The best of 1983: 10 records to take home and savor
The first column of the new year seems as good a time as any to look back at the best recordings of 1983. What follows is offered in no particular order. The list tends to favor opera this year because the instrumental field seems to have lacked much fire. Here's hoping that next year will find more balance.
* Janacek's ''Jenufa.'' With Elisabeth Soderstrom, Eva Randova, Wieslav Ochman, Petrcq Dvorsky. Vienna Philharmonic, Sir Charles Mackerras, conductor. (London digital LDR-73009). In an age where the ideal casting of opera albums is becoming increasingly hard to come by, London offers this stunning ''Jenufa'' with a dream cast, superbly conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras, thrillingly recorded. Miss Soderstrom is a haunting Jenufa, and Miss Randova a terrifying Kostelnicka.
* Liszt: Sonata in B minor; ''Legendes''; ''La Lugubre Gondola,'' Nos. 1 & 2. Alfred Brendel, piano. (Philips digital 6514 147). Alfred Brendel wrestles with the sprawling B minor sonata and gives it an unusually astringent profile. It works curiously well. The playing is occasionally rather clattery, and the approach will not be to all tastes, but it is consistently stimulating. The two ''Lugubre Gondola'' pieces - bleak, uncompromising compositions both - are given nigh ideal readings here.
* Elgar: Symphony No. 1 in A flat. Philharmonia Orchestra, Bernard Haitink, conductor. (EMI/Angel digital DS-38020). With this glorious account of the First Symphony one hopes the piece will finally be recognized on this side of the Atlantic as an important, stirring symphonic composition. Elgar surprises constantly for the finesse of his orchestrational ear, the richness of his melodic soarings, and his consummate craftsmanship. Haitink gives one of the finest performances of the work I have ever heard, and the Philharmonia plays magnificently for him. The engineering is sensational.
* Ravel: The Piano Concertos. Pascal Roge, piano. Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, Charles Dutoit, conductor. (London digital LDR-71092). The catalog is not wanting in fine performances of these two concertos. But these two readings stand in an entirely separate league. Pascal Roge and conductor Charles Dutoit find all the ravishing details in the scores - now brassy, now beautiful, jazzy, then luxuriant, always gorgeous, often witty - and highlight them without fussiness. The orchestral fillers (''Menuet antique,'' ''Une Barque sur l'ocean, '' etc.) are a lavish bonus.
* R. Strauss: ''Four Last Songs;'' six orchestral songs. Jessye Norman, soprano. Gewandhaus Orchestra, Leipzig, Kurt Masur, conductor. (Philips digital 6514 322).At last, a recording of Strauss's valedictory composition sung by the size voice Strauss is said to have wanted in this music (Kirsten Flagstad sang the world premiere performance). Miss Norman is in magnificent voice, and she offers these songs with all the fervor, nuance, and majesty one could ask for. She fares equally well in the six orchestral songs on the flip side. Kurt Masur gives her handsome accompaniment throughout.
* Handel: Operatic Arias. Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano. I Solisti Veneti, Claudio Scimone, conductor. (RCA/ERATO digital NUM 75047). - Marilyn Horne is finally becoming noticed by the recording companies in a big way. This release offers four arias from ''Rinaldo,'' a role she will sing at the Met this January , and five other arias with hair-raising facility and interpretive magnificence. A must for all aficionados of great singing.
* R. Strauss: ''Metamorphosen''; ''Tod und Verklarung.'' Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Herbert von Karajan, conductor. (DG digital 2532 074.). This is an impressive recording made memorable by a shattering performance of ''Metamorphosen'' (subtitled ''Mourning for Munich'') - a work that pays tribute to a world andan era destroyed by World War II. The Berlin Philharmonic strings play with all the fervor and splendor they can muster. The ''Tod und Verklarung'' receives a forceful, brooding, animated performance. Both pieces are richly recorded.
* Verdi: ''Falstaff.'' Renato Bruson, Katia Ricciarelli, Leo Nucci, Barbara Hendricks, Dalmacio Gonzalez. Los Angeles Philharmonic, Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor. (DG digital 2741 020.). This album is not distinguished by its singing, though Bruson and Nucci are extremely fine. Rather, it is Carlo Maria Giulini's conducting, his unquestioned love of this score, his uncanny ability to bring each note of this opera to life in a way even Toscanini did not achieve. Giulini's vision is what makes this an indispensable release for anyone who cares about Verdi and one of the great conductors of our day.
* Wynton Marsalis: Trumpet Concertos by Haydn, L. Mozart, Hummel. National Philharmonic, Raymond Leppard. (CBS Masterworks digital IM 37846). - A dazzling album of trumpet concertos played by 20-year-old Wynton Marsalis, with an indestructible lip, graceful musical phrasing, a virtuosity that puts him in the pantheon of legendary technicians, and a lively imaginative way with the music at hand.
* Wagner: ''Tristan und Isolde.'' Hildegard Behrens, Peter Hofmann, Bernd Weikl, Yvonne Minton. Bavarian Radio Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein, conductor. (Philips digital 6769 091.). From the perspective of right now, it seems improbable that a legendary performance of Wagner's ''Tristan und Isolde'' will ever again show up on records in the manner of the Flagstad/Furtwangler or Nilsson/Bohm recordings. This performance, however - taped in concert - boasts a commendable cast and extraordinary conducting from Bernstein. It is his performance from beginning to end, and an important one, too. The singers at least hold their own (Miss Behrens makes a vivid impression), and there is no question that this is the finest ''Tristan'' to be issued since the Nilsson/Bohm , taped live at Bayreuth in '62.