Music Feature: Notable Classical Recordings of 2014

Feel free to disagree, add to them, come up with your own list, etc. Above all, enjoy!

By Jonathan Blumhofer

Top 10 Recordings (in no particular order):

John Coolidge Adams, City Noir/Saxophone Concerto (Nonesuch), The Gospel According to the Other Mary (Deutsche Grammophon)

Here are terrific recordings of three Adams pieces written since 2009. Especially notable is Gospel: as I’ve observed before, it’s the work of a composer approaching his eighth decade as curious and daring as ever.

"Become Ocean" --

“Become Ocean” — one of the rare times the Pulitzer Prize for music was won by a piece that really, actually deserved it.

John Luther Adams, Become Ocean (Cantaloupe)

The “other” Adams’s mesmeric symphony one the Pulitzer Prize for music this year – one of the rare times the award has gone to a piece that really, actually deserved it. Former BSO assistant conductor Ludovic Morlot conducts the Seattle Symphony.

George Antheil, Ballet Mécanique (BMOP/Sound)

The “bad boy of music” is today more a footnote than a cornerstone in the repertoire, but BMOP and Gil Rose play his thunderous Ballet and slightly nutty A Jazz Symphony to the hilt here.

Leonard Bernstein, West Side Story (SFS Media)

Bernstein’s magnum opus receives an urgent, beautifully sung, and terrifically played recording from Bernstein protégé Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony. Cheyenne Jackson (Tony) and Alexandra Silber (Maria) headline the impressive, young cast.

James Brawn’s Beethoven Odyssey vol. 1-3 (MSR Classics)

The first installments of Brawn’s new Beethoven survey dusts off a number of these familiar pillars of the repertoire and also brings to the fore the brilliance behind some of the lesser-known sonatas. It’s all slightly overwhelming, musically, but in the very best ways.


John Harbison, String Trio (Harmonia mundi)

Harbison’s new String Trio shares its debut recording with the Four Songs of Solitude and Songs America Loves to Sing. They’re three gripping pieces that also showcase the Camerata Pacifica to fine effect.

Carl Nielsen, Symphonies nos. 1 and 4 (Dacapo)

Alan Gilbert’s Nielsen cycle continues with the First and Fourth (“The Inextinguishable”) Symphonies. The latter, particularly, gets a blistering reading from the Gilbert-led New York Philharmonic.

“Masterpieces in Miniature” (SFS Media)

MTT and the San Francisco Symphony celebrate their twentieth anniversary together with a sweetly played, slightly offbeat collection of orchestral encores.

Bates and Clyne

Chicago-based composers Mason Bates and Anna Clyne — their music is performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Riccardo Muti conducts Mason Bates and Anna Clyne (CSO Resound)

Muti isn’t necessarily a conductor associated too closely with new music, but he’s championed Chicago Symphony Orchestra composers-in-residence Bates and Clyne for several years now. The highlight here is Clyne’s turbulent Night Ferry, a deftly scored, marvelously evocative orchestral tone poem.

Ten more:

Milton Babbitt, All Set (BMOP/Sound)
J.S. Bach, Brandenburg Concertos (Harmonia mundi)
“The Brooklyn Rider Almanac” (Mercury Classics)
Dvorak, Requiem (Naxos)
Franz Josef Haydn, The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross (Harmonia mundi)
Howard Hersh, Angels and Watermarks
“The Law of Mosaics” (Crier Records)
Mendelssohn, Lobgesang (Harmonia mundi)
Strauss, Elektra (Bel Air Blu-ray)
Wagner, Parsifal (Sony DVD)

Jonathan Blumhofer is a composer and violist who has been active in the greater Boston area since 2004. His music has received numerous awards and been performed by various ensembles, including the American Composers Orchestra, Kiev Philharmonic, Camerata Chicago, Xanthos Ensemble, and Juventas New Music Group. Since receiving his doctorate from Boston University in 2010, Jon has taught at Clark University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and online for the University of Phoenix, in addition to writing music criticism for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

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