Top classical 2009
TOC's classical writers pick their top ten albums of 2009.
Top ten classical albums of 2009, in no particular order:
Doyle Armbrust, Time Out Chicago Classical Writer
Transfigurations - Calder Quartet (E1 Entertainment)
One listen to Christopher Rouse's "String Quartet Nos. 1 & 2" and it is abundantly clear why no other quartet has previously attempted to record these ferocious works. The Los Angeles–based foursome find nuance even in the unrelenting brutality of the scores, transitioning effortlessly into the stillness of the conclusions to each quartet. Plus, as the first recording of Rouse's quartets, "Transfiguration" stands as one of the most important albums of the year.
In Principio - Arvo Pärt (ECM New Series)
Along with David Lang's "Little Match Girl Passion," "In Principio" is tied for this reviewer's choice for Album of the Year. As Pärt’s go-to conductor, Tõnu Kaljuste brings a stunningly luminous quality to the composer’s sometimes meditative, sometimes sweeping scores. Arvo Pärt has garnered wide appeal, and listeners of all persuasions will find something enchanting here.
American Complex - Jim Gailloreto's Jazz String Quintet (Origin Classical)
The result of a Chamber Music America commission, the title track of Jim Gailloreto’s American Complex displays the Chicago group at their sax-and-strings finest. With the inclusion of haunting originals by guest singer-pianist Patricia Barber (arranged by Gailloreto), this cannot be overlooked.
Mozart Piano Concertos No. 23, K488 & No. 24, K491 - Mitsuko Uchida (Decca)
Mitsuko Uchida is perhaps the greatest living interpreter of Mozart’s keyboard repertoire. And yet, conducting the Cleveland Orchestra from the piano, Uchida doesn’t so much interpret the composer’s writing as channel it, allowing the clarity of the composition to flow, uninterrupted. This is the album to reach for during dark, blustery winter days.
Metropolis Symphony - Michael Daugherty (Naxos)
Few composers synthesize whimsy with high-brow composition as effectively or as entertainingly as Daugherty. Taking on the Superman narrative with movement titles such as “Lex” and “Krypton,” Daugherty creates a thrilling sonic realm for children and seasoned classical music listeners alike. The symphony concludes with the death of the Man of Steel, in a beguiling “Red Cape Tango,” before moving into the album’s train-inspired piano concerto, “Deus ex Machina.”
The Little Match Girl Passion - David Lang (harmonia mundi)
David Lang’s “The Little Match Girl Passion” is a devastating setting of a Hans Christian Andersen story in which a young girl hallucinates images of warm stoves and a stuffed goose as she freezes to death, begging for food. Lang’s vocal writing (sung here by Theatre of Voices) is hauntingly evocative, using minimal instrumental accompaniment.
Earle Brown Contemporary Sound Series Vol. 1 (Wergo)
Collecting recordings by composers such as John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Luciano Berio from the 1960’s and ’70’s, Wergo’s Contemporary Sound Series is an extraordinary time-capsule of composition. Conceived of at the time by composer and recording engineer Earle Brown, this set captures some of the most innovative writing and performances from a pioneering era in music history.
Gravity and Air - Andrew McKenna Lee (New Amsterdam)
The fretwork of guitarist Andrew McKenna Lee is nothing short of remarkable. Opening Gravity and Air with an homage to Bach—a sensuous rendition of “Prelude for Lute in D Minor, BWV 999”—Lee continues with five gorgeous “Refractions,” or responses, to the “Prelude.” Discover an altered sense of the passage of time with this remarkably introspective album.
Aliento - Claire Chase (new focus recordings)
The most fascinating thing about watching International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) founder Claire Chase perform is her ability to persuasively draw an audience into unfamiliar territory. Like "Nouveaux Territories 03," many of the Aliento tracks employ electronics, but there is no gimmick here. “Poison Mushroom” is horrific in all the right ways, and “pneApnea” is a gradual journey into a solipsistic, bleak landscape. Anyone interested in witnessing the full range of aural possibility of the flute should seek out the record out, immediately.
Nouveaux Territories 03 - Ensemble Contemporain de Montreal (ATMA Classique)
Pop influence is a reality of much of contemporary classical music, not all of it convincing. Nouveaux Territories 03, Ensemble Contemporain de Montreal manages to find the perfect balance between elevated composition and pop tactics such as electronic manipulation. Check out these talented Canadians for something totally fresh.
Top ten classical albums of 2009
Mia Clarke, Time Out Chicago Classical Editor
1. Arvo Part: In Principio (ECM)
2. Nadia Sirota: First Things First (New Amsterdam)
3. Alarm Will Sound: a/rhythmia (Nonesuch)
4. Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble: In C Remixed (Innova)
5. John Matthias and Nick Ryan: Cortical Songs (Nonclassical)
6. CSO: Mahler 2 (Resound)
7. Vincent P. Skowronski: Dichotomy (Skowronski)
8. Rachel Grimes: Book of Leaves (Karate Body)
9. Calder Quartet: Transfiguration: Christopher Rouse (E1 Entertainment)
10. Zuill Bailey and Simone Dinnerstein: Beethoven Complete Works for Piano & Cello (Telarc International)