Best recordings of 2020 – Part 3

In this third part of my discographic review of the year 2020, I have chosen two recordings highlighting instrumental music, two recordings that have given me the opportunity to explore new works or rediscover well-known works. These two albums show how alive and vibrant classical music still is.

Viola Concerto & ‘Voices’- Pēteris Vasks – Maxim Rysanov

As Dāvis Eņģelis explains in the booklet accompanying the album, « at its most calm and serene, Vasks’ music can sound translucent and fragile, but sharp contrasts – one of the individual qualities of his style – remind and warn us of the ephemeral, evil and complex world we live in. In its fiercest and most truculent episodes, Vasks’ music confronts this worldly anguish and shows it in close-up. However, Vasks never leaves the listener without a hope or a path to walk, to strive for spiritual fulfilment and better understanding of life. »

All these qualities can be found in this sublime recording of the Concerto for Viola and String Orchestra (2014-2015), dedicated to the British-Ukrainian violist and conductor Maxim Rysanov, and the String Symphony « Voices » (Voices, 1991), performed by Rysanov and the Sinfonietta Rīga.

Bells – Anthony Romaniuk

Australian pianist Anthony Romaniuk’s debut solo album was one of my favourites of 2020, an unconventional release featuring performances of baroque, classical, modern and contemporary works, ranging from William Byrd to George Crumb, which are played on different types of keyboards (harpsichord, fortepiano, piano, and Fender Rhodes). This is an atypical album that Romaniuk has patiently wrought and which shows his boldness and musical creativity as he explains in the accompanying booklet: « In summer 2010 I began to think seriously about making a solo record. A full ten years later it has emerged wildly different than anything I could have conceived back then. The intervening years were given over to a continuous and wide-ranging search for musical meaning. The generalist approach eventually triumphed and ideas were constructed from the entirety of my experience. Finally, this collection of sounds is my voice, as it is in the current moment. »

In order to build this generalist approach Romaniuk « became interested in searching for musical elements which transcended not only eras but also genres and geographical boundaries, something truly cross-cultural », which led him to build the programme of this album around two ideas : the low drone, which « means simply highlighting the lowest overtones in any given pitch (the root and the fifth) » and the pedal-tone, which is « a sustained pitch, often but not exclusively in the bass, around which all the other parameters shift ». Here is meaning of the enigmatic title of the album, Bells, as « bell sounds combine low drones and pedals ». This magnificent album is exciting, beautifully performed and allows music lovers to wander off the beaten track of instrumental albums and takes us on a sonic exploration of the keyboard repertoire.

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