Archive for Hyperion Records

2010’s Best

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2010 by Craig Zeichner

As we wind down 2010, here are some recordings that I think are true standouts. Yes, there’s a lot of contemporary music here, but it’s my list and I could put whatever I want on it. What were some of your 2010 favorites?

Bach on a Steinway
Jeffrey Biegel, piano
(Steinway & Sons)
Biegel adds his own tasteful and very well-conceived ornamentation to these familiar works. His touch is lithe and phrases sing beautifully throughout.

Choral Music by Jonathan Dove
Wells Cathedral Choir; Wells Cathedral Chapel Choir; Jonathan Vaughan, organ
Matthew Owens, conductor
Jonathan Dove’s choral music continues to impress and this is a superb sampling of his work. There are a few Christmas pieces and a Missa brevis setting that deserves its place in the repertoire of good church choirs. The Wells Cathedral Choir is building quite an excellent discography on the always superb Hyperion label and this is another winner.

Henri Dutilleux: D’ombre Et De Silence
Robert Levin, piano
This one took me by surprise. I always thought of Levin as the fortepianist who recorded Mozart and Beethoven concertos with the Academy of Ancient Music. Of course, he’s more than that. Dutilleux’s piano music is wonderfully eclectic with its occasional whispers of Debussy, birdsong (not quite à la Messiaen) though) and pungent quality that is marvelous. Levin plays the hell out of all of it and ECM nails the piano sound perfectly.

St. John’s Magnificat – Choral Works by Herbert Howells
Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge
Andrew Nethsingha, director
Howells and St. John’s, how can you go wrong? A Sequence for St. Michael is a dramatic motet with striking choral writing and an extended solo for tenor is a scene-stealer, but there’s plenty more here to love.

Jeremy Denk Plays Ives
Jeremy Denk, piano; Tara Helen O’Connor, flute
(Think Denk Media)
It’s really nice to have both sonatas on one disc. Denk is brilliant and pulls together all the elements of this music that is at times brash, tender, dissonant and sweet. It’s all so American and I love it.

Magnus Lindberg: Graffiti; Seht Die Sonne
Helsinki Chamber Choir; Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Sakari Oramo, conductor
Ancient Roman graffiti set to music? If anybody can pull it off, Lindberg can. Lindberg weaves some lean but extremely colorful orchestral writing around a rather eclectic vocal style that has some echoes of Britten and, more obviously, Orff. It is brilliant at every turn, as are the performances.

James MacMillan: Visitatio Sepulchri; Sun-Dogs
Netherlands Radio Choir; Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic
James MacMillan, conductor
Another deeply moving MacMillan work rooted in his deep Christian faith. Sensitive choral and orchestral writing with flashes of drama make this a very compelling recording. How come his music doesn’t get more performances in the U.S.?

Arvo Pärt: Symphony No. 4; Kanon Pokajanen: Fragments
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Esa-Pekka Salonen; Tönu Kaljuste, conductor
Pärt’s gorgeous meditation is slow-moving, lyrical and powerfully affecting. Truly music to soothe the soul.

The Glass Chamber Players
(Orange Mountain Music)
Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht and Glass’s Sextet for Strings sit beside each other very nicely on this recording by the newly formed Glass Chamber Players. The performance has immediacy and fire and makes me want to hear much more from the ensemble.

Valentin Silvestrov: Sacred Works
Kiev Chamber Choir
Mykola Hobdych, conductor
I love works that are at core traditional but take little turns that surprise. These a cappella works are rooted in Eastern liturgy but Silvestrov’s gift for introducing fascinating harmonic twists make them anything but conventional. Blend the reverberant acoustic of Kiev’s Cathedral of the Dormition into the mix and you have something otherworldly and piercingly beautiful. Serve this one up with the Pärt disc mentioned above and you will enter some ECM-induced beatified state. I like it there.

Best of 2009

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2010 by Craig Zeichner

Lots to chose from and most of it from living composers who create outside the tedious and ugly world of the conservatory. Proving that the future of music is really in the hands of those who care about originality and beauty rather than residing in the clammy claws of the sterile academics.

CD of the Year

Phil Kline: John the Revelator
Lionheart; Ethel
(Cantaloupe Music)
I can’t say enough about John the Revelator. Phil Kline has created a work whose stark beauty connects on so many levels. You’d have to be made of stone not to feel this one.

John Adams: Dr. Atomic Symphony
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
David Robertson, conductor
A strange and beautiful world of orchestral color and rampaging rhythms.

Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 1

Budapest Festival Orchestra
Ivan Fischer, conductor
(Channel Classics)
Big-boned, heroic Brahms that rivals my favorite recordings by Otto Klemperer and Istvan Kertesz. Speaking of Kertesz, I wish the corporate troglodytes at Universal would get a clue and reissue his Decca recordings.

Michael Daugherty: Fire and Blood
Ida Kavafian, violin; The Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Neeme Jarvi, conductor
Daugherty’s Fire and Blood concerto has balls and Kavafian delivers a brilliantly muscular performance. Daugherty’s music is disliked by the pasty-faced academics–“it’s glib and filled with cheap effects”–they shriek. All the more reason to love his music. Check out the recording of his Metropolis Symphony too.

Gabriel Jackson: Not No Faceless Angel
Stephen Layton, director
Jackson grabbed some deserved acclaim with “The Christ Child Sat On Mary’s Lap,” the carol commissioned for the 2009 Festival of Lessons and Carols at Kings College, Cambridge. This sublime CD is an ideal introduction to his music.

Rued Langgaard: Messis
Flemming Dreisig, organ
An organ work that clocks in at over 2 hours? Yes please! Langgaard’s music is hyper-Romantic and Dreisig is a superb organist. It’s been quite a Langgaard year with Dacapo releasing a boxed set of the quirky Dane’s complete symphonies.

James Macmillan: St. John Passion
Christopher Maltman, baritone
London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis, conductor
(LSO Live)
A deeply moving and piercingly dramatic telling of the Passion story. A gorgeous performance led by the greatest living conductor.

Mahler Symphony No. 4
Miah Persson, soprano
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Ivan Fischer, conductor
(Channel Classics)
Fischer’s excellent Mahler cycle hits a high point.

Felix Mendelssohn: Complete Organ Sonatas
William Whitehead, organ
Church organists love these little gems but they are not especially well-know outside the organ loft. Whitehead plays a marvelous old instrument on this terrific recording.

Olivier Messiaen: Saint Francois d’Assise
Rodney Gilfry, baritione; Camilla Tilling, soprano; Hubert Delamboye, tenor
Netherlands Opera Chorus, Hague Philharmonic Orchestra
Ingo Metzmacher, conductor
(Opus Arte)
Pierre Audi’s hypnotic staging is remarkable and Messiaen’s score will probably never be better-served. I think they will be serving frozen margaritas in hell before this opera is ever staged in New York, so grab this DVD and prepare to be overwhelmed.

A video treat

I’m deeply in love with soprano Miah Persson, the soloist on Fischer’s Mahler 4th. Here she is singing “Come scoglio” from Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte.

Happy 2010! I hope…

Getting a Handel on an Anniversary

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2009 by Craig Zeichner
Handel in Westminster Abbey

2009 is the 250th anniversary of the death of G. F. Handel. I love this guy.  A German who wrote beautiful Italian music and also perfected the English oratorio.  I’ve known Handel’s music since I was a teenager buying LP records. I got to know the famous works first – Water Music, Royal Fireworks Music and Messiah. I was really fired up by the choral music — I love the sound of voices, trumpets and drums – and went nuts for the grand choral pieces. I remember buying  a Seraphim LP recording of Messiah with Sir Malcolm Sargent conducting the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Huddersfield Choral Society. It was an old school Handel performance with a large chorus and modern instrument orchestra; it made a big noise and pushed my little modular stereo speakers to the limit.

A 1970s era New York radio program hosted by an over enthusiastic and somewhat daffy baroque music fan named DeKoven had opening theme music by Handel and that led to my next obsession. The music was from Handel’s Dettingen Te Deum, a barn-burner celebrating King George II’s victory at the Battle of Dettingen. Few remember the battle, but the Te Deum is a killer with rousing choruses and some testosterone-fueled arias. I bought a not so hot recording of the work on the Nonesuch label and played it endlessly. Happily, there is a, as DeKoven would say, Super O.T.W. (Super Out of  This World) recording of the work by the Trinity College Choir, Cambridge on Hyperion. It’s the best recording of the Te Deum and I demand you play it loud!


This isn’t the Trinity College Choir, but it’s a rousing performance nonetheless.  You can follow the entire performance on YouTube. Here’s the opening chorus.

I still love the pulse-thumping Handel but these days my favorite listening has come from the Italian Handel. Handel had an incredible stretch when he lived in Italy (1706-1710) wrote operas in Florence and Venice and marvelous sacred music and secular cantatas in Rome. These days I am eating up the cantatas he wrote for influential Roman patrons. Handel’s cantatas are filled with the piercingly beautiful melodies and dazzling vocal writing that made him one of the great musical stars of his day. Le Cantate Italiane di Handel is an ongoing series of the complete cantatas appearing on the superb Spanish label Glossa. These are wonderful performances and feature some of the finest singers in the early music world including a handful of magnificent sopranos:  Roberta Invernizzi (a big favorite of mine), Emanuela Galli and Nuria Rial. The instrumental ensemble La Risonanza led by harpsichordist Fabio Bonizzoni provides colorful, vibrant accompaniment. These are essential recordings for anyone interested in Handel, the baroque cantata or just flat out gorgeous singing. The series has now hit the fifth volume and can be found in CD stores or ordered from the American record distributor, Qualiton Imports.

The most recent volume in the Glossa Handel series

The most recent volume in the Glossa Handel series

Here’s an interesting interview with Bonizzoni on the third volume in the series, Le Cantate per il Cardinal Ottoboni:


I hated the job but loved the music

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

One of the worst jobs I ever had led me to some of the greatest music I ever heard. I worked for a notable publisher affiliated with a revered English university whose music division specialized in choral music. The publisher was over 600 years old and most of their business practices dated from about the same period. Petty factions stabbed at each other like Yorkists and Lancastrians and none of those involved were as entertaining as Richard III. What did I gain from my four year term with the company? The best thing was being introduced to the music of Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988), William Mathias (1934-1992) and Gabriel Jackson (b. 1962).

If you worship in an Anglican church with a good music program you might know Leighton and Mathias’s choral music. Leighton’s Easter Sequence is frequently performed and Mathias’s “A Babe is Born” pops up on many Christmas Lessons and Carols services. Both composers excelled in every genre. Leighton’s Suite ‘Veris Gratia’ for oboe, cello and strings is a neglected masterpiece whose absence from the concert hall is criminal. He also left a great collection of solo instrumental music and superb choral works. Outside of the church, Mathias has suffered the same neglect. He is best remembered for his sacred choral music but also wrote three excellent symphonies, an excellent Harp Concerto and some of the finest organ music of his day.

Jackson is one of the most exciting voices of our day. His choral music embraces the great Anglican tradition but there are also whispers of Stravinsky, Poulenc and Tavener that make for a very compelling sound. Jackson says, “I try to write music that is clean and clear in line, texture and structure; my pieces are made of simple melodies, chords, drones and ostinatos. They are not about conflict and resolution; even when animated, they are essentially contemplative. I like repetition and ‘ritualized’ structures. Much of my work reflects an interest in Medieval techniques and ideas—I am particularly drawn to the ecstatic, panconsonant music of the early Tudor period. For me, music is the most powerful medium for transcendence, and in several pieces I have attempted a spiritual response to the great technological miracle of our time—powered flight.”

The choral music of these three composers can be heard on three must-have new recordings on the Hyperion Records label:



Kenneth Leighton
The World’s Desire
Wells Cathedral Choir
Matthew Owens, conductor
Hyperion CDA67641


One of England’s very best cathedral choirs in a program that includes three premiere recordings.




William Mathias
Choral Music
Wells Cathedral Choir
Matthew Owens, conductor
Hyperion CDA67740



Another winner from the Wells Cathedral Choir, includes the premiere recording of “In Excelsis Gloria.”




Gabriel Jackson
Not no Faceless Angel
Stephen Layton, conductor
Hyperion CDA67708



Polyphony, the finest choir on the scene, sing Jackson’s mesmerizing music. Jump right to the third track, “Cecilia Virgo” and you will understand why there is such a buzz about Jackson.



The “What I Gained From My Lousy Job” Playlist


Suite ‘Veris Gratia’ [Chandos]

Organ Concerto [Chandos]

Complete Organ Music [Priory]



Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2 [Nimbus]

Lux Aeterna [Chandos]

Organ Music [Nimbus]



Sacred Choral Music [Delphian]