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Musical Toronto's year that was -- the best classical and opera albums of 2012

By John Terauds on December 22, 2012

Karina Gauvin impressed with her all-Handel Prima Donna album.
Karina Gauvin impressed with her all-Handel Prima Donna album.

A clumsy list of 34 favourite CDs of art music and opera released in 2012 stubbornly refused winnowing until I split them into Canadian vs Other — both judged with the same ears and standards:

A click on the album’s title will take you to my original post.


In order of increasing rapture:

Barbara Pritchard, Barbara Pentland Toccata (CMC) Serialist music has rarely been so filled with life.

Joseph Johnson & Victor Asuncion, Rachmaninov and Shostakovich Cello Sonatas (Independent) Music so deeply rendered you can almost touch it.

Marc-André Hamelin, Haydn Piano Sonatas III (Hyperion) A great pianist’s sparkling celebration of classical order.

Philippe Sly, In Dreams (Analekta) This young baritone made quite the splash this year, capped by a wonderful début solo album.

Aislinn Nosky, Bach, Ysaÿe, Oesterle (Independent) A remarkable violinist with remarkable interpretations.

Cecilia String Quartet, Dvorák Quartet Op. 106, Cypresses (Analekta) Four young women make a deeply-felt artistic declaration.

Gryphon Trio with James Campbell, For the End of Time (Analekta)  Music to shake the foundations of our being.

Karina Gauvin, Prima Donna (ATMA) One of George Frideric Handel’s muses gets her due from one of our favourite sopranos.


David Jalbert
David Jalbert

Jalbert, Goldberg Variations (ATMA)

I’m not sure if anyone who has not personally wrestled with J.S. Bach’s intellectual and musical challenges can fully appreciate the let-the-rest-of-the-world-be-damned effort involved in a project like this. And because the artist can’t be anything other than fully committed, the result says as much about the interpreter as about the music.

There are dozens and dozens of recordings of the Goldberg Variations out there, but I bow deeply to the balance and clarity of this interpretation by a great Canadian artist on a modern Steinway piano.

Here’s the promotional video for the album:


Also in order of increasing preference:

Phantasm, William Lawes Consorts to the Organ (Linn) Anyone who thinks the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods are about order has not explored the weird and wacky musical world of William Lawes.

Stephen Hough, The French Album (Hyperion) The very definition of exquisite craft.

Nicholas Phan, Britten Still Falls the Rain (Avie) A powerful show of Benjamin Britten’s genius from a wonderful young tenor.

Alessio Bax Plays Brahms (Signum Classics) How to play the solo pieces of Johannes Brahms? Listen to this pianist.

Cecilia Bartoli, Mission (Decca) The Italian powerhouse mezzo could sing the phone book and make us swoon.

Alexandre Tharaud, Le Boeuf sur le toit (Virgin) This isn’t a piano album but magical time travel to Roaring Twenties Paris.

Sir Andrew Davis, Sir Edward Elgar The Starlight Express (Chandos) A magical once-upon-a-time mix of Edwardian and Elgarian words and music.

Bicola Benedetti, The Silver Violin (Decca) What could have been a limp Hollywood crossover album is a glowing showcase for a phenomenal young artist.


Gianandrea Noseda (Ramella&Gianese photo).
Gianandrea Noseda (Ramella&Gianese photo).

Gianandrea Noseda & London Symphony Orchestra, Britten War Requiem (LSO Live)

Benjamin Britten masterfully melded sacred and secular to make a case for peace in his 1962 War Requiem. Conductor Gianandrea Noseda, the London Symphony and powerful singers came together for a concert at London’s Barbican last year that knocked my emotional socks off. This is a message — and music — that will never grow stale.

 John Terauds

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