Presenting my thirty-three best CDs of 2020

In 2020 the classical music industry proved the truth of Oscar Wilde's famous dictum that there are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. Those of us who were advocating classical diversity back when other 'experts' were still puffing Dudamel as classical music's saviour watched in dismay as gender and ethnicity replaced merit as a measure of marketability. Similarly, those who of us who two decades ago embraced what was then called 'citizen journalism'  sunk into despair as social media proved the foolishness of crowds, and the classical industry succumbed to the malignant power of click bait. (Yesterday the industry's cultural commentator of choice demanded that musicians "stop orchestral touring". Today click bait addiction dictates that the same commentator urges musicians to sign a petition to make it easier for orchestras to go on "Eurostar tours" and "trips to Spain".)

Sadly, Carl Nielsen's exhortation to "Give us something else, give us something new" has also been desecrated. Which means the new always trumps the not so new, irrespective of merit. And the new from Universal Classics with added virtue signalling and a Birmingham connection is guaranteed a 5 star review. All of this means classical music is now no more than digital food served up by an industry in a collective trance to a quick-fix society. It is against this background that I humbly offer my thirty-three best CDs of 2020. The anthology was released in April 2020, but the recordings are not new and both composers and musicians are woefully lacking in virtue signalling quotient. But please do stay with me.
Since launching in 1996 budget label Brilliant Classics has established an envied reputation both for astute licensing of repertoire from other labels and outstanding original recordings. Their thirty-three CD Cello Sonatas Edition follows this format with a foundation of original Brilliant Classics releases - examples are CDs seen in my header and footer images - judiciously supplemented by material licensed from elsewhere. The Brilliant Classics original recordings are musically and sonically excellent. Their remarkably life-like sound is a function of sympathetic acoustics - often sacred spaces as studio time costs more - and simple and quick recordings short on celebrity-demanded retakes. An example of the supplementary licensed repertoire is the wisely-chosen Rubbra and Moeran disc with Raphael Wallfisch licensed from Naxos. My advocacy of Brilliant Classic's Cello Sonatas Edition needs go no further than listing the featured composers: Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Lanzetti, Haendel, Caporale, Geminiani, Pericoli, Boccherini, Beethoven, Moscheles, Hummel, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Alkan, Schubert, Franck, Cilea, Debussy, Roslavets, Pilati, Grieg, Poulenc, Röntgen, Saint-Saëns, Brahms, Martucci, Fauré, Kodály, Pizzetti, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Miaskovski, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Glazounov, Prokofiev, Richard Strauss, Thuille, Casella, Rubbra, Moearan, Shostakovitch, Schnittke, Britten, and Kapustin.

Brilliant Classic's Cello Sonata Edition offers hours of rewarding listening to both established masterpieces and new discoveries for remarkably little cost - I paid just over £1 a disc. It is very good music played by very fine musicians without the obligatory sprinkling of social media stardust, and it is not released by Universal Classics. Which is why it and similar gems are not spun by the cultural commentators. I wish all my readers a more auspicious 2021. My hope for the New Year is that the classical music industry stops blaming Covid-19 for all its problems, and that classical musicians realise there are many people around the world whose Covid-inflicted suffering is far greater than theirs.
No review samples used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).


Pliable said…
Earlier this month I changed the presentation of On An Overgrown Path to make it more suited to reading on smartphones. I have observed a problem with this 'dynamic' view which cause internal links - OAOP to OAOP - to open on the home page rather than the cited page. But this problem only occurs on my editing PC and not on my iPhone, and no readers have reported a similar problem. So it may be a cache or similar problem related specifically to my PC.

Have any readers experienced the same problem? Is the new 'dynamic' view approved of? (Reader numbers have increased materially since the change; but, as I have stated many times here, reader numbers are not everything.)

Feedback is welcome via comments. if you don't want your feedback published please state that, and I will read the comment but not upload it for public view.
I haven't picked up the cello sonata box set because I've been more on a choral kick, but their recent box set of Magnificat settings proved irresistable and it spans from the fourteenth century up through settings by Part, Rubbra and Rutter so I'm looking forward to hearing a really varied box set of approaches to the sacred text. Brilliant Classics also has an interesting-looking box set of Russian Orthodox choral music coming out next month.

I'm slowly working through Brilliant's recent Kozeluch box set, too. Their big box set of half a century's worth of guitar music by Angelo Gilardino is well worth buying. Gilardino is one of the more significant living composers of music for classical guitar who is, alas, unknown outside the guitar scene.

I don't know if the albums are still in print but they also put out a couple of Sorabji sets, too. As a classical guitarist I know contemporary guitar music is hugely niche but in that niche both Brilliant and Naxos have proven themselves labels that are great at recording and distributing contemporary music for the guitar. I'm slowly getting around to exploring other aspects of their catalogs.
Ian Paton said…
A problem with the new is that when I use the Page Down key on a laptop, the new heading obscures one or more lines of text, and I have to use the 'up' arrow to view them.

A salute to Brilliant Classics for making major labels' back catalogue available at super-bargain prices.
apropos of nothing, both Nikolai Kapustin and Claude Bolling died this year, two composers who wrote works I found fun that synthesized jazz and classical idioms in ways that I thought actually worked. In the decades after the Cold War ended, as jazz studies and musicology have had more time for cross-cultural exchange, it's been fascinating to learn how a small group of composers and musicians on both sides of the Iron Curtain were trying to find ways to synthesize jazz and concert music styles over against the purity codes of partisans for each team on the given sides.

I read on desktops so I can't say I haven't found much trouble with it. That each post defaults to showing all previous posts before it within the page format took a tiny bit of getting used to but that's the main difference I've noticed on my end.
Tazz said…
I view your site on both desktop and laptop--links work erratically on my desktop, seldom work properly on the laptop.
Pliable said…
Many thanks for the feedback. It confirms my view that the 'dynamic' format causes problems with internal links - which are one of the main features of On An Overgrown Path. So I've reverted to a simpler format; this is less technically 'cool', but my tests indicate it causes no problems with internal links.

More feedback on the 'Mobile 2.0' blog format is very welcome.
Philip Amos said…
I do have one problem, Bob. Circa 75% of the time, summoning up OAOP also summons a pop-up bar at the top of the page telling me that an unknown script is interfering with viewing the site. One can click on Stop It if one is fast enough, but that means very fast, and, in any case, that never seems to resolve the problem completely. Most unfortunate of all, this script then seems to interfere with other sites. However, tedious though this can be, it does not stop me viewing OAOP, as is evident. Were I a reader of SD via the direct path, it would stop me reading Norman. By the by, I was a touch amused when NL recently took the Jarvi family to task, the deceased members included, for what is often now called monetizing their endeavours. And this from the author (suppposedly, for all who are not daft know that Norman possesses not the knowledge to write some of the marginally better posts) who has of late stepped up the monetizing to the point of seeming money-mad. His blog has become a site to behold when it comes to advertisements. And then we have the wee issue of his relationship with Universal, etc.

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