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The Millenium Is Upon Us Steven D. Brown
Thu Dec 7 2000 04:08
Ok. Let's kick things up a notch here. The forum is open. Nominate your top ten CDs of the past ten years. Make it fifteen if you have to.
re: The Millenium Is Upon Us mcdade
Wed Dec 13 2000 09:55
Strangely this has proved trickier than expected. My memory of the 90s is as a wonderful decade for music yet there seem, looking back at my CD collection, to be very few records of what felt like the really important things going on. This has made me ponder the wisdom of the record industry.
To pick two examples (both Wagner) from opposite sides of the atlantic. I would have said two of the most important events in Wagner were Haitink's Covent garden ring and the recent Tristan at the Met. But where are the recordings? Instead we get lukewarm Bayreuth, bleeding chunks and a few starry if unispired sets of individual operas.
For what it's worth - off the top of my head - I nominate Bostridge's Dictherliebe, Fischer's Miraculous Mandarin, Rattle's Szymanowski Stabat Mater and Vengerov Shostakovich 1st Violin Concerto from the latter half of the decade but need to go digging for earlier than that.
re: The Millenium Is Upon Us Steven D. Brown
Wed Dec 13 2000 23:47
Thanks for the contribution Mr. McDade. I look forward to your further thoughts. And let's hear from the rest of you out there!
re: The Millenium Is Upon Us bduhamel
Thu Dec 28 2000 16:47
Well, that is a tough one. Since my CD collection is still packed away while I rearrange things at home, I don't have the ability to peruse my collection and make a full and accurate assessment of things based on all the 'Classical' CDs I have ( which is very many), so I decided that whatever comes to mind that I feel was exceptional, is probably the way to go anyhow. How good could a recording be if I don't even remember I have it, right? So here is my attempt. Let me first state that the '90s were a discovery period for me with 'Classical' music, as I first came to it in 1989, when I was 17.

Harnoncourt's Beethoven Cycle with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe on Teldec (can we do collections, or is this strictly a recording by recording basis? oh well.) Beautifully played, energetic, and an exceptional recording quality. It beats the Gardiner cycle any day.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk Shostakovich. Maria Ewing et. al, Myung-Whun Chung (one of my favourite conductors) and the Orchestre et Chœurs de L'Opéra Bastille. This is a dark and brooding opera with flashing moments of whimsy and sarcasm. Chung and the cast capture it perfectly. Add in DG's 4D technology, and the sound enhances the performance on disc excellently.

Mt. St. Helens Symphony, Hovahness. Gerard Shwarz and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra on Delos, I believe. I know Hovahness is often criticized for his cookie cutter sound and lack of tension and dissonance, but there are a quite a few gems in is works, and this is one of them. The first time I listened to this recording it almost gave me a heart attack when the volcano exploded, represented by a violent outburst on percussion, it is so powerful.

Arnold Schoenberg Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4. Juliard String Quartet with Yo-Yo Ma and Walter Trampler. On Sony Classical.
The rare recording of the original Sextet version of Transfigured Night. This was my introduction to this piece and what an introduction it is. Beautifully played. Dark, brooding, smooth. Add to this Sony's SBM technology (superior to DG's 4D in my opinion) for excellent sound, and it's a winning combination.

John Taverner, The Protecting Veil for Cello and String Orchestra, Yo-Yo Ma Cello with David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Sony Classical. This is such a beautiful piece. So melodic and melancholy. Sheer beauty. Yo-Yo does an excellent job here. The emotion drips from his bow. Add to this, again, Sony's new DSD (direct Stream Digital, a technology that is used in for their new SACD, Super Audio Compact Disc format) and the sound is like nothing I've ever heard.

The Boulez Mahler cycle on DG with various orchestras. Boulez is a fine Mahlerian in my opion and gets excellent results form all the orchestras he worked with here. Again, DG's 4D technology adds excellent sound.

Alfred Schnittke Quasi una Sonata on DG with Gidon Kremer, violin. Heinrich Schiff and The Chamber Orchestra of Europe. One of my favourite contemporary composers, and an excellent recording of this piece and others (don't recall them all now.

Well, I know that wasn't ten, but I've a brain drain now. I will post some more when they come to me.

What do you all think? I'd love to hear.



re: The Millenium Is Upon Us bduhamel
Fri Dec 29 2000 11:54
OH MY! How could I have forgotten this recording:

Anner Bylsma's 1992 recording of the Bach Cello Suites on the Stradivarius 'Servais' from the Smithsonian Institution. Sony Vivarte. This extra large Cello sounds so warm and smooth, and the bottom is godlike. In Bylsma's hands, this cello ascends to the heavens. This is a 'period instrument' recording, but if you're expecting a cold, technical reading from Bylsma, think again. He strikes a fine balance between Romantic expression and the Baroque technique and sensibility. One of the best, if not THE best interpretation of the Suites ever recorded, in my opinion. And of course, Sony's excellent SBM recording technology captures the warmth of the instrument and the atmosphere perfectly. I'm a bit obsessive about these suites. I try to grab up just about every recording of them I come across. So, I have many recordings of them from which to make my assessment. So, I nominate 2 more recordings of the suites as well:

Jaap Ter Linden's 1997 recording (1999 reissue, I believe) on Harmonia Mundi. Another recording on 'period' Cello. A very thoughtful performance.

And Janos Starker's 1997 recording of the suites on RCA Victor Red Seal. very nice. One of the most expressive sets I've heard that doesn't turn overwhelmingly romantic and 'slithery', like Ma is often prone to do. This set is superior to Starker's earlier set from the 1960's. Here he takes a more relaxed, pensive, and thoughtful approach, whereas in his earlier set, he seemed more hell bent on getting through it all. If you take a look at the times on each suite from the two different sets, you'll see what I mean.

re: The Millenium Is Upon Us rigidwithfear
Tue Jan 2 2001 13:38
I would like to give my vote of confidence to the budget labels. The 1990s were, in my view, the year of the budget labels. One label in particular, Naxos, proved for me that budget labels could compete with much of the full-priced catalogue. Not only did this label provide music recordings of outstanding quality for the price it even produced a number of recordings that were better than their full-priced rivals.

Not that it is all good news. Naxos quality is very variable; one has to pick and choose carefully. Here is my selection from some of their recent highlights.

The 6 CDs of Lutoslawski's orchestral music were for me an introduction to some astonishing music. These were recorded by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra and Antoni Wit. The sound quality is good and the performances are played with great assurance and authority.

The Bax symphonies (so far only 1,2,3 & 5) recorded by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under David LLoyd-Jones.

The Britten string quartets recorded by the Maggini Quartet.

The Vaughan Williams symphonies recorded by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Kees Bakels.

The Elgar/Payne Symphony 3: BSO/Paul Daniel.

re: The Millenium Is Upon Us Steven D. Brown
Tue Jan 2 2001 22:09
One nomination that I would like to introduce: Gregory Fulkerson's performances of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin on Bridge Records. Gregory Who? you may ask.

Fulkerson is professor of violin at Oberlin. The bottom line of these performances is the focus is on the music, with a fine balance between historical performance and bravura. Fulkerson doesn't overplay this music. To my ears these performances ring truer than many by more "brand name" violinists. And, to sweeten the deal, Bridge is offering the two CD set for the price of one.

re: The Millenium Is Upon Us bduhamel
Fri Jan 5 2001 16:04
Yes, Naxos does have some very fine performances that rival the full price rcordings. A fine budget lael indeed. I have a few recordings on Naxos that I am quite pleased with.
re: The Millenium Is Upon Us bduhamel
Mon Jan 22 2001 21:10
Well folks, this topic has certainly stalled! Were the '90s really that bad? I was looking forward to hearing what recordings everyone found to be above par for the '90s. Come on, chime in now!
re: The Millenium Is Upon Us Julian Thake
Mon Jan 22 2001 22:50
I think there are a number of difficulties here, as follows:

1. There are unforgettable and undeniably classic recordings from earlier in the history of recorded music which set incredibly high standards. To take one example off the top of my head, I have never heard and confidently (if sadly) expect never again to hear French horn-playing equal to that of Dennis Brain. Ditto individual performances such as Grumiaux' first recording of the Beethoven Concerto (with Galliera) or Karajan's of Brahms 1 from the early 70s.

2. We know enough about music not to rush to judgment about the classic status or otherwise of recordings which have not yet been subjected to the test of time and the mature reflection that brings. For instance, I rate extremely highly the performances of the Chopin Ballades Murray Perahia, the Chopin recital including the B minor Sonata by Yevgeny Kissin and the Chopin Concertos with Aleksandar Madzar on the budget Classic FM label here in the UK, but are they "classic"? Can they be called that so soon after they were made?

3. There is an understandable reaction in many classical music lovers against the hype that seems to have infected the industry far too widely these days, with minor talents elevated to iconic status according to the wetness of their T-shirt or similar considerations which have nothing to do with music and everything to do with money. Perhaps it is harder than it should be to spot true modern-day classics among such chaff.
re: The Millenium Is Upon Us mcdade
Wed Jan 24 2001 09:14
I think Julian is quite right to mention "classic" historic recordings as in many ways the 90s for me were a decade of dramatic proliferation of great recordings of the past. It is unfortunate if that tended to overshadow some of the new recordings but for me it was a time to get acquainted with a vast range of performers who had largely been names in books. As someone whose basic knowledge of the repertoire was gleaned from recordings of the 70s and early 80s the freshness, spontaneity and downright risk taking of much of the older records (My current ubiquitous recording is Furtwangler's 51 Ring)is astonishing next to the somewhat sterile perfection of the early digital period.
That said I can't let any discussion of the 90s go without mention of the Hyperion Schubert edition. Wonderful.
re: The Millenium Is Upon Us Julian Thake
Wed Jan 24 2001 22:31
An emphatic "hear, hear" for the Hyperion Schubert edition, and in fact for a good deal else released by Ted Perry and his merry men and women - parts of the Liszt Edition, for example, or of the Romantic Piano Concerto series.
re: The Millenium Is Upon Us mcdade
Thu Jan 25 2001 12:31
Yes, in some ways the 90s will be seen as a period of transition in which the big companies started to lose their nerve and smaller companies took big risks that paid off. I sometimes wonder what would happen if the big names - the Rattles, Abbados, Vebgerovs etc - were to work with the smaller labels. Certainly there seems to be 1000 times more enthusiasm, imagination and care going into the releases of the likes of Hyperion and Chandos than say yet another dull Star studded fest from EMI or DG. I also wonder - with artists being jettisoned left right and centre by the majors - whether this isn't the moment for the likes of Naxos to move into the mainstream repertoire by pinching a big combination who are out of contract - less money up front but potentially more in the long run.
re: The Millenium Is Upon Us Julian Thake
Thu Jan 25 2001 23:07
But not Gardiner - let's have a rest from the man!
re: The Millenium Is Upon Us Steven D. Brown
Fri Jan 26 2001 02:02

I must agree with our friend Mr. McDade on this one. The labels of the past no longer really exist. I have given up on keeping track of which company is acquired by another - Decca - Philips - DG - EMI. Years ago these companies had their own identities. Today they are being run by perfume salesmen.

Both Chandos and Hyperion have their own unique integrity. Virgin Classics, before it was acquired by EMI, was a rather lively label.

re: The Millenium Is Upon Us mcdade
Fri Jan 26 2001 11:30
I almost regard Gardiner in the same light as I do Marriner. Important staging post but things have moved on. His brand of aggressive period performance seems a little passe to my ears. It was important at the time that someone produced dramatic results (just as Marriner's early baroque recordings were important in establishing the viability of that sort of scale of music making) but now that period musicmaking is very much established he seems shallow and brash.
One person I think has been consistently good is Pinnock. Certainly his live performances lately show that he hasn't stood still and is learning from current trends.
I think what is revealed from the majors is a lack of direction. There doesn't seem to be any grand design the way DG or EMI used to have in the 50s, 60 & 70s.
I sometimes wonder if - now that it is cheaper to record and produce CDs - whether it is time to revive the whole record clubs. OK these were created to ensure that neglected composers got on to disk but why can't the same philosophy work with particular performers in particular repertoires? Think of it as subscription based recordings - enough people sign on and the recording gets made. Just a thought.
re: The Millenium Is Upon Us bduhamel
Thu Feb 1 2001 21:22
Yes, I agree tha one must take into consideration the great 'classic' performances from the past, but I believe the point was to nominate what one feels was the best of the '90s, from your perspective today, not your perspective 10 or 20 years from now. Of course, opinions can always change. :)

With that said, I do agree with most of you about the standing of the larger labels against the smaller ones. I did truly enjoy, in the 90s, coming to new music and less popular composers through the likes of labels such as Chandos, BIS, Hyperion, Finlandia etc. They are excellent labels, and far more passionate and experimental than the larger labels. I especially like BIS. I rank them as one of the best, in repertoire and sound quality. As I believe I stated eslewhere, their Schnittke recordings are excellent.

re: The Millenium Is Upon Us Julian Thake
Thu Feb 1 2001 22:50
Brandon, I think what some of us have been saying is that it's difficult to pick outstanding newcomers because those past masters cast such a long shadow. On the subject of record labels - let's hear it for Naxos, folks.
re: The Millenium Is Upon Us mcdade
Fri Feb 2 2001 11:25
BIS have been fantastic - those amazing Sibelius premieres have been superb.
re: The Millenium Is Upon Us bduhamel
Tue Feb 6 2001 17:56

Yes, the old masters have cast a long shadow, but at some point one has to, I think, take into consideration what has come after. Naxos has indeed been great. You can find quite a few gems in their catalog, and the best part of it is, you don't have to rob a bank to buy them. :) Oh and mcdade, long live BIS! Yes, those sibelius recordings are excelletn as are the recordings of all the other neglected Scandinavian composers they record. I have some wonderful BIS recordings of Vagn Holmboe, among others. their Schnittke recordings are top-notch. They also have some very good recordings of Bach's organ works.

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