Tuesday 29 December 2020

2020 in CD reviews

Ethel Smyth The Prison; Dashon Burton, Sarah Brailey, Experiential Chorus and Orchestra, James Blachly; Chandos

My top CD this year must be the world premiere recording of Ethel Smyth's late masterwork The Prison, an amazing discovery and a terrific recording. Other discoveries this year include William Vann's fine revival of Hubert Parry's oratorio Judith and the first recording of Malcolm Arnold's unjustly neglected opera The Dancing Master. Not so much a discovery, but still rare on disc is Massenet's Thais from Sir Andrew Davis. For non-Estonians the music of Cyrillus Kreek music certainly be a discovery, particularly in the performances from Vox Clamantis. And we think we know Handel's keyboard music, but Pierre Hantaï's disc makes them anew, whilst Boxwood & Brass bring us contemporary Viennese transformations of Beethoven's music.

Contemporary music on disc included two fine sets of Thomas Adès conducting his own music (In Seven Days and Adès conducts Adès) whilst Andrew Nethsingha and the choir of St John's College gave us a terrific documentation of Michael Finnissy's residency there. Works by James MacMillan appear on two discs, a fine contemporary recital from the Choir of Clare College, and ORA Singers' disc of 40-part music with MacMillan writing a response to Thomas Tallis' Spem in Alium. Returning to Estonia, Erkki-Sven Tüür's symphony Mythos, commissioned for the centenary of the Republic of Estonia, has now appeared on disc, conducted by Paavo Jarvi. Not quite contemporary but still challenging, Sorabji's eight-hour solo piano masterpiece Sequentia cyclica finally made it to disc. Also, worthy of exploration, Rory MacDonald and the RSNO's account of Thomas Wilson's symphonies.

Parry Judith; Sarah Fox, Kathryn Rudge, Toby Spence, Henry Waddington, Crouch End Festival Chorus, London Mozart Players, William Vann; Chandos

  • Beethoven transformed: the second volume of Boxwood & Brass' series brings three bravura Harmoniemusik arrangements created in Beethoven's Vienna
  • Rediscovering Handel's keyboard music for a new generation: Pierre Hantaï's disc of the 1720 Suites de Pièces
  • Closely worked arguments: Rory MacDonald & the RSNO in Thomas Wilson's Symphonies No. 3 & 4 
  • More than a curiosity: Malcolm Arnold's forgotten opera The Dancing Master
  • An eight-hour solo piano masterpiece: Sorabji's Sequentia cyclica receives its premiere performance 
  • A distinct voice: a new disc from Resonus explores Florent Schmitt's Mélodies, a wide-ranging survey of song by an under-rated composer
  • Thomas Tallis' 40-part motet and James MacMillan's contemporary reflection on the latest disc from Suzi Digby and ORA Singers
  • Taking us on a remarkable journey: the choir of St John's College, Cambridge in Pious Anthems and Voluntaries, a programme of Michael Finnissy premieres 
  • On disc at last: Ethel Smyth's late masterwork, The Prison, receives its premiere recording in a fine performance from American forces
  • Zest and relish: Handel's comic masterpiece Semele directed by John Eliot Gardiner with a young cast enjoying every minute
  • A picture of a musical collaboration: In Seven Days from Thomas Adès and Kirill Gerstein
  • Thaïs: Massenet's lyric drama gets a rare outing on disc in a stylish performance with Canadian forces conducted by Sir Andrew Davis
  • Uncompromising large-scale drama: composer and performers on thrilling form in Adès conducts Adès from Deutsche Grammophon
  • A disc that I never wanted to end: Scottish guitarist Sean Shibe displays clarity, structure and an innate sense of elegance in Bach's solo lute music on Delphian
  • Essential listening for anyone interested in Estonian music: Vox Clamantis' profoundly beautiful account of the music of Cyrillus Kreek, The suspended harp of Babel
  • Arion: Voyage of a Slavic soul - Natalya Romaniw & Lada Valesova in Rimsky-Korskov, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Dvorak, Janacek, & Novak 
  • Completely magical: music by Arvo Pärt, Peteris Vasks, James MacMillan on this new disc from Graham Ross and the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge
  • I can think of no finer way to enjoy the music than to listen to this lovely disc: Purcell's The Fairy Queen from Paul McCreesh & the Gabrieli Consort & Players
  • A major addition to the symphonic repertoire: Erkki-Sven Tüür's Mythos, commissioned for the centenary of the Republic of Estonia
  • Juditha resurgens: Hubert Parry's oratorio gets its first recording

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