Picks of the Year: 2006

This year I was able to arrive at only four recent releases that met my criteria of great, little-known recent repertoire, beautifully performed, and superbly recorded. However, my abbreviated list is probably limited more by my own insufficient exposure than by a paucity of worthy releases. An all-Moravec CD appeared on my Want List last year. This recent Naxos release of music by the recent Pulitzer Prize-winner is perhaps even more rewarding, as the 42-minute Time Gallery is an extraordinary work-one of the composer’s best, as far as I know. Moravec manages the rare feat of writing music that sounds up-to-date and individual, but is also pleasingly accessible. I suspect that he will prove to be one of the most important American composers of his generation. 

William Schuman is, of course, one of the most important American composers of a previous generation, perhaps one of the three greatest American symphonists of the 20th century. Although his music has not received much attention since his death in 1992, Naxos appears to be attempting to remedy this neglect by releasing new recordings of all ten of his symphonies. Four of them have been released as of this writing. The disc listed here (reviewed in 29:1, 29:5) will hopefully draw new admirers to this distinguished composer’s body of work. 

Joseph Schwantner (another Pulitzer Prize-winner, as was Schuman) has suddenly been the beneficiary of some auspicious recording activity. This fine recent release from Hyperion offers exquisite performances of four of his most appealing works. Three of them feature soloists, who ably execute their responsibilities. Like Moravec, Schwantner is another non-doctrinaire, post-modern individualist whose highly evocative music has broad appeal, even beyond the usual “classical music” audience.

Patrick Zimmerli, born in 1968, is the youngest composer cited here. Although he is active as a jazz musician, his two piano trios (reviewed in 29:1, 29:4) are highly traditional in style, harking back to similar works by Brahms. However, Zimmerli speaks through his models with such urgency and authenticity that the results are irresistibly compelling, while their impact is enhanced by these virtuosic performances.

In closing I must mention two new releases featuring the music of two Italian-American traditionalists; both would definitely be on my Want List were it not for the fact that I had some involvement in their production. One (Naxos 8.570130, reviewed in 30:1) offers the complete music for wind ensemble by Vittorio Giannini. Although his Symphony No. 3 is a much-beloved work that has enjoyed multiple recordings, his other works for this medium are as good, and at least one-Variations and Fugue-is even better; indeed, it is one of the masterpieces of the genre. The famed University of Houston Wind Ensemble offers meticulous performances, under the direction of Tom Bennett. The other new release (Naxos 8.559296) features three major works, never before recorded, by Nicolas Flagello. These are the Piano Concerto No. 1, played by Tatjana Rankovich, who has already given us brilliant recordings of the composer’s other two piano concertos; a dramatic scena for soprano and orchestra, called Dante’s Farewell, sung gorgeously by soprano Susan Gonzalez; and Flagello’s last work, the Concerto Sinfonico for saxophone quartet and orchestra. In the latter work, Kynan Johns draws superb playing from the Rutgers Symphony Orchestra, joined here by the New Hudson Saxophone Quartet. In the other two works, the National Radio Orchestra of Ukraine is conducted by John McLaughlin Williams, an eloquent advocate of worthy, lesser-known repertoire whose reputation is growing rapidly as his recordings draw increasing attention.

MORAVEC The Time Gallery. Protean Fantasy. Ariel Fantasy • eighth blackbird/Sheppard-Skaerved/Shorr • NAXOS 8.559267

SCHUMAN Symphonies 4, 9. Circus Overture. Orchestra Song • Schwarz/Seattle SO • NAXOS 8.559254

SCHWANTNER A Sudden Rainbow. Angelfire. Beyond Autumn. September Canticle • Soloists/Litton/Dallas SO ? HYPERION CDA67493

ZIMMERLI Piano Trios Nos. 1 and 2 • Yoo/Mermagen/Novacek • ARABESQUE Z6785