As promised in my last blog (Top Recommendations, Rock/Pop), here are this month’s Top Recommendations in Classical and Jazz, reflecting titles chosen by our esteemed reviewers. Most of these selections are brand-new 2009 titles. Others were released in late 2008. All are enjoyable.
The next installment of Top Recommendations will appear in February. Until then, happy listening.
Beethoven: Overtures. Sony/TEAC/Esoteric 90013 (hybrid stereo SACD).
Recorded nearly a quarter century ago, this series of Beethoven Overtures was performed by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra led by Sir Colin Davis. What makes this disc special is the ultra-high quality remastering effort involving contributions from Esoteric and Sony. The result: Reference-quality sound.
Berg: Lulu Suite. Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6. RCO Live 08004 (hybrid multichannel SACD).
Rarely will you hear a better case made for the famously “difficult” music of the Second Viennese School, of which Alban Berg was a leading practitioner. Conductor Daniele Gatti makes the atonal/12-tone material remarkably intelligible and absorbing. And sensually enveloping multichannel sound matches the music.
Furore. Handel: Opera Arias. Joyce DiDonato, mezzo. Virgin 51903.
A can’t-miss disc of spectacular singing of Handel opera arias by Joyce DiDonato, a mezzo who handles the most difficult coloratura passages with ease while infusing her singing with personality and vitality. Fine sonics, too.
Alex Cline: Continuation. Cryptogramophone 140.
Nels Cline: Coward. Cryptogramophone 141.
Twin Baby Booomer brothers Nels and Alex Cline take different tacks in their pursuit of musical self-expression. Both the solo-guitar Coward and avant-world chamber music of Continuation push the boundaries of instrumental jazz in ways that will please adventuresome listeners open to freewheeling combinations of folk, jazz, and ethnic idioms. On each set, meticulous recording and mixing set the details in sharp relief.
Donald Bailey: Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 3. Talking House 0811-020A.
This is one of the most explosive sets of hard bop released this or any year, with fearless and imaginative playing that literally leaps from the speakers. As a youth, drummer and bandleader Donald Bailey, 74, honed his craft in the crucible of Philadelphia’s tough jazz scene, playing with the likes of John Coltrane and Jimmy Heath. Here, the music is delivered with an intensely immediate live-in-the-studio sound that sacrifices some sonic warmth but conveys the kind of electrifying performance that is becoming all too rare.
The Horace Silver Quintet Plus J.J. Johnson: The Cape Verdean Blues. Music Matters/Blue Note ST-84220 (two 180-gram 45rpm LPs).
On what many consider his finest record,pianist Horace Silvermelds the Afro-Latin beats of his childhood with the hard bop style he was largely instrumental in developing. Combine a superb group of fellow musicians, excellent sound, and superior packaging, and you’ve got another winner from the Music Matters/AcousTech team.