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Classical 101

More Favorite CD Releases of 2009

It just happened that several of my 10 favorite CD picks of the past year are multiple disc sets that I really enjoyed listening to, and I hope you might, too:

  1. All 9 Beethoven symphonies on 5 discs with the Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vanska conducting.  These have appeared individually over the last several years from BIS, but now they've been released as a set in time for the holidays in critically acclaimed performances on modern instruments with interpretations influenced by recent historical scholarship but without losing any of the power and grandeur we expect from Beethoven.
  2. The Well-Tempered Clavier of Johann Sebastian Bach, Books 1 and 2, performed on modern piano by Angela Hewitt on a 4 disc set from Hyperion.  This fine Canadian artist had recorded these works before in the late 90s, and they were well-received then. This newer set, recorded in the studio after more experience performing Bach's great keyboard pieces in concert, shows a lively spontaneity at times and  lots of variation in the endlessly fascinating journey through all the major and minor keys in the preludes and fugues.
  3. More Beethoven on 3 CDs.  Pianist Richard Goode has recorded all five of the piano concertos with the Budapest Festival Orchestra and conductor Ivan Fischer for Nonesuch. It's great to hear this pianist in the concertos after admiring his  recording of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas for many years.
  4. Mahler Symphony No. 1 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Bernard Haitink. Great orchestra and conductor got together in 2006 when Haitink was appointed principal conductor after very well-received performances as guest conductor. Live recordings from the orchestra's own label followed demonstrating the great chemistry that resulted, an outstanding Mahler 3rd in 2007, this fine recording of the 1st Symphony, and one we just got that I haven't had a chance to listen to yet but promises to be worth hearing: the Resurrection Symphony.
  5. The French piano duo Katia and Marielle Labeque have released a disc of Erik Satie, both solo pieces and duos, on their own label, KML Recordings.  Among the solo pieces, Katia plays all 6 of the popular Gnossiennes, but in Satie's best-known music, the dreamy 3 Gymnopedies, Katia and Marielle alternate, as well as in some of the other pieces. Very enjoyable music-making.
  6. Sony Classical has yet again re-released fine Haydn symphony recordings from the Cleveland Orchestra and George Szell, showing what this great ensemble sounded like in the late 1960s under Szell's direction. The 2-CD set has the first 6 of the 12 London Symphonies, 93 through 98, in modern orchestra performances of remarkable precision, before the authentic performance practice movement got into full swing.
  7. By contrast, DG has re-released recordings on 4 CDs made in the 80s and 90s of 7 of the London Symphonies of Haydn (and several other works) with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe conducted by Claudio Abbado. These performances show some influence of period-instrument practices that were coming into vogue, even with modern instrument orchestras, such as is the case here. Both sets are enjoyable interpretations of wonderful music.
  8. This pick is as much for the record label, Naxos, as for the particular music on this disc. The label consistently releases under-recorded works or interesting interpretations of well-known music, as here. The Buffalo Philharmonic with JoAnn Falletta perform a completion of the "Unfinished Symphony" of Franz Schubert, and an orchestration of one of his most dramatic pieces, the String Quartet in d minor, "Death and the Maiden," in a new version that includes brass, rather than the more often heard version for strings only made by Gustav Mahler. Even if you prefer the original versions, it makes for interesting listening, especially at bargain price.
  9. Speaking of Naxos, they are also adding fine new recordings of the familiar, but worthy warhorses, such as this new release of symphonies 5 and 9 of Dimitri Shostakovich, with the rising young Russian conductor, Vasily Petrenko, who now leads the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.
  10. It's really nice to see that Hyperion has packaged and released a 5 CD set, called The Art of the Lute, of Paul O'Dette's very fine recordings of lute music from the Renaissance to the Baroque Era, including a generous selection from John Dowland and J. S. Bach among the offerings.