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Significant recordings in 2013 beyond the GRAMMY nominees

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Those who follow this site know that I did a lot of listening to recorded music this year. One result of all of that effort is that I had a fair amount to say about many of the nominees for the 56th annual GRAMMY awards in the classical categories. Because I do not want to repeat my observations about those nominees, I want to use this end-of-the-year time to make note of five recordings that did not make the cut.

This is not so much an attempt to enumerate what was most memorable, as I did last year; nor is it an expression of sour grapes over the GRAMMY selections. Instead, it allows me to recognize certain recordings that I encountered during 2013 that have stuck with me, particularly through “return visits” after the attentive listening efforts required for writing about them. Given the length of my GRAMMY list, however, I managed to whittle this second list down to five, which struck me as a suitable number.

Here they are in the chronological order of appearance of the articles I wrote about them:

  1. The Musical Concepts reissue of the complete string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich as performed by the Shostakovich Quartet: The canon of Shostakovich quartets is as significant as that of Ludwig van Beethoven’s quartets. This may be a reissue, but its release was an important one. It also made for particularly interesting listening through the decisions it made over how those quartets would be grouped over the five CDs in the set.
  2. Pianist Benjamin Grosvenor’s first concerto album released on Decca: While I continue to be skeptical about young talent, I found Grosvenor well worth an attentive listening experience. I also thought he was quite imaginative in preparing a “program” of concertos by Camille Saint-Saëns, Maurice Ravel, and George Gershwin. He then selected an “encore” for each of those concertos, making for a highly engaging presentation package.
  3. Violinist Janine Jansen’s chamber music album of Franz Schubert and Arnold Schoenberg on Decca: Jansen is one of those rare rising talents with a strong commitment to chamber music. She was also blessed with the insight to see the value in coupling Schubert’s D. 956 string quintet in C major with Arnold Schoenberg’s Opus 4 “Verklärte Nacht.” These are both lengthy works, but she assembled colleagues with whom she prepared dramatically charged readings of both of these compositions that never tire the listener.
  4. Miranda Cuckson’s impressive account of a major project conceived by Luigi Nono on Urlicht: Note the choice of words. To call “La Lontananza nostalgica utopica futura” a “composition” is to understate the case. It is a conception that is spatial, as well as auditory, and electronic, as well as acoustic. Indeed, it would be easy to state that this music can only really be appreciated through the immediacy of a performance; but Cuckson did an impressive job of capturing the essence of Nono’s work through this “audio document.”
  5. Profil’s generous survey of the music of Anton Bruckner: I am willing to be the first to grant that Bruckner is an acquired taste. I shall also grant that my own acquisition took some time. One reason, however, is that there are not that many listening experiences available. The 20 CDs in this collection provide plenty of experiences, all of which are given impressive performances that are both capable and accessible. I can think of no better why to cultivate a taste for Bruckner than through the “total immersion” of this package (experienced over a suitable span of time, of course).

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