by Oliver Amnuayphol
Yeah, I gotta agree with Jason: 2010 was a less memorable year than some others for rock music. But it was an outstanding year for new and reissue classical and jazz. More releases on vinyl would've been nice, but it's the music that counts, and we were fortunate enough to get some very memorable recordings. Here are my most memorable from 2010:
10) Shai Wosner, Brahms and Schoenberg (Onyx Classics): All it takes is a few seconds of listening to this disc to realize there's a unique clarity and richness to Wosner's playing, and the Brahms and Schoenberg works featured here really showcase his talented touch and musical dexterity. Mighty impressive considering this is Wosner's debut recording effort, and a great preview of the wondrous things to come from this young and gifted musician.
9) Keith Jarrett & Charlie Haden, Jasmine (ECM): Once again, Jarrett and Haden show why they're considered by many to be among the most talented jazz musicians of all time. There's an intimate, familiar, and highly conversational tone that permeates every track on Jasmine, and the duo pulls so much music and sound from their instruments that you have to remind yourself at times there are only two instruments at play here.
8) Isabell Faust, Alexander Melnikov, Beethoven: Complete Violin Sonatas (Harmonia Mundi): Faust and Melnikov do a great job of letting the appropriate temperament of each sonata shine through while imbuing every movement with excellent verve and emotional intensity--a fine balancing act between two accomplished musicians for sure. Their "Kreutzer" is nothing short of magnificent, and the CD even comes with a behind the scenes documentary DVD to boot.
7) Stile Antico, Sheppard: Media Vita (Harmonia Mundi): Finally, someone has done justice to the unique works of Tudor era maestro John Sheppard. And who else could it be but Stile Antico? This relatively young group have always sounded mature beyond their years, and with Media Vita they've really come into their own. Their performance of the antiphonal title track is especially compelling, full of rich sonorities and a chamber music-like fluidity to their singing. And the sound is A-MAZ-ING.
6) Julia Fischer, Paganini, 24 Caprices, Opus 1 (Decca): Perhaps the most amazing thing about Fischer's Paganini Caprices is not her technical mastery of the repertoire, but how that mastery is merely the foundation of her supremely musical interpretations. Not bad for someone who decided to record Paganini's dazzling works at the ripe old age of 26. Fischer maintains a fairly relaxed vibe throughout the disc, allowing you to focus on the musical lines instead of the notational complexities (that is, if you want to!). An outstanding recording.
5) Fred Hersch Trio, Whirl (Palmetto Records): If you've never heard pianist Fred Hersch play, you're in for a treat with Whirl--no other current jazz musician so artfully blends virtuoso improvisation and unique melodies quite like Hersch does, and Whirl overflows with them. The interplay and communication between Hersch, drummer Eric Macpherson and bassist John Hebert is always spectacular, and the sound on the LP is sublime.
4) Hilary Hahn, Higdon & Tchaikovsky Violin Concertos (Deutche Grammophon): While nearly every Hahn album could be on any given year's "best of" list, this latest really shows why many consider Hahn to be one of the best violinists in the world today. Her virtuoso technique on this disc is truly beguiling, and her willingness to put a new spin on that old chestnut, the Tchaikovsky concerto, makes for a very refreshing performance.
3) Joyce DiDonato, Colbran, the Muse (Virgin Classics): One listen to this disc and you'll instantly hear why many opera fans say no current operatic performer does Rossini better than DiDonato. And boy, does her love for Rossini's beautiful arias show: Her lithe, exuberant affections fit naturally with Rossini's music, and her impeccable phrasing and technical prowess on Colbran will make you swoon for her. The best opera disc of 2010 for sure.
2) The Cardinall's Musick/Andrew Carwood, Byrd: Infelix Ego (Hyperion): The folks at Hyperion really know their early music, and this latest in their William Byrd series is a stunner. The members of the Cardinall's Musick ensemble have remained pretty much the same for what seems like eons, and it shows: You just can't get these kinds of soaring harmonies, perfectly-pitched melodies and tightly blended vocal parts without years of singing together. Not to be missed if you're a fan of Elizabethan era music.
1) Johanna Martzy, The EMI Recordings (Coup D'archet): Even though the eight EMI/Columbia recordings that comprise this set are not at all new (in fact they're around half a century old), they will be new to most every classical fan out there. That's because most people have never even heard of Martzy, let alone laid eyes (or ears) on any of her recordings. Search for any of the original EMI/Columbia LPs that are included in this set and you'll soon run up against $1000-plus prices on eBay. That means this Coup d'Archet set is most likely the only chance you'll ever have to hear--let alone own--these recordings in all their analog glory. And hear them you must: These are the most thoughtful, intelligent, and musically expressive performances I've ever heard of this repertoire--said repertoire including the Bach Sonatas/Partitas, Schubert Sonatas/Sonatinas, Brahms and Mendelssohn violin concertos, and Beethoven Romances. What's more, everything about this vinyl box set exudes quality and attention to detail--such as the dead-quiet, 100% analog-mastered 180-gram virgin-vinyl pressings, or the high-quality reproduction artwork of the original LP sleeves, or the sumptuously beautiful cloth-bound slipcase for safekeeping. A full review will be forthcoming, but believe me when I say this set is, by a huge margin, the best classical album release of 2010.