Fourth quarter is just around the corner. When it comes, it will bring a wave of amazing records including a fantastic excuse to make genitalia jokes, courtesy of Cecilia Bartoli. In the meantime, I feel like all I’ve done is complain about stuff for about two months, when that isn’t at all representative of the amazing musical experience that has been this summer. Here are the ten best things I’ve heard in July and August:
2) Simone Dinnerstein and Zuill Bailey’s new Beethoven record, which contains so many examples of absurdly good ensemble playing that it made me want to shout “YES! YES! That’s how you do it!” at the CD player for the whole two and a half hours.
3) Joyce Di Donato singing Rossini’s Barber of Seville from a wheelchair, alongside Juan Diego Florez at the Royal Opera House in London. This was such an outstanding piece of theatre that you just believe it from the moment the curtain goes up. The crippled leading lady wasn’t even the most unlikely thing that was going on.
4) The LSO’s new recording of the Verdi Requiem which is, well, badass. The loud bits are magnificent and the soloists sing beautifully together, which in my experience is something of a rarity in a work like this.
5) The Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, where they stage amazing concerts on a tiny budget, presenting complete programs of contemporary music in a completely unpretentious atmosphere. Forget Swarovski Crystal chandeliers. Their venue has Ikea lampshades. It’s the only time I’ve been to a contemporary music concert and not felt under pressure to say something clever. It was a lot of fun, and I’ll be taking a lot of my non-classical friends next year. The festival is run by official genius Marin Alsop.
6) Invisible Mosiac III by Aaron Jay Kernis. This is how they finished the Cabrillo Festival, but it deserves a mention in its own right, not least for having an ending that upstages even the blaring orgy of brass that closes Respighi’s Pines of Appian Way. Everything you know about the grammar of musical performance tells you that, once the bells start, the whole thing is about to end, and it just doesn’t. I think all the Roman trumpets are supposed to represent the army, not the food, but I don’t care. It still makes me want to throw up so I can eat some more.
7) Danielle de Niese’s new Mozart record, which sparkles with well-placed enthusiasm.
8) David Greilsammer’s new recording of two late Mozart Piano concertos, which neatly follows his previous release of three early ones. This is more serious music than the first record, and the playing reflects that. Listen to one, then the other. It’s really very lovely.
10) Three live recordings of Mahler 8. There’s the loud one (LSO), the quiet one (SFS), and the beautiful but slightly messy one (NYP). For $10 you can have something that took a thousand people a lifetime to prepare for and a week to make. If I had to pick one, I’d go LSO, but for $40 you can have all three and decide for yourself. When you think about what you’re buying, that’s really not much at all.