireworks on the brash surface as well as an inner contemplation in the quiet moments. For the jury: Michael Kube

Orchestral Music & Concertos

Beethoven: Violin Concerto – Veronika Eberle

Ludwig van Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D Major op. 61, Fragment in C Major WoO 5. Veronika Eberle, London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle. SACD, LSO LSO5094 (Note 1)

This live recording of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto is convincing thanks to the masterly playing of Veronika Eberle, who subtly shapes the solo part with a mixture of distinguished elegance and noble beauty of tone, creating a grand arc of tension throughout. This musically profound interpretation gains yet another dimension with the very demanding violin cadenzas composed especially for the soloist by Jörg Widmann. These lend the work a creative and horizon-expanding projection into the present. The neglected concerto fragment WoO 5 rounds off the CD in a meaningful way. For the jury: Norbert Hornig

Chamber Music

Felix Mendelssohn: Complete String Quartets Vol. 2

Felix Mendelssohn: String Quartets in E minor op. 44/2, E-flat major op. 44/3 & F minor op. 80. Quatuor Van Kuijk. Alpha Classics ALPHA 931 (Note 1)

The Quatuor Van Kuijk debunks all the clichés that circulate about Mendelssohn. In this complete recording of the string quartets, we see that he is no more a classicist than he is a salon composer. The ensemble emphasises the dark side of his music. Metric unrest and dynamic fluctuations, shadowed and roughened sounds grant us glimpses of the abyss; the four young Frenchmen question the myth of Felix as the eternal child of happiness. Not only the late F minor quartet seems like a cry of despair – even the older works gain a new, radical expressive quality. For the jury: Susanne Stähr

Chamber Music

Franz Schubert: Piano Trios

Franz Schubert: Piano Trios Nos. 1 D 898 & 2 D 929, Notturno D 897, Rondo D 895, Arpeggione Sonata D 821. Christian Tetzlaff, Tanja Tetzlaff, Lars Vogt. 2 CD, Ondine ODE 1394-2D (Naxos)

For Eternity. Tanja and Christian Tetzlaff and Lars Vogt put their symbiotic friendship on the line for Schubert’s piano trios, it seems; together they are able to create something that would be separately unattainable. With fullest risk and hearts exposed, they share pulse, fear and final breath. No phrasing is less than perfectly placed, but the wonder is this flowing-through, to which one feels invited as a listener. United in friendship, through the now and then and never again, they prepare together for the final farewell. For the jury: Julia Kaiser

Keyboard Music

The Handel Project

George Frideric Handel: Suites No. 2 HWV 427, No. 5 HWV 430, No. 8 HWV 433, Menuet from HWV 434, Sarabande from HWV 440; Brahms: Handel Variations op. 24. Seong-Jin Cho. Deutsche Grammophon 486 3018 (Universal)

It seems as if Seong-Jin Cho is conducting a ten-finger orchestra. The »Harmonious Blacksmith« variations by Handel sound colourful, sometimes as if played by a flute, sometimes as if played by a horn. Cho’s runs hum and purr, devoid of dryness. Depending on the character, this sounds pensive or dance-like, with the pedal always used sparingly. Then come the Handel Variations by Johannes Brahms. Again, the pedal serves as a sublime helper for tone colours. Dramaturgically masterly, clever in his choices of tempi, yet never deliberate, Cho finds his own approach. For the jury: Christoph Vratz

Keyboard Music

The Art of Variation

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck: Secular Cycles (harpsichord works). Fabio Antonio Falcone. Challenge Records CC 72926 (Bertus)

Sweelinck made Amsterdam the centre of keyboard music, perfecting early baroque polyphony. Throughout his life, his organ improvisations were the cause of fascination. His most important works include variation cycles, both sacred and secular. Fabio Antonio Falcone’s recording of Sweelinck’s variations on folk songs, dances and on themes by other composers is as intricate and multifaceted as the composer’s musical material. Falcone elegantly and imaginatively shifts between humorous lightness and contrapuntal rigour on a harpsichord from 1632 that has the ideal range of colour. This is art of variation, inspired and in top form. For the jury: Sabine Fallenstein

Opera

Gioachino Rossini: L’Italiana in Algeri

Ricardo Seguel, Lilian Farahani, Esther Kuiper, José Coca Loza, Alasdair Kent, Vasilisa Berzhanskaya, Pablo Ruiz, Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, La Cetra Vokalensemble Basel, Giancarlo Andretta. 2 CD, Glossa GCD 921132 (Note 1)

The 21-year-old Rossini’s stroke of genius meets a brilliant young ensemble in this recording of a concert performance in Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, from which the young Russian Vasilisa Berzhanskaya once again stands out. Every bar exudes joy in musical and linguistic comedy. Giancarlo Andretta steers with flexible tempi towards musical and dramaturgical climaxes. The orchestra, thanks to its »original instruments«, also serves up instrumental charms, though this seems only a minor detail in the general context of joyous music-making. A two-hour musical fireworks display! For the jury: Martin Elste

Opera

Paul Dessau: Lanzelot

Emily Hindrichs, Máté Sólyom-Nagy, Oleksandr Pushniak, Jury Batukov, Wolfgang Schwaninger, Uwe Stickert, Daniela Gerstenmeyer, Andreas Koch, Opera Choir of the DNT, Choir of the Erfurt Theatre, Children’s Choir schola cantorum weimar, Staatskapelle Weimar, Dominik Beykirch. 2 CD, Audite 23.448 (Note 1)

Paul Dessau’s »Lanzelot«, premiered in 1969 at the Berlin State Opera, was long forgotten. In 2019, the work, which demands all the resources of a major opera house, was revived at the Deutsches Nationaltheater Weimar. The musical kaleidoscope of this opera, which oscillates between pop, quotations and twelve-tone rows, has aged surprisingly well; the mildly system-critical fairy tale about a society that does not want to be liberated at all can also be related to our present (libretto: Heiner Müller and Ginka Cholakova after Yevgeny Schwarz). The live recording documents a highly remarkable ensemble performance by the 200 participants. For the jury: Robert Braunmüller

Choral Music

Erkki-Sven Tüür: Canticum Canticorum

... Caritatis, Triglosson Trishagion, Missa brevis, Omnia mutantur, Rändaja õhtulaul. Collegium Musicale Chamber Choir, Endrik Üksvärav. Alpha Classics ALPHA 917 (Note 1)

The choral tradition of Estonia has at all times reflected a sense of national pride. The country, dominated at various times by Germans, Danes, Swedes and Russians, has always sung for its independence. Erkki-Sven Tüür (born 1959) is one of its most important composers. His choral works draw together the times and styles of musical language like a net; clusters and late romantic harmonies are not opposites. He deals with language in a highly creative way. He has even composed a new work for the Collegium Musicale Chamber Choir under the direction of Endrik Üksvärav. One listens spellbound. For the jury: Wolfram Goertz

Lieder and Vocal Recital

Walking In The Dark

Works by Samuel Barber, John Adams, Sandy Denny, Oscar Brown Jr., Connie Converse, Billy Taylor. Julia Bullock, Christian Reif, Philharmonia Orchestra. CD/LP, Nonesuch 075597908176 (Warner)

A voice like a chameleon: dark and smoky in »Brown Baby«, like the soul queen Nina Simone; dramatic and furious in the politically-named »Memorial de Tlatelolco«, a song about the massacre of students from John Adam’s nativity oratorio »El Niño«. Missouri-born, Munich-based Julia Bullock looks into the heart of darkness from a female perspective in this riveting anthology: hatred, loneliness, despair, hope. Another gem is Samuel Barber’s cryptic »Knoxville: Summer of 1915« – the bittersweet phantasmagoria of a childlike gaze at the past filled with premonitions of the future. For the jury: Jürgen Kesting

Early Music

Leipzig 1723

Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, Christoph Graupner: Application cantatas for the position of Thomaskantor. Ælbgut, Capella Jenensis. Accentus Music ACC 30598 (Naxos)

With these five cantatas, Telemann, Graupner and Bach applied one after the other for the position of Thomaskantor in 1723. Bach, as is well known, was only third choice. The interpretation of the four-member vocal ensemble Ælbgut and the Capella Jenensis is the best that has appeared in this field for a long time. Each movement is given its appropriate momentum, the declamation is exemplary, everything is expertly developed down to the last detail, nothing is exaggerated. This creates a completely coherent overall picture, which is excellently presented in terms of recording. For the jury: Matthias Hengelbrock

Contemporary Classical Music

Iannis Xenakis: Eonta

... Linaia-Agon, Theraps, Khal Perr, Keren, Mnamas Xapin Witoldowi Lutosławskiemu. Ensemble Schwerpunkt, Lorenzo Soulès, Peter Rundel, Edicson Ruiz, Dirk Rothbrust, Mikael Rudolfsson. bastille musique bm023 (rudi mentaire distribution)

This music is made of lightning bolts, organised according to probability calculations, scientific models and the idea of hopeful beauty. The piano (Lorenzo Soulès) plods along as if in a quarry, the winds (Ensemble Schwerpunkt) burst with energy, unimpressed by the insane demands. They sing, whisper, and chatter with each other, posing riddles. »Eonta« is, as always with the bastille musique label, immaculately and lovingly produced. The compilation of the six pieces (conductor of the title piece: Peter Rundel) resembles a sound exhibition, curated with superior wit and remorseless esprit. For the jury: Egbert Tholl

Historical Recordings

Otto Klemperer conducts the Wiener Symphoniker

The VOX Recordings and Live Performances 1951-1963. Wiener Symphoniker, Otto Klemperer. 16 SACDs, archiphon 699030 (Zweitausendeins)

Hasn’t the EMI œuvre already said everything about Klemperer? Apparently not. Without the earlier studio productions by VOX and the live recordings by ORF, the picture of this great musician would be incomplete; earlier and later versions, studio and live variants shed light upon each other, significantly so in the case of the »Missa solemnis«: just listening again to the expressive VOX recording is a strong incentive to take another look at Klemperer’s output. Moreover, this sonically extremely carefully-restored and generously-supplied collection is a significant document of the special status of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. For the jury: Thomas Voigt

Crossover Productions

Dhafer Youssef: Street of Minarets

CD/2 LPs, Back Beat BBECD1 (Bertus)

Dhafer Youssef’s album borders on a miracle in several respects. On the one hand, the musician with the smoky, melismatic voice and the virtuosic oud playing succeeds in harmoniously combining several styles – contemplative oriental sound language, elements of modern jazz and funk with a strong 1970s orientation. On the other hand, »Street Of Minarets« is an all-star album that unites piano god Herbie Hancock, bass greats Dave Holland and Marcus Miller, trumpet ace Ambrose Akinmusire and drum star Vinnie Colaiuta. It sounds amazingly relaxed and organic despite all this glamour. For the jury: Christoph Irrgeher

Film Music

Alexandre Desplat: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

(Soundtrack from the Netflix Film). Columbia Records 19658781352 (Sony)

The naughty wooden puppet with the long nose – isn’t he cute?! Think again. Guillermo del Toro’s »Pinocchio« version, which he brought to life for Netflix using stop-motion technology, is childlike and poetic, and yet in no way naive or harmless. The music and songs by Alexandre Desplat give this story a graceful, classic musical flavour. It is charming and heartwarming, playful and, in the clearest sense of the word, soulful. And because the main character is not made of flesh and blood, Desplat has composed his score exclusively for instruments made of wood. For the jury: Joachim Mischke

Music Film

»Cicero« – Two Lives, One Stage

Documentary by Kai Wessel, Katharina Rinderle & Tina Freitag. Eugen and Roger Cicero among others. DVD, Weltkino 895840 / 895841 (Zweitausendeins)

They were giants of jazz and swing: the piano virtuoso Eugen Cicero and his son Roger, a vocal wonder in big band sound. Katharina Rinderle and Kai Wessel tell of a tragic family history that is musically closely interwoven, but the film is more than that. With a multitude of companions and fascinating archival material (especially in the extras!), they delve into a neglected era of German musical life: jazzed-up classical music, taking in the popularisation of swing in post-war Germany, and the demanding compromise between jazz and commercialisation. A highly emotional and informative double portrait of two unique people and musicians, brilliantly narrated and edited. For the jury: Thorsten Lorenz

Jazz

Kenny Barron: The Source

Artwork Records ARTR 2202CD (harmonia mundi/Bertus)

A fine art nouveau theatre in Paris, a hand-picked audience, and a concert grand piano by which the artist feels almost »supported« – for Kenny Barron’s first solo album in a good 30 years, his producer offers an enviable live ambience. This in turn noticeably inspires the protagonist. Throughout, he plays pieces (by Monk, Strayhorn/Ellington, Barron) that he recorded earlier in combo format and now sharpens to their musical core. From Stride and Latin touches to harmonically rich modern jazz, a multi-faceted self-portrait of the great pianist unfolds. For the jury: Berthold Klostermann

Jazz

Burkard Kunkel & Bob Degen: Two Geese By The River

Triangolo (Galileo)

When you hear Bob Degen on the piano, you sometimes wonder why he didn’t have a career like Keith Jarrett. This indulgent, often pointillistically reduced lyricism would have deserved more. As does Burkard Kunkel’s nuanced and detailed playing on bass clarinet and basset horn. Both musicians have produced a wonderfully mature duo album, whose sparing melodiousness is beguiling and whose precise intimacy is exemplary. »Two Geese by the River« describes a long journey together, the distance covered by the pair in differentiated tempos and with subtly-coordinated steps and wing beats. For the jury: Hans-Jürgen Linke

World Music

Lucas Santtana: O Paraíso

CD/LP, No Format NOF.#56 (Indigo)

Because the world is getting louder and louder, Lucas Santtana is getting quieter and quieter. But quieter doesn’t mean quieter, because the songwriter from São Paulo sings plain language in his songs. He questions the striving for bigger, faster, richer by illuminating its flip side: the destruction of our planet, which could be a paradise. Musically, he does this with bossa nova melodies with folktronica embellishments and smiling associations. Despite the melancholy mood, there are always flashes of hope that together we might still be able to change things for the better. For the jury: Jodok W. Kobelt

Traditional Ethnic Music

Petros Klampanis: Tora Collective

CD/LP, Enja & Yellowbird Records enja 9822 2 (Edel)

The Athens-born bassist Petros Klampanis gathers sounds from Macedonia via the Aegean to Constantinople and Smyrna to create a lively jazz language full of locally-influenced shades of colour. That this succeeds is also thanks to a great band, in which the ravenous voice of singer Areti Ketime, Thomas Konstantinou on the oud and Giorgos Kotsinis’ doleful clarinet stand out. It can become very melancholic, but also dance-like; now and then the freedom of jazz comes completely to the fore. An album of magnificently organic dynamics and luminous transparency. For the jury: Stefan Franzen

German language Singer/Songwriters

Danny Dziuk: Unterm Radar

Buschfunk 05002

The album title could hardly be more apt: Danny Dziuk has been releasing his records pretty much »under the radar« for decades. His collaborations with Stoppok and Annett Louisan made him one of the most recognised songwriters. When he sings his songs himself, they gain a unique power, laconic and yet committed. With musical variety, from piano ballads to pop songs, he sings about unspeakable trolls on the internet, real friendship, identitarians and other troublemakers. »Everything is actually good under the radar, as long as you love what you do.« For the jury: Hans Reul

Folk and Singer/Songwriters

The Jeremiahs: Misery Hill and other Stories

Digital, self-production CD003 (Direct Sales)

The Jeremiahs play ninety percent of their own material here. Nevertheless, their third album closely follows Irish tradition in its sincerity and emotionality. The central point of »Misery Hill« is the telling of stories; the songs take up events of the past as well as personal experiences. Both vocally and instrumentally, the quartet playing acoustic instruments is very strong. The arrangements, which take influences from jazz and classical music, are also convincing. For the jury: Almut Kückelhaus

Rock

Margo Price: Strays

CD/LP, Concord Records 7247503 (Universal)

When Margo Price released her debut, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, in 2016, she was very much in line with the essence of country folk: three chords and the truth. Since then, she has evolved from roots-conscious songwriter to dazzling pioneer of renewal, and this album impressively underscores her ambition. Produced by Laurel Canyon sound visionary Jonathan Wilson, »Strays« is a rock-psychedelic venture between neo-folk and classic rock, telling stories of highs and lows, of drug experience and changing perspectives – personal, but also representative of a new, more free generation. For the jury: Christine Heise

Hard and Heavy

Enslaved: Heimdal

CD/2 LPs/DL, Nuclear Blast Records NB6618-2 (Rough Trade)

Founded in 1991 as a black metal band, Enslaved has been moving in its own sound cosmos between Viking and progressive metal for decades – always in motion, always looking for another twist. On »Heimdal«, the Norwegians on the one hand dive even deeper into prog spheres (»Forest Dweller«), but on the other hand dig furiously for their black metal roots (»Congelia«), whilst caressing with melodies as they did in the early 2010s (‚Kingdom’). All this culminates most beautifully in »The Eternal Sea«. An album that challenges, offers much to discover and thus will remain exciting for a long time. For the jury: Sebastian Kessler

Club and Dance

Kelela: Raven

CD/2 LPs, Warp WARPCD320 (Rough Trade)

»Raven« is meant to show the diversity of dance music, says Kelela at her Berlin concert (where the album was made). In terms of genre and emotion, the US-American covers many aspects of club music on her second album: breakbeat, euphoria, surging dancehall, heaviness, bass, otherworldly ambience. Nevertheless, Kelela’s voice remains at the centre. She lends the music the kind of intimacy that more generally comes from togetherness or collective celebration. An album that makes you understand what clubs are all about. For the jury: Cristina Plett

Electronic and Experimental

Ryūichi Sakamoto: 12

Milan Records 19658789822 (Sony)

Sakamoto composed »12« at a time when a cancer diagnosis made him reflect on his life. It is the soundtrack of a man coming to terms with his own mortality ¬ heartbreaking, but also life-affirming. Instead of mythologising his life with narrative songwriting or theatrical instrumental fireworks, Sakamoto opted for a quiet, subtle and understated grace. With every listen, you learn something about how not to take things too seriously, because one day it will all be over. Ryūichi Sakamoto died on 28 March 2023. For the jury: Olaf Maikopf

Blues and Blues-related

Richard Bargel: Dead Slow Stampede

CD/LP, Clementine Music CM-No.001 (Timezone)

When someone like Cologne musician Richard Bargel has 50 years of stage experience under his belt, you know exactly where you stand. Nevertheless, it is precisely the combination of – pardon me! – older artist and younger producer with multi-instrumentalist Fabio Nettekoven and his label Clementine Music, which makes this album something special. This is well-produced, fresh musicality, with relaxed, grooving song textures. The addition of pedal steel guitar, Mellotron or Wurlitzer electric piano – among other things – anchors the songs and sounds deep in the Americana blues cosmos in a new and lasting way. For the jury: Tim Schauen

R&B, Soul and Hip-Hop

Little Simz: No Thank You

Digital, Forever Living Originals FLOCD16 (Membran)

»Simbi«, born in Islington in 1994, better known by her stage name Little Simz, makes a statement on the turmoil and savage business machinations of the music industry with »No Thank You«. At the same time, she gives an insight into her private life, which has suffered at the hands of the industry. This is not the only reason why this album was released without prior notice. With excellent musical accompaniment by producer Inflo, the brilliant lyrics, rap style and flow are currently unparalleled. Rarely do artists succeed in creating a work that is as contemporary as it is timeless. »I was like, this is the moment. I have to speak now.« So Simz in her own words. This is exactly what rap and hip hop were invented for 50 years ago. For the jury: Michael Rütten

Spoken Word

Teurer Wohnen (Expensive Living, Vol. 1-7)

Various actors with a score of Volker Bertelmann aka Hauschka. Podcast, Detektor.fm & Radio eins (ARD Audiothek)

The title of this podcast is to be understood literally. Based on a scandalous case in Berlin – a house with cheap flats is demolished to make room for a new building with luxurious condominiums – it investigates exactly how and why this could have happed. It’s about speculation, political helplessness and rich people for whom 25,000 euros per square metre is nothing remarkable. Listening to it, you understand corrupt structures and veiled financial transactions, and wish that the Ulm model could be applied nationwide. It is possible for a city to exist without land speculators. For the jury: Manuela Reichart

Recordings for Children and Youth

Kirsten Boie: Der Hoffnungsvogel

Jona Mues. mp3-CD, Oetinger Audio ISBN 978-3-8373-9382-8

This audio book is pure empowerment! With her new parable, Kirsten Boie creates a warm and encouraging atmosphere for the listener. There is so much wisdom in »The Bird of Hope«; it is good to listen to the story and be touched by it. Jona Mues’s reading of this wonderful text is funny, light and varied. And so you are completely involved, in the »Happy Land« that is no longer happy, and on an adventurous journey with the friendly prince and the lighthouse keeper’s daughter. I wish our world had a bird of hope too. For the jury: Helen Seyd

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