Picks of the Year: 2012

by Walter Simmons



Here are the discoveries from the past year that made the biggest impact on me. I recommend them to all who enjoy worthy but lesser known music in great performances. Some may object that the piano music of Samuel Barber no longer deserves to be called “lesser known.” Well, we might say that it is “emerging” from that dustbin. The truth is that there have been many recordings of Barber’s piano music, but most of them—including those by some stellar figures—have been disappointing, as they fail to provide the optimum presentation of the music. But the young English pianist Leon McCawley (reviewed in 36:1) is one of the very few pianists to accomplish just that. I recommend his CD highly.

Music Makes a City ventures outside the Want List mold somewhat, as it is a DVD documentary (reviewed in 36:1). The subject is the story of the Louisville Orchestra. All who have followed American music since the LP era will be somewhat familiar with the role played by the Louisville Orchestra, but few are likely to be aware of the full context of the story. This documentary provides that context. American music aficionados of all ages will be sitting on the edge of their seats.

The German company cpo has been engaged in what appears to be a comprehensive survey of the orchestral music of the Polish-English composer Andrzej Panufnik. The performances have thus far been uniformly superb. But Volume IV (reviewed in 35:4) is the first to make my Want List, because it includes what are perhaps the two greatest of Panufnik’s symphonies: Sinfonia Elegiaca and Sinfonia Sacra, represented here in impeccable performances. Those who already have some interest in this truly unique composer have probably already acquired this recording. Others may want to hear some of the most deeply moving music composed in mid-20th-century Europe—especially those who have been enchanted by Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.

And, finally, I will mention a new release in which my own personal involvement precludes my including it on my official Want List: Though it is entitled “Flagello Conducts Flagello” (reviewed in 36:1), a more accurate title would be “Ezio Flagello Sings Nicolas Flagello,” as the disc comprises all the music by Nicolas that was recorded by his esteemed younger brother. Though some of the music has been issued before, the real draw is the never-before-released original version of The Passion of Martin Luther King. The program notes recount the changes that the oratorio underwent, and the reasons for these changes, but one of the results was that this studio recording, made in London in 1969, which featured one of the world’s great bass-baritones, was never released—until now. And as if the Flagello jinx can never be fully escaped, Naxos has released the recording on its “Historical Series” (8.112065), which means that it cannot be sold in the United States (a bit of a problem for a work that focuses on the words of Martin Luther King, wouldn’t you say?). Nevertheless, the Internet provides many ways around this stipulation, such as ordering it from a Canadian retailer.

BARBER Piano Music • McCawley  SOMM SOMMCD-108

MUSIC MAKES A CITY: An American Orchestra’s Untold Story • Brown, Hiler, directors  21C MEDIA GROUP

PANUFNIK  Symphonies: Nos. 2, 3, 10 • Borowicz/Berlin Konzerthaus O  cpo 777 683-2