As easy as it is to zing the Grammy classical awards year after year for predictability, sentimentality and the fact that no one person or group of nominators can possibly hear every single release, one has to admit that this year’s crop has some pretty worthy nominations.
Strong representation from the West this year includes Los Angeles Opera’s recording of John Corigliano’s wonderful Figaro fantasy, “The Ghosts of Versailles,” and Santa Fe Opera’s recording of Jennifer Higdon’s melodramatic Civil War tale, “Cold Mountain,” both nominated in the opera recording category. They will be competing with a beautifully sung, screwball Salzburg Whitsun Festival production of Handel’s “Giulio Cesare” (with Cecilia Bartoli) on video, Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s speedy race through Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” on CD and a Royal Opera video of Karol Szymanowski’s “King Roger.” (Videos compete on questionably equal footing with CDs.)
L.A. Opera’s “Ghosts” also captured a nomination for engineered recording, and Higdon’s “Mountain” scored one for contemporary composition. Both were released simultaneously on super audio CD by the Dutch Pentatone label.
In other West Coast nominations, the Recording Academy continued to track the Seattle Symphony’s Henri Dutilleux orchestral music project by nominating the third and final volume in the cycle in the surround sound and engineered categories. Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony nabbed an orchestral performance nomination for a compilation of three scintillating electro-acoustic pieces by Mason Bates. And the Esa-Pekka Salonen and Los Angeles Philharmonic live recording of Frank Zappa’s messy, incorrigibly irreverent “200 Motels” was placed in Grammy’s inscrutable compendium category.
In the orchestral performance category, the San Francisco Symphony disc goes up against last year’s winners, Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony, who play more Shostakovich — the Symphonies Nos. 5, 8 and 9. Also in that category: an Ibert compilation from Neeme Järvi and L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 with Mariss Jansons and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and some Christopher Rouse works with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic. Though winners are rarely certain with the Grammys, the Shostakovich set is potent enough to repeat.
The contemporary classical composition category includes Higdon for “Cold Mountain,” Bates for “Anthology of Fantastic Zoology” as performed by Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony on a download-only release, Michael Daugherty for “Tales of Hemingway,” Christopher Theofanidis for Bassoon Concerto and rock musician C.F. Kip Winger for “Conversations With Nijinsky” with Martin West and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra.
The flow of releases commemorating Steve Reich’s 80th birthday logged only one nomination: Third Coast Percussion’s bold, propulsive compilation in the chamber music/small ensemble category. John Adams’ complex new violin concerto “Scheherazade.2” earned a classical instrumental solo nomination for Leila Josefowicz’s astonishing playing but not for contemporary classical composition.
In the category of compendium — whatever that means — the Zappa and Daugherty recordings are joined by a Gesualdo program on ECM, an album of Vaughan Williams recorded premieres called “Discoveries,” and an album of chamber music compositions by L.A.-based Gernot Wolfgang.