13 Favorites from 2013

Chris Thile
  Chris Thile (credit Brantley Gutierrez)

That the recording industry has gone through massively disruptive change in recent years is hardly news. But, as these selections of 13 favorite releases from 2013 demonstrate, the quality of available recordings is as high as ever.

After seeing WCRB's list, add your own favorites of the last year in the comments section below.

Nelsons Dvorak 9 CD cover

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Dvorák: Symphony No. 9, "From the New World"

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Andris Nelsons, conductor

The next Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra seems to push the limits of his interpretations just to the brink without distorting the composer's vision. Get a glimpse of Boston's musical future in this recording from one of the great orchestra of Europe.

listen buttonHear Andris Nelsons's first concert as Boston Symphony Orchestra Music Director Designate

Jonas Kaufmann Wagner CD cover

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Kaufmann Sings Wagner

Jonas Kaufmann, tenor; Orchestra of Deutsche Oper Berlin, Donald Runnicles, conductor

Kaufmann has been at the forefront of operatic stars of his generation for  a number of years. This celebration of the bicentennial of Richard Wagner's birth seals that status with a voice of extreme intimacy and cosmic power - precisely the combination necessary for music by the German composer.

Chris Thile Bach CD cover

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Bach: Sonatas and Partitas, Vol. 1

Chris Thile, mandolin

The recent MacArthur Award recipient tests himself and his instrument in some of the most daunting music for a solo performer. The fact that Bach originally wrote these works for solo violin will be quickly forgotten when you hear Thile's ruminative slow movements and pyrotechnic fugues.

listen buttonHear Chris Thile perform and talk about Bach on The Bach Hour

listen buttonHear the extended Bach Hour interview with Chris Thile

Leonidas Kavakos Brahms CD cover

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Brahms: Violin Concerto

Leonidas Kavakos, violin; Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Riccardo Chailly, conductor

The Greek violinist emphasizes the fascination Brahms had with Hungarian folk music in this performance of one of the pillars of the violin repertoire, pairing it with a selection of Hungarian Dances by the German composer and two short works by Hungarian composer Béla Bartók.

listen buttonHear Leonidas Kavakos as both soloist and conductor with the Boston Symphony Orchestra

Blue Heron CD cover

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Peterhouse Partbooks, Vol. 3: Ludford and Mason

Blue Heron, Scott Metcalfe, director

One of Boston's many local groups to have attained international stature, Blue Heron have gradually been  recording near-forgotten music from the English Renaissance. Metcalfe's emphasis on using the text of this choral music as his a guide to interpretation lends an immediacy that transcends the simple, glowing beauty music from this period often elicits.

download buttonDownload WCRB's Classical Performance Podcast with Blue Heron

Pacifica Quartet Shostakovich CD cover

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The Soviet Experience, Vol. 4: Shostakovich and Schnittke

Pacifica Quartet

The fall of the Iron Curtain has, in the minds of some, led to the relegation of much of Shostakovich's music to a category defined by its time. But the hyper-capable Pacifica Quartet shows that the composer's string quartets, along with many of those by his peers, speak to our own time and society in continually powerful ways.

listen buttonHear the Pacifica Quartet perform in WCRB's Fraser Performance Studio

Alexandre Tharaud CD cover

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Alexandre Tharaud, piano

With a calendar based primarily in Europe, this French pianist may not be well-known in the US ... yet. In this survey of 23 short works, he exposes a soulfulness in music that might otherwise be consigned to light-weight encore status.

Isabelle Faust CD cover

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Bartók: Violin Concertos

Isabelle Faust, violin; Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Harding, conductor

Faust has an ability to inhabit the particular cultural and personal context of each work she performs. In Bartók's Second Concerto, we hear the composer's fusion of folk music source material and advanced 20th-century concert language through a sound that's at times dark and rich, and at others a steel wire. But in the First, which Bartok wrote before fully incorporating those folk influences, and in a time of intense personal turmoil, Faust's sound is plush, reminiscent of an older, pre-Great War universe of unchecked passion.

listen buttonHear Isabelle Faust perform Mozart with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood

Tony McManus CD cover

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Mysterious Boundaries

Tony McManus, guitar

The title of this recording could have just as easily been "No Boundaries." McManus, born in Scotland and a resident of Canada, pivots from his well-deserved reputation for enlivening Celtic music into works by Bach, Monteverdi, Couperin, and Satie, making us wonder why anything has to be categorized as "classical" at all.

Cantus CD cover

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Song of a Czech: Dvorák and Janácek for Men's Voices


Antonín Dvorák and Leos Janácek are each popularly known for particular kinds of works. Dvorák for his hefty, rustic symphonies and folk-infused chamber works, and Janácek for blazing orchestral works and biting operas that point to a modernist world. A rarely heard and touching intimacy from these Czech composers of two different generations is delivered by the Minnesota-based men's choir in this recording.

Pittsburgh Strauss CD cover

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Strauss Tone Poems

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Manfred Honeck, conductor

Strauss's tone poems no longer test the capabilities of orchestral players to the same degree they did when new. That in no way, however, diminishes the virtuosity of great orchestras who perform them. When combined with insightful interpretations that take the performances beyond the virtuosic, the results are thrilling. Honeck and Pittsburgh deliver on all counts.

Matthias Goerne Eisler CD cover

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Eisler: Lieder with Piano

Matthias Goerne, baritone; Ensemble Resonanz; Thomas Larcher, piano

Born of a time of unprecedented turmoil, Hanns Eisler's songs speak to the pain and despair of Europe's condition in the 1930's, all while maintaining a glimmer of hope. Goerne's rich baritone voice humanizes these rarely heard works.

listen buttonHear Matthias Goerne perform Benjamin Britten's War Requiem in concert with the Boston Symphony Orchestra

Ensemble Caprice CD cover

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Adagio: A Consideration of a Serious Matter

Ensemble Caprice, Matthias Maute, director

In a compilation of works spanning the Renaissance to modern times, the early music ensemble opens with a "Miserere" by Bohemian baroque composer Jan Dismas Zelenka and turns to Satie, Chopin, Pärt, and others before concluding with Charles Ives's "Unanswered Question." It all happens with such ease and fluency that you forget about the separation of time and space among the composers, transforming perception into an experience of pure music.

download buttonDownload WCRB's Classical Performance Podcast with Ensemble Caprice


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