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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Year in Reviews Part III: Recordings

Part III of The Year We Made Blog Posts

In the spirit of the Penguin Guide,
 here's some Radish Rosettes.
This has been an interesting year for the classical music industry, which shows slow signs of recovering from the rock-bottom of 2008 and 2009.

While record stores continued to close, the industryl started working on selling music online through ITunes, the Amazon Mp3 store and other outlets. There are still obstacles, but it's nice to have an entire opera uploaded quickly to your computer for perusal that very afternoon.

The major labels (and minor label conglomerates) put out some real quality stuff in 2010. And budget cutbacks meant that a much lower proportion of crap was released.

So here's the best of the year.

Best Opera Recording: Mozart: Die Zauberflöte
Akademie fur Alte-Musik, Berlin cond. René Jacobs
A Flute for the ages, with all the trimmings.
"By opening up all the standard cuts, (Mr. Jacobs) treats the opera's libretto as organic dialogue between living, breathing theatrical characters."

Best Orchestra Recording: Bruckner: Symphony No. 8 (Haas Edition)
Dresden Staatskapelle cond. Christian Thielemann
Thielemann reaches for the stellar regions with this epic, slowed-down take on Bruckner's final completed symphony.
"Made in September of 2009, this is an ideal match of players and conductor, as they build a gorgeous cathedral of sound over the symphony's 85-minute length."

Best Historic Recording: Mozart Idomeneo from Glyndebourne
It's Luciano Pavarotti's breakout performance in this Mozart opera seria. And we love the cover art. No, really.
"Listening to this set, one gets the sense of a young man on his way up, about to conquer the world."

Best "Rediscovered" Opera: Leoncavallo: I Medici
Orchestra e coro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino cond. Alberto Veronesi
"Placído Domingo was 70 when he recorded this, and sounds in fine, burly voice as he adds yet another notch to his belt. He gives a compelling performance as Giuliano di Medici."

Best Opera on DVD: Purcell: The Fairy Queen
Les Arts Florissants cond. William Christie
"The real reason to see Fairy Queen is the entertaining series of masques at the end of each act, which feature spectacular singing and staging that will make you think twice about haystacks."

Best Opera on DVD ReissueIl Trovatore from Vienna
Vienna State Opera cond. Herbert von Karajan
"Karajan conducts his crack Vienna orchestra as if he is leading his own invasion of Spain."

Best Chamber Music Recording Haydn: The Complete Baryton Trios
Esterházy Ensemble
This box actually came out as part of the Brilliant Classics Haydn Edition. As the first recordings of these works written for this unusual instrument (which happened to be played by Haydn's patron) this set of 126 elegant string trios provides unique insight into a dark corner of the vast Haydn catalogue. Now available seperately on a 21-disc bargain box from Brilliant Classics.

Best Choral Recording: Verdi: Requiem
Chicago Symphony Orchestra cond. Riccardo Muti
"(Muti) whips his forces into a frenzy and drives the orchestra forward into a devastating recreation of the last trumpets and the Day of Judgment."

Best Reissue (or the "Thank God, it's back in the catalogue" Award)
Emerson String Quartet: The Beethoven Quartets
Crisp, clean playing from the Emersons and a fearsome take on Beethoven's most difficult chamber work, the mighty Grosse Fugue
"By the time the last quartet is reached, the listener may finally understand why Beethoven scrawled 'Muss es sein?...Es muss sein!' on the manuscript."

Best Box SetSchumann: The Masterworks
Forget the weird packaging, this 35-disc monster is the best way to dive into the music of one of the most important composers of the 20th century. While the choice of recordings here (Gardiner's symphony cycle over Kubelik's? Really?) is not always perfect, this is an excellent compilation.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.