Bach: Cello Suites
Thomas Demenga, cello Bach’s sublime Cello Suites already command a spot on many desert-island playlists. But interpretively speaking, there has always been less agreement: Should we hear these works as embodiments of courtly Baroque dance forms or as proto-Romantic confessions of the soul? Thomas Demenga, a masterful Swiss cellist, refuses to choose. In these tastefully ornamented, light-filled readings, he manages to make Bach’s timeless worlds-in-miniature feel like both at the same time.
Gyorgy Kurtag: Complete Works for Ensemble and Choir
Hungarian composer Gyorgy Kurtag is a master of the compressed musical aphorism; his briefest of works contain multitudes. This painstakingly recorded three-disc set offers the authoritative collection of his choral works. As dispatches from across the decades of a career built behind the Iron Curtain, these works at their most compelling parse the possibilities of authentic personal expression in relentlessly dark times.
Mieczyslaw Weinberg: Chamber Symphonies,
With this compelling two-disc set, the intrepid Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica continue their championing of Weinberg — a friend and contemporary of Shostakovich’s — whose dramatically vivid and expressively harrowing music is finally emerging from the shadows. Kremer describes the Chamber Symphonies as comparable to Vasily Grossman’s epic “Life and Fate” — that is, “a diary of the most dramatic period in the 20th century.”
Steffani: Duets of Love and Passion
Boston Early Music Festival The Boston Early Music Festival has been bringing richly deserved attention to the music of Agostino Steffani since 2011, when it presented his opera “Niobe, Regina di Tebe.” Now comes this thoughtfully rendered disc of Steffani’s sumptuous chamber duets, exquisitely sung by Amanda Forsythe, Emoke Barath, Colin Balzer, and Christian Immler, and elegantly supported by the BEMF Chamber Ensemble under the direction of Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs.
Pavel Haas Quartet and guests Dvorak’s high-spirited chamber music was well-served on disc this year, but this release by the Czech Pavel Haas Quartet and guests — devoted to the “American” String Quintet and the Piano Quintet No 2 — stands apart for its singing lines, its sheer warmth of engagement, and its exhilarating rhythmic drive.
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Mahler: Symphony No. 6
Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra; Benjamin Zander, conductor
From the level of accomplishment, it’s hard to believe this orchestra is made up of young musicians, ages 12 to 21, many of them no doubt playing this formidable masterwork for the first time. But the joy of discovery is palpable in every nook and cranny of this exciting performance under the insightful direction of Benjamin Zander, recorded live at Symphony Hall last spring.
Jeremy Eichler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @Jeremy_Eichler.