By Ted AYALA
2014 proved a few things: 1) The major classical labels are pretty much dead. 2) The “minor” labels have done a great job picking up their slack. 3) Whodathunkit? Classical music is alive after all!
Another thing – it’s hard to pick just five CDs as my favorite of the year. Where to begin? But people love these sort of arbitrary lists and my patient editors would probably toss their tacos if I submitted a list with a few dozen recordings – for starters. So without further ado, here is my totally personal top five favorite CDs of the year in no particular order. Reissues are not included … because if I did include them, my list would have been bulked up more by quite a bit. But I digress!
Charles-Valentin Alkan: Le festin d’Ésope, Symphonie, etc. (Vincenzo Maltempo) [Piano Classics]
Any new recordings of Alkan’s grotesque and startlingly original music is always something to rejoice over. Doubly so when they’re of the caliber of Maltempo’s new recording. If he can’t match the messianic fervor of Raymond Lewenthal – and who could? – Maltempo’s suave, fluent, readings in total control of the Frenchman’s wieldy, wild scores are treasurable unto themselves.
Gnarwhallaby: exhibit a (available at www.gnarwhallaby.com)
Less an album and more like a karate chop to your ears, Gnarwhallaby’s debut album runs the gamut from Gorecki to Feldman to Deyoe – all without missing a beat, so to speak. Modernism has never sounded so fun.
Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 – 5 (Jean-Éfflam Bavouzet; BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Giandrea Noseda) [Chandos]
Bavouzet’s bounds into these concertos with all the fearsome athletic prowess of an acrobat at his physical peak. Noseda and the BBC are with him every step of the way. The results are a benchmark recording deserving of a place in any serious Prokofiev collector’s CD shelf.
Fauré: Pelléas et Mélisande, Masques et bergamasques, Dolly Suite, etc. (Seattle Symphony Orchestra/Ludovic Morlot) [SSO Live]
Part of the orchestra’s debut series on its own label, this Fauré album is a sheer delight. How he has remained under the radar for the most part is anybody’s guess. Morlot draws from the orchestra shimmering webs of diaphanous sounds. Delicate and ineffably beautiful.
Nielsen: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4 “The Inextinguishable” (New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Alan Gilbert) [NYPO]
The NYPO’s continuing traversal of Carl Nielsen continues in this second installment. Like the first, the orchestra sounds as impressive as ever: warm, oaken sound in the best of the Central European tradition. Coupled with that is the verve and warmth they bring to the Danish composer’s brash idiom. The only problem? It’ll be another year until we finally hear the conclusion of this cycle.