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Gramophone Awards Dylan’s Christmas New: Franco & Nellie McKay




Every year, Gramophone, the great English classical music magazine, selects its favorite recordings of the year. These are the most prestigious awards in the business. Here are some highlights:

Recording of the Year and Chamber Music:
Ebéne String Quartet, RAVEL, DEBUSSY, FAURÉ (Virgin Classics, $16.98)

Early Music:
Stile Antico, SONG OF SONGS (Harmonia Mundi, $19.98)

Baroque Vocal:
The Sixteen, HANDEL: CORONATION ANTHEMS (Coro, $15.98)

Baroque Instrumental:
Fretwork, PURCELL: THE COMPLETE FANTAZIAS (Harmonia Mundi, $18.98)

Magdalena Kožená; Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Charles Mackerras, conductor, MARTINŮ: JULIETTA FRANGMENTS (Supraphone, $19.98)

Solo Vocal:

PUCCINI: MADAMA BUTTERFLY (EMI, $32.98)—soloists include Angela Gheorghiu; Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Antonio Pappano, conductor

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, DEBUSSY: COMPLETE WORKS FOR PIANO, VOL. 4 (Chandos, $17.99)

Steven Osborne, BRITTEN: PIANO CONCERTO ((Hyperion, $18.98)

Editor’s Choice Award:
Stephen Kovacevich, BEETHOVEN: DIABELLI VARIATIONS (Onyx, $19.98)

There were also awards for two labels that I’ve long loved and admired:
Label of the Year:
Special Achievement:
Bernard Coutaz, founder of the Harmoni Mundi label

On his last three albums, Bob Dylan has explored the breadth of American song, going all the way back to parlor songs, ragtime, and old-time blues and ballads. But Christmas songs? Yes, indeed—CHRISTMAS IN THE HEART (Columbia, $14.98) has some very hip arrangements and a cheery backup chorus as well. How about “The Christmas Blues,” a Hawaiian number (“Christmas Island”), or a rousing norteño polka (“Must Be Santa”), complete with accordion? Dylan sings the classic religious tunes with sincerity and longing, and the pop tunes with a surreal smile in his voice.
All of the CD royalties will be donated to Feeding America, a charity providing meals.

Franco & Le TPOK Jazz, FRANCOPHONIC 2: 1980-1989 (Stern’s, 2CDs, $23.98) and FRANCOPHONIC: 1958-1980 (Stern’s, 2CDs, $23.98)—This year is the twentieth anniversary of the death of the great Congolese musician, Franco. In his heyday, he was sub-Saharan Africa’s greatest music star, and his Congolese rumba sound spread far and wide. Stern’s Music has just released its second authoritative compilation of Franco’s music, and both packages contain very informative 48-page booklets.

The influence of Congolese rumba and soukous, with its sinuous, intertwining guitars,  spread all the way to Dar al-Salaam, and there is a great new compilation of the best of these bands of late 1970s and early 1980s, ZANZIBARA 5: HOT IN DAR (Buda Records, $15.98).

These three titles are among this year’s best African music.

Nellie McKay, NORMAL AS BLUEBERRY PIE: A TRIBUTE TO DORIS DAY (Verve, $14.98)—I’m a big Nellie McKay fan: she writes very witty original tunes, and is a fine singer and pianist. Her new project—tunes once sung by Doris Day—highlights McKay’s arranging skills. Each song (even standards you’ve heard a hundred times) sounds fresh, with inventive combinations of piano, horns, bells, ukulele. Singer Bob Dorough contributes two arrangements, as well as plays the most swinging tune, “Close Your Eyes.” This is a wonderful CD that includes the Gershwin’s “Do Do Do,” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Wonderful Guy,” Ray Noble’s “The Very Thought of You,” and Bacharach and David’s “Send Me No Flowers.” Click here for the profile in last Sunday’s New York Times.