Wednesday, November 29, 2017

60th GRAMMY Nominations Better than Expected

courtesy of Naxos of America

Almost a year ago I referred to the nominees for the 59th annual GRAMMY awards as “my annual reality check.” The latest round of nominations came out yesterday; and, while my reaction was to reflect on the sorry state of my personal taste almost immediately after they appeared, yesterday’s priority was the elaborately-packaged The John Adams Edition from Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings. By the time I was ready to take stock of the GRAMMY situation this morning, my Inbox had accumulated enough publicity material to suggest that things would not be quite so disconcerting this time.

Sure enough, while items of interest could be found in only six categories last year, this year they went up to eight, two in jazz and six in classical. Furthermore, some of the recordings involved had escalated my response to enthusiasm, rather than mere approval. As might be guessed, some of the names involved this year had also shown up last year (or in earlier years); but I would prefer to think that this does not represent a failure of my tastes to change with the times!

This year I shall review the relevant categories in their numerical order. As was the case last year, I shall attach hyperlinks where appropriate. Since no articles will be involved this year, I can be more thorough with those hyperlinks. Having said all that, let me begin:

31. Best Improvised Jazz Solo

Can't Remember Why
Sara Caswell, soloist
Track from: Whispers On The Wind (Chuck Owen And The Jazz Surge)

Dance Of Shiva
Billy Childs, soloist
Track from: Rebirth

Fred Hersch, soloist
Track from: Open Book

Miles Beyond
John McLaughlin, soloist
Track from: Live @ Ronnie Scott's (John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension)

Chris Potter, soloist
Track from: The Dreamer Is The Dream

Last year’s Hersch selection, the track “We See” from Sunday Night At The Vanguard, was the only one that made it to my radar. I continue to follow Hersch’s work with great interest. In this case, however, I have to review what I wrote about this track, which was that Hersch was following in the footsteps of Benjamin Britten, who had written a set of variations that began with the most elaborate variation and eventually concluded a gradual “distillation” process with the theme itself. Similar patience is required for this track when it comes to realizing that Hersch really is playing Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not.” This is a perfect example of jazz the way I like it!

33. Best Jazz Instrumental Album

Uptown, Downtown
Bill Charlap Trio

Billy Childs

Project Freedom
Joey DeFrancesco & The People

Fred Hersch

The Dreamer Is The Dream
Chris Potter

As that one track goes, so goes the entire album!

74. Producer Of The Year, Classical

Blanton Alspaugh

• Adamo: Becoming Santa Claus (Emmanuel Villaume, Kevin Burdette, Keith Jameson, Lucy Schaufer, Hila Plitmann, Matt Boehler, Jonathan Blalock, Jennifer Rivera & Dallas Opera Orchestra) • Aldridge: Sister Carrie (William Boggs, Keith Phares, Matt Morgan, Alisa Suzanne Jordheim, Stephen Cunningham, Adriana Zabala, Florentine Opera Chorus & Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra) • Copland: Symphony No. 3; Three Latin American Sketches (Leonard Slatkin & Detroit Symphony Orchestra) • Death & The Maiden (Patricia Kopatchinskaja & The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra) • Handel: Messiah (Andrew Davis, Noel Edison, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir & Toronto Symphony Orchestra) • Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 53, 64 & 96 (Carlos Kalmar & Oregon Symphony) • Heggie: It's A Wonderful Life (Patrick Summers, William Burden, Talise Trevigne, Andrea Carroll, Rod Gilfry & Houston Grand Opera) • Tyberg: Masses (Brian A. Schmidt, Christopher Jacobson & South Dakota Chorale)

Manfred Eicher
Mansurian: Requiem (Alexander Liebreich, Florian Helgath, RIAS Kammerchor & Münchener Kammerorchester) • Monk, M.: On Behalf Of Nature (Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble) • Point & Line - Debussy And Hosokawa (Momo Kodama) • Rímur (Arve Henriksen & Trio Mediaeval) • Silvestrov: Hieroglyphen Der Nacht (Anja Lechner)

David Frost
• Alma Española (Isabel Leonard) • Amplified Soul (Gabriela Martinez) • Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 6 (Jonathan Biss) • Bruckner: Symphony No. 9 (Riccardo Muti & Chicago Symphony Orchestra) • Garden Of Joys And Sorrows (Hat Trick Trio) • Laks: Chamber Works (ARC Ensemble) • Schoenberg, Adam: American Symphony; Finding Rothko; Picture Studies (Michael Stern & Kansas City Symphony) • Troika (Matt Haimovitz & Christopher O'Riley) • Verdi: Otello (Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Günther Groissböck, Željko Lučić, Dimitri Pittas, Aleksandrs Antonenko, Sonya Yoncheva, The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus)

Morten Lindberg
• Furatus (Ole Edvard Antonsen & Wolfgang Plagge) • Interactions (Bård Monsen & Gunnar Flagstad) • Kleiberg: Mass For Modern Man (Eivind Gullberg Jensen, Trondheim Vokalensemble & Trondheim Symphony Orchestra) • Minor Major (Oslo String Quartet) • Northern Timbre (Ragnhild Hemsing & Tor Espen Aspaas) • So Is My Love (Nina T. Karlsen & Ensemble 96) • Thoresen: Sea Of Names (Trond Schau)

Judith Sherman

• American Nocturnes (Cecile Licad) • The Birthday Party (Aki Takahashi) • Discovering Bach (Michelle Ross) • Foss: Pieces Of Genius (New York New Music Ensemble) • Secret Alchemy - Chamber Works By Pierre Jalbert (Curtis Macomber & Michael Boriskin) • Sevenfive - The John Corigliano Effect (Gaudette Brass) • Sonic Migrations - Music Of Laurie Altman (Various Artists) • Tribute (Dover Quartet) • 26 (Melia Watras & Michael Jinsoo Lim)

Once again, my enthusiasm is at its highest where Eicher is concerned. I may not follow up on everything that he releases. However, whenever I decide to listen to one of his productions, it always turns out to be an exciting journey of discovery. That said, I also have to speak up for the latest installment in Slatkin’s Copland project, particularly since he is the first person to record the score of Copland’s third symphony in the form that the composer originally intended.

75. Best Orchestral Performance

Concertos For Orchestra
Louis Langrée, conductor (Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra)

Copland: Symphony No. 3; Three Latin American Sketches
Leonard Slatkin, conductor (Detroit Symphony Orchestra)

Debussy: Images; Jeux & La Plus Que Lente
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (San Francisco Symphony)

Osmo Vänskä, conductor (Minnesota Orchestra)

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5; Barber: Adagio
Manfred Honeck, conductor (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)

There is some impressive competition here; but what matters most (at least to me) is how Slatkin has broken new ground in approaching music that we thought we knew.

77. Best Choral Performance

Bryars: The Fifth Century
Donald Nally, conductor (PRISM Quartet; The Crossing)

Handel: Messiah
Andrew Davis, conductor; Noel Edison, chorus master (Elizabeth DeShong, John Relyea, Andrew Staples & Erin Wall; Toronto Symphony Orchestra; Toronto Mendelssohn Choir)

Mansurian: Requiem
Alexander Liebreich, conductor; Florian Helgath, chorus master (Anja Petersen & Andrew Redmond; Münchener Kammerorchester; RIAS Kammerchor)

Music Of The Spheres
Nigel Short, conductor (Tenebrae)

Tyberg: Masses
Brian A. Schmidt, conductor (Christopher Jacobson; South Dakota Chorale)

My interest in Bryars goes all the way back to when Brian Eno released a recording of his music in his very first Obscure Records issue. The title of that album was The Sinking of the Titanic, which was on one side of the vinyl record. “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” was on the other. Bryars’ interest in madrigals has taken him to an entirely new place, and this is one of the two recordings I have that establish that place. The Fifth Century reminded me of how much I enjoy keeping up with Bryars’ progress as a composer.

80. Best Classical Solo Vocal Album

Bach & Telemann: Sacred Cantatas
Philippe Jaroussky; Petra Müllejans, conductor (Ann-Kathrin Brüggemann & Juan de la Rubia; Freiburger Barockorchester)

Crazy Girl Crazy - Music By Gershwin, Berg & Berio
Barbara Hannigan (Orchestra Ludwig)

Gods & Monsters
Nicholas Phan; Myra Huang, accompanist

In War & Peace - Harmony Through Music
Joyce DiDonato; Maxim Emelyanychev, conductor (Il Pomo D’Oro)

Sviridov: Russia Cast Adrift
Dmitri Hvorostovsky; Constantine Orbelian, conductor (St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra & Style Of Five Ensemble)

Perhaps I should confess that my interest in Gods & Monsters has at least something to do with the fact that I was fortunate enough to be able to listen to all but a few of the tracks at a “salon” recital that Phan gave this past March. Nevertheless, even before attending that recital, I was fascinated by the program Phan had conceived for this album and the diversity of composers he summoned to realize that program. All of those composers are from either Austria or Germany, all working in the setting of what we now call the Romantic period. As important as his selections is Phan’s attentiveness to finding just the right rhetorical stance from which to endow each German text with maximum impact. As a result, listening to the recording can be almost as compelling as listening to its selections in recital.

81. Best Classical Compendium

Alexandre Tharaud; Cécile Lenoir, producer

Higdon: All Things Majestic, Viola Concerto & Oboe Concerto
Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor; Tim Handley, producer

Kurtág: Complete Works For Ensemble & Choir
Reinbert de Leeuw, conductor; Guido Tichelman, producer

Les Routes De L'Esclavage
Jordi Savall, conductor; Benjamin Bleton, producer

Mademoiselle: Première Audience - Unknown Music Of Nadia Boulanger
Lucy Mauro; Lucy Mauro, producer

In this case all I can say is that there is no such thing as too much of the music of György Kurtág, whether in performance or on recording.

82. Best Contemporary Classical Composition

Concerto For Orchestra
Zhou Tian, composer (Louis Langrée & Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra)
Track from: Concertos For Orchestra

Picture Studies
Adam Schoenberg, composer (Michael Stern & Kansas City Symphony)
Track from: Schoenberg, Adam: American Symphony; Finding Rothko; Picture Studies

Tigran Mansurian, composer (Alexander Liebreich, Florian Helgath, RIAS Kammerchor & Münchener Kammerorchester)

Songs Of Solitude
Richard Danielpour, composer (Thomas Hampson, Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony)
Track from: Danielpour: Songs Of Solitude & War Songs

Viola Concerto
Jennifer Higdon, composer (Roberto Díaz, Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony)
Track from: Higdon: All Things Majestic, Viola Concerto & Oboe Concerto

My preference for Bryars in the Choral category should not negate my fascination with Mansurian’s approach to an approach to sacred music that is probably unfamiliar to most listeners. Mansurian hit the sweet spot in appealing to both the listener’s context of familiarity and the uniqueness of an Armenian rhetoric of expressiveness. In the context of recently composed works, this is music that definitely should not be neglected.

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