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Records of the Year

Paul Driver, Sunday Times (London), December 8, 2002

1 This consummation of Birtwistle's art, conceived as two interlocking cycles of pieces, stupendously recorded here, is a set of Meditations on Paul Celan for Soprano, String Quartet and Ensemble. Birtwistle's word-setting has a toughness that keeps faith with the poetry's terrible knowledge, and his jittery quartet idiom a virtuosity nowhere more apparent than in Todesfuge, a spectacular (spectral) version of a late-Beethoven fugue.

2 MAHLER
Symphony No 6, Zander, Philharmonia
(Telarc)
A uniquely wrenching yet heart-warmingly lyrical account by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Ben Zander. The textures have brilliant clarity. The deeply pondered but spontaneously felt tempi and phrasing hold one in a sometimes terrifying grip.

3 ELLIOTT CARTER
Four Works
(Bridge)
Carter has never composed with such freshness as he does in his nineties. The twangily brittle Shard for guitar solo is absorbed, note for note, into Luimen, for an ensemble highlighting plucked instruments. Music seems literally plucked out of the air during a mercurial 10 minutes that seem to summarise a lifetime's compositional thought.

4 MORTON FELDMAN
String Quartet II
(HatNowArt)
This 1983 "assemblage", performed by the Ives Ensemble and lasting nearly five hours, is the prodigious outcome (of a minimalist aesthetic. In the reiteration of simple, often wistful ideas time seems like a visual object.

5 PER NORGARD
Symphony No 6
(Chandos)
Cast in three "passages" for bass-enhanced large orchestra, but opening with knifelike treble tones, the Danish composer's Sixth Symphony is a study in mighty contrasts.

6 MAURIZIO POLLINI
Schumann's Kreisleriana and other works
(DG)
This pianist sees into the unexpected lyric corners of Kreisleriana, here in its original version and with marvellous command of its polyphonic textures.

7 MICHAEL FINNISSY
Etched Bright with Sunlight
(Metronome)
Finnissy's abstruse style demands phenomenal accuracy and musicianship from the player, and gets it here from the pianist Nicolas Hodges. His control of the unbelievably elaborate, half-hour title piece is astonishing.

8 BOULEZ
Pli selon pli
(DG)
The soprano Christine Schäfer is a wonderful soloist in this grand "portrait of Mallarmé", whom Boulez saw as a precursor of aleatory music. The work is like nothing else in music, especially its death-struck last three minutes.

9 MITSUKO UCHIDA
Schubert's Sonata in E flat, Six Moments Musicaux
(Philips)
Uchida brings animation and pearl-like beauty of tone to Schubert's extended structures, while respecting the massiveness that makes them so distinctive and profound.

10 HELMUT LACHENMANN
Schwankungen am Rand
(ECM New Series)
Three works by the leading exponent of avant-garde sonority and pointillist continuity including, in Mouvement (-vor der Erstarrung) for ensemble, a curious attempt to "strike water out of the stone of the dead monument known as 'music'".


   


 
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