Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The GRAMMY Nominations Deliver my Annual Reality Check

This morning’s news included the announcement of the nominees for the 59th annual GRAMMY awards. Mainstream media, as usual, concentrated on the pop scene; and it was more than a little disconcerting that even The New York Times did not take the trouble to acknowledge that there were categories for other interests. Nevertheless, I have the online version of the Times article to thank for reminding me of the URL (in the above hyperlink) for the Web page on which all the nominees are listed; and I guess that, where tastes of limited appeal are concerned, a few crumbs are better than none at all.

Last year my headline for my Examiner.com article about the nominations described them as “not entirely without merit,” sort of a double whammy of litotes and faint praise. This year I was afraid I was going to need a Geiger counter to find any trace of resonance with any of the recorded listening matter that had piqued my attention. To my surprise, however, I discovered a few points of agreement among the jazz nominees, which was not the case last year. There were also some listening experiences that overlapped with the category for classical producers, but only one of them was strongly positive. The classical categories, on the other hand, had significantly less overlap with my personal preferences this year.

Let me begin, as I did last year, with the production category, providing hyperlinks to what I have written:

74. Producer Of The Year, Classical

Blanton Alspaugh

• The Aeolian Organ At Duke University Chapel (Christopher Jacobson) • Bolcom: Canciones De Lorca & Prometheus (René Barbera, Jeffrey Biegel, Carl St. Clair, Pacific Chorale & Pacific Symphony) • Brahms: The Four Symphonies (Leonard Slatkin & Detroit Symphony Orchestra) • Copland: Appalachian Spring Complete Ballet; Hear Ye! Hear Ye! (Leonard Slatkin & Detroit Symphony Orchestra) • Corigliano: The Ghosts Of Versailles (James Conlon, Guanqun Yu, Joshua Guerrero, Patricia Racette, Christopher Maltman, Lucy Schaufer, Lucas Meachem, LA Opera Chorus & Orchestra) • Dvořák: Symphonies Nos. 7 & 8 (Andrés Orozco-Estrada & Houston Symphony) • Dvořák: Symphony No. 6; Slavonic Dances (Andrés Orozco-Estrada & Houston Symphony) • Floyd: Wuthering Heights (Joseph Mechavich, Heather Buck, Vale Rideout, Susanne Mentzer, Kelly Markgraf, Georgia Jarman, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra & Florentine Opera Company)

David Frost

• Bach: The Cello Suites According To Anna Magdalena (Matt Haimovitz) • Bates: Anthology Of Fantastic Zoology (Riccardo Muti & Chicago Symphony Orchestra) • Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 5 (Jonathan Biss) • Brahms & Dvořák: Serenades (Boston Symphony Chamber Players) • Fitelberg: Chamber Works (ARC Ensemble) • Ispirare (Melia Watras) • Overtures To Bach (Matt Haimovitz) • Schoenberg: Kol Nidre; Shostakovich: Suite On Verses Of Michelangelo Buonarroti (Ildar Abdrazakov, Alberto Mizrahi, Riccardo Muti, Duain Wolfe, Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Chorus) • Shadow Of Sirius (Jerry F. Junkin & The University Of Texas Wind Ensemble)

Marina A. Ledin, Victor Ledin

• Friedman: Original Piano Compositions (Joseph Banowetz) • Moszkowski: From Foreign Lands (Martin West & San Francisco Ballet Orchestra)

Judith Sherman

• American First Sonatas (Cecile Licad) • Berlin: This Is The Life! (Rick Benjamin & Paragon Ragtime Orchestra) • Centennial Commissions, Vol. II (Charles Neidich & Pro Arte Quartet) • Gernsheim & Brahms: Piano Quintets (Reiko Uchida & Formosa Quartet) • Latin American & Spanish Masterpieces For Flute & Piano (Stephanie Jutt) • Similar Motion (Momenta Quartet) • Tchaikovsky: Complete Works For Violin & Orchestra (Jennifer Koh, Alexander Vedernikov & Odense Symphony Orchestra) • Tower: String Quartets Nos. 3-5 & Dumbarton Quintet (Miami String Quartet)

Robina G. Young

• Johnson: Considering Matthew Shepard (Craig Hella Johnson & Conspirare) • Lutosławski: Concerto For Orchestra; Brahms: Piano Quartet (Miguel Harth-Bedoya & Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra) • Mozart: Keyboard Music, Vols. 8 & 9 (Kristian Bezuidenhout) • Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 5 (Vadym Kholodenko, Miguel Harth-Bedoya & Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra) • A Wondrous Mystery - Renaissance Choral Music For Christmas (Stile Antico)

I was struck by the fact that all of my writing involving any of these nominees took place during the second half of the year (Examiner.com was shut down on July 1). Among all of these selections, only the Koh album really got my juices flowing. She had clearly put a lot of thought into how she would approach the interpretation of Tchaikovsky, and her chemistry with Vedernikov was always right on the money. On the other hand one of my greatest disappointments, the Moszkowski album is also on this list. Furthermore, if we are talking about “production values,” then readers may recall that I took some issue with that adjective “complete” in Slatkin’s Copland recording, even if I still enjoyed his performance.

Let me now turn my attention to the classical categories. In this case there are related articles from Examiner.com that are no longer accessible. I shall indicate those by adding italics to the boldface heading for the album.

75. Best Orchestral Performance

Bates: Works For Orchestra
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (San Francisco Symphony)
Label: SFS Media

Ibert: Orchestral Works
Neeme Järvi, conductor (Orchestre De La Suisse Romande)
Label: Chandos

Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 In B-Flat Major, Op. 100
Mariss Jansons, conductor (Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra)
Label: RCO

Rouse: Odna Zhizn; Symphonies 3 & 4; Prospero's Rooms
Alan Gilbert, conductor (New York Philharmonic)
Label: Dacapo Records

Shostakovich: Under Stalin's Shadow - Symphonies Nos. 5, 8 & 9
Andris Nelsons, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra)
Label: Deutsche Grammophon

I have to say that my reaction to the first item on this list is, “It’s about time!” By all right the recording of Bates’ “Alternative Energy” by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Muti should have been a contender for the 57th annual GRAMMY awards. On the other hand, since Bates is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and since Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) has championed his music going all the way back to including it on the first YouTube Symphony Orchestra concert, perhaps it is just as well that Bates’ first crack at a GRAMMY should be enabled by MTT and the San Francisco Symphony. I have to say that, when I first encountered MTT presenting Bates’ music (“The B-Sides,” included on the album up for nomination), my initial reaction was to question whether he was the real deal. However, there was no question about “Alternative Energy;” and I am definitely glad to see that it is now available on two different recordings under interpretations by two different conductors. That counts for something in our Internet age of reduced attention span!

78. Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance

Fitelberg: Chamber Works
ARC Ensemble
Label: Chandos

Øyvind Gimse, Geir Inge Lotsberg & Trondheimsolistene
Label: 2L (Lindberg Lyd)

Serious Business
Spektral Quartet
Label: Sono Luminus

Steve Reich
Third Coast Percussion
Label: Cedille Records

Trios From Our Homelands
Lincoln Trio
Label: Cedille Records

Reich turned 70 this past October 3. Was this really the only way that the GRAMMY judges chose to recognize the occasion? The good news is that Third Coast Percussion provided a perfectly solid account of his music; but it would have been nice for Reich to get a bit more recognition, even if he is still quite some distance from the mainstream!

79. Best Classical Instrumental Solo

Leila Josefowicz; David Robertson, conductor (Chester Englander; St. Louis Symphony)
Label: Nonesuch

Daugherty: Tales Of Hemingway
Zuill Bailey; Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor (Nashville Symphony)
Track from: Daugherty: Tales Of Hemingway; American Gothic; Once Upon A Castle
Label: Naxos

Dvořák: Violin Concerto & Romance; Suk: Fantasy
Christian Tetzlaff; John Storgårds, conductor (Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra)
Label: Ondine

Kristian Bezuidenhout
Label: Harmonia Mundi

1930's Violin Concertos, Vol. 2
Gil Shaham; Stéphane Denève, conductor (The Knights & Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra)
Label: Canary Classics

When the first volume of Shaham’s project came out, I greeted it enthusiastically. If some of that enthusiasm ebbed with the second volume, it was only because it offered only two concertos on a single CD, while the first volume had delivered five concertos on two CDs. In addition, the first volume had provided an engaging journey of discovery by including Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s “Concerto funebre” (funerary concerto), while both concertos on the second volume were far more familiar. Both of them were “second” violin concertos, Sergei Prokofiev’s Opus 63 in G minor and Béla Bartók’s. As a result, I was more drawn to the Adams concerto; but I have not yet decided if any shared agreement on instrumental soloists with the GRAMMY committee is a cause for comfort or concern!

Finally, there are two jazz categories that aligned with my interests:

31. Best Improvised Jazz Solo

Joey Alexander, soloist
Track from: Countdown
Label: Motema Music

In Movement
Ravi Coltrane, soloist
Track from: In Movement (Jack DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane & Matthew Garrison)
Label: ECM

Fred Hersch, soloist
Track from: Sunday Night At The Vanguard (The Fred Hersch Trio)
Label: Palmetto Records

I Concentrate On You
Brad Mehldau, soloist
Track from: Blues And Ballads (Brad Mehldau Trio)
Label: Nonesuch

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
John Scofield, soloist
Track from: Country For Old Men
Label: Impulse!

Regular readers know that I tend to be enthusiastic about ECM releases. However, thanks to San Francisco Performances, I have been giving more thought to Fred Hersch as both a soloist and a combo leader. He is one of those pianists that really satisfies attentive listeners. As a result, I was glad to see him singled out for this category, even though I think that rewarding a single improvisation within a single track risks indicates a warped sense of priorities!

33. Best Jazz Instrumental Album

Book Of Intuition
Kenny Barron Trio
Label: Impulse!

Dr. Um
Peter Erskine
Label: Fuzzy Music

The Fred Hersch Trio
Label: Palmetto Records

Joshua Redman & Brad Mehldau
Label: Nonesuch

Country For Old Men
John Scofield
Label: Impulse!

This is the category that carries more weight in my book. In this context that attentive listener can be taken in by the full scope of Hersch as both leader and soloist. I suspect that I would have enjoyed this album just as much even if I had not been a frequent visitor to the Vanguard during my graduate student days!

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