This year offered a fascinating mix of recordings, including concert-hall show stoppers, classic choral stylings, a chamber music "dream team," up-and-coming pianists and a high-tech remastering of a master at play. With these 2009 releases, you'll find a few fresh faces — musicians hovering around age 30 — including young pianist Jonathan Biss (a former NPR young-artist-in-residence) and the sublime Dutch fiddler Janine Jansen. Plus, this year proved exceptionally strong for music by and from Russians. Enjoy this sampling of both classic and less-familiar fare.
Click here for more entries in our Best Music of 2009 series.
The Flight of the Bumble Bee, musical picture for orchestra (from The Tale of Tsar Saltan)
The Flight of the Bumble Bee (arr Rachmaninov)
- Song: The Flight of the Bumble Bee, musical picture for orchestra (from The Tale of Tsar Saltan)
- from Rachmaninov plays Rachmaninov
- by Sergey Rachmaninov
Rachmaninov was one of the first major composer-performers to record his works and arrangements in definitive performances for musicians, scholars and music lovers to enjoy for generations. His exclusive recording contract with RCA Victor helped the company sell Victrolas, and 78 RPM recordings, like few others of his day. For these Zenph "Re-Performances," a special computer editing process renders each note, phrase and detail from Rachmaninov's recordings without the scratchy surface noises of the old 1930s and '40s originals.
The Planets, suite for orchestra & female chorus, Op. 32, H. 125 [4. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity]
The Planets ('Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity')
- Song: The Planets, suite for orchestra & female chorus, Op. 32, H. 125 [4. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity]
- from Holst: The Planets; Britten: The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra
- by Paavo Järvi
Featuring two British orchestral classics, this is the 16th Cincinnati Symphony recording for Telarc with music director Paavo Järvi -- an impressive feat, considering that Järvi has only been with the orchestra for eight years. Returning from a critically acclaimed tour of Japan, the CSO is sounding its best under Järvi's direction.
Piano Sonata No. 20 in A major, D. 959 [Andantino]
Piano Sonata No. 20 in A major (Andantino)
- Song: Piano Sonata No. 20 in A major, D. 959 [Andantino]
- from Schubert: Piano Sonata in A major D959; Piano Sonata in C major 'Reliquie' D840
- by Jonathan Biss
For this carefully planned recital (recorded live), American pianist Jonathan Biss sandwiches Schubert sonatas between contemporary pieces by Gyorgy Kurtag. He asked the audience not to applaud in certain places in order to preserve the mood, noting that the pairings "respond" to each other in special ways. The heftiest piece is Schubert's A major Sonata, written in his last year of life. Biss calls the Andantino "the most powerful musical expression of a nightmare ever composed."
Trio élégiaque, for piano & strings in G minor, TN ii/34
Trio élégiaque, for piano & strings
- Song: Trio élégiaque, for piano & strings in G minor, TN ii/34
- from Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov: Piano Trios
- by Various
This "dream team" of premier soloists -- pianist Lang Lang, violinist Vadim Repin and cellist Mischa Maisky -- join forces to play Rachmaninov's Trio élégiaque and Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio in A minor. Young Chinese pianist Lang Lang first attracted attention with a dynamic performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto, and now he returns to the Russian composer for his first chamber-music recording. The three musicians communicate beautifully in these demanding, give-and-take performances.
Mazurka for piano No. 17 in B flat minor, Op. 24/4, CT. 67
Mazurka for piano No. 17 in B flat minor
- Song: Mazurka for piano No. 17 in B flat minor, Op. 24/4, CT. 67
- from Chopin: 21 Mazurkas
- by Vassily Primakov
Vassily Primakov is a young Russian on the rise. Born in Moscow and studying there as a child, he won First Prize in the Rachmaninov International Young Artist Competition. After moving to New York, he studied at Juilliard and continued to earn honors in numerous competitions, including the Gina Bachauer International Artists Piano Competition. In 2009, Primakov issued both an all-Tchaikovsky CD and this all-Chopin CD, expertly rendering the melancholy and playful qualities of Chopin's mazurkas.
Symphony No. 3 in D major, Op. 33 [1. Allegro]
Symphony No. 3 in D major, Op. 33 ( Allegro)
- Song: Symphony No. 3 in D major, Op. 33 [1. Allegro]
- from Glazunov: Symphonies Nos. 1, 2, 3, & 9
- by José Serebrier
For the last few years, prodigious conductor Jose Serebrier has been on a crusade to revive the symphonies of Alexander Glazunov. The Russian composer's music has long been overshadowed by that of his students who came after him (Shostakovich and Prokofiev) and his contemporaries (Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov). This two-disc set (featuring Symphonies 1-3 and 9) will remind listeners how solid, tuneful and imaginative Glazunov's music can be.
The Hebrides, overture for orchestra in B minor ("Fingal's Cave"), Op. 26
The Hebrides, overture for orchestra, Op. 26
- Song: The Hebrides, overture for orchestra in B minor ("Fingal's Cave"), Op. 26
- from Mendelssohn Discoveries
- by Riccardo Chailly
This year marked the bicentenary of Felix Mendelssohn's birth, and with it came a predictable rash of recordings, none more interesting than conductor Riccardo Chailly's Mendelssohn Discoveries. The "discoveries" are three world-premiere recordings of early unpublished versions of the "Scottish" Symphony, the "Hebrides" Overture and the Piano Concerto No. 3. To top it off, Chailly is conducting Mendelssohn's old band, the venerable Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig.
Violin Concerto (Canzonetta)
- Song: Violin Concerto
- from Plays Tchaikovsky
- by Janine Jansen
Ever since her debut with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1997, the young Dutch violinist Janine Jansen has toured extensively and is now regarded as a top virtuoso. In this digital-only release (in the U.S.), the award-winning Jansen capably performs Tchaikovsky's much-loved concerto with an expressive simplicity.
This album is available from Amazon UK.
My Heart Is Inditing, coronation anthem No. 3 for chorus & orchestra, HWV 261 [My heart is inditing]
My 'Heart Is Inditing' (Coronation Anthem No. 3)
- Song: My Heart Is Inditing, coronation anthem No. 3 for chorus & orchestra, HWV 261 [My heart is inditing]
- from Handel: Coronation Anthems
- by The Sixteen
Regarded as one of the world’s greatest choral groups, The Sixteen comprises both a chorus and period-instrument orchestra. Its fresh, appealing interpretation of Handel's works earned The Sixteen awards for Best Baroque Vocal Recording, and Artist of the Year designation from Gramophone Magazine.
- from Rachmaninov: Corelli Variations
- by Alexander Romanovsky
Ukrainian-born Alexander Romanovsky follows in the grand tradition of Russian master pianists. A former child prodigy, he studied at the Royal College of Music (in London) and in Italy, and won the prestigious Busoni competition at the tender age of 17. Romanovksy displays his musicality and complete command of these technically demanding works.
This album is available for purchase from Amazon UK.