Eight Recordings for Christmas — From Grand Mahler and Sacred Rachmaninov to Superlative Rozsa and a Requiem for Mothers

Deal W. Hudson
November 19, 2017

In spite of habitually slow sales, in comparison to pop music, recordings of classical music continue to be released by the dozens each month, and some of them equal or supersede the best recordings of the past.  Examples from this list are Brabbins’ performance of Vaughan Williams 2nd Symphony and Thierry Fischer’s 8th Symphony of Gustav Mahler.

There’s new music, too, well worth hearing, such as Stephen Edwards much-lauded “Requiem for My Mother” which will warm the heart of anyone who loves those by Faure and Durufle. Though it’s not strictly new, the American works for piano performed by Laura Downes are deeply satisfying and suggest there must be more from that well to tap.

Beethoven symphonies played on the piano may not appeal to you at first glance, but if you listen to the first few minutes of these Lizst transcriptions you won’t stop. As far as I am concerned there can’t be enough recordings of the film scores of Miklos Rozsa, especially when they sweep the field before them as Nic Raine has done with his recent “Ben-Hur.”

I always come back to Haydn, even before Mozart, but I’m not going to argue the case — I am immediately drawn into his sound world, so full of emotion, of dancing and weeping, and the conductor Giovanni Antonini is afraid of neither. Finally, the All-Night Vigil of Rachmaninov belongs to the pantheon of great sacred music and the recording by Gloriae Dei Cantores catches the sacred in this sacred music.

Stephen Edwards, Requiem for My Mother

Film composer Stephen Edwards has written and recorded a remarkable Requiem for My Mother that will eventually make its way into the repertory of sacred music regularly performed in churches and concert halls. His Requiem is quite beautiful, radiant in many places, majestic and fiercely resolute in others, a remarkable tribute to his mother, Rosalie, as well as to all mothers. The opening Requiem aeternum is masterful, with the statement of a beautiful and memorable main theme which becomes the foundation for the work as a whole. Edwards has written a work that will be performed for many years to come. I predict his “Requiem for My Mother” will catch on quickly among those who know and love sacred music but find a much larger audience.  What Edwards has composed will become contemporary Requiem of choice to those who seek beauty first.

Ralph Vaughan Williams, 2nd Symphony, “London.”

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ 2nd Symphony, the “London,” has been recorded many times quite successfully, but Martyn Brabbins new recording of the “1920 Version” has an exceptional emotional force — this disc has the sense of occasion usually missing from even very good performances.  The famed Lento movement has never sounded more expressively tender. This marks the beginning of an entire Vaughan Williams symphony cycle for Brabbins and Hyperion, and if future recordings remain at the level it will challenge all the previous best, such as Previn, Handley, Boult’s EMI version, and Haitnik.

Lara Downes, American Again (American piano works)

Lara Downes pianism in American Again will both melt your heart and make foot start tapping with delight. Downes has collected an unusual assortment of American piano pieces, from arrangements of familiar folk tunes such as “Shenandoah,” “Over the Rainbow,” and “Blue Skies” to lesser-known works by composers such as Morton Gould, Leonard Bernstein, Coleridge-Taylor, Ernst Bloch, Duke Ellington, Roy Harris, Aaron Copland, and Howard Hanson.  There’s not a dud among them. The Coleridge-Taylor arrangement of the spiritual “Deep River” is especially moving.  The sound is state-of-the-art.

Miklos Rozsa, Film Music for Ben-Hur

A great Christmas gift for any music lover: Nic Raine’s new recording of the Miklos Rozsa soundtrack for “Ben-Hur.” This re-recording surpasses any other in both performance and sound quality. Order from Tadlow Music in the UK and your discs will arrive in about a week on your doorstep. I just finished listening and am swept away…..The City of Prague Symphony Orchestra has a wonderful set of players and the soloists are superb. The choir knocks it out of the park.

Beethoven, 6th and 9th Symphonies (transcribed for piano by Franz Liszt)

Yury Martynov has recorded all the Lizst transcriptions of the Beethoven symphonies, and all of them are worth hearing — not only are they delightful to hear for themselves but also afford an opportunity to learn more about their structural development. You can start with his recording of the 9th Symphony and you will be surprised by how lively and fulsome the final movement, “Ode to Joy,” comes across in Liszt’s piano version.  His 6th Symphony, the “Pastoral,” is just as irresistible.

Gustav Mahler, 8th Symphony, “Symphony of a Thousand.”

Mahler 8th Symphony, conducted by Thierry Fischer, Utah Symphony, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and soloists, is exceptional, among the best 8ths I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard most of them. The soloists are first class, especially the tenor, Barry Banks, meeting all the challenges of the score. One expects the MTC to be great but here they surpass themselves, helped greatly by the RR engineers. Thierry Fischer has a marvelous feel for Mahler and delivers at every step of the way. The finale is appropriately overwhelming, but few recordings actually pack the kind of punch the composer imagined. Repeated hearings may lead me to say this is the best of all.

Haydn, Symphonies 60, 70 & 12; Cimarosa, Il maestro di cappella

Some recordings of familiar music are just that, familiar, but this one immediately grabs you and won’t go — it gets to the heart of Haydn’s greatness as a symphonic composer, his evidently inexhaustible invention allied with master craftsmanship, and the ability to capture the totality of all human emotions. Giovanni Antonini conducts Il Giardino Armonico in the Haydn, Symphony 60, “Il Distratto” in C major; Symphony 70 in D major; Symph0ny 12 in B major; and Cimarosa, Il maestro di cappella (Orch. M. Brolli).

Rachmaninov, All Night Vigil, Op. 37

The Gloriae Dei Cantores deliver a spectacular new recording of Rachmaninov’s “All Night Vigil” (1915), augmented by two Russian Orthodox choirs and two opera singers from the Kiev Opera. As stated in the 52-page booklet accompanying the CD, the conductor Peter Jermihov was determined to perform the Vigil in order to fully express its Christian intent and meaning. The result is an overwhelmingly beautiful and moving liturgy sung on the Saturday before the Resurrection. Music critics have praised it as “one of the very best recordings this work has received,” and I agree. This is deeply-felt sacred music written when Rachmaninov was in his prime, having already published his 2nd Symphony.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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