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updated: 1/10/2011 10:50 AM

Conductors, orchestras made beautiful music in 2010

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  • Riccardo Muti's debut recording with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was a classical highlight of 2010.

    Riccardo Muti's debut recording with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was a classical highlight of 2010.




 
 

The classical recording industry is still very much alive despite its ever-shrinking presence in brick-and-mortar stores. Today, the place to shop is online, including such major Internet outlets as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, or the specialist site arkivmusic.com, which promotes "the widest selection of classical recordings available anywhere."

You can also visit the labels' own websites, such as Chicago-based cedillerecords.org, or in-house labels such as the Chicago Symphony's CSO Resound at the cso.org website.

The following recordings (in random order) may not necessarily be the very best among the wide number issued worldwide in 2010, but they provided this listener with special pleasure during the past year.


"Corridors of Light: Music of William Ferris." William Ferris Chorale; Composer Festival Orchestra; London Festival Strings; William Ferris, Alan Heatherington and Arnie Roth, conductors. Soloists include John Vorrasi (tenor), John Shirley-Quirk (baritone) and Sara Watkins (oboe). CedilleFoundation CDR 7004. Available at cedillerecords.org.

Chicago-based Cedille Records continues to release the world-premiere recordings of music by the late composer-conductor William Ferris (1937-2000), restored from archival tapes, many from his William Ferris Chorale concerts at Chicago's Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. This collection features a pair of orchestral works and two with chorus.

Antonin Dvorak: Symphony No. 6 in D Major; Nocturne in B Major; "Scherzo Capriccioso." Marin Alsop conducts the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.570995.

The first recorded Dvorak symphony cycle by an American orchestra following Zdenek Macal'a cycle with the Milwaukee Symphony for Koss Classics in the early 1990s, nears the halfway mark (Symphonies Nos. 6-9 are now available) with Alsop leading idiomatic Bohemian interpretations of this music. The Sixth Symphony, recorded at Baltimore's Meyerhoff Hall, sounds great, the two "fillers" slightly less so, but this is a real treat, especially at Naxos' bargain price.

Richard Wagner: "Götterdämmerung." Zubin Mehta conducts a production from the Valencia, Spain, Opera, with the Comunitat Valencia Orchestra. Carlos Padrissa, stage director. Soloists include Jennifer Wilson as Brünnhilde, Lance Ryan as Siegfried and Matti Salminen as Hagen. Produced by Unitel for C Major Recordings, 701204 (Blu-ray disc).

This performance caps a "Ring of the Nibelung" cycle for the new millennium, in stunning high-definition, widescreen visual splendor, with dramatic playing from the orchestra under the experienced baton of Mehta, who conducted his first "Ring" cycle at Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1996. The vocal soloists are also excellent, with Wilson's "immolation scene" well worth the more than four-hour wait. And, it all fits on a single Blu-ray disc!


Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor ("Resurrection"). Klaus Tennstedt conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, with soloists Yvonne Kenny (soprano) and Jard Van Nes (mezzo-soprano). LPO 0044 (two discs). From a 1989 concert at London's Royal Festival Hall.

Joining the trend to in-house record labels, The London Philharmonic has already unearthed several gems, recently clearing release rights from the orchestra's archives. Several of these CDs are under Klaus Tennstedt, the East German maestro who led the LPO from 1981 to 1987 before stepping down because of illness. Tennstedt was one of those conductors who came across better in live performances than in the recording studio. Nowhere is that more evident than this emotionally charged "Resurrection" Symphony, which is far superior to his 1981 studio effort with the same orchestra.


Giuseppe Verdi: Messa da Requiem. Riccardo Muti conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, with four vocal soloists. From January 2009 concerts at Symphony Center/Orchestra Hall. CSO Resound CSOR 901 1008 at (two compact disc or hybrid SACDs). Available at cso.org or on performance nights at Orchestra Hall.

This is CSO music director Muti's debut recording with his new orchestra, and it is a blazing performance of one of his signature works, the Italian maestro having recorded the Verdi Requiem twice previously. Especially impressive is the Chicago Symphony Chorus, prepared by Duain Wolfe.


"Fantaisie": 19th and 20th century works for Flute. Mathieu Dufour, flute; Kuang-Hao Huang, piano. Cedille CDR 90000 121; available at cedillerecords.org.

Dufour, the Chicago Symphony Orcheatra's principal flute, displays his artistry in this collection of musical "fantasias" from six composers, among them Dufour's French countrymen Gabriel Faure (1845-1924), Phillippe Gaubert (1879-1941) and Francois Borne (1840-1920). Dufour joined the CSO at age 25 at the invitation of former music director Daniel Barenboim. He immediately made his mark as one of the world's finest orchestral flutists, also building an estimable worldwide solo career.


William Schuman: The Complete Symphonies and selected Orchestral Works. Gerard Schwarz conducts the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.585228 (five-CD boxed set).

One of America's most admired 20th century composers, William Schuman (1910-1992) deserves the attention Schwarz and his Seattle Orchestra gave him during its long-running series of concerts and recordings devoted to music by Schuman and other American composers dating back to the late 1980s. Many of those earlier CDs have now been folded into Naxos' American Classics Series with this recently released boxed set a real bargain


Igor Stravinsky: "Pulcinella; Symphony in Three Movements; Four Etudes. Pierre Boulez conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. CSO Resound CSOR 901 920 (compact disc or hybrid SACD). Available at cso.org or on performance nights at Orchestra Hall.

Boulez, the CSO's conductor emeritus, wades into familiar territory with Stravinsky, long a fixture of his conducting career. "Pulcinella" contains excellent solo contributions from mezzo-soprano Roxana Constantinescu, tenor Nicholas Phan and bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen. This is Boulez's first appearance on the CSO's in-house label.


John Corigliano: "Phantasmagoria," and Violin Concerto ("The Red Violin"). JoAnn Falletta conducts the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, with Michael Ludwig, violin. Naxos 8.559671.

The New York-based Corigliano, former composer-in-residence of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, has built an impressive catalog of orchestral works, along with the opera "The Ghosts of Versailles," from which "Phantasmagoria" is derived. He also wrote the score for the film "The Red Violin," which he later adapted into the excellent concerto featured on this recording.

Charles Gounod: "Faust." Antonio Pappano conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of Royal Opera, Covent Garden. Starring Bryn Terfel, Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna and Simon Keenleyside. EMI Classics 5 099963 161119 (two DVDs, widescreen format).

The Royal Opera has joined orchestras worldwide in issuing its own recordings, in this case a video from its 2010 production of Gounod's most famous opera. Terfel is serenely menacing as Mephistopheles, Alagna accepts the devil's lifetime "bargain" as Faust, and Gheorghiu is ideal as Marguerite. Pappano and his orchestra bring luster to Gounod's often-stodgy music, with designer David McVicar and stage director Sue Judd making this production a treat for the eyes.