Lara Downes by Max Barrett
As the year comes to a close, I wanted to share ten albums that caught my imagination in 2022. Some are new takes on old favorites, and all of them speak to us in the here and now. Tune in to The Evening Show December 19 to 23, and 26 to 30 at 9PM to hear me sample these albums for you.
Joyce Di Donato: Eden
A musical journey that travels four centuries to explore, through an unclouded lens, the past and future of our relationship with the natural world. In her words: “EDEN is an invitation to return to our roots. It is an overture to engage with the sheer perfection of the world around us, to consider if we are connecting as profoundly as we can to the pure essence of our being. It is a clarion call to contemplate if our collective suffering isn’t perhaps linked to the aching separation from something primal within and around us. This is a vivid musical exploration through the centuries to remember and to create a new EDEN from within.”
Inon Barnatan: Time Traveler’s Suite
Another collection of unexpected juxtapositions, Barnatan takes a quirky approach to a time-honored tradition, fashioning a suite from music by composers as diverse as Bach and Barber, Rameau and Ravel. Park your expectations and open your ears.
Time for Three/Philadelphia Orch: Letters For The Future
This Grammy-nominated recording features Jennifer Higdon’s Concerto 4–3, a deeply personal work that weaves bluegrass into the fabric of a classical concerto in a reflection of the composer’s Tennessee roots. Time for Three gives the piece an joyful world premiere performance.
Philadelphia Orch/Lisa Batiashvili: Secret Love Letters
“What would human life be like,” asks violinist Lisa Batiashvili, “without this range of emotions and feelings which we feel cannot be shared with anyone?” Secret Love Letters takes us on a journey from forbidden love to romance remembered from the perspective of old age. At the heart of the album is Karol Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto, written in Ukraine during the First World War and first performed in Warsaw exactly 100 years ago, in November 1922. “It’s a piece full of love and pain deriving from the restrictions experienced by a man who was in love with another man at a time when this was outlawed both legally and morally”, Lisa explains. “It’s a dance between eroticism and compassion, between a dream world and tough reality.”
Mitsuko Uchida: Diabelli Variations
Mitsuko Uchida waited until the age of 73 to record Beethoven’s monumental Diabelli Variations this year. Then again, Beethoven was 53 when he wrote this set of 33 variations – an unexpected response to his publisher’s request for one single variation on an unassuming little tune. It takes time to absorb the scope of the ideas and contradictions that spill over from Beethoven’s imagination in this piece that pianist Alfred Brendel has called “the greatest of all piano works”. This recording is well worth the wait.
Voces 8/Royal Phil/Christopher Tin: The Lost Birds
LA-based composer Christopher Tin has a unique gift for telling big stories and evoking big emotions, and with The Lost Birds, he offers a gorgeous elegy for birds driven to extinction by the short-sighted and self-centered actions of our own species. At once a celebration of nature’s beauty and a requiem for its destruction, this haunting tribute warns us to consider our own fragile existence here on earth, and to value all creatures as our fellow inhabitants and extended family.
LA Guitar Quartet: Opalescent
This album, celebrating the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet’s 40th anniversary, contemplates the blurred boundaries between light and sound. Tilman Hoppstock’s Suite Transcendent is all about shifts of light and shade. Broad contrasts of color and texture, moments of shimmering fragility, shadowy introspection and glowing emotion make this a piece worth repeated listening and reflection.
Simone Dinnerstein: Undersong
Simone Dinnerstein kept herself busy at home in Brooklyn during the pandemic – Undersong is the third album she recorded during that time. This album explores the patterns and variations of musical refrains, inspired by Dinnerstein’s daily walk in Greenwood Cemetery, a familiar path that changed almost imperceptibly every day. Undersong is an archaic term for a song with a refrain, and the music on this intimate recording – by Philip Glass, Schumann, Couperin and Satie – all searches for expression through repetition. Dinnerstein also finds inspiration in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem The Undersong, a meditation on the overarching power of time:
To the open air it sings
Sweet the genesis of things,
Of tendency through endless ages,
Of star-dust, and star-pilgrimages,
Daniel Hope: America
We know a piece is from America the moment we hear it,” says Hope. “But what makes music sound American?” His new album America offers answers from a diverse range of voices – music by Aaron Copland, Sam Cooke, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Florence Price, Kurt Weill and Leonard Bernstein, whose West Side Story tells a multi-faceted American story of struggle, hope, joy and tragedy. Hope dedicates the album to his great-aunt, who, like Kurt Weill, escaped persecution in Germany and settled for the rest of her life in the United States.
Plinio Fernandes: Saudade
This debut solo album from the young Brazilian classical guitarist Plínio Fernandes is a tribute to lineage and legacy. Joining the label (Decca Gold) that was previously the home of his musical idol Andrés Segovia inspired Fernandes to explore many aspects of his musical roots and passions, considering his own place in the lineage of virtuoso guitarists by focusing on the music of Villa-Lobos, the Brazilian composer, conductor, cellist, and classical guitarist described as “the single most significant creative figure in 20th-century Brazilian art music”.