TPW Year in Review
It has been an interesting year for music, but I suppose they say that about every year. I was, I think, surprised to see Kanye West veering wildly toward Joy Division (indeed, at times making Joy Division look like ABBA) with 808s and Heartbreak, but I was heartened by the Killers' Day & Age. The Smiths' The Sound of the Smiths, while duplicating Louder Than Bombs to a certain degree, was a compilation deserving of attention. That's saying something when you consider how many compilations they've gotten for only four studio albums. If the pop scene has been interesting, the classical scene has been even more so in its own way. We've seen impressive and intelligent releases from major labels and the usual, lovable independent labels alike, but I think that the year can be boiled down into ten records:
1. Wagner: The Great Operas [sic] from the Bayreuth Festival (Decca)
2. Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Karl Böhm cond. (Bayreuth 1968/Orfeo)
3. Mahler: Lieder, Bertini cond. Quasthoff/Hagegard soloists (Phoenix Edition)
4. Schmidt: Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln, K. Järvi cond. (Chandos)
5. Beethoven: Symphonies 2 and 7, O. Vänskä cond. (BIS)
6. Liszt: Transcription of Beethoven: Symphony 9, McCawley/Wass, pf. (Naxos)
7. Bach: Die Kunst der Fuge, Aimard, pf. (DG)
8. Schoenberg/Sibelius: Violin concertos. Salonen, cond. Hahn violin. (DG)
9. Messiaen: Quatuor pour la fin du temps. Trio Wanderer and Pascal Moragues (HM)
10. Mendelssohn/Chopin/Strauss: Cello sonatas. Gregor Piatigorsky, vc. (Testament)
I don't know that I'll do a blurb for each entry. I suppose, on the other hand, that I should give my general rationale for the selections. First and foremost was my personal taste. There are all sorts of "important" records each year, and they seem to garner critical praise regardless of whether or not I like them. They might be "important," but if they're not good, then what does it matter? Second, I looked at merit. This can best be defined as the question, taste aside, how interesting is the record? There are a few entries on the list that are, to my mind, so interesting that I could not help but like the record. The Schoenberg violin concerto, for example, is a work that is fascinating and pretty enjoyable (despite its forbidding idiom). I gave bonus points, so to speak, to major-label releases that piqued my interest and curiosity. Why? Well, when an industry based on the pairing of Beethoven's 5th and 7th turns out an interesting record, it's an occasion for celebration. Finally, I considered the records vis-à-vis their discography. If it filled a major or notable hole in the catalog, then it got some points.
We'll see how 2009 shapes up, then.