No-one knew what to expect of 2022. In January, masked or locked down, we gazed into crystal balls of mortality. The chamber music of Harrison Birtwistle caught my ear with surprise and delight, only for the composer to leave us soon after. Fred Rzewski, another recent fatality, received the best performance ever of The People United Will Never Be Defeated. The Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov escaped his homeland and enriched us with a new symphony. Life hung by a thread.
Rival sets of Sibelius symphonies from rising Finns, Klaus Mäkelä and Santu-Matias Rouvali, sharpened our critical perceptions, with Rouvali holding the edge in a fascinating contest. His account of the third symphony on Alpha-Classics will take some beating.
Semyon Bychkov is recording the premier Mahler cycle of our decade with the Czech Philharmonic; the fifth symphony on Pentatone is quite exceptional. The resurrection of Hans Rott, a student friend of Mahler’s whose themes can be heard in Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, is definitely a contender for record of the year from Jakub Hrusa and the Bamberg Symphony on DG.
Ralph Vaughan Williams had a 150th anniversary year on record, unnoticed beyond English-speakers. The 10th anniversary of Hans Werner Henze’s death went unmarked in German lands.
In April, I accoladed a Pieter Wispelwey performances of two cello concertos by Mieczyslaw Weinberg on the Evil Penguin as ‘possibly the best Weinberg ever heard on record’. Weeks later, it had a close rival on Deutsche Grammophon from Mirga Grazinte-Tyla and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, a pairing of the 3rd and 7th symphonies with an enigmatic flute concerto.
Weinberg, who lived under Soviet repression, found ever cleverer ways to convey his truths. The 7th symphony, effectively a concerto for harpsichord and strings, opens with such hesitancy (in Kirill Gerstein’s solo line) that you can imagine the composer holding his hat in humility before the Communist bigwigs who controlled his career. Beneath the fake obeisance, there is grit and genius. This record is a narrow winner. I’ve had more pleasure from this release than from any other all year.
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