A Pull Toward the 20th Century


For all the criticism Grammys get for not being quite up-to-date, the 11 classical awards this year have a remarkable feature. Every winner but one--Cecilia Bartoli’s Vivaldi disc--is for music written in the 20th century. In one category, that meant that four superb Bach recordings lost to the fifth nominee, “Credo,” a recent work by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki.

The best classical album, the Emerson String Quartet’s traversal of Dmitri Shostakovich’s 15 quartets, is one of the year’s most celebrated recordings, but it is nonetheless significant that the tortured inner world of a Soviet composer fascinates the Grammy voters more than does the music of Bach, Haydn or Chopin.

Likewise conductor Simon Rattle’s powerful recording of Gustav Mahler’s 10th Symphony won over, say, Daniel Barenboim’s set of Beethoven’s nine symphonies.


A 20th century operatic rarity, Busoni’s “Doktor Faust,” given an outstanding performance by conductor Kent Nagano, triumphed, and guitarist Sharon Isbin playing small modern pieces in popular styles overtook pianists Murray Perahia playing Bach and Evgeny Kissin, Chopin.

And most surprising of all, Joshua Bell’s performance of a long, new violin concerto by British composer Nicholas Maw proved more popular than one of the best recordings ever of Rach 3 (by Arcadi Volodos).