Picks of the Year: 1999

by Walter Simmons



Listed below are the five releases that thrilled and satisfied me the most during the past year. First is a new, up-to-date recording (reviewed last issue) featuring fine performances of Lili Boulanger’s greatest choral and orchestral works. This is an indispensable release for all admirers of French music of the early 20thcentury. It is not surprising that the first of Nicolas Flagello’s six operas to be recorded is The Piper of Hamelin (reviewed next issue). Although this charming adaptation of the classic fable was written for children, it reveals the same symphonic construction, thoroughgoing craftsmanship, and many of the spiritual themes found in the more serious works of this great American neoromantic. The Finnish Einojuhani Rautavaara is one of the strongest, most wide-ranging compositional voices of our time. Naxos has released a fine sample (reviewed in this issue) of his more accessible works, at a price low enough to make this a can’t-lose opportunity for all curious listeners who have yet to discover this fascinating creative figure. Although it does not meet my usual Want List requirement that the music be of the “neglected masterpiece” genre, I have decided to include the two-disc anthology featuring brilliant performances by Leon Fleisher (reviewed in this issue). I have always considered Fleisher to be one of the greatest of all mainstream pianists of mainstream repertoire; his performances illuminate those qualities that reveal the essence of the music’s greatness. Worthy of special mention are definitive readings of the Copland sonata and of the Liszt B minor. As I noted in my review (in 22:5), “Saxophone Masterpieces” truly lives up to its title, with superb performances of Creston’s classic sonata, Muczynski’s compact, soon-to-be-classic sonata, and Kabelác’s fascinating rarity. And finally, while acknowledging my own involvement as producer, I would like to mention as a postscript Tatjana Rankovich’s expert reading of the Flagello Piano Sonata, along with premiere recordings of the sonatas by Paul Creston and Vittorio Giannini (Phoenix PHCD-143; reviewed last issue).

BOULANGER Choral and Orchestral Works – Soloists/Stringer/Namur Ch/Luxembourg PO – TIMPANI 1C1046

FLAGELLO The Piper of Hamelin – McGrath/Strasser/Manhattan Schl. Of Music Prep. Div. Ch/SO – NEWPORT NCD 60153

RAUTAVAARA Symphony No. 3/Piano Concerto No. 1/Cantus Arcticus – Mikkola/Lintu/Royal Scottish Nat’l. O – NAXOS 8.554147

GREAT PIANISTS OF THE 20TH CENTURY – Fleisher – PHILIPS 456 775-2

SAXOPHONE MASTERPIECES (Music by CRESTON, KABELÁC, MUCZYNSKI, HEIDEN) – Rousseau, Klepác – RIAX RICA-1001