I really wasn’t sure how to choose this because there are various options. Spotify and the like will tell you what you listened to the most over the year, which is all well and good. Those who know me can hazard a guess: lots of U2, Schubert, Shostakovich, Britten, regular forays over to the worlds of Sting, Paul Simon, Andrew Peterson and the like.
But I’ve decided to restrict myself to simply the new discoveries of 2019. These recordings were either released this year or ones I had never previously given decent listening time.
Classical and the Not So…
|The Wind Rose
Hirundo Maris (Arianna Savall, Petter Udland Johansen)
Savall is the daughter of brilliant Catalan baroque specialist Jordi Savall, but she’s a remarkable harpist and singer herself. She formed this group with Johansen (it means Sea Swallow) in 2008. This album is breathtaking – spine-tingling singing, gorgeous arragements and folk-baroque-lieder crossover.
Standouts: Cançó de Bressol de la Mar and a gorgeous setting of John Ireland’s Sea Fever
Superb English a capella group who cover everything from Renaissance to contemporary choral music. I love all their compilations – I got into this one this year. From Tallis to the Present it’s all great (though I wasn’t convinced by The Luckiest!)
Standouts: O Nata Lux by Morten Lauridsen and Stars by Ēriks Ešenvalds & Sara Teasdale
|Morten Lauridsen: Lux Aeterna
Polyphony, cond. Stephen Layton
After Voces8′ Lux, I just had to explore several composers, especially Lauridsen from the US. It transpired that I already knew a few of his without realising it. But I adore his interesting, crunchy harmonies and ability to sit creatively within ancient traditions.
Standout: O Magnun Mysterium
A surprisingly eclectic, mesmerising and joy-filled trio of violin, viola and accordion, crossing over from classical to ‘world’ music like klezmer, tango, folk and more. They’re taking the world by storm. [declaration of interest: violist Meg Hamilton is a cousin and we contributed to the kickstarter to get this made!]
Standouts: Hungarian Dance #5 and Czárdás
|Wagner: Der Ring Des Nibelungen
Sir Georg Solti
I’ve resisted for years. My whole life in fact. Although I gather that the infant me was coaxed into sleeping by The Ring Cycle. But I’ve had one friend in particular who’s always banging on. Thanks Julian. So I’m beginning to come under the spell. And it is all encompassing – even without seeing it live and despite Wagner’s appalling and obnoxious anti-Semitism).
Standout: hard to say at this stage – too vast and soon to tell!
|Schubert: Wanderers Nachtlied (= The Wanderer’s Night Song)
Schubert is in my top 5 composers (don’t ask me to order them). I adore his deceptive simplicity and deeply felt pathos. This songs are simply sublime – and Goerne’s voice is the model of glorious control. Perfect late at night over a wee dram. The disc grabbed me when I heard his Litanei (D343) on Radio 3. He controversially takes it almost HALF the speed it normally goes. Just wow.
Standout: must be Litanei
|Mahler: 10 Symphonien
I didn’t begin to get Mahler until I was middle-aged. But I SO, like, do now. Fin de siecle Vienna has been a mild obsession for years so I don’t fully grasp what too me so long. He plumbs such depths and reaches heights. So this year I decided to be a bit more systematic in listening to him. The late great Claudio Abbado has been my guide.
Standout: currently Symphony No 6 in Ami
|Scott Joplin: The Easy Winners
Itzak Perlman & André Previn
We lost the great Andrew Preview this year. What a musician. But this is a bit different, and it’s a disc I’ve known for years (to be fair). But in honour of his passing, I’ve come back to it. Beautiful playing and Perlman’s unusual arrangements for violin and piano by the unique ragtime composer make this a delight.
Standout: Solace [A Mexican Serenade]
Apple Music playlist
Between the Rock and the rest…
|Thanks for the Dance (Nov 2019)
Well, this was a shocker. I’ve posted a bit before about Cohen, especially his last album released just days before his death. And here’s another one! Produced by his son who helped make You Want It Darker. This is stunning; it really does not disappoint.
Standout: Thanks for the Dance and Moving on
I had the chance to meet Jeremy briefly at Hutchmoot 2019 in Nashville. This album was coming out soon after and I was intrigued. Some lovely melodies and rich, honest lyrics.
Standout: Spirit (Keep on)
|Look up child (2018)
She’s made it big since this came out in 2018. She’s toured all over, been on Ellen and won glittering prizes. But it was our daughter Zanna who hooked me onto this album, and I love it. She’s got a honeyed alto voice (somehow an American mix of Brits Alison Moyet, Amy Winehouse and Adele) and the songs are great.
Standout: Everything and You Say
|Giants of all sizes (Oct 2019)
We heard Elbow over 10 years ago when they were U2’s support act. I’ve liked the odd thing they’ve done. But this album grabbed me by the lapels and had me from the opening bars. It’s apparently a response to how much the UK has changed (not necessarily for the better) since the 2016 EU referendum. It’s actually kinda cathartic.
Standout: Sinister & Dexter and Weightless
|Ghosteen (Oct 2019)
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Just heartbreaking. Nick Cave’s 15 year old son Arthur died after flling from cliffs near their home in Brighton. Some of these songs were written prior to that tragedy, but the whole album is infused with the pain of such catastrophic loss. It is overwhelming at times – but there are glimmers of hope (even if in sometimes syncretistic terms). This is by no means an indulgence on Cave’s part, but an act of supreme generosity to all who are heartsick for whatever reason.
Standouts: Bright Horses and Waiting For You
|Live Songs of iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE
I managed to get to the iNNOCENCE tour twice and the eXPERIENCE tour once. Just epic. For u2.com members they’ve produced a double album of highlights from both tours. So sorry – can’t share clips! Hard cheese. But trust me, this shows yet again they’re ultimately a live band that keeps on producing great new stuff, 40 years on. Unique.
Standouts: Iris (Hold me Close) and Lights of Home and all of them really. 😉
|Western Stars (June 2019)
Another trooper who keeps on delivering as each decade passes. There’s not a lot of innovation here – the Boss sticking with his tried and tested soundworlds. Yet while that would be dull in lesser singers, there is real heart and honesty here. It’s very moving indeed.
Standouts: Western Stars and Drive Fast (The Stuntman)
I was vaguely aware of the anarchic group but never got into them. Then I discovered the song Hammer, Stirrup & Anvil while trawling for stuff about Shostakovich – it opens with the composer’s musical signature (DSCH) and immerses us in Dmitri’s world. The album contains some biting satire and lefty/libertarian politics – fascinating and strange!
Standouts: Hammer, Stirrup & Anvil and Wagner at the Opera
|Far Side of the Sea (2016)
I met Eric at Hutchmoot and warmed to him immediately. He sings with great passion and power, despite his deep psychological scars. I especially loved his Fighting for Life (not on this album) which he performed one of the evenings. But I love this album as a whole too. Thank you Eric for this gift.
Standouts: Farthest Shore and Gravity (Vincent in Reverse)
|Desolation & Consolation (Dec 2019)
Finally, Drew is another Hutchmooter. This double was on the verge of emergence back in October and it’s already great after a few days of giving it time. There’s some great stuff here.
Standouts: Into the Darkness and Caught Inside a Promise
Apple Music Playlist