Record Winners of 2019

golden CDEven though I wrote an article on this blog in December 2016 railing against the annual Grammys, Prix du Disques, etc. that all the record labels (and sometimes, but not normally) the artists seem to covet as if they actually meant something, I’ve decided to do my own annual retrospective on what I felt were indeed the most exceptional albums of the year in both classical and jazz.


Two reasons. #1, December is the worst month of the year for reviewing, because so many of the albums released are Christmas-theme-based and, as a Buddhist and a Deist, I don’t do Christmas. (Not knocking you if you do, it’s just not my thing.) #2, since no one in the industry pays that much attention to me anyway, it’s kind of a poke in the eye of the establishment for me to say what I felt were the best records of the year because I’m sure that 99% of my picks won’t be theirs. I say that because, for the most part, I gravitate to more modern music than they do and, when I do gravitate to older music, it’s generally edgier, less romantic performances than those everyone else likes.

There’s some French guy on YouTube who calls himself Professor Fabre—maybe he’s a real professor, maybe he’s not, who can tell?—who has a channel he calls Classical Music / /Reference Recordings in which he presents the “Recording of the Century” for a great deal of the standard repertoire. A few times I agree with him, as in the case of the almost-complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas by Walter Gieseking, but most of the time I tear my hair out because this guy is always pushing the “warmest” and “most human” performances, which often translates to mushy Romanticism. (Klemperer’s Fidelio is a perfect example). But eventually I figured, What the heck, it’s his taste, not mine, and if hundreds of people want to click on his links and enjoy what he has to offer, that’s their thing.

WP 2019So maybe you’ll agree with my thing, maybe not. I’m not ranking any of these recorded performances like the others do. No categories and no first-second-third-fourth place. Every record I really loved from start to finish (that’s the key) gets my WHAT A PERFORMANCE! award. Pretty simple, huh? Maybe it’ll catch on. If I had enough money, I’d probably start a podcast called WHAT A PERFORMANCE! and offer my weekly discoveries of the things that move me to the world, but I’m also not that egotistical. The late jazz composer Alonso Levister used to rib me for putting the word “I” in my reviews. “Boy, you’re such an egotist!” he’d say, No, I replied, I’m not an egotist, it’s just that everything I write about music reflects my own personal tastes and reactions, not anyone else’s, and many are the times when I say, “but you may feel differently” because it’s true. No two people in the world hear all music exactly the same, certainly not me and Professor Fabre. And possibly not even me and you.

So anyhow, here are my first annual WHAT A PERFORMANCE! awards. I’m going to go back through my reviews for the year and add the award image on those that won. In the future—meaning, starting in January 2020—I’ll just put the blue ribbon on each CD that merits a rave, then put out the list at the end of the year, but for 2019 I have to work backwards.

Since I’ve already written what I wanted to about these discs, there will be no recaps. Just click on the links below to read the full reviews. Enjoy!


Pomegranate/Kosmos Ensemble

Supernova/Atom String Quartet

Ana Maria Alonso Plays Spanish Music

Korstick Plays Franck

Thompson: The Mask in the Mirror

Tsintsadze: Preludes / Inga Folia, pianist

Fiddler’s Blues/Philippe Graffin (incl. Ysaye sonata)

Wolfgang: Vienna & the West

Schnabel: Violin Sonata/William Harvey

Grace Williams: Chamber Music

Weinberg: Chamber Symphonies, Flute Concerto/Anna Duczmal-Mróz

Gudmundsen-Holmgreen: String Quartets/Nordic String Qrt  

Bons: Nomaden/Ed Spanjaard, cond

Messiaen: Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jésus/Martin Helmchen

Copland: Billy the Kid; Grohg/Leonard Slatkin

Rathaus: Piano Music/Daniel Wnukowski 

American Concertos/Michala Petri 

Bach: Orchestral Suites/Karl Richter

Elfman: Violin Concerto; Piano Quartet

Spontini: Olympie/Jeremie Rhorer

Ligeti: Masterworks

Chabrier: L’Etoile/Mortagne, d’Oustrac, Guilmette, Fournillier

Jenny Lin Plays Schnabel

Falla: El amor Brujo etc./Ordonez

Piano Music of Bacewicz/Morta Grigaliūnaite

Transformations/Morgenstern Trio

Works for Solo Cello/Rohan de Saram

Wolpe: Music for 2 Pianos/Quattro Mani

Voice of the Viola/Ásdís Valdimarsdóttir

Schubert: String Quintet; String Quartet No. 14/Quartetto di Cremona

Wilson: Symphonies/Rory MacDonald

Alberga: String Quartets Nos. 1-3/Ensemble Arcadiana

Partch: Sonata Dementia

20th Century Harpsichord Concertos/Vinikour

Weinberg: Symphonies No. 2 & 21/Gražinyte-Tyla

Michael Gielen, Vol. 8 (Schoenberg-Berg-Webern)

Weber: Euryanthe/Sutherland, Vroons, Stiedry

Erika Fox: Paths/Goldfield Ensemble

Stravinsky: Perséphone/Wunderlich, Dixon

Groslot: Chamber Music

Silenced Voices/Black Oak Ensemble

Carlos Álvarez Live at La Monnaie

Borissova Plays Vladigerov, Poulenc & Seabourne

Sonata Concertato à Quattro/Trio Arbós

Frid: Symphony 3, Double Concerto/Gazarian

Kurtág: Scenes/Vitrenko, Grimal

Kurtág: The Edge of Silence/Susan Narucki

Herbania/Silvia Marquez

Weinberg: Viola Sonatas/Dinerchtein

Lindroth: The Wilfred Owen Songs/Eleby, Jansson

Messiaen: Harawi/Sarah Maria Sun

Crumb: 3 Early Songs, Vox Balanae

Schubert: Winterreise/Peter Mattei

Dalberg: String Quartets/Nordic Quartet

Kodály: Sonatina; Cello Sonata/Julian Steckel

Michell-Menuhin “Compassion Project”

Cooke: Violin Sonatas/Pleyel Ensemble

Veress: String Trio; Bartók: Piano Quintet/various artists

Weinberg: Piano Trio; Cello Sonata 1/Trio Khnopff

Cooke: Piano Trio, Quartet, Quintet/Pleyel Ensemble

Mozart: Don Giovanni/Stich-Randall, Gencer, Petri, Molinari-Pradelli

Grange: Homage/Gemini

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7/Mariss Jansons

Smyth: Mass in D/Sakari Oramo

20th Century British Works for Cello/Rohan de Saram

Lutosławski & Szymanowski Works/Alexander Liebreich

Jérome Billy Sings Britten

Martino Traversa: Hommage

Philippe Jordan’s Monumental Beethoven

Robert Groslot’s Concerti

The Orchestral Music of Winterberg

Raymond Lewenthal: Complete RCA & Columbia Albums

Berlioz: Messe Solennelle/Hervé Niquet

Berthomé-Reynolds Plays Bacewicz Sonatas

Eötvös’ “Three Sisters”

Palester: The Wedding Cake, 3 Poems by Czesław Miłosz, Letters to Mother


Pablo Aslan’s Jazz-Classical Quintets

Hakan A. Toker/Messing Around with the Classics

Mark Lomax: An Afrikan Epic – Part 1

Mark Lomax: An African Epic – Part 2

Mark Lomax: An African Epic – Part 3

Justin Morell: Concerto for Guitar and Jazz Orchestra

Eric Dolphy, Musical Prophet

Magela Herrera Jazz Flute

Jason Palmer: Rhyme and Reason

Ivo Perelman: Strings 3 & 4

Svenska Jazzhistoria Vol. 3: Rytm och Swing

Joey DeFrancesco: In the Key of the Universe

Cannonball Adderley Quintet in Stuttgart, 1969

Uncompromised/Michel Berthiaume Quartet

New York Trio/Angelika Niescier

The Rhythm of Invention/Wayne Wallace

Time Gone Out/Sylvie Courvoisier, Mark Feldman

Hokusai/Aki Takase

My Americana/Ernest Turner

Opening/Fred Nardin Trio

Phare/Yves Léveillé

No Boundaries/Dave Bass

Look Ahead/Fred Nardin Trio

Dark Matter/Lafayette Gilchrist

Grits, Beans & Greens/Tubby Hayes Quartet

Bass’d on a True Story/Brandon Robertson

Warrior/Catherine Sikora

Blue Brass/Paul Zauner, David Murray

Ceiling/Dana Saul

There From Here/Tune Town

How We Do/John Yao’s Triceratops

Wabi Sabi/Enrico Fazio

Cinémagique 2.0/Pago Libre

Baritone Madness/O’Rourke, Belliveau, Bane

Cascade/IN Trio

Instants of Time/Enrique Haneine

Bardfly/John Allee

The Mind’s Mural/Enrique Haneine

Hittin’ the Ramp/Nat King Cole

A Throw of Dice/Rez Abbasi

The Many Open Minds of Roger Kellaway

Dream Notes/Giorgia Santoro, Pat Battstone

Efflorescence/Ivo Perelman & Matthew Shipp

The Golden Rule for Sonny/Eric Wyatt

Erroll Garner’s “Dreamstreet”

Embargo/Toronto University Jazz Orchestra

Kasumi/Aki Takase, Ingrid Laubrock

Koukl Plays the Odd Music of Harsányi


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