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      December 8, 2011

      The Best Classical Recordings of 2011

      Every day, WFMT enjoys sharing with you the wealth of great classical recordings from the past and present. 2011 saw an incredible range of offerings from labels both large and small. Here are 20 of our favorites from the past year. Enjoy, and happy listening in the New Year!


      Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass Live

      CSO Brass

      CSO Resound 901 1101

      The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s world-renowned brass section shines in a stunning concert performance from the orchestra’s own label. Works by Gabrieli, Bach, Grainger, Prokofiev, Walton and Revueltas are showcased on the recording, which also includes the CSO’s percussion section and guest musicians.


      Giulini in America

      Chicago Symphony Orchestra / Carlo Maria Giulini

      Deutsche Grammophon B0015715-02 (5 CDs)

      Carlo Maria Giulini was the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s much-loved principal guest conductor from 1969 to 1972. He made some of his greatest recordings with the CSO for Deutsche Grammophon, now collected into a boxed set for the first time. Works by Schubert, Prokofiev, Mahler and Britten have once again been restored to the catalogue.


      So Latino

      Gabriela Montero, piano

      EMI 18201-2

      Celebrated equally for her interpretations of classical repertoire and for her extraordinary improvisations, Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero devotes an album exclusively to works by Latin American composers. She performs 20 short works by six composers, Alberto Ginastera’s Piano Sonata #1 and five improvisations on Latin themes.


      Diva Divo

      Joyce DiDonato, soprano; Lyon National Opera Orchestra / Kazushi Ono 

      Virgin Classics 41986-2

      Joyce DiDonato celebrates the rich dramatic variety of the mezzo-soprano voice in this collection of arias for different characters – of both sexes – from a single opera, or from different operatic treatments of the same story. DiDonato’s capacity for characterization is as astounding as the range and flexibility of her voice.


      Fiction

      Ébène Quartet

      Virgin Classics 86680-4

      “In everything we have been willing to do musically –- during all that time spent practicing Haydn, Beethoven or Bartók –- there has always been a concealed dream of improvising and creating a new approach to the string quartet,” confess the members of the multi-award-winning Ébène Quartet. This album brings that dream into the open with compelling arrangements of pop and jazz songs.


      Rose of Sharon

      Ensemble Phoenix Munich / Joel Frederiksen

      Harmonia Mundi HMU-902085

      “Rose of Sharon” is a program of rarely heard American vocal works from the 18th and 19th centuries, spanning the years between the Declaration of Independence to the end of the Civil War. The release takes its name from a passage in the Song of Solomon that was set by William Billings, considered the father of American choral music.


      Glazunov: Complete Concertos

      Various Soloists; Russian National Orchestra / José Serebrier

      Warner Classics 67946-2 (2 CDs)

      José Serebrier has been a stalwart champion of the music of Alexander Glazunov, the composer he calls the “Russian Brahms.” Following recordings of the symphonies and ballets, Serebrier brings together Glazunov’s complete concertos with a talented line-up of soloists, including violinist Rachel Barton Pine and pianist Alexander Romanovsky.


      Schumann: Complete Works for Piano Trio

      Christian Tetzlaff, violin; Tanja Tetzlaff, cello; Leif Ove Andsnes, piano

      EMI Classics 94180-2 (2 CDs)

      In a welcome addition to the chamber music catalogue, celebrated pianist Leif Ove Andsnes joins the brother-and-sister team of violinist Christian Tetzlaff and cellist Tania Tetzlaff for the complete piano trio works of Schumann. The three artists give technically superb performances with a natural musicianship that comes from years of collaboration.


      Winging It: Piano Music of John Corigliano

      Ursula Oppens, piano

      Cedille 90000 123

      Ursula Oppens has been an advocate of contemporary composers and new music throughout her career. Her recording of piano music by the widely celebrated American composer John Corigliano includes the world premiere of “Winging It,” an improvisation-based piece written for her. She is joined by Jerome Lowenthal in works for two pianos by Corigliano.


      Mozart: Complete Overtures

      La Cetra Baroque Orchestra Basel / Andrea Marcon

      Deutsche Grammophon B0015509-02

      Mozart’s overtures have often been recorded, but the ones generally chosen are taken from the seven “great” operas of his later period. This recording covers the entire range of Mozart’s operatic output, from the little-known “Apollo et Hyacinthus,” written when Mozart was only eleven, to “La clemenza di Tito,” a work first staged only weeks before his death in 1791.


      The Liszt Project

      Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano

      Deutsche Grammophon B0015944-02 (2 CDs)

      To commemorate the Liszt bicentennial, Pierre-Laurent Aimard juxtaposes a selection of Liszt’s works with compositions by his contemporaries and successors. Liszt’s Piano Sonata is contrasted with other one-movement sonatas by Berg, Wagner and Scriabin. Shorter pieces by Liszt point to their correspondence with works by Bartók and Ravel.


      Nico Muhly: Seeing Is Believing

      Aurora Orchestra / Nicholas Collon

      Decca B0015606-02

      Decca’s third album of music by Nico Muhly is a collection of his orchestral works, including the concerto for electric violin, “Seeing is Believing,” with soloist Thomas Gould. Influenced by the great minimalists, early English choral music and the latest electronic fusions, Nico Muhly is one of the best-known names in contemporary classical music.


      Rossini: William Tell

      Soloists; Santa Cecilia Academy Chorus & Orchestra / Antonio Pappano

      EMI Classics 28826-2 (3 CDs)

      Rossini’s final French opera is brought vividly to life by Antonio Pappano and a stellar international cast. Recorded live in concert, Canadian baritone Gerald Finlay sings the title role, and American tenor John Osborn, discovered by Pappano for this recording, takes on the notoriously challenging high role of Arnold of which he is a rare exponent.


      Chopin Recital

      Ingolf Wunder, piano

      Deutsche Grammophon B0015712-02

      At the 2010 Warsaw International Chopin Competition, Ingolf Wunder showed his strong connection with the works of the great Polish composer. The young Austrian won second prize and the audience award. The jury’s decision led to an intense public debate, but it was Wunder, and not the first-prize winner, who signed an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon.


       

      Gál: Symphony #3

      Orchestra of the Swan / Kenneth Woods

      Avie AV-2230

      Avie continues to bring the music of Hans Gál to light with the world premiere recording of the Third Symphony conducted by committed advocate Kenneth Woods. After making headlines with his first recording of Gál’s music, Woods conducts the enterprising Orchestra of the Swan in the first of a projected cycle of all four of Gál’s symphonies.


      The Soviet Experience: Volume 1

      Pacifica Quartet

      Cedille 90000 127 (2 CDs)

      This is the first installment in the Pacifica Quartet’s four-volume survey of the complete Shostakovich string quartets. The series also includes works by other important composers of the Soviet era, adding variety and perspective to the string quartet literature of the 20th century.


      Sibelius: Symphony #2

      New Zealand Symphony Orchestra / Pietari Inkinen

      Naxos 8.572704

      Many great conductors have recorded complete cycles of Sibelius’s symphonies. Pietari Inkinen is finding a place among them with a critically acclaimed series on the Naxos label. In the third volume, Inkinen brings a sense of spontaneity and excitement to the most popular of the seven works.


      Fauré: Complete Chamber Music for Piano & Strings

      Renaud Capuçon, Michel Dalberto, Gautier Capuçon, Nicholas Angelich, Gérard Caussé, Ébène Quartet

      Virgin Classics 70875-2 (5 CDs)

      Chamber works by Fauré are performed by a magnificent line-up of French and French-trained musicians. The five CDs comprise works for two, three, four and five instruments and span the composer’s career from early works, influenced by his teacher Saint-Saëns, to the more rarefied compositions of his later years.


      Holst: Orchestral Works, Volume 2

      BBC Philharmonic Orchestra / Sir Andrew Davis

      Chandos CHSA-5086

      This series originally was to be conducted by Richard Hickox, who passed away in 2009 after completing Volume 1, released to great critical acclaim. In the second volume, Sir Andrew Davis leads the project, conducting the BBC Philharmonic in “The Planets” and two Holst rarities – “Beni Mora” and “Japanese Suite.”


      Schubert: Piano Sonatas

      Paul Lewis, piano

      Harmonia Mundi HMU-902115

      Paul Lewis has just emerged from a vast Beethoven project and now returns to Schubert, the other key focus of his concert and recording career. In this double album, three late sonatas are accompanied by two sets of short pieces brimming with inventiveness, the “Impromptus” and “Klavierstücke.”


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      The Best Classical Recordings of 2011, 4.7 out of 5 based on 3 ratings

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