Need a gift for the music lover in your life? Don’t miss KUSC’s My Favorite Things week! We’re sharing our favorite albums from the past year, Monday through Sunday from 8am to 6pm. It’s music we don’t want you to miss!
Alan Chapman's Favorite Things
William Bolcom: Piano Rags
Ragtime! It’s one of those all-American idioms and William Bolcom keeps it alive and well.
Annelle K. Gregory, violin / Alexander Sinchuk, piano
Rachmaninoff: Complete Works and Transcriptions for Violin and Piano
These two fine musicians spent nearly two years seeking out these transcriptions of Rachmaninoff’s music. Then they recorded these marvelous performances. And I guess I should mention that they met at USC.
Johann Sebastian Bach
Blechacz first made his mark at age twenty when he won the Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw, Poland. His performance was so stellar that the jury decided not to award the second prize. Now Blechacz has brought his talents to Bach’s music, “searching its depths, exploring its meaning and probing its possibilities.”
I’m grateful to KUSC’s Department of Not Exactly a Household Name for introducing me to the music of this Englishwoman who in 1844, at the age of eighteen, became the first female professor of harmony at the Royal Academy.
Rupert Boyd & Laura Metcalf
Boyd Meets Girl
As a punster, I appreciate the wordplay in the title of this CD by a husband/wife guitar/cello duo, but I also enjoy their fresh arrangements of a wide variety of works.
Brian Lauritzen's Favorite Things
The Crossing / John Luther Adams
Canticles of the Holy Wind
The Philadelphia-based choir The Crossing released four albums this year, all of which are among my favorites. Caroline Shaw’s piece To the Hands on the album Seven Responses is my absolute favorite recording of the year. I picked this John Luther Adams album because it reminded me of the power and mystery of the solar eclipse and how, for a brief moment, we all stopped and marveled at this celestial event which was bigger than all of us, individually and collectively.
2017 New Year’s Concert
The LA Phil’s Gustavo Dudamel became the youngest-ever conductor of this annual concert and he brought some really fun surprises to the mix, including the Strauss, Jr. waltz Mephistopheles’ Cries from Hell and The Extravagant Waltz, written for a bunch of lawyers.
Schola Cantorum Reykjavík
Okay, so technically this one came out at the end of 2016, but I didn’t discover it until 2017, when the LA Phil brought Schola Cantorum Reykjavík to Los Angeles for their Reykjavík Festival. Everything on here is great—especially the music of Icelandic composers, much of which I encountered for the first time on this album.
Unsent Love Letters
Meditations on Erik Satie
Here’s an album that flew under the radar, but which I think is one of the most creative projects of the year. The music is by the Uzbekistan-born Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin. After the death of Erik Satie, his friends discovered (among many other very odd and strange things) a trove of love letters in his Paris apartment. Kats-Chernin has written 26 short, meditative and passionate piano pieces using those unsent love letters and Satie’s eccentric life as her inspiration. We didn’t hear much from this album here in the United States because it was only released at first in Australia, by the Australian Broadcasting Company. But then, through the magic of the internet (and Deutsche Grammophon’s licensing and distribution), we have a copy via digital download.
Marin Alsop / São Paulo State Symphony
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 7 and Other Orchestral Works
I adore the Symphony No. 7 of Sergei Prokofiev and it seldom gets performed and even seldomer (I know, that’s not a word) gets played on the radio. And that’s not for lack of good recordings of the piece. There are plenty of those, including one with Andre Previn and the LA Phil from 1989 (recorded at UCLA’s Royce Hall, in fact). But this new one, with Marin Alsop and her São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra, is one of the most exciting yet: a powerful, driving opening movement; a sweet, wistful waltz of a second movement; a tender slow movement; and an exuberant finale make for a delightful ride. Add in some music from The Love for Three Oranges and Lieutenant Kije and it just makes me happy – you too, I hope!
Dianne Nicolini's Favorite Things
Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer
Based primarily on works for the keyboard, Bach Trios demonstrates the endless adaptability of Bach’s music and the nearly endless virtuosity of these three exciting performers.
Les Arts Florissants / William Christie
Un Jardin a l’Italienne
The Baroque in all its glory! I especially love the singers who join this venerable early-music ensemble for a program of lovely Italian (and Italianate) selections.
If you love the sound of the oboe, and I do, you’ll love this release from Albrecht Mayer. From Bach and Handel, to Ravel and Debussy, beautiful transcriptions performed by one of the world’s leading instrumentalists.
Melody’s Mostly Musical Day
Super sweet collection of piano music, illustrating a day in the life of a fictional little girl named Melody. Perfect gift for young music lovers and students of the piano.
Violinist Daniel Hope’s new release For Seasons, (and yes, that’s the correct spelling), includes his first-ever recording of the perennial favorite, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, together with a dozen other works inspired by the seasons.
Jim Svejda's Favorite Things
The host of The Evening Program is here to steer your holiday shopping in the right direction. Here are Jim’s 2017 Favorite Things.
John Van Driel's Favorite Things
Daniil Trifonov, piano / Mahler Chamber Orchestra / Mikhail Pletnev
A must-have for any lover of piano music especially by Chopin. Named “Gramophone Magazine’s Artist of the Year” artist of the year, pianist Danil Trifonov is exceptional in this recording and Pletnev’s arrangements of Chopin’s piano concertos are sublime.
Chamber Orchestra of Europe / RIAS Chamber Choir / Yannick Nezet-Seguin
Mendelssohn Symphonies 1-5
Great new set of the Mendelssohn symphonies, proving once again why Yannick is considered one of the most electrifying conductors today.
Simone Dinnerstein / Havana Lyceum Orchestra
Mozart in Havana
These notes from Havana give a fresh take on two of Mozart’s most enduring piano concertos.
Norman Krieger, piano / Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra / JoAnn Falleta
Beethoven Piano Concertos No. 3 and No. 5
It seems like it’s the year of the piano. A wonderful recording of two essential classics by Beethoven.
Tafelmusik Orchestra / Bruno Weil
Beethoven Symphonies Nos. 1 – 9
A fresh, early-music take on the Beethoven symphonies from the recently completed project by Tafelmusik.
Mark Edwards's Favorite Things
Faure Requiem & Other Sacred Music
Faure’s Requiem is a wonderful work, and the Yale Schola gives a remarkable performance of this work. The Pie Jesu, sung by Sarah Yanovitch is a highlight! This album also features other beautiful Faure choral pieces. The Messe basse is gorgeous. The Tantum ergo, sung by treble voices is also a must-listen.
Berlin Philharmonic / Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Franz Schubert Symphonies Nos. 1 – 8
Nikolaus Harnoncourt once said that Franz Schubert is the composer that is closest to his heart. In this collection of Schubert’s 8 “complete” symphonies (including the “Unfinished”), the love comes shining through with the Berlin Philharmonic’s brilliant interpretations.
This album is a collection of some of Lang Lang’s greatest recordings to date. Lang Lang’s playing is reflective and sensitive, and the pieces definitely reflect the album’s title: Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, Liszt’s Liebestraum #3 and Chopin’s Andante Spianato make this the ultimate mood-music album.
Angele Dubeau & La Pieta
Portrait: Max Richter
Angele Dubeau has a knack for finding the unexpected for her all-female group La Pieta. This new album features the music of Max Richter. His “post-minimalist” style is hauntingly beautiful. This album is perfect for late-night listening.
Ray White's Favorite Things
Mozart: Complete Piano Sonatas
Early this year we answered the question: “what’s Fazil Say been up to?” The talented pianist has been busy with touring and recording. His ambitious box set of the complete Mozart piano sonatas is quite special. Lots to get lost in.
It’s hard to come up with something new when it comes to J.S. Bach but pianist Tanya Gabrielian has given us a fresh take on the old master. Her “Bach Transcriptions” feature Bach works for solo violin and cello arranged for the piano.
Martha Argerich / Antonio Pappano / National Orchestra of Santa Cecilia
Just released, this is a very fresh and exciting recording from Antonio Pappano and the National Orchestra of Santa Cecilia playing the music of Camille Saint-Saëns. Almost like a career bookend, this new one features the “Organ” Symphony (Symphony #3) and the delightful Carnival of the Animals with Martha Argerich and Pappano side by side on two pianos.
The duo known as 2Cellos has just put out an album of movie favorites called Score. Ranging from Game of Thrones to Gladiator with the London Symphony Orchestra, this is some flashy work from the Croatian-Slovenian duo that has become a YouTube sensation.
Bach: Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin
The solo violin sonatas of Bach are often a personal Mt. Everest for violinists. Extremely personal and full of technical challenges, yet so musical and irresistible. Rarely is a young violinist given carte blanche to record two CDs worth of sonatas and partitas for solo violin. Canadian violinist James Ehnes knew this was a special moment and he seized it with this intimate collection.
Rich Capparela's Favorite Things
Stephanie Tingler / Martha Thomas
American Art Songs & Their Poetry
At the heart of any culture’s music is the simple song. You learn much about the American psyche hearing these performances by Tingler and Thomas.
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas
Kissin is a prodigy who has continued to grow and change. Less flash, more substance. He is a fine wine of piano artistry and Beethoven is firmly at the center of his wheelhouse.
Ian Watson / Susanna Ogata
Beethoven: Sonatas for Fortepiano and Violin
It’s always instructive to hear how these pieces sounded when they were new. I’ve always found the fortepiano to be unassuming, modest and intimate.
A La Russe
The repertory on this disc is so refreshingly diverse. Kantorow is as authoritative with Stravinsky as he is with Rachmaninoff.
Elmira Darvarova / Shoko Inoue
Schumann, Beethoven & Franck: Masterpieces for Violin & Piano
The Franck is simply one of the greatest violin sonatas ever written. Coupling that work with music by Clara Schumann and Beethoven makes for a balanced diet of grace, power, and elegance. Assured performances throughout.
Rik Malone's Favorite Things
This is a really beautiful album from the principal harpist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, who was snowed in last winter with just her harp, electricity, and enough food to record some of her favorite music!
John Williams and Stephen Spielberg
The Ultimate Collection
Few artistic partnerships in history have been as fruitful as the one between composer John Williams and filmmaker Stephen Spielberg. I love good film music and it doesn’t get much better than this.
Howard Shelley, piano / London Mozart Players
The Classical Piano Concerto, Vol. 4: Leopold Kozeluch
Tuneful, well-recorded and exceptionally well-played concertos by one of the most interesting of the Friends of Mozart. He was one of the first major composers to have a significant freelance career, and these pieces are part of the reason why.
In Schubert’s Company
Shout-out to the viola! Rysanov brings a light, almost Mozartean touch as both soloist and conductor of the Riga Sinfonietta, in music both by and inspired by Schubert.
San Francisco Symphony / Michael Tilson Thomas
Schumann: Symphonies Nos. 1 – 4
I heard most of these performances live and I couldn’t wait for the recordings. MTT said he wanted to approach these works as if they were just very big piano pieces – the works that Schumann did best. “Although the music is very personal,” he wrote, “it feels universal.”
Robin Pressman's Favorite Things
Music By Composers of African Descent
A young music student’s investigation into his own cultural heritage results in a beautiful album featuring four not-so-well-known Black composers, including a deep dive into the music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.
A double CD set highlighting Grimaud’s recordings for Deutsche Grammophon over the years. Her emotional, and changeable playing is what gets me, plus she runs with the wolves!! Grimaud founded the Wolf Conservation Center in New York in 1999. She calls them “endlessly fascinating creatures who have much to teach humans.”
The Glass Effect
A young harpist whose focus is on contemporary composers, Meijer transcribed the piano etudes of Phillip Glass, and released this mesmerizing recording for his 80th birthday year.
A great holiday choice from this insatiable trumpeter, Alison Balsom is ever searching for new pieces to transcribe for her instrument. Here, she teams up with the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, playing holiday music from the baroque on her natural trumpet (pre-valves!).