The panels charged with nominating artistic endeavors for recognition by mainstream awards organizations often inspire confusion and consternation with their selections, but GRAMMY® voters distinguished themselves by choosing competitive, artistically significant candidates for the 2015 Classical GRAMMY® Awards, a number of which have been featured on Voix des Arts.
Among the recordings vying to be honored as Best Classical Instrumental Solo is Jory Vinikour’s superb disc of modern American music for the instrument of which he is the consummate master, the harpsichord. Featuring music by Samuel Adler, Thomas Benjamin, Stephen Blumberg, Henry Cowell, Harold Meltzer, Patricia Morehead, Robert Moevs, Robert Muczynski, Mel Powell, and Ned Rorem, all thrillingly performed by Mr. Vinikour, Toccatas is a compelling reminder that neither the composition of music for the harpsichord nor extraordinary virtuosity among the instrument’s practitioners became extinct when Baroque idioms fell from favor [Sono Luminus DSL-92174; reviewed here].
In an especially tight field, consideration for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album pits Argentine countertenor Franco Fagioli’s disc of arias by Nicola Porpora [Il maestro – Porpora Arias—Naïve V 5369; reviewed here] against mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato’s Stella di Napoli, a fiery recital of bel canto stunners by Bellini, Carafa, Donizetti, Mercadante, Pacini, Rossini, and Valentini [ERATO 08256 463656 2 3; reviewed here]. Mr. Fagioli brings to a fascinating array of music by one of the Eighteenth Century’s leading composers singing of histrionic flair and unstinting musicality. One of the handful of great bel canto singers of recent years, Ms. DiDonato exhibits her trademark vocal brilliance in her performances on Stella di Napoli. Both discs provide feasts of richly satisfying singing.
Best Choral Performance nominees include René Jacobs’s revelatory recording of Johann Sebastian Bach’s iconic Matthäus-Passion [harmonia mundi HMC 802156.58; reviewed here] and Dunedin Consort’s moving account of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem [Linn Records CKD 449; reviewed here]. Preserving unforgettable performances by Werner Güra as the Evangelist and Johannes Weiser as Christ, Maestro Jacobs’s Matthäus-Passion challenges traditions by looking deeply into the score for Bach’s true intentions. Dunedin Consort and Maestro John Butt do much the same with Mozart’s Requiem, taking as their inspiration the aim of reconstructing the work as it was first performed with the completion by Franz Xaver Süßmayr. Neither of these works is unfamiliar, but these performances reveal unseen facets of these cornerstones of the Western choral repertory.
Christian Thielemann’s recording of Richard Strauss’s Elektra, released in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth, united a cast of acclaimed Strauss singers—Evelyn Herlitzius, Anne Schwanewilms, Waltraud Meier, and René Pape—in a performance of considerable dramatic power [Deutsche Grammophone 479 3387; reviewed here]. DGG’s forceful Elektra must contend in campaigning for the designation of Best Opera Recording with one of the most intriguing operatic releases of the Twenty-First Century, Darius Milhaud’s L’Orestie d’Eschyle [NAXOS 8.660349-51; reviewed here]. The virtues of DGG’s Elektra cast are complemented by those of NAXOS’s lineup for L’Orestie d’Eschyle: Lori Phillips, Dan Kempson, Brenda Rae, Sidney Outlaw, Tamara Mumford, Jennifer Lane, Julianna Di Giacomo, and Kristin Eder uphold the storied legacy of American singing established by artists such as Lawrence Tibbett, Leonard Warren, Richard Tucker, Lili Chookasian, Irene Dalis, Mignon Dunn, and Beverly Sills. Maestro Thielemann reminds listeners of why Strauss’s opera remains a stalwart in the international repertory almost a century after its première, and Maestro Kenneth Kiesler makes a strong argument on behalf of the merits of Milhaud’s elephantine homage to Aeschylus.
Congratulations to all of the nominees for the 2015 Classical GRAMMY® Awards!