In 2020, the schedules for the classical record industry hardly seemed to miss a beat, despite all the disruptions from Covid-19. Live performances pulled from the archives and a backlog of studio recordings provided more than enough material to maintain an almost normal flow of releases. And even this year, when those reserves are surely depleted, there has been no obvious slowdown in the pace of new issuance. The range and variety have, however, evolved very clearly, certain areas of the repertoire being much less well represented compared to previous years.
These shortages were most acute in the fields of opera and orchestral music. Even before the pandemic, large studio opera recordings were becoming increasingly scarce, most of the new issues stemming from live performances; now, with most of the world’s opera houses closed for much of the past two years, even that source is starting to dry up, if only temporarily, hopefully. Perhaps the most important opera release of the year came on DVD from the new Bayerisches Staatsoper label, its production 2019 of Die Tote Stadt by Korngold, with Jonas Kaufmann and Marlis Petersen at the head of the distribution.
Orchestras, too, have had few opportunities to give live concerts or make studio recordings with full complement of musicians. Krystian Zimerman’s cycle of Beethoven piano concertos, with Simon Rattle conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, was stuck between closures late last year, as were Gabriel Schwabe’s wonderfully simple renditions of two of the greatest British cello concertos, Elgar’s concerto and Bridge’s Solemn Speech. But two of the most important new orchestral releases, Osmo Vänskä’s superb reading of Deryck Cooke’s ‘interpretive version’ of Mahler’s unfinished 10th Symphony, and András Schiff’s typically intelligent tales of two piano concertos by Brahms, played on an 1859 Blüthner piano with period instruments from the Age of Enlightenment Orchestra, were recorded in 2019, while both that of Antonio Pappano Strauss’s highly acclaimed version of Ein Heldenleben with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra and Kirill Petrenko’s uncompromising interpretation of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony in Munich date back further, to 2018.
The roots of the release of the most ambitious song of the year also go back to 2018, when baritone Christian Gerhaher and pianist Gerold Huber embarked on their project to record all of Schumann’s songs. Other singers were involved as needed on all 11 records, but that’s really Gerhaher’s achievement overall. More modest but equally enjoyable were Claire Booth and Christopher’s Glynn’s Unorthodox Music, a program of songs and piano pieces by Mussorgsky; mezzo that of Marianne Crebassa Séguedilles, a recital of mostly French songs and arias with a Spanish flavor; and Passion, a collection of airs by Lully, Desmarets and Charpentier by Véronique Gens. As incomparable in 19th-century French operetta as in Baroque, Gens has also appeared this year on the Bru Zane label’s recordings of rarely heard scenic works by Hahn, Messenger and Lecocq.
As usual, there was no shortage of high-quality chamber music and solo piano releases. the Takács Quartet to Mendelssohn, Fanny and Felix, Les Vents Français overseeing Hindemith’s wind sonatas and Nicholas Daniel and the Doric Quartet in a selection of early 20th century British oboe quintets were all notable in their very different ways. The exceptional piano releases were conducted by the Igor Levit association of Ronald Stevenson’s Passacaille on the preludes and fugues by DSCH and Shostakovich, and Piotr Anderszewski’s selection of the second book of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. But there was also the elegant Liszt by Kenneth Hamilton, the brilliant Ligeti Studies by Danny Driver, and the start of a series devoted to the shamefully neglected piano works of Elisabeth Lutyens by Martin Jones, as well as a delicious selection. of French music for two pianos. from Paul Lewis and Steven Osborne.
Once again, much of the most interesting contemporary music has come from small, niche labels. Apartment House’s meticulous accomplishment of a selection of John Cage’s final pieces for Another Timbre was clearly a labor of love, while the binaural recording of Aldo Clementi’s guns on All That Dust is sheer sonic delight; The latest version of NMC by Tansy davies included her Nature piano concerto and the wonderfully imaginative piece she wrote for the National Youth Orchestra, Re-Greening. And among the records this year by irresistibly prolific violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja was one devoted to the music of Francisco Coll, including the concerto he composed for her in 2019, which seems to take his music to a whole new level. expressive world.
Top 10 classic Andrew Clements releases in 2021
1. Igor Levit: On DSCH – works by Shostakovich and Stevenson
We said, “Levit’s performance reveals what wonderfully pianistic pieces [Shostakovich’s] are, whether viewed individually or as a beautifully arched streak… while his Stevenson’s performance has never been matched. Read the full review.
2. Patricia Kopatchinskaja: Coll Concerto for violin
We said: “Kopatchinskaja’s extraordinary free virtuosity seems to have opened a new vein of immediacy and expressiveness in Coll’s music, which the Violin Concerto seems to me to take to a whole new level. Read the full review.
3. Osmo Vänskä: Mahler / Cooke: Symphony No. 10
We said, “The Minnesota Orchestra performs beautifully, and Vänskä’s meticulous attention to instrumental detail and the weighting of each chord, and his unwavering sense of symphonic coherence and continuity, make the total effect overwhelming. Read the full review.
4. Building: parts of the cage number
We said, “Apartment House’s performances are wonderfully engaged and thoughtful – every note played, you feel it, is there for a reason – and reveals the uncanny beauty of these works. »Read the full review.
5. Claire Booth and Christopher Glynn: Songs of Mussorgsky
We said, “Booth brings every song to life with opera vivacity… Each becomes a miniature stage, while the piano pieces Glynn places between them sometimes provide contrast, sometimes reinforcement. Everything is presented with a lot of panache. Read the full review.
6. Piotr Anderszewski: Bach’s Preludes and Fugues
We said, “While purists may recoil in horror at hearing this music presented in what may seem like a deliberately disruptive order, they must be convinced by the intelligence and lucidity of the game, its pristine phrasing and range of tone. elaborately graduated tones. »Read the full review.
7. Christian Gerhaher: Complete Schumann Songs
We said, “A refined and consistently rewarding ensemble, with each song delivered with meticulous attention to detail and the individual coloring of each phrase that has always been a hallmark of Gerhaher’s song singing. »Read the full review.
8. Dunedin Consort: Cantatas by Bach
We said, “There is a sense of rightness and lightness in the way John Butt conducts music, and of individually characterful musicians coming together for one purpose. It’s a truly uplifting recording. Read the full review.
9. András Schiff: Piano concertos by Brahms
We said, “Schiff makes his interpretative arguments without exaggeration or undue assertion. The performances shed new light on two of the greatest piano concertos in the repertoire. Read the full review.
10. Martin Jones: Elizabeth Lutyens Music for piano
We said: “Lutyens has been shockingly neglected since her death in 1983… Jones’s study of piano music – in meticulous and clearly loving performances – should fill at least one of the gaping gaps. Read the full review.