Notable Recordings of 2011 – Part 2

As the end of the year approaches, the Internet is inundated with best-of and 10-best lists of everything from books and music to celebrities and memes. Not interested in such lists myself, I nevertheless thought it would be interesting to look at my iTunes library and see what music I added this year, and see which of these recordings stood out. Here is a list, in chronological order, of the new recordings that I got in 2011 that I find noteworthy. (This is part 2 of a 2-part series, covering July through December; read part 1.)

In part 1 of this article, I mentioned a set of Bach recordings by András Schiff. I also got a Blu-Ray disc of a concert where Schiff performed all six of Bach’s French Suites. This performance, in a small church, is impeccable. Tastefully filmed, with wonderful sound, there is no applause between the suites, which turns them into one long work instead of six shorter pieces. As encores, he performs the French Overture and Italian Concerto. A delightful disc.

Philip Herreweghe’s second recording of Bach’s Motets may be the best recording of these works available. With exquisite perfection, these sacred vocal works are lush and full of detail, with near-perfect recorded sound.

Two box sets of minimalist piano music, Minimal Piano Collection and Minimal Piano Collection Volume X-XX, performed by Jeroen Van Veen, present the most complete survey of minimalist music for piano ever recorded. With a total of 20 discs, this covers the better-known composers, such as Steve Reich, Philip Glass, John Adams, Morton Feldman, and others, but also lesser-known minimalists such as Simeon Ten Holt, Michael Nyman, and the pianist himself. With works for one to six pianos, there is much wonderful music here, though there is, as is common with such sets, some that you may not listen to a second time.

Richard Egarr’s recording of Louis Couperin’s (more or less) Complete Harpsichord Works stands out for me this year as the best harpsichord recording I’ve heard. I love this music, and the sound of the harpsichord, using quill plectra instead of plastic, is supple and enjoyable.

Perhaps the most important acquisition of this year was the Grateful Dead’s Complete Europe ’72 set. All 22 concerts from this legendary tour, with the Dead at their peak, lovingly remastered, are finally available in a single set. (Individual shows are also being sold, but only a few are available for now.) If you’re not a Deadhead – a fan of the band – it’s hard to understand just how important this set is. If you are a Deadhead, well, you’re probably already listening to it.

As much as I love Beethoven’s piano sonatas and string quartets, I’ve never really “gotten” the symphonies. I think this is starting to change, as I listen to Riccardo Chailly’s set of the symphonies and overtures. With near-perfect sound, and incisive performances, I’ve been listening to this set slowly over the past couple of months, and finding much to enjoy.

The Emerson String Quartet, which recently moved to Sony, released its first recording on this label, Mozart’s Prussian Quartets. With their usual precision, the Emersons give a wonderful reading of these three string quartets.

The period performance group Café Zimmermann has been recording Bach’s concertos for multiple instruments in recent years, and released a 6-disc box set of these recordings. What a delight to hear their renditions of this music, and to hear each disc which is a well-thought-out concert on its own, as opposed to grouping each type of work together.

Hilary Hahn’s recording of Charles Ives’ Violin Sonatas brings this oft-forgotten composer to center stage. In a wonderful recording with pianist Valintina Lisitsa, Hahn rehabilitates these works. It’s great to see Ives on the best-seller lists.

Finally, my big box set for Christmas is Naxos’ Schubert: The Complete Lieder, on 38 discs. I’ve just started listening to this yesterday, and it will take a while for me to have an opinion about it, but I’ve written a bit about it here. Schubert’s lieder is one of my favorite parts of the classical repertoire, and having a second complete set of these works is invaluable.

Read part 1 of this article.

You’ll note that new recordings only make up a small part of this list, and most of what impressed me this year was either music I hadn’t explored, or reissues of old recordings in budget packages. This is generally how I discover music: in most cases, I don’t run out and buy new releases, and several of those that I mention in this article are discs that I received for review for MusicWeb International, where I write. (You might want to check out their lists of recordings of the year by a number of reviewers, including myself. I’ll admit that I don’t agree with their choice for CD of the year…)

See also Classical Music Box Sets for the Holidays for more ideas for affordable classical box sets.

Feel free to add comments about the recordings that you enjoyed most this year.