This has not been a year where a lot of things jump out at me. I guess it’s safe to say that I am not a great music journalist when not every recording comes out and speaks to me in such a powerful way. Other people seem to find various strong points even about music they find only marginally satisfying. I tend to be less outspoken. I’m also still the sole writer and operator of this page, so, that is another factor, when it is very difficult to have the ability to even make the time for every recording and rank them accordingly.
I also have to say that it’s really against my personal beliefs to have a list of “best” albums in an order that gives the impression that I think certain recordings are better than others. Yes, I do have favorites, but it’s tough when you want to make a big list, and you put really good albums at the bottom end of it. And what are the factors that put lesser or greater value on those picks, exactly? I had a list last year, and even though I swore that it was not a list in the order of greatness, I still had the Hilary Hahn Ives recording listed first. That was definitely pointed out right away, but I still feel that I broke my own rule for the sake of Hilary Hahn, almost to the point that I was being biased. I do really like her Ives album, but I suppose that it was easier to start with that. I randomly listed some other releases last year, some of which I actually reviewed on the blog and others I didn’t, but did hear beforehand. Leah Kardos’ Feather Hammer was, for sure, a dark horse candidate for album of the year, and, in my opinion, a debut CD (even though she’d made music previously as My Lithium & Me) that surely sounds like a recording that’s going to be a difficult one for Ms. Kardos to top in the years to come.
Getting back to 2012, I think it’s easier to just talk about the year in music when I look at it this way: There were quite a few really good moments, but this year for me, Silfra by Hilary Hahn and Hauschka is definitely the clear winner if I were to choose a winner. Being that I like HH and everything, that is a certainty, but when I heard about it and I saw the cover, I knew that it was not going to be like the rest of her catalog.
Since I’ve already written about this recording (twice!!) here and here, I’ll just add this–The idea of artists going off their desired track into a whole ‘nother direction is always intriguing, and the fact that the lady-in-the-concert-gown-with-violin nuance that Hilary Hahn has had for many years was altered by this experiment is really what helped make this album as powerful as it is. Hauschka is still somebody that I would like to hear more of, just to see how much of his comfort zone was put aside for this project, but I still think this was like Hilary Hahn’s Revolver.
Some of the other recordings I liked this year:
Alisa Weilerstein’s recording of both the Elgar and the Elliot Carter Cello Concertos is a very strong one for her Decca debut. Delivering a superb performance, Ms. Weilerstein showcases a range of prowess of both classical repertoire and contemporary music. The recent passing of Elliot Carter makes the new recording a poignant and fitting tribute. I look forward to more from the cellist.
Mariel Roberts, another great young cellist, makes an amazingly edgy debut of her own with nonextraneous sounds, a CD of all-new pieces by living composers. The epic-length “formations” by Tristan Perich is the album’s tour-de-force.
The debut of NY-based singer-songwriter Debbie Chou titled Lovebug is something you hear where you decide somebody is your favorite local artist. It’s a really striking collection of songs that shows Chou is a artist that wants to define her direction. Another interesting note: NY-based violinist Caleb Burhans plays on several tracks. Please support Ms. Chou (as an artist) and get a copy! 🙂
The all-percussion ensemble Sō Percussion had 2 releases this year–The massively-sized bootleg recording of the group’s performances of John Cage titled Cage 100 (available as a download only–also with a CD sampler and a blank vinyl LP), and Where (we) Live, both a CD and a live show that they toured late this past year. Cage 100 is a very long project to process, but it is quite a treat to hear a piece like “Credo in US” and hear soundbites from Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow used in a seemingly random placement–think BBC radio play in “I Am The Walrus” but with an obviously considered manner. Where (we) Live is an all-new studio recording that also features a collaboration with guitarist-singer-songwriter Grey McMurray. The group is always fascinating with their theatrical approach to percussion and new music, and they have such a wonderful addition of spoken word as well from Josh Quillen.
Not one, but TWO Bach-oriented CDs by violinists this year, from very different schools of album-approach, I suppose:
Anne Akiko Meyers’ AIR: The Bach Album is a recording that focuses on the concertos and music arranged for violin and chamber orchestra, and is definitely a great collection that serves well for anyone that is coming into the interest of Bach and classical for the first time. Even though Anne’s precious and rare Strads (one of which is the famous Molitor that was once owned by Napoleon) are both being played on this recording, at times the violins sound like violas, but her technique is very smooth and seems to work for the kind of dynamic that this recording required. Also quite a treat that she performed both parts on the Double Concerto.
Jennifer Koh’s Bach and Beyond, Part 1 is really the first volume of CDs that’s based on her series of concerts exploring the Bach solo violin music and its connection to and influence on later solo violin repertoire. Miss Koh is another one I really appreciate even in the very rough jungle of formidable soloists, Hilary Hahn not withstanding, and on this recording, her Bach is as compelling as her performances of Ysaye and the living composers Missy Mazzoli and Kaija Saariaho.
Singer-songwriter Lauren O’Connell had released Quitters, and for me, it’s another one of those albums by a new person (new to me, anyway) that really makes me want to hear more. Her minimalist style of alt-country is what I fell in love with, and I was really struck by the uplifting rocker “I Will Bring You Down”. Please get a hold of this album, either a hard copy or stream it, and please support Ms. O’Connell (as an artist 🙂 )
Pianist Jenny Lin put out an album called Get Happy (not to be confused with Elvis Costello’s album of the same name) that features a collection of Broadway and lounge standards all arranged for piano by people known for great piano work themselves (Chris O’Riley, Greg Anderson, Marc-Andre Hamelin, etc). The album is a showcase of both virtuosic playing and arrangments very sensitive to both the tradition of the music of the Broadway stage and to classical tastes simultaneously.
Happy 2013, everybody, from The Glass!