Classical Dazzles With Old Favorites And Surprises

Classical Dazzles With Old Favorites And Surprises

  • Joyce DiDonato
    Photo: Jeff Kravitz/
  • Ute Lemper
    Photo: Stefania D'Alessandro/Getty Images
  • Renée Fleming
    Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Like the genre itself, the recordings nominated in the Classical Field for the 55th GRAMMY Awards feature works spanning several centuries, including the present, performed by a range of instrumental and vocal configurations, from soloists to small ensembles and large orchestras.

For Best Orchestral Performance, conductor Iván Fischer is nominated for one of my favorite symphonic works, Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1. Perhaps the most interesting entry in the category is Carlos Kalmar's Music For A Time Of War, featuring John Adams' The Wound-Dresser, which I find especially compelling as it is based on Walt Whitman's experience as a medic during the American Civil War.

The Best Opera Recording category is split between 20th century and baroque operas, with a dash of Richard Wagner thrown in to keep it old-school.

One of my favorite pieces of all time, the Requiem by György Ligeti, is nominated in the Best Choral Performance category. As a fan of recent sacred choral works, I'm glad to see Life & Breath — Choral Works By René Clausen on the list. The Nightingale features works by Uģis Prauliņš, a Latvian composer I'd had yet to discover, and who is also nominated in the Best Contemporary Classical Composition category.

The Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance category is full of surprises. Americana is a collection of 20th-century American music performed by the Modern Mandolin Quartet. If you don't think of the mandolin as an instrument that can hold its own on the concert stage, this group should change your mind. My personal favorite is their arrangement of "Cool" from "West Side Story" by Leonard Bernstein. The ZOFO Duet (pianists Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi) breathe new life into the four-hand piano repertoire with their album Mind Meld, and the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet offers Rupa-Khandha, a collection of exciting recent percussion works by current composers.

The Best Classical Vocal Solo category showcases the female voice: Natalie Dessay sings Debussy on Clair De Lune; Joyce DiDonato joins her hometown Kansas City Symphony for Homecoming; Ute Lemper brings classic torch songs to life on Paris Days, Berlin Nights; Renée Fleming sings French music of the 20th century on Poèmes; and Anne Sofie Von Otter highlights baroque repertoire on Sogno Barocco.

The Best Contemporary Classical Composition category features composers from the United States (Stephen Hartke and Steven Stucky), Cuba (Tania León), Latvia (Prauliņš) and Finland (Einojuhani Rautavaara).

There's plenty here to keep classical fans of all stripes fascinated for another GRAMMY season. I know I'm looking forward to learning more about these recordings, and I am looking forward to when the winners are announced on Feb. 10.

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