Tony Tommasini wrote in the Sunday New York Times: “For too long, the troubles among the major record companies and leading performing arts institutions have been taken as proof that the entire classical music field is struggling to engage an uninterested general public.” Yes. The former leading labels may be struggling to justify themelves to the corporate (non)entities that own them, but Nonesuch, ECM, Hyperion, and Harmonia Mundi have defined the category "major" out of existence, and there seems to be no end of new glories. I dithered over a dozen rave-worthy releases before picking René Jacobs’ Figaro, the Anna Netrebko recital, and Till Fellner’s Well-Tempered Clavier for my CD column last week. Here are six other recent discs that are evidence of something other than an industry in decline:
Handel Arias, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (Avie). I'm running out of superlatives for La Lieberson. What can you say about her singing of "Ombra mai fù"? It is supreme. It is beyond. It is beyond the beyond. It leaves the beyond in the dust. It obliterates. It is absolutely the end. It is the music that will be playing ten thousand miles above the powers that be as they shuffle down to the special hell reserved for those who judge and will be judged. Sorry. Got carried away. It's really good.
Vivaldi, Concertos for the Emperor, Andrew Manze and the English Concert (Harmonia Mundi). Manze’s soul-shivering arpeggios in the finale of the C-minor concerto give you a very good idea of how the composer himself might have sounded at a famous concert of 1715: "Towards the end, Vivaldi played a solo accompaniment — splendid — to which he appended a cadenza which really frightened me, for such playing has never been nor can be."
Bartók, Violin Sonatas, Christian Tetzlaff and Leif Ove Andsnes (Virgin Classics). More white-hot fiddling: the raw rural songs that Bartók heard in Eastern Europe and North Africa dance through the modernist melee.
Monteverdi, Orfeo (Virgin Classics). A cast of young stars — Ian Bostridge, Natalie Dessay, Alice Coote, Christopher Maltman, Lorenzo Regazzo, Véronique Gens, Patrizia Ciofi, Paul Agnew — sing Monteverdi’s genre-solidfying opera better than it has ever been sung in the past. Emmanuelle Haïm draws beauty and mystery from Le Concert d’Astrée and the European Voices.
Bach, Beethoven, and Webern, Piotr Anderszewski (Virgin Classics). A staggeringly gifted young pianist with a Richter-like ability to sustain tension through stretches of perilously slow playing.
Leon Fleisher Two Hands (Vanguard). When I wrote about Fleisher's mesmerizing master classes last spring, I never actually got to hear him play the piano. The dean of American pianists has regained the use of his right hand, and his account of Schubert's B-flat sonata dwells in no one's shadow, not even the master Schnabel's. The encores come first: "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" had me in tears after thirty seconds.
And the hits keep coming — surreally beautiful Ysaÿe solo violin sonatas played by Thomas Zehetmair (ECM); Fretwork's ravishing, revelatory compilation of the sixteenth-century songs of Ludwig Senfl (Harmonia Mundi; with tenor Charles Daniel); the fine young violinist Daniel Hope playing Ravel, Ravi Shankar, Bartók, and Schnittke with an east-west ensemble (Warner Classics); Rachel Barton Pine’s masterly Baroque recital (Cedille). I don't know if it's an age, but it's golden.