New Classical Tracks: The Best of 2009
December 29, 2009
All year long, I plow through literally hundreds of new releases, picking out just one a week to feature. This week's show is a look back at some of my favorites from 2009.
St. Paul, Minn. —
Back in February, pianist Helene Grimaud was in the spotlight with her CD, simply titled "Bach." She's played Bach every single day since she was a child, yet this was her first recording of his music. She says his music is "immortal, but also has this grace in travelling through time, through transcriptions and adaptations."
In her recording, she brings together pure Bach with transcriptions of his works. The centerpiece of the CD is probably the Busoni transcription of Bach's Chaconne, a piece Grimaud describes as a "dance of life and death." She says that each variation is like light, seen through a different stained glass window.
Helene Grimaud's 2009 release, "Bach," vividly proves that, in the right hands, the mathematical precision of Bach is actually poetry.
The poetry of opera was also one of my favorites of 2009, with Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca's new CD, "Bel Canto." Bel Canto literally means "beautiful singing" and it's abundant on Garanca's recording.
In the world of bel canto, mezzos are often cast in male or "trouser" roles. For example, Garanca plays the part of a young general in Rossini's "Maometto II" and Romeo in Bellini's "The Capulets and the Montagues." Here, Romeo, disguised as a messenger, delivers the sad news to Juliet's father that his son has been killed.
Another standout of the past year was Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg's latest -- a recording of highlights of her first season as music director of the New Century Chamber Orchestra. This is a group that operated without a conductor for seventeen years, but was so overwhelmed by the chemistry between the ensemble and guest soloist Salerno-Sonnenberg, a new, more permanent, working relationship was forged.
A great example of that chemistry can be heard in Astor Piazzolla's "Four Seasons of Buenos Aires." This reworked version of Piazolla's original incorporates some recognizable quotes from another famous take on the seasons, by Vivaldi. You might have a few "ah-ha" moments in "Summer," as you recognize a few melodies from Vivaldi's Winter. Why winter? Well, when it's winter in the northern hemisphere, it's summer down in Argentina. The infectious tango-based rhythms and fiery solo lines make this gritty performance truly exhilarating.
My final favorite of 2009 was from a trio of stars -- violinist Vadim Repin, cellist Mischa Maisky and pianist Lang Lang. They came together for a powerful recording of elegiac trios by Rachmaninoff & Tchaikovsky.
Rachmaninoff's trio starts with a quiet wave, says Lang Lang, like a time machine starting. "After the first few notes, you are inside its world."
In Tchaikovsky's Trio, we hear the interplay between the musicians. Each soloist has the opportunity to take the lead in the waltz-like sixth variation of Tchaikovsky, yet they never overpower one another.
The three generations represented on this release bring an array of life experience to the performances, and gather insight from one another to bring out the passion and beauty of these masterpieces.