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

Saint-Saëns: Poèmes Symphoniques

Camille Saint-Saëns: Bacchanale from »Samson et Dalila«, Phaéton, La jeunesse d’Hercule, Le rouet d’Omphale, Danse macabre. Basel Symphony Orchestra, Ivor Bolton. Prospero PROSP 0060 (Note 1)

As head of the Basel Symphony Orchestra since 2016, Ivor Bolton has strongly emphasized the French repertoire, with considerable success. This CD of three lesser-known and two better-known symphonic poems by Saint-Saëns is a fitting homage to the composer’s 100th birthday. Works such as »Phaeton« or »La Jeunesse d’Hercule« are surprisingly rarely heard in the concert hall. The result is a production that is convincing in all facets: rich in contrast, transparent and slender in sound, with a colourful range of expression. For the jury: Peter Stieber

Orchestral Music & Concertos

Takemitsu: Spectral Canticle

Tōru Takemitsu: Spectral Canticle; To the edge of dream; Vers, l’arc-en-ciel, Palma; Twill by twilight. Jacob Kellermann, Viviane Hagner, Juliana Koch, BBC Philharmonic, Christian Karlsen. SACD, BIS Records BIS-2655 (Klassik Center)

It is not only the premiere recording of »Spectral Canticle«, the last work by Tōru Takemitsu, that gives this recorded collection of orchestral works by the Japanese composer special status. The programme combines Takemitsu’s most important late works, composed between 1983 and 1995, and sheds an illuminating light on characteristics of his highly expressive tonal language, which thrives on refined use of colour and lyricism. Orchestra and conductor, violinist Viviane Hagner, guitarist Jacob Kellermann and oboist Juliana Koch join forces to subtly shape of this homage to Takemitsu. For the jury: Norbert Hornig

Chamber Music

Haydn: String Quartets op.33

Joseph Haydn: String Quartets op.33 No. 1-3. Chiaroscuro Quartet. SACD, BIS Records BIS-2588 (Klassik Center)

When an ensemble combines creative eloquence with audible joy in playing, instrumental skill with apparent nonchalance, when it can offer deep immersion in a world of sound without sinking into the mud of false sentimentality, you could call it good fortunate. All these things can be said of the Chiaroscuro Quartet. The four musicians integrate insights from historical performance practice, also through their choice of instruments. All in all, their playing on their latest CD with Haydn’s first three quartets op. 33 tickles listeners’ most diverse nerves in the most pleasurable way. It can be addictive. For the jury: Benjamin Herzog

Chamber Music

Beethoven: Complete Violin Sonatas Vol. 1

Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonatas op. 12/2, op. 24, op. 47. Antje Weithaas, Dénes Várjon. CAvi 8553512 (Bertus)

Do we really need yet another complete recording of Beethoven’s violin sonatas? This recording with Antje Weithaas and Dénes Várjon clearly shows: we absolutely do! Beethoven appears in the most ravishing perfection – revolutionary, emotional, new. But in addition, the natural balance between violin and piano is formidable. All the works’ complexities seem to have been eliminated. Technical perfection of a previously unknown level is paired with downright delightful musicality and insight. These recordings set the highest standards. For the jury: Andreas Göbel

Keyboard Music

Fantasy. 7 Composers. 7 Keyboards

Works for keyboard instruments by Johann Sebastian Bach, Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach, Wolgang Amadeus Mozart, Felix Mendelssohn, Frédéric Chopin, Ferrucio Busoni, Alfred Schnittke. Alexander Melnikov. harmonia mundi HMM 902702

There is no such thing as imagination without limits. Every era, every style, every instrument places creates barriers to creativity. Alexander Melnikov demonstrates this with seven composers from the Baroque to the Modern on seven keyboard instruments typical of their time. The historical context is a secondary matter. The CD is so skilfully constructed and so excitingly played that the stations on the way from the harpsichord to the Steinway grand piano almost seem to cross-fertilise one other. The imagination is constantly given new nourishment. Thus barriers are opened up, and the listening cosmos becomes wider, richer and more diverse. For the jury: Kalle Burmester

Keyboard Music

Flamboyant Bien-Aimé: Le clavecin de Louis XV

Harpsichord works by Jean-Philippe Rameau, Claude Balbastre, Gabriel Dubuisson, Jacques Duphly a.o.. Clément Geoffroy. Château de Versailles Spectacles CVS108 (Note 1)

While the fortepiano was beginning to establish itself in the rest of Europe, a great deal of virtuosic harpsichord music was still composed in France before the French Revolution. Among the most important composers were Balbastre, Duphly, Rameau and Forqueray, who left behind countless »Pièces de Clavecin«. The young harpsichordist Clément Geoffray gives an extremely lucid and imaginative interpretation of this virtuosic and stylistically diverse repertoire. A magical sound, accompanied by a very rich and informative booklet. For the jury: Yvonne Petitpierre

Opera

Francesco Cavalli: L’Egisto

Marc Mauillon, Sophie Junker, Zachary Wilder, Ambroisine Bré, Romain Bockler, Le Poème Harmonique, Vincent Dumestre. 2 CD, Château de Versailles Spectacles CVS076 (Note 1)

A classic shepherd’s tale, with a difference: the two couples fall in love crosswise, emotions run high and culminate in a great mad scene – a »Così fan tutte« of the early Baroque. Francesco Cavalli translated the drama of Giovanni Faustini’s libretto into an affect-laden, seductively beautiful score, and Vincent Dumestre, who unearthed the score from 1643, helps it to burst into life. The soloists shine with stylish declamation, supported by instrumentation that cleverly underscores the affects. Venetian early baroque is made to shine. For the jury: Max Nyffeler

Opera

Eugen Engel: Grete Minde

Raffaela Lintl, Zoltán Nyári, Kristi Anna Isene a.o., Opera Choir of the Theatre Magdeburg, Magdeburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Anna Skryleva. 2 CD, Orfeo C260352 (Naxos)

A young woman sets fire to her home town in revenge for injustices suffered, perishing herself in the fire. This is the dramatic ending of the opera »Grete Minde« by Eugen Engel (1875-1943). The German-Jewish textile merchant was essentially self-taught as a composer. He died in the Sobibor extermination camp. It was only in 2006 that his work, released from the family estate, became public, and the first performance took place in Magdeburg in 2022. The passionate commitment of Anna Skryleva and all those involved from the very beginning have masterfully snatched a late romantic, colourful opera with an astonishingly individual character from oblivion. For the jury: Karl Harb

Choral Music

Ligeti: Complete Works for Choir

György Ligeti: Complete Works for a cappella Choir. SWR Vocal Ensemble, Yuval Weinberg. 2 CD, SWR Classic SWR19128CD (Naxos)

György Ligeti’s a cappella works fill two hours and two CDs, but encompass a wide spectrum of styles from chorale to Hungarian folk music arrangements to microtonal cluster compositions: ideal fodder for a highly professional all-rounder choir like the SWR Vokalensemble. Under the direction of the young principal conductor Yuval Weinberg, the singers from Stuttgart present a brilliant homage to the 100th birthday of the composer: sometimes sober, sometimes theatrical, very assured in intonation, flawless in the high notes and at the same time immensely sensual in sound. Top class! For the jury: Susanne Benda

Lieder and Vocal Recital

Contra-Tenor

Arias by Jean-Baptiste Lully, Georg Friedrich Händel, Antonio Vivaldi, Leonardo Vinci, Nicola Porpora o.a.. Michael Spyres, Il pomo d’oro, Francesco Corti. Erato 5054197293467 (Warner)

Tenor Michael Spyres explodes the boundaries of his craft like no other. After presenting both baritone and (very high-pitched) tenor arias with one voice last year as the »Bari Tenor«, he devotes his follow-up CD to an 18th-century phenomenon: the contra tenor, which, replacing the castrati, ushered in the golden age of high Baroque vocal art, the bel canto. The American singer astounds with dizzying coloratura, arpeggios, trills, turns, mordents – but always in the service of musical expression. For the jury: Jürgen Kesting

Early Music

A German Baroque Requiem

Works by Andreas Scharmann, Johann Hermann Schein, Christian Geist, Andreas Hammerschmidt a.o... Vox Luminis, Lionel Meunier. Ricercar RIC 445 (Note 1)

Through thirteen pieces by nine composers, this CD explores the question of how Brahms’ particular choices of text for his »German Requiem« were set to music by earlier composers, going all the way back to the 17th century. The result is an impressive testimony to baroque »Ars moriendi«, with a touching atmosphere full of humility, consolation and confidence. Vox Luminis perfectly captures the Lutheran sermonizing tone of this music and works on the basis of an immensely rich vocal and instrumental sound with great attention to detail, at the same time never neglecting the wide arches and organic flow. For the jury: Matthias Hengelbrock

Contemporary Classical Music

Gérard Grisey: Dérives

WDR Symphony Orchestra, Katrien Baerts, Kora Pavelić, Sylvain Cambreling, Emilio Pomàrico. bastille musique bm024 (rudi mentaire distribution)

His untimely death 25 years ago was a shock. What remains is a body of work that is far more multifaceted than the label »spectral music« implies. That is what this Grisey portrait reveals. It all begins with a joke: while the audience applauds, the orchestra seems to tune into »Dérives«, but a sonorous organism emerges. In »L’icône paradoxale«, the process of change is complemented by two vocal parts including echo effects. The interpretations are unimpeachable. These passionate performances exert a magnetic pull. This is the first recording of Gresey’s 1969 »Mégalithes«. For the jury: Marco Frei

Historical Recordings

The Art of Erica Morini

Works by Peter Tschaikowsky, Max Bruch, Wolfgang Amadeaus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, César Franck, Giuseppe Tartini a.o.. Erica Morini, Igor Kipnis, Albert Fuller, Felix Galimir a.o., Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin a.o.. 13 CD, Deutsche Grammophon 0028948632558 (Universal)

Born in Vienna in 1904, the highly gifted Erica Morini was one of the few female violinists to establish herself on the concert podium in the first half of the 20th century. This beautifully-presented edition contains all the recordings Morini made between 1955 and 1965 for Westminster, Deutsche Grammophon and American Decca. The result is an expressive portrait. We experience Morini as a beautiful and unpretentious violinist who never sought effect for its own sake and was a role model for many. For the jury: Norbert Hornig

Crossover Productions

Christopher Dell: Monodosis III

CD/LP/Digital, edition niehler werft enw 015 (direct sales)

»Monodosis III« is a third experiment by Christopher Dell, founder of the »Institute for Improvisation Technology« on the Museum Island of Hombroich, in Neuss. Dell understands that making music in an open form is less of a repair shop and more of a constructive action with indeterminacy, dealing with the incalculable in collaborations between human and non-human actors. The vibraphone is neither percussively raked nor (like the triangle in Georg Kreisler’s chanson) illustratively dabbed. This CD demands attentiveness and devotion to the movement of sound in space – risks and side effects intended! For the jury: Nikolaus Gatter

Film Music

Daniel Pemberton: Spider-Man

Across The Spider-Verse (Original Score). Digital, Sony Classical G0100050589533

After five years, British composer Daniel Pemberton, born in 1977, returns to the »Spider-verse« – with a soundtrack that shows the composer’s entire stylistic range. Spider-Man, Spider-Woman and all the co-stars of this »Spider-verse« are each given their very own character themes – from Miguel O’Hara’s techno sound to spider-punk and -rock to Indian sound worlds. Without a doubt one of the most ambitious soundtracks in recent cinema history! For the jury: Matthias Keller

Music Film

Dancing Pina

A film by Florian Heinzen-Ziob Blu-ray, mindjazz pictures 6422680 (Alive)

Pina Bausch’s legacy in two worlds: Gluck’s »Iphigenia« in Dresden, Stravinsky’s »Sacre« in Senegal. Classicism rubs shoulders with archaic modernity. The rehearsal rooms of the Semperoper contrast with sun-baked open studios, the grace of the European ballet ensemble is diametrically different from the powerful dancers of the west coast of Africa. Both groups struggle with the same challenge: to really feel the rehearsed body movements and thus discover the characters of the works within themselves. A ravishingly filmed homage to dance theatre. For the jury: Andreas Kunz

Jazz

Richie Beirach: Leaving

(A Solo Piano Concert). Jazzline D 77126 (Broken Silence)

This is the pianist’s first live solo album since 1981; it is special for him in more ways than one. On a vineyard in the south of France, Richie Beirach plays well-known standards, including two from his own pen, in front of a small audience. »Leaving« has long been part of the standard repertoire itself. Most of the pieces form medley pairs. The new context alone, the pairings, the transitions from one to the other put the time-honoured »war horses« of the jazz canon in a new light. The way Beirach improvises his way to the themes is simply fantastic. For the jury: Berthold Klostermann

Jazz

Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer, Shahzad Ismaily: Love In Exile

CD/2 LP, Verve 0060202448967640 (Universal)

Sounds that break the boundaries of established categories emerge from this collaboration; mystical, devotional sounds deeply rooted in spiritual tradition, and, at the same time, contemporary sounds with strong suggestive power. Arooj Aftab, a Pakistani-born singer of great artistry and enormous improvisational talent, finds two highly sensitive partners in pianist Vijay Iyer and bassist Shahzad Ismaily, both of whom also play synthesizers. Together they create large dramaturgical arcs, drawing listeners into the magic. For the jury: Bert Noglik

World Music

Samuel Blaser: Routes

CD/LP, enja & yellowbird 7835 (Edel)

A bridge across space and time: Swiss trombonist Samuel Blaser pays tribute to his Jamaican predecessor Don Drummond (1934-1969), a brilliant pioneer of ska with a strong jazz appeal whose life ended in tragedy. A distinguished international line-up (Soweto Kinch, Michael Blake, Ira Coleman, Dion Person and others), a Latin touch by pianist/organist Alex Wilson, a trombone choir in the piece »Green Island« and a guest appearance by the late great reggae musician Lee »Scratch« Perry provide the swinging highlights of this stylistically and musically colourful album. For the jury: Johann Kneihs

Traditional Ethnic Music

Driss El Maloumi: Aswat

CD/LP, Contre-Jour cj038 (Broken Silence)

In the Arab world, the oriental lute, or »oud«, is considered the queen of instruments; its delicate sound beguiles the senses and can make time stand still. With »Aswat«, the Moroccan master Driss El Maloumi presents a poetic album: musical miniatures in which the whispering of the trees, the soft murmur of the rain, and the calls and sounds in the streets of Agadir become audible. In his hometown on the Atlantic coast, Maloumi is the director of the conservatoire. His concert tours take him all over the world, where he makes music with outstanding interpreters of various genres. For the jury: Tom Daun

German language Singer/Songwriters

Jan Degenhardt: Inshallah

Sturm & Klang Musikverlag S+K 076 (Alive)

Flight and migration are central themes of Jan Degenhardt’s fourth CD. For the title track »Inshallah«, he chooses a special perspective: a person from Iraq tells of solidarity that disappeared all too quickly. When she – or he – protested against the powerful, everyone was still there; but then human rights fell from the sky (in the form of American bombs) and were destroyed at the same time – in the torture prison of Abu Ghraib. »Where were you then?« the song asks. And now, when Islamists are abusing the legacy of resistance – where are we? Melancholically, Jan Degenhardt talks about loss of humanity. For the jury: Michael Laages

Folk and Singer/Songwriters

the Young’uns: tiny notes

CD/LP, Hudson Records HUD036 (Rough Trade)

The Young’uns are a predominantly a cappella singing trio from the North East of England. On this album, arrangements with piano and strings support the well-matched voices. Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hughes dedicate their songs to heroines and heroes »from next door«. Using traditional musical forms, they achieve a strong emotional impact without losing their immediacy. Although they never mention politics directly, they make a strong statement for humanity and for overcoming divisions. For the jury: Almut Kückelhaus

Rock

Bob Dylan: Shadow Kingdom

CD/2 LP, Sony Music 19658767492

Bob Dylan’s Corona-era soundtrack seems like a live recording of a private concert, but it is the illusion of one, composed through by filmmaker Alma Har’el. In the dim black-and-white world of a nightclub, supported by protective-masked actors, Dylan leads us through a round of his timeless songs – from »It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue« to »What Was It You Wanted«. Vocally, he hits every blue note, and his minimal arrangements add soul. »Forever Young« never sounded more heartfelt than it does in this performance, which unfolds its effect even without images. For the jury: Fritz W. Haver

Hard and Heavy

Night Demon: Outsider

CD/LP, Century Media Records 19658761462 (Sony)

You like traditional metal, but prefer it without clichés? Then »Outsider« is the right long player for you: the musicians of »Night Demon« offer galloping, guitar-driven Sturm-und-Drang metal on their third album. Despite historical links to classic rock (Thin Lizzy), NWOBHM (Diamond Head) and proto-speed (Jaguar), it sounds fresh and youthful. The accelerator pedal is not always used; and the music is also shifted down a gear if it helps to grip the road. Most importantly, despite the bristling, driving force, the melodies don’t fall by the wayside – so that the title track or the power ballad »A Wake« will linger in your auditory canals. For the jury: Felix Mescoli

Club and Dance

Surgeon: Crash Recoil

2 LP/Digital, Tresor Records Tresor.351 (direct sales)

Album-length techno often tries dramaturgical concepts that are supposed to move the genre from its functional origin, dedicated to the dancers in the club, to a pedestal that is supposedly more suitable for home use. Anthony Child alias Surgeon has no need for this on »Crash Recoil«. His album springs from the improvised live sets for which the Briton has been known for almost thirty years. It has the immediate quality of a DJ set and the depth of detail of a fully composed work. A listening pleasure that is as sombre as it is sublime. For the jury: Christian Tjaben

Electronic and Experimental

IzangoMa: Ngo Ma

CD/LP/Digital, Brownswood Recordings BWOOD0291 (Rough Trade)

Behind »IzangoMa« is a collective of Mozambican and South African musicians around the self-taught keyboardist, guitarist and singer Sibusile Xaba and the sought-after beat producer Ashley Kgabo from South Africa. Various township styles combine with western club sounds, hectic electric beats and disturbing synth sounds meet analogue percussion, chants like those of jazz legend Sun Ra, shimmering highlife guitars and jubilant brass fanfares – a furious soundclash that has found a fitting home on Gilles Peterson’s label »Brownswood«. For the jury: Guido Halfmann

Blues and Blues-related

Eric Bibb: Ridin’

CD/2 LP, Dixie Frog DFGCD 8840 (Indigo)

From the very first note, you can tell that this is Eric Bibb. That voice and the colour of his music are unmistakable. »Ridin’« follows »America« (2021) with equal conviction. As always, he reveals his attitude towards what is happening around him on both a small and a large scale. His lyrics are those of a political thinker, equally imbued with spirituality based on an optimistic world view. His criticism uses the language of love. With this album he more than lives up to his reputation as »The Boss« of the Blues. For the jury: Karl Leitner

R&B, Soul and Hip-Hop

Peter Fox: Love Songs

CD/Digital, Warner 5054197645785

With Seeed, Pierre Baigorry founded Berlin’s first-ever urban style of his own – and let it diffuse on »Stadtaffe« in 2008. Peter Fox’s second solo album came after 15 years, and »Love Songs« surprises with a – positively connoted – catchiness that picks up on the local post-Corona zeitgeist. The fact that Fox had to defend himself against absurd accusations of appropriation – forget it. What remains are 2023 summer hits like »One Eye Blue« and »Tuff Cookie«. Peter Fox is the man of the moment with his love songs for life – without a doubt: The future is pink … For the jury: Torsten Fuchs & Jörg Wachsmuth

Spoken Word

Ingrid Lausund: Am nebenan

Monologues for the Home. Lina Beckmann, Matthias Brandt, Fritzi Haberlandt, Jens Harzer, André Jung, Bjarne Mädel, Bastian Pastewka, Angelika Richter, Sophie Rois, Bettina Stucky, Katrin Wichmann, Michael Wittenborn, directed by Bjarne Mädel. mp3-CD, speak low ISBN 978-3-948674-16-8

In these monologues by playwright Ingrid Lausund, the home in which we are supposed to feel safe reveals itself as a place where the abysses of the soul open up, wild fantasies are acted out, fears break free, and aggressions and obsessions come to light. This laboratory of personal insanity becomes a fantastic model for twelve voices from the first league of German acting, all performing at their best. You listen spellbound, vacillating between deep shock and hearty laughter. For the jury: Dorothee Meyer-Kahrweg

Recordings for Children and Youth

Markus Orths: Crazy Family

The Hackebarts clean up! Stefan Kaminski. 2 CDs, Hörcompany ISBN 978-3-96632-076-4

Who hasn’t played with the idea of winning the highest prize in a TV quiz? After long discussions, the Hackebart family finally decides to take part. Because they are convinced that they have THE »secret weapon« against Günther Jauch’s questions! Markus Orth’s story, ingeniously brought to life by Stefan Kaminsky as usual, takes aim at the crazy goings-on in the television business, makes fun of customs and traditions in the shadow of glamour and shows what makes a family: love, respect and trust in each other’s abilities. And above all: sticking together! Very enjoyable and »super-cool«! For the jury: Friederike C. Raderer

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