The 10 best classical albums of 2012

by gabeatkinson / 06 December, 2012
A round up of this year's 10 best classical albums.
LIGETI: LE GRAND MACABRE, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona (Arthaus Blu-ray/Triton). No postwar opera equals this 1996 comedy of the absurd by the top dog of yesteryear’s avant-garde. It’s his masterpiece. The overture for 12 car horns and an 18m female nude set its humorous tone. It’s already a classic on opera house circuits and is 2012’s top DVD release.

LIGETI, PINTSCHER, CAGE, XENAKIS, Jack Quartet (Wigmore Hall Live/Ondine). Standouts are Ligeti’s Quartet No 2 and Xenakis’s audacious Tetras (1983), a work ahead of its time. The latter has a giant vision like the composer himself – a professional mathematician and Le Corbusier’s architectural protégé. Conservatives prohibited; strictly for exploratory buffs.

AURORA AUSTRALIS, Various (Atoll 2CD). Top world music CD. For Kiwis, this recording of the 2007 Asia Pacific Festival in Wellington is the most important world music issue I’ve had. Its musical identity stares us in the face, with the nine-day festival of New Zealand music combined with that of our Asian partners all curated by Jack Body and wonderfully recorded by Atoll’s Wayne Laird.

KAIJA SAARIAHO: WORKS FOR ORCHESTRA (Ondine 4CD). “Shocking emotional nakedness,” hypes director Peter Sellars. But it does reveal how surprisingly palatable and emotionally raw this high-flying Finnish woman is for an experimentalist, in this case timbral distortions built on the spectralism of the Paris IRCAM centre under Pierre Boulez in the 1970s.

ANTHONY RITCHIE: A BUGLE WILL DO – SYMPHONY NO 3 AND OTHER ORCHESTRAL WORKS, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (Atoll). There’s emotional rawness aplenty in Ritchie’s Symphony No 3, too. That and Revelations (what happens after we die?) are the stunners in his quartet of works that make this the top New Zealand composition CD of the year.

LISZT and MESSIAEN: PIANO WORKS, Fredrik Ullén (BIS/Ode). Comparing the Christian beliefs of two visionaries draws out a most original programme design. Ullén’s rhythmic clarity in the complex Hindu Deçitalas of Messiaen’s Cantéyodjayâ and Liszt’s St Francis Walking on the Waters are the two highest points.

LA VOIX DE L’EMOTION, Monserrat Figueras (Alia Vox 2CD). Figueras died last year and La Voix is regrettably no more. Her warm, sensual and graceful voice made her top singer in the postwar early music revival of four decades. This memorial with husband Jordi Savall’s Hesperion XXI ensemble, supplemented by a large booklet, is the ideal tribute.

VELJO TORMIS: CURSE UPON IRON – WORKS FOR MALE CHOIR, Orphei Drängar (BIS/Ode). The flair of Estonia’s Tormis makes him the hottest property of the choral renaissance in the Balto-Finnic area. Sample the title track for male choir and drum. A wonder it hasn’t the popularity of Orff’s Carmina Burana.

DEBUSSY: THE SOLO PIANO WORKS, Noriko Ogawa (BIS 6CD). Ogawa’s crisp touch and coloration makes this a winner. Recent discoveries, including a worthwhile Images Book 3, intensify interest.

PIERRE BOULEZ: MÉMORIALE and DÉRIVES 1 & 2, Ensemble Orchestral Contemporain (Naive). Argentina’s Daniel Barenboim sold out the 3000-seat Mozarteum in Buenos Aires in 2010 with an incisive direction of Boulez’s 50-minute Dérive 2 and perceptive analysis in Spanish that bowled me. This release is a close second-best to amigo Danielito’s.
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