Best of 2022
10 Best Classical Albums of 2022
Wild Up (Christopher Rountree)
Julius Eastman Vol. 2: Joy Boy
For Those Who Like: Albert Ayler, Steve Reich, ecstatic excursions
The Story: If only Julius Eastman were alive to enjoy the recent, richly deserved resuscitation of his uncompromising music, which during his short career put him in collaboration with Pierre Boulez, Meredith Monk and other important experimentalists. Boldly gay and proudly Black, Eastman gained precarious acclaim in the 1970s for his provocative pieces and performances, then withdrew and crashed too early, dying alone and unknown in a Buffalo hospital in 1990. He was only 49.
The Music: In its second volume of Eastman’s work, the Los Angeles-based outfit Wild Up once again gives astonishingly committed performances. The music, unlike the first volume’s frenetically joyous Femenine, doesn’t always land comfortably on the ear, but dig in deep and you’ll find the rewards are manifold. Touch Him When, in two separate guitar arrangements (“Light” and “Heavy”), plumbs deep ambient spaces and shreds with scorched-earth élan. Joy Boy offers a caucus of fidgety saxophones and flutes amid chaotic chatter, while the album’s final track, Stay On It, for voices and ensemble, returns to the funky spasms of ecstasy so warmly welcomed in Femenine. If you’re interested in art that prizes connection with one’s “authentic self,” this album is the sound of freedom.
The New York Times
Best Classical Tracks of 2022
Julius Eastman: ‘Stay On It’
“Julius Eastman, Vol. 2: Joy Boy”; Wild Up (New Amsterdam)
The Los Angeles ensemble Wild Up [Led by Christopher Rountree] has embarked on a series of recordings of the once-forgotten music of Julius Eastman (1940-90). The second installment closes with the bright party of “Stay On It,” a paean to community that veers between precision and lush chaos: troubled by shadows but ultimately, patiently, quietly triumphant.
Rossini: ‘Céleste providence’
“French Bel Canto Arias”; Lisette Oropesa, soprano; Saxon State Opera Chorus Dresden; Dresden Philharmonic; Corrado Rovaris, conductor (Pentatone)
A peerless bel canto interpreter, the soprano Lisette Oropesa combed through her bread-and-butter repertoire to come up with an album’s worth of material in French, her favorite language to sing. In this showstopper from Rossini’s elegant comic opera “Le Comte Ory,” Oropesa’s classy singing sneaks subtle flecks of color into fiendish runs taken at the speed of light.
Best Classical Albums of 2022
Donizetti. Rossini ‘French Bel Canto Arias’
Lisette Oropesa sop Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra / Corrado Rovaris (Pentatone)
Here is a superb album of bel canto arias either written or revised for Paris performances from a star soprano.
Matthias Goerne bar Daniil Trifonov (DG)
More superb lieder from another singer of intelligence and insight, baritone Matthias Goerne, his partner here in Schumann, Brahms, Berg and others the renowned virtuoso Daniil Trifonov.
‘Time Traveler’s Suite’
Inon Barnatan (Pentatone)
A fascinating and thought-provoking piece of programming – spanning the Baroque to the 21st century – that works wonderfully, thanks of course to Inon Barnatan’s hugely impressive pianism.
The New Yorker
Notable Performances and Recordings of 2022
Du Yun’s “In Our Daughter’s Eyes”
Du Yun, who won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for music for her operatic dystopia “Angel’s Bone,” explores more intimate terrain in “In Our Daughter’s Eyes,” which had its première at L.A. Opera, in April, and will play at the Prototype Festival, in New York, in January. The new opera is a one-man show, with the baritone Nathan Gunn portraying a father-to-be who faces down his demons and flaws. Du Yun’s complex, seething textures helped Gunn to achieve a grittily detailed emotional realism of a kind I’ve seldom witnessed on an opera stage.
Nico Muhly, “Stranger,” “Lorne Ys My Likinge,” “Impossible Things”; Nicholas Phan, Brooklyn Rider, Reginald Mobley, Lisa Kaplan, Colin Jacobsen, Eric Jacobsen conducting the Knights (Avie)
Rossini and Donizetti, French Bel Canto Arias; Lisette Oropesa, Corrado Rovaris conducting the Dresden Philharmonic and the Dresden State Opera Chorus (Pentatone)
The New Yorker
The Best Books of 2022
Every Good Boy Does Fine
by Jeremy Denk (Random House)
Billed as “a love story, in music lessons,” this memoir by a MacArthur-winning pianist began as an article in the magazine. With self-deprecating humor, Denk charts his progress from awkward, precocious boyhood to awkward, precocious adulthood and classical-music eminence via the many teachers he had along the way. He also attempts—in a sequence of interludes examining rhythm, harmony, and so on—to account for music’s hold over us.
Best of Classical and Jazz in 2022
Best Beethoven: The “Eroica” was the only work on the Grant Park Music Festival’s July 15-16 program that wasn’t new, and that symphony is hyper-familiar to classical fans. But revelations came fast and furious in guest conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya’s account of this most battle-scarred of war horses. Watching me jot in my notebook, at one point my seat neighbor grumbled to his wife: “The person next to me is going crazy.” He wasn’t wrong.
The 20 Best Pride Albums of 2022: Staff Picks
Anthony Roth Costanzo & Justin Vivian Bond, ‘Only An Octave Apart’
Opera star Anthony Roth Costanzo brings his piercing, controlled countertenor to bear on cabaret legend Justin Vivian Bond’s reedy but dulcet tones on Only an Octave Apart, an unexpectedly poignant, queer life-affirming triumph. The (ahem) aural odd couple crafts strangely congruent pop/opera mashups that range from whimsical (Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” meets “Egyptian Sun” from Philip Glass’ Akhnaten) to emotionally shattering (Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush’s “Don’t Give Up” brings a hard-won ray of light to the desperate “Deh Placatevi” from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice). Octave hits all the right notes while remaining on a frequency all its own.
The Top 10 Classical Releases of 2022
10 Kurtág: Kafka Fragments | Anna Prohaska/Isabelle Faust
We said: “Among the best of what has become one of Kurtág’s most frequently recorded works.”
Best Classical Albums of 2022
The Lost Birds
Christopher Tin, conductor | Barnaby Smith, conductor | VOCES8 | Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
This, now Grammy-Award nominated, album struck us—and you, we’re told—at first listen. We’re thrilled to include this one as one of the best albums of 2022. We feel the same as WQXR listener Patricia: “Absolutely loved Lost Birds … The music transports one to bird flight and song.”
Best Classical Music in 2022
Britten’s ‘War Requiem’
Eight months later, I’m still haunted by the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s titanic 60th-anniversary performance of Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem.” In April at Boston’s Symphony Hall, Sir Antonio Pappano led the BSO, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, the Britten Children’s Choir and a power trio of soloists: tenor Ian Bostridge, soprano Amanda Majeski and baritone Matthias Goerne. As images of the Russian invasion of Ukraine flooded American news, the performance felt like a refusal to grant abstraction to the carnage of war — a direct hit.
‘Only an Octave Apart’
Every year should open with something as bubbly as Justin Vivian Bond and Anthony Roth Costanzo’s opera-inspired cabaret show (or cabaret-inspired opera revue), “Only an Octave Apart.” The show, which I saw at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, might at first seem like a spread of operatic hors d’oeuvres, but this dynamically talented duo serves something far more nourishing. With music from Purcell, Bowie, Bizet, the Bangles and a long guest list of others, “Octave” offers an aggressively charming peek behind the facades of form, as well as an up-close-and-personal experience with two effervescent performers.
New York Classical Review
Top Ten Performances of 2022
5. Aaron Siegel: Watching Birds at the End of the World. Anthony Roth Costanzo, Sae Hashimoto. The Death of Classical
In the world premiere of this affecting song cycle, countertenor Costanzo and vibraphonist Hashimoto stirred together vocal colors and subtle vibrations in the candlelit Catacombs of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. The texts, by the composer, were taut, often melancholy meditations on life and loss, sometimes solitary, sometimes addressed to a lover. In the end, while the mortuary trappings added their resonance (literal and metaphorical), the triumph of Watching Birds at the End of the World was mostly due to the music and words by the composer/poet and his imaginative performers. It isn’t hard to imagine this work having a powerful effect in any setting, including a traditional concert stage.
How could one’s heart not beat a little faster at the thought of Chopin played by Emanuel Ax? The Polish-born American pianist, at 72 in the late stages of a distinguished career, interpreting the visionary last utterances of Poland’s greatest composer in a May recital at Carnegie Hall. The program consisted of eleven of the kind of single-movement character pieces on which Chopin’s reputation largely rests, then closing with the Piano Sonata No. 3. Delivered with unflagging imagination and deep resources of tone and touch, the imaginative program made for a satisfying, often illuminating, recital. For much of the evening, as barcarolle followed mazurka followed nocturne, introspection was the predominant mood, pianissimo the go-to dynamic. But Ax had plenty of power and brilliance in reserve, and when he let it fly in the sonata the effect was exhilarating.
There are few singers that can effortlessly fill the Metropolitan Opera and Lise Davidsen is one of them. Her regal Ariadne made the Met’s revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s production of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos one for the memory books. The sight of the three Nymphs floating across the stage remains one of the most beautiful sights ever to appear on the Met’s stage. The Met Orchestra with Marek Janowski was the icing on the cake.
Washington Classical Review
Top Ten Performances of 2022
Conductor Karina Canellakis made a sparkling first appearance with the National Symphony Orchestra in November. She led an extraordinary rendition of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, as well as a fine Ravel Concerto for the Left Hand with Cédric Tiberghien as soloist. The much-missed French pianist also offered an incredibly deft, nuanced encore of “Oiseaux tristes” from Ravel’s Miroirs.
Best New Work
In May Louis Langrée led the National Symphony Orchestra and soloist Alisa Weilerstein in the world premiere of A New Day, a major new cello concerto by Joan Tower. The 83-year-old composer dedicated the work to her partner of 48 years, Jeff, with four movements depicting their days together. Tower’s command of the orchestra is unparalleled among American composers, now that Christopher Rouse has left us. The lush Ravelian harmony in the first movement of the piece, co-commissioned by NSO and premiered elsewhere in 2021, made it fit perfectly with the program of Debussy and Ravel.