The Must-Hear Albums of 2014 So Far…

The end of 2013 is upon us but with the new year comes a renewed sense of hope for the future of classical music and its varying sub-genres. Scouring through the upcoming news/rumors/press release babble, our editorial staff have chosen the following picks as the best bets for 2014 so far. Oddly enough, most of the records on the list are set to be out by March, so expect the early part of 2014 to challenge the notion that the best recordings are saved for the end of the year. Also of note, we found relatively few operatic/vocal recordings worth mentioning, so could this potentially mark a dire year for Opera? Nonetheless, 2014 will see some old favorites evolve their sound, underdogs finally get their breakthrough chance, and one notable debut that could be the surprise hit of the year.

10. Avi Avital – Two Worlds

The mandolin has honestly seen better days, but the future could be bright if the experimental Two Worlds from Israeli mandolinist Avi Avital is as good as it sounds in reality as it does on paper. Avital came out of nowhere in 2012 with a surprisingly fresh all-Bach album but stretches the boundaries of the instrument on his next LP that merges classical and traditional Bluegrass and Balkan music. Leaks of the album are upbeat and rhythmic, featuring pieces by Vittorio Monti and Dvořák. Two Worlds is a step in the right direction for the art of the mandolin, and could be unlike anything ever heard before in the field. Avital is not your ordinary mandolinist, with some of the quickest fingers ever seen on the instrument, and with a musical background as diverse as it gets. The merging of such a variety of influences on the mandolin is in the right hands.


9. Helios – Yume

On the basis of history alone, Helios’ (Keith Kenniff) upcoming LP would be on the top of most must-hear lists of 2014 given his incredible hit list of memorable, reflective ambient pieces. Yume was actually meant to be released in 2013 but pushed back to a later date probably due in part to Kenniff’s busy schedule scoring music for commercials and films (including the beautiful piece done for JC Penny’s Superbowl spot earlier in the year). All the better as it provides more time for Kenniff to prepare possibly his most ambitious recording to date (and one that has a lot to live up to after fan-favorites The Malady of Elegance and All Will Prosper as his other moniker “Goldmund.”  Clips released so far for Yume preview a dreamy, absorbent vision, similar in nature to his more recent uplifting,expansive works for television.  If Yume does finally get released in 2014, it should be well worth the wait.


8. Kiasmos (Janus Rassmussen and Ólafur Arnalds) – untitled 2014 LP

While many will know of Ólafur Arnalds, quite a few will be new to his pairing with Bloodgroup mastermind Janus Rasmussen, otherwise known as Kiasmos. The duo is set to release a full LP sometime in 2014 on Erased Tapes records, having recently revealed the first track off the album entitled “Looped.” The duo as unit have been relatively quiet since their Thrown EP in 2009 (a warmly-welcomed crowd-pleaser) but Arnalds’ ability to stir melodies and Rassmussen’s knack for dreamy, hazey beats as part of Bloodgroup is every reason to believe this will be one of the hippest records of the year and a sure-fire bet to bank on. If “Looped” is any indication, the cool kids are going to have a hell of a lot of fun with this new record. Slow dancing aside, Kiasmos’s upcoming LP could be the most intriguing electronic/ambient record in 2014 that could transcend the boundaries of the genre.


7. Alisa Weilerstein – Dvořák: Concerto for Cello

The best young cellist in the game, Alisa Weilerstein’s followup to her critically-acclaimed Elgar Cello recording is a passionate interpretation of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto along with the Cezch’s most popular pieces. Leaks of the album have Weilerstein displaying a whimsical envisioning of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with her cello never sounding more vibrant. But the absolute seller may actually be Weilerstein’s take on “Going Home” from Dvořák’s “New World” symphony that will leave listeners absolutely sobbing in tears.


6. Hauschka – Abandoned City

If any album on the list were to physically jolt you, Hauschka’s Abandoned City would be the prime suspect. Exactly as the title describes, the LP’s theme rests between an inescapable loneliness and unrequited romance of places long forgotten to create an intensive, unpredictable journey into the unknown. Hauschka, the undisputed master of the prepared piano, reaches into his darkest and most volatile depths on Abandoned City, perfecting an unorthodox emotional effect in convincing the listener to oddly welcome the sense of despair and isolation. The first single off the record, “Elizabeth Bay” is already unlike anything heard before from Hauschka, liking more to an industrial dance track than his trademark deconstructed pieces. Perhaps Abandoned City is the next evolution of Hauschka’s sound, but if Elizabeth Bay is any indication it will be his most adrenaline-pumping record to date. Hauschka’s ability to manipulate tones mixed with a harder edge will make Abandoned City a favorite not only amongst the avant-garde but especially those into industrial/electronica.


5. Miloš Karadaglić – Aranjuez

It’s been awhile since the classical guitar was truly relevant. With relatively few luminaries of the instrument, Karadaglić was not only a much needed breath of fresh air for the field, but a complete revitalization and in some ways, a revelation for the classical guitar. Karadaglić has shown you can interpret with flair without sacrificing credibility and has proven that with two stellar LPs under his belt. But while Karadaglić had been taking the safe route of romanticizing the strings on his first two records, Aranjuez will mark a bold departure for the young plucker. In what is considered by many the greatest classical guitar piece ever written, Joaquín Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” will present Karadaglić the opportunity to have the grandest sound he has ever tackled. The record will also include Rodrigo’s “Fantasía para un Gentilhombre” along with many solo works by Rodrigo and Manuel De Falla. Expect Karadaglić to sound bigger, tougher, and more importantly deeper with the guitar. Karadaglić means business with the repertoire on Aranjuez, with the record having the potential to be the best classical guitar album of the last quarter century.


4. Simone Dinnerstein – J.S. Bach: Inventions & Sinfonias

As one of the few traditional classical musicians outside of Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Bell who have actually “made it,” Dinnerstein’s upcoming record of Bach inventions could possibly be her biggest challenge and finest hour yet. Dinnerstein has become one of the premiere Bach interpreters with her knack for subtle expression and placid touch. While J.S. Bach: Inventions & Sinfonias may unfortunately miss a lot of listeners’ radars with a release in the first weeks of January, it’s undoubtedly expected to be one of the most pleasurable records to hear for the rest of the year. Given Dinnerstein’s expertise for the composer, this could also be one of the best Bach recordings for 2014 and giving Dinnerstein the rightfully deserved comparisons as our generation’s “Glenn Gould”.


3. Bryce Dessner – St. Carolyn By The Sea

We harken an intrigue to Bryce Dessner’s orchestral debut as that of Johann Johannsson’s oddly intriguing 2006 record IBM 1401 A User’s Manual in the sense of Disneyfied sweeping, soaring movements and visions of wider landscapes. A unique recording that features three original orchestral works by Bryce Dessner of The National (which includes himself playing guitar), St. Carolyn By The Sea will mark the biggest test for the indie-artists-gone-classical scene. While the record will also include Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood’s complete suite of his score for the film There Will Be Blood, the main attraction will undoubtedly be Dessner’s works. Dessner has proven his writing chops with the Kronos Quartet on this year’s Aheym, proving he can make contemporary works that are artistically visionary but still attractive to the non-classical indie ear. St. Carolyn by the Sea presents a much wider canvas of creativity for Dessner but will it be too much of a challenge for the indie rocker? All leaked previews suggest an emphatic no.


2. Christopher Bono – Bardo

After releasing two of the best choral compositions this year, Christophe Bono is set to have a banner year in 2014 with the release of his highly acclaimed work Bardo. Originally a site-specific work commissioned by Sympho Concerts and premiered in June 2012, Bardo can be best describe as a psychedelic passage into a diverse richness of sound. Over the past few years, Bono has quietly become a new hero for contemporary works and one of the few figures with enough guts to challenge the status-quo rulebook of music writing. Bardo is a captive and mind-altering experience – one that will win fans of contemporary, world, ambient and well just about everything else under the sun. Bardo was originally written for 13 musicians and has thus been expanded to at least 43 pieces at last count, so expect a recording that pushes Bono’s imaginative mind to its limits.   Don’t be surprised for Bono to soon having comparisons as the next Phillip Glass after Bardo picks up.


1. Federico Albanese – The Houseboat and the Moon

Never before has members from our editorial staff been so excited by a debut solo recording than that for Italian composer Federico Alabanese. With only just a few snippets released, hands down it became clear Alabanese’s The Houseboat and The Moon would be the most intriguing if not most coveted record to hear in the new year. Albanese has already displayed a gift expressing a flair for the dramatics given his experience in composing for film and previous eclectic background in creating mellow acoustics and rock-infused dreamscapes. From what has been heard so far from The Houseboat and The Moon, the best descriptions would be that of an atmospheric vision of gentle piano notes fused with electronic manipulations. A fair comparison to describe Albanese would be a “cooler version” of Ludovico Einaudi’s commercial-friendly pieces but with richer sound and a more welcoming indie-vibe. Consider Albanese as “The XX” breakout of the contemporary classical world in 2014 with The Houseboat and the Moon as the top must-hear record of the year.

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