Best of 2012: Top 12 Classical CDs | Classical music reviews, news & interviews
Best of 2012: Top 12 Classical CDs
Debussy or didgeridu? We recommend the year's finest releases
Debussy: Préludes, Trois Nocturnes Prélude à l’après-midi d’une faune Alexei Lubimov (with Alexei Zuev) (ECM)
Alexei Lubimov’s handsomely recorded Debussy Préludes are persuasively played, making these elusive pieces far more than picturesque miniatures. Even better are the arrangements for two pianos of Debussy’s Trois Nocturnes and Prélude à l’après-midi d’une faune, where Lubimov is joined by Alexei Zuev. Both so good that you forget the better-known orchestral versions. Lubimov plays a pair of restored vintage pianos made by Steinway and Bechstein; Debussy apparently preferring their sound to the lighter, translucent timbre of French instruments.
Lutosławski: Orchestral Works II Louis Lortie, BBC SO/Gardner (Chandos)
Chandos’s ongoing Lutosławski discs have been consistently enthralling. Edward Gardner and the BBC SO let us wallow in the rapturous, lucid orchestral timbres conjured up by this most fastidious of composers, as well as highlighting their steely compositional rigour. Anyone who thinks that the symphony is dead should investigate Lutosławski’s compact Symphony no 4. 22 eventful minutes which look fondly back over the 20th century while always sounding fiercely contemporary. Like Sibelius’s 7th, it’s a brilliant late work. Louis Lortie plays the composer’s compelling Piano Concerto and there’s also the pre-WW2 orchestral Symphonic Variations.
Messiaen: Turangalîla-Symphonie Steven Osborne (piano), Cynthia Millar (ondes martenot), Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Juanjo Mena (Hyperion)
Possibly the best recording of this sprawling, joyous work available – brilliantly played and with wonderful soloists. Cynthia Millar’s ondes Martenot swoops and swoons as you’d hope, but Hyperion’s engineering also lets us hear the startling flatulent rasps that this peculiar electronic instrument emits in its lowest register. Steven Osborne’s terrifying piano obbligato is as good as you’d hope. But most credit is owed to Juanjo Menha’s fearless Bergen Philharmonic, who nail Messiaen’s style to perfection. It’s all here – love, death, pathos, humour. The riper chord progressions could have been doodled by Gershwin. Other passages sound like the noodlings of a cocktail bar pianist. And the whole is so, so convincing – a uniquely optimistic, bold musical statement that, in a performance as good as this one, will convince you that the world isn’t such a bad place after all.
Tchaikovsky: Symphonies 4 and 5 London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski (LPO)
A recent arrival; stunning, well-engineered live performances of two over-played, under-appreciated works. Both sound freshly minted here, conjuring up memories of scratchy, fiery Mravinsky recordings from the Cold War era. Vladimir Jurowski’s London Philharmonic Orchestra play as if possessed – strings making a dark, husky sound with winds and brass alternately shrill and seductive. Listen to the oboe solo in the slow movement of the Fourth, and the way in which Jurowski tears into the Finale. Tchaikosvky’s Fifth emerges as the weaker, baggier piece, though Jurowski does wonderful things with the work. There’s a sense of menace in the first movement’s trudging 6/8 rhythms, and the symphony's big horn solo will melt the coldest of hearts.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
more Classical music
Splendid singing of English jewels, plus a Nico Muhly premiere
The RSNO have a new concert hall. The lead acoustician explains why it sounds so good
Viennese piano music, a singer-songwriter's debut opera and experimental sounds from Kansas City
A welcome re-airing of James MacMillan's striking opera/passion/ritual
A reinvented minimalist classic is let down by poor sound quality
Great pianist, great company: the classiest and most generous of celebrations
What are the elements that make up Einaudi's music?
Organic grandeur stops short of engagement
Historically informed Czech repertoire, weighty music from a 20th century giant, and three sets of piano variations
A compelling revival for a song cycle out of the blue
Military incursions in vivid masterpieces by Haydn and Nielsen
Six out of seven pieces going nowhere: no pizzazz about this jazz/classical melée