Wednesday, January 1, 2014
Each January, it is customary for WCLV to revisit Program Director Bill O’Connell’s favorite Choice CDs from the previous year. This year, along with Bill, everyone is getting involved - Robert Conrad, Jacqueline Gerber, Mark Satola, John Simna, Rob Grier, and even WCLV’s Senior Director, Jenny Northern. Each has selected a favorite CD from all of the 2013 Choice CDs to add to the month’s choices.
Favorite: Great Conductors of the 20th Century: George Szell (IMG Artists 75962) (2 CDs)
As one of the few people still around who was involved with The Cleveland Orchestra during the George Szell era (yes, I know, it dates me), I would be remiss if I did not favor an album of Szell performances. However, the collection in the Great Conductors of the 20th Century series on the IMG Label not only has some choice Cleveland Orchestra performances, but also recordings of Szell with two other orchestras: the New York Philharmonic and the WDR Symphony in Cologne, such performances that we don’t usually get to hear. They have the Szell stamp.
Runner-Up: American Harp - Yolanda Kondonassis, harp (Azica 71281)
Living amongst us is one of the great harpists of the world - Yolanda Kondonassis. Her most recent recording, American Harp, brings to our attention harp works by nine contemporary American composers from John Williams to Elliot Carter. I was especially taken by Norman Dello Joio’s Bagatelles. Don’t be afraid that this is all contemporary music. After all, everything sounds good when played on a harp, especially by Yolanda. The recording was made at Clonick Hall of the Oberlin Conservatory with Azica’s normal award winning high standards.
Favorite: Christmas Time is Here - Canadian Brass (Steinway 30027)
Because it mixes traditional Christmas carols with contemporary tunes, such as You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch and excerpts from A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Runner-Up: Live at the Happy Dog - Ensemble HD (S&W 1)
Because it combines kitsch - the casual audience at a casual venue eating casual food - with class, represented by the musicians of The Cleveland Orchestra and classic repertoire. Unseen and, of course, unheard on the release is the classic Elvis lamp next to the pinball machine.
Favorite: Tchaikovsky & Ellington/Strayhorn: The Nutcracker Suites - Harmonie Ensemble, New York/Steven Richman (Harm Mundi 907493)
I’ve always loved The Nutcracker & my Dad had the Ellington/Strayhorn arrangements when I was a kid. That album (yes, album!) was awesome!
Runner-Up: Live at the Happy Dog - Ensemble HD (S&W 1)
Classical music in a loud, noisy bar! What a concept!
Favorite: Maria Schneider: Winter Morning Walks; Carlos Drummond de Andrade Stories - Dawn Upshaw, soprano; Australian Chamber Orchestra; St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (Artist Share 121)
This is a case where a Choice CD opened a door to another art form. Ted Kooser’s poems set to music so masterfully by Schneider and interpreted so sensitively by Upshaw prompted me to purchase five volumes of his work, Early Morning Walks among them. Were it not for this disc, I might never have encountered this wonderful poet who is refreshingly authentic. My experience with Early Morning Walks speaks to what WCLV, at its best, can do - the station can prompt exploration and expand horizons.
Favorite: Exiles’ Café: Music by Bartók, Chopin, Prokofiev, Martinu, Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, Weill, Korngold, Still, Bowles, Sahl, Milhaud, & Fairouz - Lara Downes, piano (Steinway 30016)
2013 was in impressive year for Steinway & Sons - at least for me. The young label gave us three of my favorite CDs of the year and they’re all by pianists: The Rascal and the Sparrow from Antonio Pompa-Baldi, Basically Bull from Alan Feinberg, and Exiles’ Café from Lara Downes. “The miniatures collected here tell stories of the transformative passage from what is left behind to what is discovered ahead,” says Ms. Downes. She is a compelling storyteller.
Runner-Up: Stopping By - Kyle Bielfield, tenor (Delos 3445)
American art songs to texts by American poets and what range! From Elliott Carter to Irving Berlin, and no fewer than three settings of Robert Frost’s iconic Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.
Favorite: Béla Bartók: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 - Isabelle Faust; Swedish Radio Symphony/Daniel Harding (Harm Mundi 902146)
Bartók is one of the most important composers of the 20th century. This disc presents two of his pivotal works. In the Violin Concerto No. 2, the artists have elected to play Bartok’s original ending, which is startling and definitely not a traditional finish.
Runner-Up: Alfredo Casella: Orchestral Works. Vol. 3 - BBC Philharmonic/Noseda (Chandos 10768)
Alfredo Casella was once considered to be in the same league as other mid-20th century giants of innovative tonality, including Ravel, Stravinsky and Bartok, but his music was infrequently played in the decades after his death. This Chandos disc reveals him as a composer of originality and style, with much to say that is worth hearing.
Favorite: Louis Théodore Gouvy: Orchestral Works - German Radio Philharmonic/Jacques Mercier (CPO 777382)
It’s always a joy to find new music, either newly-composed or - as is the case here - rediscovered.
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