BEST OF YEAR

Not quite October yet, but given both some personal circumstances and the upcoming political turmoil that will most likely surround the final weeks of 2020, here’s our BEST OF YEAR list, culled from hundreds of DVD’s and CD’s sent to us for reviewing starting in January. Should more outstanding new recordings should reach us between now and January 1st 2021, they will be taken into consideration and added to our list. One more thing: the recordings in our BEST OF YEAR are listed here in random order, neither preferentially nor chronologically.

  • Mozart y Mambo released by ALPHA joins our list as one of the best albums of the year. It defies categorization merely inviting the listeners to set aside preconceptions and listen to a cool mix of the Austrian (Mozart) and the Cuban (Perez Prado, Ibrahim Ferrer) played with a mixed combination of Cuban sabor and classical elegance by horn player Sarah Willis, saxophonist Yuniet Lombida, trumpeter Harold Madrigal, pianist Jorge Aragón, and the enormously versatile Havana Lyceum Orchestra led by José Antonio Méndez. Full review: https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2020/07/22/cuban-sabor-and-classical-elegance-by-sarah-willis/
  • The release IF THE NIGHT GROWS DARK by BRIGHT SHINY THINGS [BSTC-0140, CD] is a treasure trove of Spanish songs arranged for guitar and voice by Graciano Tarragó, and exquisitely performed by soprano Camille Zamora and guitarist Cem Duruöz. With their easy back and forth musical dialogue, with Zamora‘s perfect diction in Castilian, Catalan, Gallego and Basque, and a sublime voice perfectly suited to this music, and with Duruöz’s elegantly idiomatic playing, the two artists deliver musical gold throughout the entire duration of the album. FULL REVIEW: https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2020/05/14/treasure-trove-of-spanish-song/
  • SOMM Recordings released a fascinating album featuring two late-19th-century Romantic Piano Concertos: the Fifth Piano Concerto in F major, “Egyptian” by Camille Saint-Saëns, and the unfamiliar and enormously impressive Piano Concerto, Op.10 by the Brazilian Henrique Oswald, both replete with mind-boggling technical hurdles which the formidable Brazilian pianist Clélia Iruzun elegantly tosses off in a stunning performance that also boasts the solid support of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra superbly led by Dutch maestro Jac Van Steen. FULL REVIEW: https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2020/07/14/brazilian-pianist-clelia-iruzun-in-a-stunning-performance/
  • Commissioned and premiered by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and beautifully conducted by Manfred Honeck, Jonathan Leshnoff’s Double Concerto for Clarinet and Bassoon on REFERENCE RECORDS affords two of the orchestra’s principals: Michael Rusinek (clarinet) and Nancy Goeres (bassoon) the opportunity to shine as soloists in this gorgeous composition. We enjoyed in addition a boldly exhilarating performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 4 in F minor included in this CD. FULL REVIEW: https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2020/06/26/an-intriguing-21st-century-composition/
  • The Jupiter String Quartet delivered in a MARQUIS CLASSICS release a noble performance of György Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1 and Métamorphoses Nocturnes filled with gravitas that never lapsed into self-importance. Ligeti’s music calls for muscular playing and chameleonic changes of attack, tonality and mood, and the Jupiter String Quartet astonished with its virtuosic playing and its meticulous musicianship in one of the finest albums of the year. FULL REVIEW: https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2020/05/30/the-jupiter-string-quartet-magically-plays-beethoven-and-ligeti/
  • SIMONE DINNERSTEIN: A CHARACTER OF QUIET released by Orange Mountain Music, featured Dinnerstein’s playing of three of Philip Glass’s Etudes revealing the seemingly simple beauty of these miniatures with utmost clarity, and comfortably embracing the at times deceivingly static nature of these delicate gems. By contrast Dinnerstein’s rendition of Schubert Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960 – his last –  is deeply Romantic, affectingly portraying the music of an ailing young man holding on for dear life to life while continuing to make music. FULL REVIEW: https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2020/08/05/two-pianists/
  • There are times when music can provide healing, induce calm, soothe our troubled hearts, allay our fears, and for a moment dispel our cares. As I sat late one night, and let this music so exquisitely played and shared with me by five formidable artists create its magic, time stopped and all that mattered in that moment was the clarinet quintets of Mozart and Brahms magically played by the Alexander String Quartet and Eli Eban in a  Foghorn Records CD. FULL REVIEW: https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2020/08/09/alexander-string-quartet-and-clarinetist-eli-eban-play-mozart-and-brahms/
  • During the two and a half hours musical-dramatic journey that the protean Stuart Skelton shares with a marvelous cast led by the superb English conductor Edward Gardner the splendid Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus shine in the several interludes that depict the ever changing surrounding seas that mirror the equally fluctuating human emotions that permeate Britten’s Peter Grimes – a harrowing story about an odd man out given a superbly engineered production in a new CD by CHANDOS. Full review: https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2020/09/01/stuart-skelton-peter-grimess/
  • Jonas Kaufmann – at the age of 51 a dramatic tenor at the top of his game – is an artist of uncommon sensitivity with the vocal equipment to surmount the perils in Verdi’s Otello a score chockfull of them. Carlos Alvarez is a superb Iago, Federica Lombardi a marvelous Desdemona, possessing a crystalline voice ideal for the role of the guiltless young wife. Antonio Pappano is the ideal Verdi interpreter, summoning fire and brimstone from his Santa Cecilia forces when needed and at other times eliciting delicate, shimmering playing in the Sony Classical CD. FULL REVIEW: https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2020/05/20/jonas-kaufman-as-otello/
  • In DESIRE, her Sony Classical release of operatic arias Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak delivers a gorgeous lyric sound, pinpoint accuracy, intensity, and the sort of respectfulness for the written note that includes observing repeats and executing what’s written rather than what comes to the singer’s whim. Add to that flawless diction in Italian, French, Polish, Czech and Russian, and one quickly concludes that this artist has come into her own with complete artistic-vocal equipment. FULL REVIEW: https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2020/05/07/polish-soprano-aleksandra-kurzak/
  • ORCHID CLASSICS (ORC100127) 3 CD release of all five of Beethoven’s concertos for piano and orchestra features Stewart Goodyear in command of immensely challenging music with never a hint of self-aggrandizement or posturing. With Andrew Constantine superbly helming the BBC Orchestra of Wales, Goodyear lets us know that he is a past master of both the grand gesture and the delicate and intimate, playing with the nobility and intense musicality listeners have come to expect of him. FULL REVIEW:
  • https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2020/04/14/stewart-goodyears-5-beethoven-concerti/