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Some hope

Culture | Top recordings in 1997 show classical music has a future

Issue: "Year in Review 1997," Dec. 27, 1997

Gramophone magazine annually lists its choices of the top recordings of the year. The list is based on the British magazine's survey of critically acclaimed releases over the past 12 months. This year Gramophone celebrated opera, naming EMI's release of Puccini's La Rondine as best recording overall. The two-CD album brings new life to a weaker Puccini offering in the operetta tradition. Its success lies partly in the husband-and-wife team of Angela Gheorghiu (soprano) and Roberto Alagna (tenor), whose fresh voices arrest Puccini fans anew.

Vocal music continues to top the list, with best solo vocal recording by German soprano Christine Schaefer singing Schumann with English pianist Graham Johnson. Among the winners of special awards is That's Entertainment Records' two-CD release of My Fair Lady-not just highlights, but incidental music and linking dialogue.

In the choral field, Archiv's distinguished Haydn Creation conducted by John Eliot Gardiner in grateful church acoustics won first place, while ASV Gaudeamus won best early music award with the increasingly popular Clerks' Group doing renaissance liturgical music.

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Similarly, Erato topped the charts with the best-selling album of the year: Agnus Dei: Music of Inner Harmony. The recording by an Oxford choir bears no resemblance to feel-good releases by medieval monks but wins for its innocent appeal to the transcendent.

Artist of the Year went to cellist Yo-Yo Ma, whose career continues to rise above the fray. Yo-Yo Ma has endeared himself to worldwide audiences with his orchestral appearances doing the straight concertos with riveting, intense performances. He has been unafraid to explore new vistas like Appalachian fiddle in his Sony release with the country fiddle virtuoso Mark O'Connor and bassist Edgar Meyer. He has shared the spotlight with the likes of Bobby McFerrin and Isaac Stern, with equal distinction. In July he recorded the Brahms Double Concerto (violin and cello) with Chicago and Itzhak Perlman. At barely 40, the Chinese-American cellist has done more for the cause of classical music than most.

After looking over the list of picks from Gramophone, I am reassured that, despite the doomsayers, there is a future for classical music.

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