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End of Year 2015 'Best of' Roundup

12.18.15
Wynton Marsalis, Marin Alsop, Sir Andrew Davis, Ludovic Morlot, Christopher Rountree, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company , Alexandre Tharaud, Daniil Trifonov, Jennifer Koh, Gil Shaham, Philadelphia Orchestra , Storm Large, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir , Voces8 , Christine Goerke, Nicholas Phan, New York Polyphony

As the end of 2015 approaches, we honor all of our artists and their accomplishments and wish them a fulfilling year ahead. Opus 3 Artists has culled through the many "best of" lists and we're delighted to have found many of our artists celebrated. Whether it is best classical compositions, greatest classical performances, or the best albums, our artists are lauded for their hard work and talent. Hats off to our Opus 3 Artists! 

New York Times Best of:

NYT Best Classical Music 

"ELEKTRA" IN CONCERT 

I’m still waiting to see where Andris Nelsons, in his second season as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, intends to take the institution artistically. But at Carnegie Hall in October, he certainly conducted a blazing concert performance of Strauss’s “Elektra,” with an exceptional cast headed by the powerhouse soprano Christine Goerke, who simply owns the daunting title role.

"THE RAKE'S PROGRESS"

Slyly moving, Stravinsky’s operatic masterpiece riffs on Mozartean Classicism with an energy and tenderness that presses it past pastiche. The Met’s elegantly stylized production, originally directed by Jonathan Miller, is one of the company’s strongest, and James Levine — long a champion of the work — presided over a vivacious, all too brief revival in May. Paul Appleby and Layla Claire were fresh, youthful leads, with Gerald Finley the face (and voice) of suave evil. Stephanie Blythe did her best to steal the evening as the imperious bearded lady, Baba the Turk. 

WILDUP

A giddy wind blew this ensemble, based in Los Angeles, eastward for its New York debut in October at Roulette, part of the American Composers Orchestra’s Sonic festival. Boisterously theatrical and exuberantly talented, the group barnstormed its way through works written by its own members, and a couple of punk-rock arrangements, too (Christopher Rountree).

NYT Best Classical Recordings 

JOHN LUTHER ADAMS: ‘THE WIND IN HIGH PLACES’

JACK Quartet; Northwestern University Cello Ensemble (Cold Blue). Taking inspiration from the icy vistas and bracing breezes of his beloved Alaska, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams has written a string quartet of dazzling stillness and quiet complexity. The excellent JACK Quartet makes its glassy harmonics sing. In “Dream of the Canyon Wren,” its cooing glissandi imitate birdsong with uncanny economy; a fine reading of the “Canticles of the Sky,” by the Northwestern University Cello Ensemble, directed by Hans Jorgen Jensen, rounds out this mesmerizing disc. 

ALEXANDRE THARAUD - BACH: ‘GOLDBERG’ VARIATIONS

This admirable French pianist took a nine-month sabbatical to hone his interpretation of Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations. Beginning with a spacious Aria, Mr. Tharaud offers imaginatively ornamented renditions of each movement, his playing — full of contrasts — spirited and poetic by turn. 

ANTHONY DE MARE - ‘LIAISONS: RE-IMAGINING SONDHEIM FROM THE PIANO’

For this ambitious project, the pianist Mr. de Mare, a contemporary music champion and Stephen Sondheim fan, commissioned composers from all camps of new music — Steve Reich, Wynton Marsalis and Tania Leon among them — to write solo-piano pieces inspired by favorite Sondheim songs. He plays the 36 fascinating results on this three-disc set. 

DANIIL TRIFONOV - RACHMANINOFF: VARIATIONS

Philadelphia Orchestra; Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor (Deutsche Grammophon). As if a sumptuous, tender account of the “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini” were not enough, Mr. Trifonov offers uncannily fine interpretations of Rachmaninoff’s variations on themes by Chopin and Corelli. Buried in the middle is “Rachmaniana,” the pianist’s own, lush impressions of hearing his countryman’s music. 

New York Magazine 

NYM Best Classical Performances 

DANIIL TRIFONOV - RACHMANINOFF PIANO CONCERTOS 

The lanky young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov has the competition wins, the wiry fingers, and the repertoire to pass as an old-style virtuoso. He headlined the Philharmonic’s Rachmaninoff festival, but listeners expecting to be strafed with notes were in for a surprise. Trifonov teased out the undercurrents of sensitivity beneath the showy swells.

Iowa Public Radio

IPR Classical Crop

ANTHONY DE MARE - ‘LIAISONS: RE-IMAGINING SONDHEIM FROM THE PIANO’ 

Playing 36 composers (ECM 2470-72) Stephen Sondheim turned 85 this year, had a Hollywood hit with Into the Woods, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, let slip that he’s working on a new musical - and inspired a notable three-disc instrumental set. Actually, he inspired it ten years ago, when he was a kid of 75: it was then that pianist Anthony de Mare began commissioning new pieces that re-envision Sondheim songs. The project ended up with 36 composers from many genres (classical, jazz, Broadway and indie rock) ranging in age from their 30s to their 70s, with such participants as Wynton Marsalis and Steve Reich. If you love Sondheim, don’t miss it: the re-imaginings reveal both musical possibilities and emotional possibilities.

DANIIL TRIFONOV - RACHMANINOFF VARIATIONS

Philadelphia Orchestra/ Yannick Nezet-Sequin (Deutsche Grammophon 479 4970). I love Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, but with hundreds of recordings out I tend to ignore new ones. I’m glad I didn’t in this case: this 24-year-old Russian artist creates magical sounds at the keyboard, but at the same time, conveys what’s at play in this irresistible piece - and I’m using “play” in the fullest sense.  He really communicates, both with us and with the Philadelphia Orchestra and its gifted Canadian music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin (age 40). Trifonov adds some solo Rachmaninoff and - here’s the kicker - his own composition, Rachmaniana, inspired by his love of the composer. It represents another trend: the breakdown of the strict division of labor between people who write music and people who play it (a division which barely existed in the 18th century and still was permeable in Rachmaninoff’s day).

NPR Music

NPR 10 Favorite Classical Albums of the Year

JOHN ADAMS - 'ABSOLUTE JEST'

This pairing of two works by John Adams, written some 30 years apart from, is one of the most fun classical releases of 2015 — and the San Francisco Symphony, conductors Michael Tilson Thomas and the composer himself, and the soloists are clearly having a blast. The newer piece, Absolute Jest, featuring the St. Lawrence String Quartet, takes shards of Beethoven and places them in a big, dizzying vortex of sound. Grand Pianola Music (1982), with pianists Orli Shaham and Marc-Andre Hamelin and the Synergy Vocals trio, reaches for the positively transcendent, moving between episodes of meditative grace and enormous arcs of motion and statement.

ANTHONY DE MARE - ‘LIAISONS: RE-IMAGINING SONDHEIM FROM THE PIANO’ 

Just when you thought you knew Sondheim showstoppers, from "Send in the Clowns" to "The Ladies Who Lunch," along comes Anthony de Mare to stir up the status quo. The New York pianist commissioned 36 composers to pick Sondheim songs and rework them for solo piano. The result is a lovingly rendered compendium ranging from Daniel Bernard Roumain's dark and deconstructed "Another Hundred People" to Fred Hersch's tender, and more faithful, "No One is Alone." Wynton Marsalis gives a barrelhouse treatment to a little-known number from Follies, while Paul Moravec pours out despair in a wrenching rendition of "Losing My Mind" from the same musical. And Steve Reich, true to form, deploys a second piano part to achieve a slightly phasey "Finishing the Hat." Liaisons demonstrates the strength of these songs by the great man of Broadway, but also the fertile imaginations of three dozen composers and one bold pianist.

SEATTLE SYMPHONY - DVORAK, SYMPHONY NO. 9 ' FROM THE NEW WORLD; VARESE, 'AMERIQUES'

Straight on the heels of their enormously gratifying recording of John Luther Adams' Become Ocean last year, the Seattle Symphony and conductor Ludovic Morlot released another dynamite project — smartly pairing two European sound portraits of the U.S.A. just coming into its own. Dvorák's Symphony No. 9, "From the New World," is a staple, but this excellent rendition, with standout contributions by Seattle's powerhouse brass and razor-sharp strings, demands us to listen anew. Edgard Varèse's crackling, clangorous Amériques is far more rarely encountered, but the orchestra offers a tour de force performance, especially the percussion section. Seattle, under Morlot's leadership, has proved itself to be one of the truly great and most vital American orchestras. (And they are really on a roll: Be sure to keep an ear on their terrific and ongoing Henri Dutilleux cycle.)

Gramophone Magazine Best Of

GM Best Albums of 2015

DANIIL TRIFONOV - RACHMANINOFF VARIATIONS

The opening bars tell you this is going to be a good 'Pag Rhap'. as things turn out, it is a great one, clearly up there with the very best. That includes the indispensable benchmark recording with the composer and the same orchestra made in 1934, just six weeks after they had given the premiere under Leopold Stokowski. DG's sound in the Rhapsody it is sumptuous, full-bodied and realistic, with a near-perfect balance between piano and orchestra.

Chicago Tribune Best Of

CT Best Classical Recordings 

NICHOLAS PHAN - "A PAINTED TALE" 

Those qualities that make Phan such an idiomatic interpreter of Benjamin Britten's songs guarantee him success in the early English vocal repertory that inspired Britten. He brings exquisite tonal purity and subtle expressive shadings to his thoughtful journey through lute songs by Dowland, Blow, Purcell and others.

SEATTLE SYMPHONY, LUDOVIC MORLOT - "METABOLES," "L'ARBRE DES SONGES," SYMPHONY NO. 2 ("LE DOUBLE")

The second release in Morlot's cycle of the complete orchestral works by the late, great French composer Henri Dutilleux contains three 20th-century classics. Meticulously crafted music that delights the ear as it engages the mind, it is brilliantly played by the Seattle orchestra and the probing violinist Augustin Hadelich (in the violin concerto "L'Arbre des songes").

HANDEL AND HAYDN SOCIETY, HARRY CHRISTOPHERS - HAYDN "THE CREATION" 

The Handel and Haydn Society, founded in Boston in 1815, is the oldest continuously performing musical organization in the U.S. Having given the American premiere of Haydn's crowning masterpiece, it is only fitting that the group release a 200th anniversary recording of the oratorio, accomplished with vigor and style by Christophers' period-instrument group and soloists.

ESTONIAN PHILHARMONIC CHAMBER CHOIR, TALINN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA, TONU KALJUSTE - PART AND WILSON "ADAM'S PASSION" 

A luminous, slow-motion meditation on Adam's fall, a music theater piece that unfolds outside normal perceptions of time and space. The effect is absolutely hypnotic, although sitting through the 94 minutes does require a degree of patience from the viewer that's amply rewarded by the end.

Violinist.com Best Of 

Violinist 2015 Holiday Gift Guide 

JENNIFER KOH - BACH & BEYOND PART 2

This is the second in a projected a three-CD cycle in which Jennifer Koh performs modern works alongside the Bach Sonatas and Partitas that inspired them. This recording includes Bach's Sonata No. 1 in G minor and Partita No. 1 in B minor, along with Bartók's Sonata for Solo Violin and the world premiere of "Frises" by Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952). 

    GIL SHAHAM - J.S. BACH: SONATAS & PARTITAS FOR VIOLIN


Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin have been a lifelong exploration for Gil Shaham, who started playing them as a child and released his first complete recording of them in March. For the project, he outfitted the 1699 "The Countess Polignac" Strad that he plays with gut-core strings and a Baroque bridge, and he also used a Baroque bow. He took about 12 years re-thinking the works before recording them, and the result is a virtuosic, up-tempo interpretation, full of revelations. The CD also includes fantastic liner notes written by former Strad Magazine editor Ariane Todes based on extensive discussions with Gil. 

Baltimore Sun Best of

BS Best Classical Music Performances

DANIIL TRIFONOV - STARRY TRIO AT SHRIVER HALL

Also in January, Shriver Hall Concert Series presented esteemed violinist Gidon Kremer and gifted young cellist Giedre Dirvanauskaite with one of today's most exciting young piano stars, Daniil Trifonov. Their richly varied program included an impassioned account of a Rachmaninoff trio; there was sublime solo Mozart from Trifonov, too.

MARIN ALSOP - BSO AND BERSTEIN

Marin Alsop's affinity for the music of mentor-friend Leonard Bernstein, a hallmark of her tenure as BSO music director, was reinforced in June when she led a semi-staging of "Candide" that reveled in the score's nonstop brilliance. Joining the energized orchestra were a first-rate cast, the vibrant Baltimore Choral Arts Society and droll narrator Peter Sagal. 

The Guardian Best Of

TG Andrew Clements' Top 10 Classical CDs 

DANIIL TRIFONOV - RACHMANINOV VARIATIONS

Even among the current crop of outstanding young pianists, Daniil Trifonov is exceptional, and this Rachmaninov collection shows exactly why – dazzling performances of the two sets of solo variations, and an account of the Paganini Rhapsody that exactly balances extroversion and introspection. 

SIR ANDREW DAVIS - ELGAR

Sir Andrew Davis’s latest stirring foray into lesser known Elgar, with one of the oratorios that preceded the Enigma Variations and The Dream of Gerontius, and which anticipates the orchestral and choral glories to come. 

Commercial Appeal Best Of

CA Best of 

STORM LARGE - SEVEN DEADLY SINS

The concert season has been spare, but one of the best performances came in March: Kurt Weill's "The Seven Deadly Sins," written in 1933, was sung by the mesmerizing Storm Large with the MSO in splendid form. 

Toledo Blade Best Of

TB Best Of 

STORM LARGE WITH ORCHESTRA

By far the most talked about symphony event was that marquee Classics Series when singer Storm Large debuted with the orchestra. The rocker-turned-crooner put her stamp on a couple of hits from the Great American Songbook and left indelible memories. Pianist-bandleader Thomas Lauderdale also was in this all-American program, which was augmented with Ansel Adams photography.

Arts Atlanta Best Of

AA Best Of 

BILL T JONES/ARNIE ZANE DANCE COMPANY - BODY AGAINST BODY

In February, a contingent of superb dancers from the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company performed Body Against Body, an evening of Jones’ early duets, at the Emory University Dance Studio in the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. Jones is best known for big theatrical works that take on highly charged subjects such as AIDS and race, but on this occasion we got to see unadorned movement in an intimate, unadorned space. Highly structured, athletic and deeply relational, the pieces were a great reminder of Jones’ choreographic bones. 

Classic FM's Best Of

CFM's Albums of the Year 

VOCES8 - LUX

Presenter's verdict: Nick Bailey - "Voces 8 have such a fresh sound and that was reinforced recently when I saw them perform at the Royal Albert Hall at the John Rutter Christmas Concert. This is a brilliant album." (1/20)

American Record Guide Best Of

ARG Critics' Choice Best CDs of 2015

NEW YORK POLYPHONY - SING THEE NOWELL