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The Best Compact Disc Recordings Of The Year

December 29, 1985|HERBERT GLASS

In the world of classical recordings, 1985 was the year of the compact disc. With the price of decent CD players coming down to the $200 level, the cost of the discs themselves falling--although the weakness of the dollar combined with foreign manufacture of nearly all CDs makes a price rise likely for '86--and an ever-growing repertory, confounding the skeptics' assertion that the new medium would only propagate the classical Top 40, the lure became irresistible for the American consumer.

Following are this listener's choices for the outstanding CDs of the past year.

ORCHESTRAL Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 ("Eroica"). Otto Klemperer conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra (EMI/Angel, with "Grosse Fuge"). Grandeur allied to incisive rhythmicality in this sonically brilliant remastering of the 1957 recording.

Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 6. Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra (London). Striking evidence of the pianist's increasing baton mastery in these fresh, undeservingly neglected scores.

Stravinsky: "Le Baiser de la Fee." Neeme Jarvi conducting the Scottish National Orchestra (Chandos). The haunting, exquisitely delicate score, executed with a magically light hand.

Mozart: "Posthorn" Serenade. Sir Neville Marriner conducting the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields (Philips). A swaggering, jubilant performance showing that Marriner has not lost his bright Classical touch since defecting to the ranks of large-orchestra conductors.

Berg: Violin Concerto. Gidon Kremer, violin; Sir Colin Davis conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony (Philips; with Berg: Three Pieces). An interpretation that projects the combination of tenderness and strength of this sublime music like no other on recordings.

Delius: Violin Concerto. Ralph Holmes, violin; Vernon Handley conducting the London Philharmonic (Unicorn/Kanchana). Exquisitely schmaltzy music played with melting tone by the late British violinist.

Gershwin: Concerto in F. Andre Previn, piano soloist and conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony (Philips; with "Rhapsody in Blue" and "An American in Paris"). The prototypal crossover concerto in a performance that is, like the music itself, an inspired fusion of jazzy perkiness and high Romantic style.

Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 13 and 15. Malcolm Bilson, fortepiano; John Eliot Gardiner conducting the English Baroque Soloists (Deutsche Grammophon Archiv). Great good humor is joined to penetrating scholarship by these inspired period-practice stylists.

SOLO AND CHAMBER MUSIC Chopin: 14 Waltzes. Artur Rubinstein, piano (RCA). Gloriously relaxed, elegant, unfussy readings, handsomely remastered from the peerless Chopin-player's 1961 Rome recordings.

Ravel: "Gaspard de la nuit," "Valses nobles et sentimentales." Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano (London). Proof that Ashkenazy's ascent of the podium hasn't diminished his enormous pianistic skill.

Dvorak: Piano Quintet in A. Sviatoslav Richter, piano. Borodin Quartet (Philips). A grandly virtuosic presentation of Dvorak's finest piano work, with the bonus of the composer's rarely encountered early piano quintet (Opus 5) in the same key.

Beethoven: Late String Quartets. Alban Berg Quartet of Vienna (EMI/Angel, four discs). The Berg ensemble completes its monumental CD Beethoven cycle. Profound, beautiful, technically immaculate readings.

Poulenc: Chamber Music for Winds. Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (Musicmasters, two discs). All the wit and sentimentality of these ingratiating pieces emerges in the playing of these New York superprofessionals.

Bach: "Art of the Fugue." Musica Antiqua Cologne (Deutsche Grammophon Archiv, with "Musical Offering," three discs). The German period stylists' version of Bach's usually off-putting dissertation is gripping--and convincing--from first to last. The Bach recording of the Bach Year.

VOCAL MUSIC Verdi: "Un Ballo in Maschera" (London). An uncharacteristically mellow Sir Georg Solti leads the operatic surprise of the year, with fallen divo Luciano Pavarotti recalling his vocal prodigies of a decade ago in the company of a pair of golden-throated sopranos, Margaret Price and Kathleen Battle.

Handel: "Solomon" (Philips, two discs). The most imposing recorded product of the Handel tercentenary. A ravishing work, presented with enormous skill by the Monteverdi Choir, the English Baroque Soloists and a cast headed by Carolyn Watkinson and Barbara Hendricks, all under the direction of John Eliot Gardiner.

Mozart: Concert and Operatic Arias. Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano; Raymond Leppard conducting Scottish Chamber Orchestra (Erato/RCA). Offbeat repertory, including arias written for productions of "Le Nozze di Figaro" subsequent to the premiere, delivered with stunning vocal command by the brainy British veteran.

Schubert: "Winterreise." Hermann Prey, baritone; Philippe Bianconi, piano (Denon). The ageless German singer's fourth recorded go at this monumental cycle is a great and subtle piece of vocal acting, with rock-solid vocalism allied to flawless textual projection.

Finally, a word of appreciation for some outstanding operatic reissues on CD--to Angel for the classic La Scala production of Puccini's "Tosca" with Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano and Tito Gobbi, conducted by Victor de Sabata, and to London for completing the transfer to CD of that landmark of an earlier technology, the Solti-led Wagner "Ring."

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