"Shostakovich: String Quartets"
Emerson String Quartet
Not since the decades-old Shostakovich cycle by the Borodin String Quartet have we heard such a well-played, emotion-packed performance of the composer's complete string quartets. But the Emersons somehow outdo all other Shostakovich cycles available with this thoughtful and warm recording, capturing all the power, irony, and angst that Shostakovich infused in these pieces.
"Bruckner: Symphony No. 8"
Pierre Boulez, cond; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Pierre Boulez conducts Bruckner? Hard to believe, but the conductor did it and, boy, did he do it right. This recording of the Eighth seems to have it all: great pacing, great playing, and an incredible soundstage, with warm acoustics that you'll just want to blast through your stereo system. If you've been intimidated by Boulez's modernist reputation, this disc will change your view.
"Godowsky: The Complete Studies on Chopin's Etudes"
Marc-Andre Hamelin, piano
That Marc-Andre Hamelin (or any pianist) can play Godowsky's toughest challenge for keyboardists--his 53 studies on Chopin's Etudes--is remarkable enough. But Hamelin makes it through these dizzying (and perhaps cruel) finger exercises with ease, delivering a musically rich and brilliant interpretation. Lyrical and lovely, Hamelin's virtuosity will have you convinced these performances are a walk through the park. They're not.
"Beethoven: Symphonies 1-9"
Daniel Barenboim, cond.; Berlin Staatskapelle Orchestra
Simply put, Daniel Barenboim's 2000 Romantic traversal of Beethoven's symphonies will be remembered and cherished for years to come. Barenboim is at the helm of a world-class orchestra, the sonics are superb, and he gives us a taste for Furtwangler's expressionism without sacrificing consistency or musicality. Riveting!
"Rautavaara: Piano Concerto No. 3 ("Gift of Dreams")"
Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano and cond.; Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Here are two world premiere works by Finn Einojuhani Rautavaara, both revealing why he's one of the most important contemporary composers. Vladimir Ashkenazy performs and conducts on the "Gift of Dreams" piano concerto, a moving work full of beautiful, lush lyricism slightly reminiscent of Sibelius. "Autumn Gardens" is just as impressive; it's a short symphonic work based on the changing seasons. A gorgeous release.
"Bach: Goldberg Variations"
Murray Perahia, piano
Perhaps the greatest performance of all to be released in 2000 is Murray Perahia's insightful disc of Bach's "Goldberg Variations," a CD that finally gives Glenn Gould a run for his money. Here, Perahia gives each variation plenty of lyricism and personality, but he makes sure that Bach's wonderful music gets the spotlight.
"Geminiani: Concerti Grossi"
Andrew Manze, violin; Academy of Ancient Music
Every year, Andrew Manze seems to unveil a new recording of lesser-heard Baroque masters and in 2000, Francesco Geminiani was his lucky subject. Geminiani's orchestral arrangements of Corelli's 12 violin sonatas aren't exactly popular, but this impassioned, virtuosic performance by Manze and the Academy of Ancient Music will have you wondering why they're not.
"Ives: Symphony No. 2"
Kenneth Schermerhorn, cond.; Nashville Symphony Orchestra
More American than McDonald's, more fun than Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," Ives's rollicking Second Symphony is loaded with passages based on American revival hymns, patriotic marches, and Stephen Foster works. The Nashville Symphony Orchestra and Kenneth Schermerhorn may not be superstars, but they somehow outdo Bernstein's legendary performance of this work with sheer musicality and exciting playing. Naxos's American Classics series has proven to be one of the most interesting classical label projects we've heard all year; this bargain-priced disc shows why.
"John Cage: The Seasons"
Margaret Leng Tan, pianos; Dennis Russell Davies, cond.; American Composers Orchestra
The expansive career of John Cage is perfectly illustrated on "The Seasons." "Seventy-Four" slowly brims with eerie anticipation, "Suite for Toy Piano" is playful, gamelan-inspired work, and the ballet title-track is simply gorgeous (and relatively tame for the maverick composer). Better than any disc on the market, this CD captures the magic of Cage, with great playing and memorable compositions.
"Arvo Part: Alina"
Sergei Berzodny, Vladimir Spivakov, violins; Alexander Malter, piano
Sublime, quiet, and as understated as classical recordings can get, Arvo Part's "Alina" may be the perfect example of just how powerful "holy minimalism" can sound. Two simple works--"Fur Alina" and "Spiegel im Spiegel"--are each repeated, varying ever-so-slightly with each performance. The results are simply mesmerizing.
"Bach: Goldberg Variations"
Murray Perahia, piano.
~MORE Until now, Glenn Gould seemingly owned Bach's "Goldberg Variations." But, listening to Murray Perahia perform them on this excellent recording, you might be left wondering if Gould's lease is up. Perahia delivers a sensitive, lyrical performance that's full of personality, but has none of Gould's eccentricities. Highly recommended.
"Eduardus Halim Plays Chopin"
Eduardus Halim, piano.
~MORE Chances are, you've never heard of Eduardus Halim. Perhaps this disc will change that. Halim, the last pupil of Vladimir Horowitz, plays Chopin with all the power and projection of his mentor, but with plenty of originality, too. Halim traverses the Op. 26 and Op. 44 polonaises with all the romantic passion the works demand. On the mazurkas, he gives a straightforward but warm reading. Concluding with a brilliant performance of Chopin's Sonata No. 3, Halim proves that he's a pianist to watch.
"Ives: Symphony No. 2"
Nashville Symphony Orchestra, Kenneth Schermerhorn, cond.
~MORE This Ives installment of Naxos's American Classics is easily one of the label's most successful releases. Using a new arrangement prepared by the Ives society, Schermerhorn and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra deliver a riveting performance of this epic, loud, and (mostly) fun symphony. At its budget price, this disc shouldn't be missed.
Gidon Kremer, violin; Kremerata Baltica.
~MORE Way back when, Gidon Kremer broke new ground for "holy minimalism" with his legendary recording of Arvo Part's "Tabula Rasa" on ECM. Now, with his own ensemble, Kremer proves there's still a lot of great somber yet sublime minimalism out there. Vladimir Martynov's "Come In" is the real highlight here, a lyrical and (relatively speaking) light work that provides a nice contrast to the compositions by Glass and Part.
Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin; Lambert Orkis, piano.
~MORE What do the works on "Recital 2000"--pieces by Prokofiev, George Crumb, Webern, and Respighi--have in common? Not a whole lot, except they were all written in the 20th century and they all seem tailor-made for violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. Here, with pianist Lambert Orkis, Mutter performs contemporary works that are highly listenable, filled with tonal colors and loaded with stylistic variety.
GREAT HISTORICAL RECORDINGS
"Bach: Cello Suites Nos. 1-6"
Pablo Casals, cello.
~MORE Pablo Casals put Bach's six cello suites on the map when these recordings first came out in the 1930s. Now, 70 years later, they've never sounded better. Casals's approach to Bach is bold and romantic, but never self-indulgent. Naxos hired audio-restoration expert Ward Marston to remaster these classic sides, and, at under $10, it's too good a deal to pass up.
"Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Nos. 7, 8, 13, and 14"
~MORE The legendary Solomon's Beethoven cycle was sadly never finished, but now--on this excellent Testament reissue--we can get a hint of what made the pianist so special. These mid-1950s recordings show Solomon to be in complete control of Beethoven, but his personality somehow never sneaks into the music. There's no other word for his "Moonlight" and "Pathetique" than pure--he plays with enormous skill and grace, but Beethoven is the real star.
"Rejoice! A String Quartet Christmas"
Arturo Delmoni, Alexander Romanul, violins; Katherine Murdock, viola; Nathaniel Rosen, cello.
~MORE There are very few holiday-themed classical CDs worth buying. This disc--featuring Christmas carols arranged for string quartet--is easy to recommend. Great performances, great recorded sound, and fun music.
"Tchaikovsky: Ballet Suites"
Mstislav Rostropovich, cond.; Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
~MORE Looking for a can't-miss recording of Tchaikovksy's "Nutcracker Suite"? Here's your best bet, a classic since 1978.
AMAZON.COM INTERVIEW: MURRAY PERAHIA
"When Bach and his family got together, they always started off with a chorale. But then, right after that, they did a "quodlibet," [the final variation in the Goldbergs] where each would make up the words, and the words apparently were very dirty--very bawdy. And I love that, because that shows that the ritual and the earthy are not so dissimilar--that everything is part of God. Everything. To come down to earth, this is part of us, too. If it's treated with respect and with sensitivity and we can also bring to earthly things all of the qualities that we can bring to spiritual things, then we can make a completeness out of our experience here on Earth. That's what I think the quodlibet is about." --Murray Perahia, on his love for the "Goldberg Variations" To read Amazon.com's interview with Murray Perahia, go to the following link:
GET STARTED IN: HOLST
The popularity of Holst's "Planets" is unmistakable: it's one of the most-played works at concert halls, and its influence on contemporary soundtrack composers is profound. Check out Amazon.com's Get Started In feature to get background information and an audio tour of Holst's masterpiece.
"Beethoven: The Middle Quartets"
Budapest String Quartet
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The legendary Budapest String Quartet had a profound impact on chamber music as we know it--they made a living solely by performing and spreading their music through nationwide radio broadcasts. As these collected recordings from their Library of Congress concerts between 1940 and 1960 reveal, the Budapest's interpretation of Beethoven is cool and slightly restrained, but sublime.
"Geminiani: Concerti Grossi (after Corelli, Op. 5)"
Andrew Manze, dir.; Academy of Ancient Music
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Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762) paid the ultimate tribute to his teacher, Arcangelo Corelli, by composing these gorgeous orchestrations of Corelli's 12 violin sonatas. Andrew Manze and the Academy of Ancient Music are matchless in their performance of these works, showcasing the virtuosity, lyrical insight, and emotion that these masterpieces demand. Another incredible disc from one of our greatest living violinists.
"Held by the Ears"
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The Palladin Ensemble--featuring Sarah Podger on violin--tackles the works of another little-known Baroque composer, Nicola Matteis. Matteis's airs are pretty and fun works, filled with weird touches and driving rhythms. And, by filling out the disc with traditional Celtic works, the Palladins ensure there's something here for everyone.
"Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3"
Arcadi Volodos, piano
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Volodos proves, once again, that he's one of the finest pianists playing today. A young virtuoso (he's just 28), he combines the power of his Russian keyboard forebears with the passion of a Martha Argerich. On this disc featuring Rachmaninoff's Third, he simply shines, delivering a gorgeous, thoughtful, and well-recorded performance with the Berlin Philharmonic and James Levine.
REMEMBERING LEONARD BERNSTEIN
October 14, 2000, marks the 10th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein's passing. At Amazon.com's Leonard Bernstein store, you'll find the conductor's very best recordings, recommended books and videos, and more, including the new six-CD set "Lenny: The Legend Lives On," featuring a previously unreleased recording of Bernstein performing Mozart.
"Lenny: The Legend Lives On"
Leonard Bernstein, cond. and piano; various ensembles.
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Leonard Bernstein store:
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"Dracula: The Seduction"
Anthony DiLorenzo, composer and dir.; Proteus 7
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Anthony DiLorenzo's ballet version of "Dracula" is heavy on the percussion and the brass, but his score allows for some stranger, more ominous instruments, too (theremin, daxophone). There's plenty of drama, lots of creepy moments, as well as some ghoulish excitement.
"The Devil's Dance"
Gil Shaham, violin; Jonathan Feldman, piano
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Violinist Gil Shaham assembles a program of music themed around devils and demons on his latest, "The Devil's Dance." You'll hear his excellent interpretations of Grieg's "Puck," Mendelssohn's "Hexenlied," Tartini's "Devil's Trill," and more. Great performances and some frighteningly beautiful passages, but where's that Charlie Daniels tune?