Best (and worst) opera and classical music

And what we're looking forward to in 2010.

JACK Quartet's Xenakis String Quartets was a genuine event

The best albums | The best performances | The worst | Best of 2010?

Steve Smith, Music editor

1. Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis Winterreise (Harmonia Mundi)
No record was more controversial for its sheer beauty, nor more powerful for its psychological rigor, than this gripping Schubert account.

2. David Lang The Little Match Girl Passion (Harmonia Mundi)
The cool, eloquent shimmer of David Lang’s Pulitzer Prize--winning choral parable came through in a gorgeous, atmospheric recording.

3. Stile Antico Song of Songs (Harmonia Mundi)
A vibrantly performed collection of 16th-century vocal works based on the Song of Solomon completed a hat trick for the invaluable Harmonia Mundi label.

4. Joyce DiDonato Colbran, the Muse (Virgin Classics)
Vivacious mezzo Joyce DiDonato brought technical dazzle and generous spirit to an utterly captivating recital of Rossini arias. Colbran, the Muse review

5. JACK Quartet Xenakis String Quartets (Mode)
A mix of audacity and assurance turned this confident young ensemble’s survey of thorny Xenakis compositions into a genuine event.

6. Alina Ibragimova Bach Sonatas and Partitas (Hyperion)
A young Russian violinist, not widely known in the U.S., offered a deeply personal take on these canonical works that ranks among the very best.

7. Nadia Sirota first things first (New Amsterdam)
Violist Nadia Sirota cut straight to the heart in appealing pieces by a trio of fast-rising composers, for whom she served as both muse and champion.

8. Mario Diaz de Len Enter Houses Of (Tzadik)
A startling new compositional voice exploded out of this disc, with wistful melodies haunting an abrasive mix of modernist integrity and anarchic noise.

9. Christopher Tignor Core Memory Unwound (Western Vinyl)
The Slow Six violinist and composer went intimate with this evanescent collection of dreamy electroacoustic reveries and remixes.

10. Christopher Rouse Orchestral Music II (BIS)
Conducting the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert sequenced three emotionally potent works into a gripping journey through darkness to light.

Olivia Giovetti, contributing editor

1. Sonia Wieder-Atherton Chants d’Est (Nave)
Songs of the displaced Mitteleuropeans found a new home on this fierce French cellist’s debut solo CD. Read more

2. Gidon Kremer Mozart: The Complete Violin Concertos (Nonesuch)
The radicalism of the late 18th century was captured in Gidon Kremer’s performance with the virtuosic Kremerata Baltica.

3. Joyce DiDonato Colbran, the Muse (Virgin Classics)
While no basis for comparison exists, it’s easy to believe that the sumptuous Joyce DiDonato is the reincarnation of 19th-century diva (and Rossini’s wife) Isabella Colbran. Colbran, the Muse review

4. The Sixteen Coronation Anthems (Coro)
Harry Christophers & Co. gave new life to Handelian works in time for the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death.

5. Victoire A Door Into the Dark (eMusic)
This may well have been the year of new-music darling Missy Mazzoli, and her all-star, all-female quintet’s debut EP left us wanting more. Read more

6. Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis Winterreise (Harmonia Mundi)
Mark Padmore’s rich tenor and Paul Lewis’s luscious playing warmed up the chill of Schubert’s song cycle.

7. Grant Llewellyn American Spectrum (BIS)
Were Christopher Rouse’s multifaceted, effusive Friandises the only thing here, it would still make the list.

8. Monteverdi L’incoronazione di Poppea (Decca DVD)
Illuminated by conductor Emmanuelle Ham, Monteverdi was in good hands with Danielle de Niese and Alice Coote.

9. Nadia Sirota first things first (New Amsterdam)
Quicksilver violist Nadia Sirota made new works by Nico Muhly, Judd Greenstein and Marcos Balter sing.

10. Dmitri Hvorostovsky Tchaikovsky: Romances (Delos)
Siberian tiger Dmitri Hvorostovsky returned to a set of Tchaikovsky songs he sang two decades ago—and he’s never sounded sexier.

The best albums | The best performances | The worst | Best of 2010?

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From the House of the Dead

The best albums | The best performances | The worst | Best of 2010?

In Vain at Miller Theatre, Feb 6
The Argento Chamber Ensemble was characteristically brilliant in this Composer Portrait concert, featuring a powerful, mysterious and evocative modern musical rite by Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas.—SS

Ensemble Intercontemporain at the Rose Theater; May 8, 9
Susanna Mlkki conducted this extraordinary French ensemble in two concerts that mixed Ligeti masterpieces with important recent works by Bruno Mantovani, Unsuk Chin and Michael Jarrell.—SS

Green Aria at the Guggenheim Museum of Art, May 31
The traditional pairing of composer and librettist became a threesome with perfumer added, for the world’s first “scent opera.” Far from being a one-note gimmick, Nico Muhly’s score delighted ears as much as Absolute Zero delighted noses.—OG Read more

So Percussion at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Oct 14
Urban angst was soothed in the percussion quartet’s evening-long Imaginary City. At once quirky and probing, So created a multilayered portrait of a city, using everything from wine bottles to toy pianos to a Monopoly set.—OG Read more

New Amsterdam Records takes Brooklyn
This inventive label filled the void of its discontinued VIM: Tribeca series twofold. This summer’s Undiscovered Islands series was crowned by Missy Mazzoli’s Song from the Uproar, while fall saw the start of Archipelago, a monthly event at Galapagos.—OG

From the House of the Dead at the Metropolitan Opera, Nov 12
Hard to imagine that a bleak Janacek opera based on a Dostoyevsky novel could save an equally bleak Met season. But Esa-Pekka Salonen and Patrice Chreau made auspicious house debuts in a fiercely compelling performance.—OG

Alan Gilbert’s arrival at the New York Philharmonic
Beyond the effects of any one concert, the Phil’s new music director has created a welcome buzz with his vitality, openness to fresh ideas and earnest intent to reassert the orchestra’s prime position in New York’s artistic conversation.—SS Read more

New York City Opera’s welcome return
George Steel still has a huge job ahead in restoring City Opera’s fortunes. But a successful opening volley with Hugo Weisgall’s severe Esther and a brash, cheeky Don Giovanni proved that Steel knows exactly what the company needs right now.—SS Read more

21c Liederabend at Galapagos Art Space, Nov 19
Three ambitious grassroots organizations—Beth Morrison Projects, VisionIntoArt and Opera on Tap—mounted an expansive, at times explosive survey of contemporary art song, musical theater and opera.—SS Read more

Twitter takes the classical-music world
From Bang on a Can’s marathon tweet team to the New York Phil’s blogger’s night at Contact!, the bird and the whale became ubiquitous even in the concert hall, 140 characters at a time. (Twitter even helped get this editor her job.)—OG

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Karita Mattila, miscast in Tosca

Photograph: Brigette Lacombe

The best albums | The best performances | The worst | Best of 2010?

The Amato Opera Closes
Tony Amato’s feisty company sang its last performance on May 31 after 61 years of Bowery bravado. While the granddaddy of DIY opera sold the building, Fourth Arts Block is working to make it a historic landmark; meanwhile, two companies started by alumni hope to carry on the Amato spirit.—OG

Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera
Production values aside, it’s hard to make Puccini’s ravishing score musically dull. That being said, a static staging that often bordered on the ridiculous could not be saved by the miscast Karita Mattila, Marcelo lvarez or...wait, who sang Scarpia?—OG

Close, but no cigar
Amid all the celebrations attending Alan Gilbert’s arrival, the New York Philharmonic had to swallow its pride when the U.S. Treasury Department put the kibosh on the orchestra’s widely trumpeted plans to play in Havana.—SS

Suzanne Fiol’s passing
The Issue Project Room founder’s untimely death from cancer in October was a tremendous blow to New York’s artistic community. Thankfully, her vivacious spirit lives on in Issue’s vital work.—SS

Report Card

The year had its pratfalls, for sure, including an almost entirely lackluster fall at the Met. Still, some conflicts (like City Opera’s immediate survival) were resolved positively, and some arresting new faces and programs emerged. The economy made things a bit more DIY, yet there were amazingly few closures despite the drop in funding. Oh—and Alan Motherflipping Gilbert. We rest our case. Final grade: B+

The best albums | The best performances | The worst | Best of 2010?

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The best albums | The best performances | The worst | Best of 2010?

Hilary Hahn: Bach Violin and Voice (Tue 12)
No one rivals us in our worship of this violinist; add baritone Matthias Goerne and soprano Christine Schfer, and we’re drooling for this CD and release party.—OG

Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra (Feb 17, 19)
The venerable Dutch ensemble makes its first local appearance with red-hot music director Yannick Nzet-Sguin.—SS

The Nose (opens Mar 5)
Paolo Szot brings the hot in his Met Opera debut, and Shostakovich’s absurdist romp remains timely 80 years after he wrote it.—OG

Le Grand Macabre (May 27--29)
Gyrgy Ligeti’s clangorous farce arrives at long last when Douglas Fitch directs a semistaged production with the New York Philharmonic.—SS

The best albums | The best performances | The worst | Best of 2010?

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