Bernstein, Debussy, Rossini and Currentzis: what were your highlights?
What defined your 2018 in music? Most years, the classical community coalesces around one particular anniversary, and for 2018 that felt very much like Leonard Bernstein’s centenary. I’ve written before how the art of anniversaries is to make people think differently about their subject. In Bernstein’s case, I suspect it was less that perceptions of this remarkable man were changed, but that awareness of the multifaceted nature of his extraordinary life was greatly enhanced, or certainly reinforced. Among other things, the year gave rise to a particularly impressive set of his symphonies from Warner Classics under the masterful command of Sir Antonio Pappano.
Oddly perhaps, Rossini – who died 150 years ago – didn’t quite get the attention we might have expected. Perhaps advocacy of those composers whose masterpieces lie in opera or large choral music is simply tougher to achieve logistically. In any case, we felt dedicating our final issue of the year to Rossini was a worthwhile thing to do, and the renowned Rossinian Richard Osborne helped us get closer to his music and his legacy.
Another major anniversary was the centenary of Debussy’s death, and perhaps one of the most inspired series of 2018 came from our Label of the Year, Harmonia Mundi, which invited its formidable family of artists to present their personal visions of the composer. The series’s ninth and final release sees François-Xavier Roth – an Award-winner this year for his Ravel – offer an exquisitely performed recording of Jeux and Nocturnes. But it was often in the unexpected that this series fascinated most: last month’s recordings of Debussy’s Late Works drew our attention movingly to Debussy’s touchingly reflective final pieces, mirroring his anguish as his life and the world around him fell apart. Another highlight – and another Editor’s Choice – was the beautiful collection of songs by Sophie Karthäuser and Stéphane Dugout, ‘Harmonie du Soir’, which took us back to when Debussy’s art was awash more with poetry than poignancy. Showing such trust and open-minded support of artists is perhaps where record companies today really excel. As ease of access to music offers us more choice than ever before, such an approach may yet yield the most distinctive albums of future years.
Finally, in a neat coincidence, Gramophone’s year was bookended by two thrilling releases from one of today’s most hotly debated maestros, Teodor Currentzis. His exceptionally vivid recording of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique was Recording of the Month in January, and our December issue saw an equally up-close and compelling recording of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. Yes, he divides opinion – but given that one of art’s aims is to make us think deeply and differently, I would say that’s no bad thing. Personally, I was completely gripped from the first notes of both albums. Not surprisingly, Currentzis cropped up twice in our annual Critics’ Choice feature, in which our reviewers name their highlights of 2018 - and you can explore the feature here. I hope you’ll sample some of their recommendations over the coming festive weeks. Whatever you listen to, may I wish you all a very happy – and music-filled – Christmas.