The 10 best classical music and opera performances of 2013

12/23/2013 12:26 PM

12/23/2013 12:28 PM

As always, the 2013 Cliburn Competition and the Cliburn Foundation’s related concert series provided plenty of musical pleasure throughout the year. But other active groups, big and small, made it a fine year for listening.

Following are events that impressed critics Olin Chism, Punch Shaw and Gregory Sullivan Isaacs. The order is chronological throughout the year; it does not represent a ranking of the programs.

Radu Lupu’s Cliburn Concerts recital

(January, Bass Hall)

Radu Lupu, winner of the second Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 1966, is considered one of today’s premier pianists, and he affirmed that assessment with a highly original performance of lyrical works by Schubert, Franck and Debussy.

He used understatement throughout, but his playing was so beautifully judged artistically that it never seemed eccentric.

Violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Sam Haywood

(February, Bass Hall)

Haywood, who is British, wasn’t listed in the printed program as an “accompanist,” for good reason: His skill and sure musical instincts made him a full partner with Bell in a group of pieces that spotlight the piano about as much as the violin.

This was an impressive collaboration that gave masterpieces by Schubert, Strauss and Prokofiev their due.

Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra with pianist Daniil Trifonov

(April, Bass Hall)

Trifonov’s performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 was unusual in its strongly lyrical impulse — gentle passages made their impression as much as stormy ones.

Strong support by Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the orchestra and a fine performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 made this a special evening.

Schola Cantorum of Texas’ season finale

(April, Arborlawn United Methodist Church)

This excellent choral group, under the direction of Jerry McCoy, gave a gentle, haunting program highlighted by Fauré’s Requiem and a lovely musical tribute to the late Van Cliburn.

Fort Worth Opera Festival’s ‘La Bohème’

(April, Bass Hall)

La Bohème is probably the world’s most popular opera, but the Fort Worth Opera avoided any trace of routine with a fresh and moving production featuring a wonderful new artist, tenor Sean Panikkar, as Rodolfo, and a strong cast including Mary Dunleavy, as Mimí.

Fort Worth Opera Festival’s ‘Glory Denied’

(April, McDavid Studio)

Although composer Tom Cipullo’s music tends not to linger in the mind, it’s a powerful reinforcer of this taut drama of the tribulations of an American prisoner-of-war and his family.

A cast of top-notch actors and a spare set and effective direction created a sense of isolation and anguish.

Vadym Kholodenko’s semifinal recital at the Cliburn competition

(June, Bass Hall)

Kholodenko, who not only won the 2013 Cliburn Competition’s gold medal but the awards for chamber music and the performance of a new work as well, devoted his semifinals recital almost totally to Liszt’s awesome Transcendental Études.

He emphasized the often neglected beauty in the pieces while easily conquering their technical difficulties, winning a thunderous reception at the conclusion — and the judges’ approval as well.

Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra with pianist Alessandro Deljavan

(August, Bass Hall)

In a performance of Rachmaninoff’s second concerto that emphasized subtlety and emotion rather than dazzling note-building, one of the Cliburn competition’s most popular non-finalists (from both 2009 and 2013) wowed an audience at the FWSO’s Russian Festival.

His trademark facial expressions amused some, charmed others and irritated few.

Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth presents Miró Quartet

(October, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth)

The Texas-based Miró Quartet gave brilliant performances of masterpieces by Schubert, Ravel, Beethoven and Barber to open the Chamber Music Society’s season for the second year in a row.

It would be hard to devise another program that equaled the combination of high artistic caliber and sheer musical pleasure of this one.

Cliburn at the Bass presents soprano Deborah Voigt

(October, Bass Hall)

With charm and subtlety as well as glorious high notes, Voigt proved a master of communicating to the audience the texts of widely varied songs, as though they were little mini-operas.

A fine pianist, Brian Zeger was a marvelous collaborator.

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