As Chosen By
Classical Music Editor Wayne Donnelly
It brings me joy to announce our Best Of 2007 Blue Note Music Awards. From November 2006 until September 2007 Enjoy the Music.com has reviewed well over 100 music discs. Classical music editor Wayne Donnelly, folk/bluegrass editor Steven Stone plus the entire music review staff of writers deserve a special thanks for continually providing us with truly impressive reviews. Enjoy the Music.com now present to you our choices for Best Of 2007 Blue Note Music Awards. And the winners are:
What a delight to hear the famous Bolero played the way the composer intended, with a constant speed throughout. Skrowaczewski elicits delicious tone color and passion from the Minnesota Orchestra in a 1973 recording that has stood the test of time. The album also includes the Pavane, the Rapsodie Espagnole and La Valse with a bonus of movements from Daphnis et Chloé, for me the highlight of the disc. This Mobile Fidelity release brings the original four track recording to the SACD medium, as well as two track SACD and a Redbook layer. The SACD tracks do so much better with detail, ambiance and soundstage than good old Redbook and serve to make this disc a strong recommendation. Phil Gold
Though enormously popular in their day, Schumann's compositions for chorus and orchestra the list also includes Scenes from Goethe's Faust, the incidental music to Byron's Manfred, the oratorio The Rose's Pilgrimage, and a Requiem have fared less well since. At ninety minutes, Das Paradies is easily the most ambitious of these works, and also, it seems to me, the most successful. Max Westler
Both of these outstanding releases celebrate the recent partnership between new Music Director Riccardo Chailly and the venerable Leipzig ensemble, who play with wonderfull esprit and precision for their new boss. In the Brahms concertos, Nelson Freire brings impressive virtuosity and perfect Brahmsian sonority to the highly demanding solos. These performances are at the very top level, and a must-hear for fans of these titanic concertos.
The Schumann performances are lively and charming, superb in every way. Of special interest is Chailly's decision to use the orchestrations by Gustave Mahler, which are lighter and more transparent than Schumann's original scoring. Excellent sound on both sets. Welcome back to the big leagues, Leipzig! Max Westler
For one of their last CD releases before their retirement, the Vermeer Quartet offers a fascinating program of British chamber music, with sumptuous sound from Cedille and gorgeous performances by not only the string players but their guest, Alex Klein, formerly Principal Oboe of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The Phantasy Quartet was written very early in Britten's career (1932), while the Third String Quartet of 1975 is one of his last works. The former is often playful, in fact downright quirky, though lyrical when it wants to be. The latter is elegiac, quoting from the composer's last opera, Death in Venice. Yet in both works there is an element of fantasy and wit, of seeming improvisation, that makes them unmistakably Britten, and rewarding to listen to side by side. The 1927 Quintet by Arthur Bliss is more conservative music, but fresh in its rhapsodic outpourings, pastoral moods and jaunty finale. The CD sandwiches the Bliss between the two Britten works, but it casts such a different spell that I suggest hearing it on its own. Joe Milicia
Johann Sebastian Bach
Telarc's pairing of these two great choral works is most welcome. The Gloria is the smaller in scale of the two, and with only three female soloists it seems likely it that it was written for the performing forces available at the girls' orphanage in Venice where the composer worked for much of his life. There is abundant melodic invention throughout, and the piece is altogether charming.
Written in the celebratory key of D Major and for larger forces, the Magnificat was clearly designed for festive occasions. With more soloists male and female, often combined in duets, and the many imaginative flourishes from both orchestra and chorus underscoring the meaning of the text, the effect is near-operatic in dramatic intensity.
Pearlman and the Boston Baroque give us exuberant, extroverted performances. Telarc's sound is outstanding warm and spacious, with clear textures even in the most complicated passages. Dynamics are impressively well scaled, and nothing seems overblown or exaggerated. Every music lover should own these works, and I highly recommend this release. Wayne Donnelly
Telarc's pairing of these two orchestral showpieces is inspired. Though composed 11 years apart in different countries, they have a great deal in common most especially in both composers' dedication to tapping into the folk melodies and rhythms of their respective countries, and in their choice of large-scale multi-movement orchestral (but not symphonic per se) structures.
Bartok's best-known piece, written in 1943, seems to reflect both the tumultuous mid-war times and the strain of the composer's failing health he died just two years later. Perhaps such associations account for the preponderance of dark-hued, sinister-sounding interpretations over the years. Certainly both of my favorite recordings the classic Reiner/Chicago on RCA and the brilliant Ivan Fischer/Budapest Festival Orchestra on Philips are almost frightening in their moody dramatic intensity. Jarvi takes a different approach. His reading is more cheerful, with brisk tempi and more upbeat phrasing than either of the two paradigms mentioned above. And it works beautifully! Jarvi offers a charming and convincing alternative vision of Bartok's masterpiece, and by itself would be ample reason to acquire this disc.
Polish composer Lutoslawski's Concerto from 1954 obviously owes some debt to the great Hungarian. There are snatches of melody here and there that evoke the earlier composition. But its three movements convey a loose, often febrile, wild-and-wooly feeling. The experience of listening to this Concerto is a white-knuckle fasten-your-seat-belt roller-coaster ride and a hell of a lot of fun! If you like brilliantly orchestrated and hyper-dynamic orchestral showpieces, this could well be your new favorite demonstration disc.
Paavo Jarvi draws impressive virtuosity from the Cincinnati Symphony, of which he is Music Director; his players handle the varied demands of these scores with spirit and great skill. Kudos to Telarc for the engineering. In two-channel SACD the sound is superbly balanced. This label has come a long way since its bass-drum-that-ate-Cincinnati days; here we indeed have powerful dynamics, but in company with lovely tonality and natural soundstaging. Bravo! Wayne Donnelly
This conductor and orchestra are among the finest performing ensembles in the world. Having so admired their Bartok, Kodaly and Rachmaninoff, I am happy to report that they deliver a triumphant "Resurrection" Symphony brilliant in concept, execution and sound quality.
Fischer's vision of the music is organically unified from start to finish. The first movement is appropriately dark and brooding, but with some surprisingly graceful phrases that give the music freshness and surprise. One of Fischer's great gifts as a conductor is his ability to bring fresh insight to passages that most conductors render routinely.
The second movement landler appropriately evokes peasant dance, and Fischer's subtly controlled rubato is at once earthy and graceful. The following scherzo is fleet and sinister, with the bass drum punctuations well captured. The huge orchestral outburst near the end is stunning.
Birgit Rennert's Urlicht is vocally resplendent and moving in its warmth. And all of the performing forces are magnificent in the finale including the engineers. This is for me the best Mahler Second of the digital era, worthy to stand atop the heap alongside Otto Klemperer's great early 60's monument on EMI about the highest praise I can bestow. Wayne Donnelly
Segerstam's approach is volatile, febrile, disruptive and (sometimes too) intensely disquieting. In the big climaxes, there's an almost elemental sense of uncontrollable powers unleashed. In Segerstam's interpretations, restless currents roil beneath the calmest surfaces. The orchestra supports Segerstam's conceptions with thrilling unanimity. Their playing sounds completely fresh and spontaneous remarkable, given the countless times this orchestra must have performed each of these works.
Not all these performances attain the same high level. Symphonies 1, 3, 4, and 7 are complete successes. No.'s 2, 5 and 6 are more uneven, but still very interesting readings. The one misfire is the Violin Concerto, a turgid and overemphatic performance that never gets off the ground.
If you respond to the music of Sibelius, Segerstam is definitely worth a serious listen. If I've put you off purchasing the complete set, the cycle has also been issued on single CDs. I suggest you sample either the First and Seventh or the Fourth with (a terrific performance of) the tone poem Pohjola's Daughter. You won't be bored by what you hear. Max Westler
I've met so many "great" musicians during my years as a photographer and music critic that few, besides Bob Dylan, inspire awe. But Darrell Scott is an exception. On his latest solo release, The Invisible Man, Scott delivers twelve reasons why he ranks as the most outstanding and underrated songwriter and performer in the United States today. The Invisible Man has a rock edge with fuller orchestration and multiple layers of textured sound. Like a well-structured play or novel The Invisible Man begins quietly with the pensive "Hank William's Ghost" before slowly gearing up to a crescendo on "Do it Or Die Trying" and then on to the ironic anthem "Goodle, USA." Like the great concept albums of the 70's and 80's The Invisible Man has an epic quality and pervasive feel that unites all the songs into a cohesive whole. By the time you get to the last song "My Final Hour," you've traveled on a musical journey that touches all your emotions. Steve Stone
The sound on How To Grow a Woman from the Ground has an exceptional level of fidelity and natural ambience. This sonic splendor starts with a pair of vintage Telefunken ELA M 251 E microphones configured in omni-directional pattern used as the primary microphones for the recording. The promo materials herald How To Grow a Woman from the Ground as Chris Thile's "return" to his bluegrass roots. Hardcore bluegrass aficionados will beg to differ, but that doesn't mean it isn't a first-class piece of music making. The term "superstar" bandied around so much nowadays really only means that someone can generate big sales numbers. But despite the bastardization of the term, Chris Thile most certainly qualifies as a musical superstar, not only due to his well-deserved popularity, but also because of the caliber of his music. Steven Stone
This Special Edition of Systematic Chaos includes a DVD that features this epic recording in awesome 5.1 surround sound. Once you hear it, nothing else will suffice. Each musician is an undisputed star in his own right and respective position within the band, and contributes to Dream Theater's quality and uniqueness. John Petrucci (guitar) has made the Ernie Ball six-string, Jordan Rudess (keyboards) is phenomenal, Mike Portnoy (drums) and John Myung (bass) are arguably the best rhythm section in the universe. I could go on ad infinitum about this release, but it is time for you to get your own copy. You can be certain of one thing; this album features some of the best progressive metal you will ever hear - bar none. Keith "MuzikMan" Hannaleck