By Paul E. Robinson
Every year we hear about the decline of interest in classical music, and about a corresponding precipitous decline in CD sales. But while sales have certainly been declining, it seems to have more to do with changing technology than with a lack of interest in the music. Instead of buying CDs, many listeners are now getting their music through the internet in the form of streaming files and downloads.
The big record companies – Deutsche Grammophon, Decca, Philips, EMI, Sony, and RCA – have certainly downsized, and some have even gone out of business, but smaller record companies, which can more economically satisfy market niches and be more nimble in weathering market forces, have popped up to fill the void.
The bottom line is that 2016 is shaping up to be a banner year for classical music lovers. There will be a huge volume of new releases from dozens of different companies. Where to find them? On the internet, of course. The days of browsing for hours in one’s local classical music record store, searching for interesting gems to add to one’s collection, may be gone, but browsing the internet, where the buying and delivery process is by now pretty efficient, can be equally rewarding.
Given the vast number of independent labels on the market, the compilation of a comprehensive list of new releases scheduled for this year would be almost impossible, but here’s our pick – a partial catalogue to whet your appetite. Good listening to you all in 2016!
ATMA: Les Violons du Roy, the Quebec-based historically informed performance orchestra, will release an all-Vivaldi album March 11. The CD will be the first recording conducted by Mathieu Lussier since he was appointed associate conductor.
ANALEKTA: Pinchas Zukerman recently stepped down as music director of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, but before doing so, he and his wife, cellist Amanda Forsyth, recorded Brahms’ Double Concerto. Also on this CD – released in Canada on Oct. 30 and now widely available – is Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 conducted by Zukerman.
BELVEDERE: The Cleveland Orchestra under its music director, Franz Welser-Möst, will be featured in a DVD set containing all the Brahms symphonies and overtures as well as the Violin Concerto (Julia Fischer) and the piano concertos (Yefim Bronfman). The set was released in Cleveland in December and it will become widely available in DVD and Blu-ray Jan. 8.
BRIDGE: Some important new releases are promised for 2016 including an all-Wuorinen CD by the Boston Symphony under James Levine with pianist Peter Serkin, coming in June or July. Featured works are the Symphony No. 8 and the Piano Concerto No. 4, both commissioned by the BSO and premiered with Levine conducting. The Ordering of Moses, by American composer R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943), is due in May featuring a performance by the May Festival Chorus and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Conlon. The oratorio weaves African-American spirituals into the story of Moses leading the Jews to freedom. One of Dett’s most praised choral works, it received its world premiere at the Cincinnati May Festival on May 7, 1937, led by Eugene Goossens.
CEDILLE: Chicago’s Third Coast Percussion will celebrate Steve Reich’s 80th birthday with a February CD release celebrating their devotion to his music: Mallet Quartet, Sextet (excerpt at right), Nagoya Marimbas and Music for Pieces of Wood. Coming in February.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON: Jan Lisiecki appears in his first concerto recording for DG, coming Jan. 8. In the Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor he will be accompanied by the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazional conducted by Antonio Pappano. Also on Jan. 8, DG will release its own big CD box devoted to the complete DG recordings by the Russian pianist Emil Gilels.
Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho won the 17th International Chopin Competition held in Warsaw this past October. His debut album for the yellow label, released Dec. 18, is devoted to music by Chopin recorded live at the competition.
HARMONIA MUNDI: The 2013 Cliburn Competition Gold Medal winner Vadym Kholodenko is recording all the Prokofiev piano concertos with the Fort Worth Symphony conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya. The Feb. 12 release coincides with an extensive North American tour that begins in Fort Worth on Jan. 15 and includes stops in Atlanta, Carmel, San Diego, and Rochester, N.Y.
NAXOS: CDs of new American music slated for release in 2016 include Kevin Puts‘ Symphony No. 2 and his flute concerto, performed by Adam Walker, London Symphony’s principal flute, and led by Marin Alsop with the Peabody Symphony; composer Roberto Sierra’s Symphony No. 3 with Maximiano Valdes conducting the Puerto Rico Symphony; and the album No Orpheus – vocal music of American composer Mohammed Fairouz.
Fairouz is receiving considerable attention in early 2016. His cello concerto will premiere under the direction of Leonard Slatkin with the Detroit Symphony Jan. 14, and samples from No Orpheus will be on tap at New York’s music bistro (le) poisson rouge on Feb. 17.
ONYX: The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) under music director Kent Nagano has recorded an all-Bartók CD, featuring the Concerto for Orchestra. The CD also includes Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 2 with Augustin Dumay as soloist. Coming in March.
SONY: In the past few years Sony has assembled an impressive roster of pianists, the most famous of whom is Lang Lang. The flamboyant Chinese artist recorded the four Chopin scherzos and Tchaikovsky’s cycle The Seasons in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles Palace on the outskirts of Paris. The CD and deluxe CD package (with a third disc of video) editions were called Lang Lang in Paris and released in October. The DVD version was called Lang Lang in Versailles and came out in November. The complete studio recording on two vinyl LPs is to be released Jan. 8.
Two other exclusive Sony artists, Igor Levit and Lucas Debargue, will also be featured in major releases. Levit is attracting a lot of attention, as is Debargue, the controversial sensation of the 2015 Tchaikovsky Competition, who will be featured in a debut recording devoted to works by Scarlatti, Chopin, Liszt, and Ravel.
TOCCATA: This enterprising label founded by Martin Anderson celebrated its tenth anniversary last year. To date, it has released 240 CDs and works by 152 mostly neglected composers. More to come in 2016, with entire CDs devoted to the music of Pauline Viardot, Grigori Frid (Jan. 1), and Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst.
Martin Anderson also publishes and reprints important books on music under the imprint Toccata Press. Coming in 2016 is Composing Myself by Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik in “a fully annotated new edition.” Fans of one of the greatest of all Russian pianists will also be interested in Svetik: a Family Memoir of Sviatoslav Richter.
WARNER BROS.: Warner will continue to re-release major EMI recordings, including operas conducted by Karajan (Tristan und Isolde), Klemperer (Fidelio), Muti (Aïda), and Böhm (Così fan tutte). Among the new productions will be a Lalo, Bruch, and Sarasate CD featuring violinist Renaud Capuçon with the Orchestre de Paris under Paavo Järvi.
Paul E. Robinson is a Canadian conductor and broadcaster and the author of four books on conductors. He writes regularly about music for www.theartoftheconductor.com, www.musicaltoronto.org, and www.scena.org.