2012 has been unusual in that almost all the most memorable items I’ve reviewed have been CDs. One DVD, however, stands out. Klaus Tennstedt’s 1988 recording of Mahler’s 5th Symphony with the London Philharmonic is one of the most extraordinary displays of impassioned dedication I’ve ever encountered (ica classics legacy ICAD5041; reviewed July 10). It’s powerful and somber, yet somehow at the same time gripping and magnetic. You get the impression the audience only slowly becomes aware of what it’s witnessing, but then at the end erupts in ecstasy and astonishment. Very few of Tennstedt’s concerts have made it onto DVD, but this one finally has, and it’s hard indeed to imagine its equal anywhere.
The most memorable discoveries of the year were the violin concertos of the female Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969). There are seven of them, but Number: 6 has apparently been lost. Chandos have scored a major coup in issuing the remaining six on two CDs in startlingly impressive renderings by Joanna Kurkowicz (CDA-10533 and CDA-15441; reviewed Feb. 14). Sensuous, dynamic, inventive and thrilling, these marvelous concertos are inexplicably belated additions to the core violin repertory. If you’re willing to try only one, try the CD containing Concerto Number: 4.
Leslie Howard’s massive undertaking of recording all Liszt’s music for solo piano was briefly touched on this year. The CD we heard was the second in the set of 99, entitled Ballades, Legends and Polonaises, and much pleasure it gave (Hyperion, CDA-3301; reviewed Jan. 10). Tumultuous showpieces alternate with quieter forays, but Liszt was arguably always trying to achieve effects that no one had ever attempted before — he was simply that kind of artist. It’s impossible not to believe the other discs in this record-breaking project are up to the same standard.
From budget label Naxos came more additions to Vasily Petrenko’s nearly complete cycle of Shostakovich’s symphonies with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. The outstanding one is probably the Symphony Number: 10 — ferocious, stirring and melancholy by turns, and everywhere recorded with extraordinary clarity — but the Symphony Number: 8 is also very fine (Naxos 8.572461 and 8.572392; reviewed Nov. 20). There’s considerable competition in this field, but Petrenko is looking increasingly like the one to beat.
Finally, two historic recordings came to my notice this year. The version of Verdi’s Falstaff conducted by Leonard Bernstein, and starring Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in the title role, now seems to me the finest available of this incomparable masterpiece (Sony/CBS Masterworks 42535; reviewed May 15). And Leopold Stokowski’s version of Beethoven’s Symphony Number: 3 gave me an intense pleasure that has survived many relistenings (BMG Classic 2862876; reviewed April 10).