I was too wrapped up in one of my better days of experiencing music in performance yesterday to pay much attention to the 56th annual GRAMMY awards ceremony. However, since I had undertaken the exercise of comparing the nominees against those recordings from last year that had impressed me, I still wanted to see how my personal preferences had fared. The bottom line is that they fared very poorly, which may mean little more than that I should get myself a T-shirt displaying the motto “Too far out for the GRAMMYs.”
To go into specifics, let me reproduce the list of nominees (with the appropriate GRAMMY index numbers) from last month’s article, including the hyperlinks to relevant articles, and then comment on the winning selections:
72. Producer of the Year, Classical
Manfred Eicher • Beethoven: Diabelli-Variationen (András Schiff) • Canto Oscuro (Anna Gourari) • Pärt: Adam’s Lament (Tõnu Kaljuste, Latvian Radio Choir, Vox Clamantis, Sinfonietta Riga, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir & Tallinn Chamber Orchestra) • Tabakova: String Paths (Maxim Rysanov)
David Frost • Andres: Home Stretch (Timo Andres, Andrew Cyr & Metropolis Ensemble) • Angel Heart, A Music Storybook (Matt Haimovitz & Uccello) • Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2 (Jonathan Biss) • Ben-Haim: Chamber Works (ARC Ensemble) • Celebrating The American Spirit (Judith Clurman & Essential Voices USA) • Elgar: Enigma Variations; Vaughan Williams: The Wasps; Greensleeves (Michael Stern & Kansas City Symphony) • Guilty Pleasures (Renée Fleming, Sebastian Lang-Lessing & Philharmonia Orchestra) • Verdi: Otello (Riccardo Muti, Aleksandrs Antonenko, Krassimira Stoyanova, Carlo Guelfi, Chicago Symphony Chorus & Chicago Symphony Orchestra) • Winter Morning Walks (Dawn Upshaw, Maria Schneider, Australian Chamber Orchestra & St. Paul Chamber Orchestra)
Marina A. Ledin, Victor Ledin • Bizet: Symphony In C; Jeux D’Enfants; Variations Chromatiques (Martin West & San Francisco Ballet Orchestra) • Traveling Sonata – European Music For Flute & Guitar (Viviana Guzmán & Jérémy Jouve) • Voyages (Conrad Tao) • Zia (Del Sol String Quartet)
James Mallinson • Berlioz: Grande Messe Des Morts (Colin Davis, London Symphony Chorus, London Philharmonic Choir & London Symphony Orchestra) • Bloch: Symphony In C-Sharp Minor & Poems Of The Sea (Dalia Atlas & London Symphony Orchestra) • Fauré: Requiem; Bach: Partita, Chorales & Ciaccona (Nigel Short, Tenebrae & London Symphony Orchestra Chamber Ensemble) • Nielsen: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 3 (Colin Davis & London Symphony Orchestra) • Wagner: Das Rheingold (Valery Gergiev, René Pape, Stephan Rügamer, Nikolai Putilin & Mariinsky Orchestra) • Wagner: Die Walküre (Valery Gergiev, Anja Kampe, Jonas Kaufmann, René Pape, Nina Stemme & Mariinsky Orchestra) • Weber: Der Freischütz (Colin Davis, Christine Brewer, Sally Matthews, Simon O’Neill, London Symphony Chorus & London Symphony Orchestra)
Jay David Saks • Adams: Nixon In China (John Adams, Russell Braun, Ginger Costa-Jackson, James Maddalena, Janis Kelly, Richard Paul Fink, Robert Brubaker, Kathleen Kim, The Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orchestra) • Adès: The Tempest (Thomas Adès, Audrey Luna, Isabel Leonard, Alan Oke, Simon Keenlyside, Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orchestra) • The Enchanted Island (William Christie, Joyce DiDonato, David Daniels, Danielle De Niese, Luca Pisaroni, Lisette Oropesa, Plácido Domingo, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus) • Handel: Rodelinda (Harry Bicket, Renée Fleming, Andreas Scholl, Joseph Kaiser, Stephanie Blythe, Iestyn Davies, Shenyang & The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra) • Live At Carnegie Hall (James Levine, Evgeny Kissin & The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra) • Verdi: Rigoletto (Michele Mariotti, Željko Lučić, Diana Damrau, Piotr Beczala, Oksana Volkova, Štefan Kocán, The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus)
The winner in this category was Frost. As is clear from the lack of hyperlinks, the only recording associated with his name that caught my attention was the second volume of Biss’ Beethoven project. I had previously observed that I much preferred this second volume to the first, but I must confess that it is hard for me to say how much of a role Frost played in that preference. As far as I am concerned, Biss is the major asset on this recording; and I am disappointed that Eicher, who puts so much work into providing recorded accounts of such an impressive variety of performers and repertoire, did not get the nod.
75. Best Choral Performance
Berlioz: Grande Messe Des Morts Colin Davis, conductor (Barry Banks; London Symphony Orchestra; London Philharmonic Choir & London Symphony Chorus) Label: LSO Live
Palestrina: Volume 3 Harry Christophers, conductor (The Sixteen) Label: Coro
Parry: Works For Chorus & Orchestra Neeme Järvi, conductor; Adrian Partington, chorus master (Amanda Roocroft; BBC National Orchestra Of Wales; BBC National Chorus Of Wales) Label: Chandos
Pärt: Adam’s Lament Tõnu Kaljuste, conductor (Tui Hirv & Rainer Vilu; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; Sinfonietta Riga & Tallinn Chamber Orchestra; Latvian Radio Choir & Vox Clamantis) Label: ECM New Series
Whitbourn: Annelies James Jordan, conductor (Ariana Zukerman; The Lincoln Trio; Westminster Williamson Voices) Label: Naxos
This seems to be the one case in which I agreed with the GRAMMY judges. It is a perfect example of Eicher doing his job so well. However, I can take comfort that Eicher’s impressive chemistry in working with Arvo Pärt, a product of many years of collaboration, was given some acknowledgement.
76. Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance
Beethoven: Violin Sonatas Leonidas Kavakos & Enrico Pace Label: Decca
Cage: The 10,000 Things Vicki Ray, William Winant, Aron Kallay & Tom Peters Label: MicroFest Records
Duo Hélène Grimaud & Sol Gabetta Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Roomful Of Teeth Brad Wells & Roomful Of Teeth Label: New Amsterdam Records
Times Go By Turns New York Polyphony Label: BIS Records
This is the one that really made me grate my teeth. Back in April of 2011, I singled out New Amsterdam Records for their aesthetic that seemed to prefer the “almost deliberate mindlessness of the club scene” over the interests of those of us for whom listening is the highest priority. The Beethoven recording was definitely aimed at that latter category. Both Kavakos and Pace demonstrated that it was possible to come up with readings of all ten of the sonatas that were fresh and original enough to engage the attention of the serious listener. I am disappointed that the GRAMMY judges chose not to recognize this virtue and went instead with the New Amsterdam release, but I am not surprised.
77. Best Classical Instrumental Solo
Bartók, Eötvös & Ligeti Patricia Kopatchinskaja; Peter Eötvös, conductor (Ensemble Modern & Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra) Label: Naïve
Corigliano: Conjurer – Concerto For Percussionist & String Orchestra Evelyn Glennie; David Alan Miller, conductor (Albany Symphony) Track from: Corigliano: Conjurer; Vocalise Label: Naxos
The Edge Of Light Gloria Cheng (Calder Quartet) Label: harmonia mundi
Lindberg: Piano Concerto No. 2 Y efim Bronfman; Alan Gilbert, conductor (New York Philharmonic) Track from: Magnus Lindberg Label: Dacapo Records
Salonen: Violin Concerto; Nyx Leila Josefowicz; Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor (Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra) Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Schubert: Piano Sonatas D. 845 & D. 960 Maria João Pires Label: Deutsche Grammophon
While I have nothing against the judges going for John Corigliano, I have to hold fast to my personal aesthetic, which continues to be bowled over every time I listen to Lindberg’s concerto.
78. Best Classical Vocal Solo
Drama Queens Joyce DiDonato (Alan Curtis; Il Complesso Barocco) Label: Virgin Classics
Mission Cecilia Bartoli (Diego Fasolis; Philippe Jaroussky; I Barocchisti) Label: Decca
Schubert: Winterreise Christoph Prégardien (Michael Gees) Label: Challenge
Wagner Jonas Kaufmann (Donald Runnicles; Markus Brück; Chor Der Deutschen Oper Berlin; Orchester Der Deutschen Oper Berlin) Label: Decca
Winter Morning Walks Dawn Upshaw (Maria Schneider; Jay Anderson, Frank Kimbrough & Scott Robinson; Australian Chamber Orchestra & St. Paul Chamber Orchestra) Label: ArtistShare
This award went to Upshaw. I have to confess that the recording never even got close to my radar. I still hold to my own strong preference for Kauffmann and Runnicles. However, in this case I can accept that those of us who take our Wagner seriously are probably in the minority!
79. Best Classical Compendium
Hindemith: Violinkonzert; Symphonic Metamorphosis; Konzertmusik Christoph Eschenbach, conductor Label: Ondine
Holmboe: Concertos Dima Slobodeniouk, conductor; Preben Iwan, producer Label: Dacapo Records
Tabakova: String Paths Maxim Rysanov; Manfred Eicher, producer Label: ECM New Series
In this case the judges went with the Hindemith selection; and, perhaps because it was in a “compendium” category, there was no mention of Midori being the soloist in the violin concerto. Still, my own preferences ran strongly in favor of Eicher. I suppose this was one of those cases in which I preferred to look forward towards the aesthetic of Dobrinka Tabakova than to reflect on an effort to revive interest in Paul Hindemith.
80. Best Contemporary Classical Composition
Lindberg, Magnus: Piano Concerto No. 2 Magnus Lindberg, composer (Yefim Bronfman, Alan Gilbert & New York Philharmonic) Track from: Magnus Lindberg Label: Dacapo Records
Pärt, Arvo: Adam’s Lament Arvo Pärt, composer (Tõnu Kaljuste, Latvian Radio Choir, Vox Clamantis & Sinfonietta Riga) Track from: Arvo Pärt: Adam’s Lament Label: ECM New Series
Salonen, Esa-Pekka: Violin Concerto Esa-Pekka Salonen, composer (Leila Josefowicz, Esa-Pekka Salonen & Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra) Track from: Out Of Nowhere Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Schneider, Maria: Winter Morning Walks Maria Schneider, composer (Dawn Upshaw, Jay Anderson, Frank Kimbrough, Scott Robinson & Australian Chamber Orchestra) Track from: Winter Morning Walks
As I said above, Schneider never made it onto my radar; but, once again, that was the recording that found favor with the judges. I should observe that, while there were only hyperlinks for the first two candidates, I was fortunate enough to hear Salonen conduct Josefowicz when she performed his concerto with the San Francisco Symphony in December of 2011. So I find it ironic that the award went to the one nominated composition with which I had had absolutely no experience. If that was my loss, so be it; but it will be hard to shake me from my strong feelings about Lindberg’s concerto.
So now I know where I stand with respect to this year’s GRAMMY winners; and perhaps, when the next round of nominations get announced in December, I may want to think about whether or not the preferences I express may be taken by some as a “kiss of death!”