It’s that time of year…everybody has a year-end list of “best ofs.” Like my colleagues, I am no exception.
My favorites list has much that is homegrown, or at least has some roots in Ohio. Some is challenging. All, in my opinion, is worthy of a listen.
10. Martha Argerich has been in the public eye since she was four years old. She played her first Mozart Concerto when she was eight. Now in her mid sixties, she still brings audiences to their feet. She has actually gone against type this year with a recording of Beethoven’s 1st Piano Concerto and Mozart’s 18th Concerto. There is also a reissue of past recordings a recital recording she made with Gidon Kremer, but Argerich playing Beethoven and Mozart? Heavenly!
9. For those wanting to simultaneously relive their childhood AND hear some great music by a living composer, Metropolis Symphony by Michael Daugherty is worth your time. It’s edgy, exciting, and based on some of the main characters in the Superman comics…Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, and Mr. Mxyzptlk, along with a movement called Krypton, and the Red Cape Tango for the finale.
8. For those of you who only know Edvard Grieg by his Piano Concerto and Peer Gynt, I recommend you look a little further. I was introduced to his beautiful songs at a competition in January 2009 and to a Norwegian baritone by the name of Nyal Sparbo. His recording of Norwegian Songs by Edvard Grieg shows that there is more to Grieg than meets the eye. At the same time, I also recommend someone a little closer to home. Pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi, who is a piano professor at the Cleveland Institute of Music, has recorded the entire works for piano by Grieg. After you hear a few of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, you’ll fall in love with them, too.
7. With this being the 50th anniversary year of Van Cliburn’s amazing triumph at the International Tchaikovsky Competition, we have our first opportunity to hear the competition finals in Moscow. The Rachmaninoff 3rd Piano Concerto, a short Rondo by Kabalevsky, and, of course, the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 have been remastered. Now you can hear what all of the excitement was about!
6. While we’re on the subject of Tchaikovsky, I must recommend a recording of his 1812 Overture and March Slav, performed by the Mariinsky Orchestra, Soloists, and Chorus. Valery Gergiev conducts, which is what makes this recording so compelling. The history of the theatre is extraordinary. A plus is the seldom heard Moscow Cantata which Gergiev included on this recording. There are some stunning moments, especially in the choral sections.
5. Beethoven needs little introduction, but if you think you know his music for cello and piano, a recording by two incredible American musicians may shine some new light on them for you. Cellist Zuill (pronounced Zool) Bailey and Pianist Simone Dinnerstein have been playing together for 10 years, which shows in their recording.
4. Richard Mudge. Who, you say? Well, some of his music was recently uncovered, which led to interest in this set of Six Concertos in Seven Parts. His years spanned the later portion of Bach’s life and the early part of Mozart’s. He’s not Bach, he’s not Mozart, but his music has been said to be “of outstanding beauty and dignity” by those who know much more than I, and is well worth adding to your collection.
3. The Jarvi family is a conducting dynasty. First Neeme, then Kristjan and Paavo. Though he conducts around the world and handles Artistic Directing duties for the German Chamber Philharmonic, Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, and the Paris Orchestra, Paavo Jarvi is firmly settled in Cincinnati. Now in his ninth season in Cincinnati, Jarvi and the Cincinnati Symphony released two great recodings in 2009…One features the Shostakovitch 1oth Symphony and the Overture No. 2 by Veljo Tormis. Tormis is an Estonian composer whose stirring music fits the Shostakovich quite well. The second recording features Holst’s The Planets and The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra by Benjamin Britten.
2. The “other orchestra” in Cincinnati has an amazing recording history. Though officially formed in 1977, the Cincinnati Pops was guided by the late Erich Kunzel to a world-class reputation and has a discography of well over 100 recordings. The last recording they made under Kunzel’s direction spoke to two of his passions…making great music and championing young musicians. From the Top at the Pops lets you hear a great orchestra at their best AND take a peek at some of tomorrow’s musicians.
1. When you see this next selection, you might notice a theme…the top three recordings on my list come out of Ohio. Carpe Diem StringQuartet is an exciting, progressive ensemble which does more than just put on concerts. Their most recent recording of the music of Jonathan Leshnoff is a prime example. Leshnoff is “a young composer whose star is rapidly rising.” Violinist Charles Weatherbee recorded Leshnoff’s Violin Concerto with the Baltimore Symphony, where Leshnoff is Composer-in-Residence. The concerto tells a stunning story of the human spirit and survival in the face of almost impossible odds. Weatherbee then teams with the other members of Carpe Diem for Leshnoff’s String Quartet No. 1, commissioned by Jeremiah German, “a retired college professor with an abiding love for music,” on the occasion of his wife Pearl German’s 80th birthday. Carpe Diem is a versatile, exciting group, especially in concert, and not above having a little fun. The clip below is just one example!
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