Alban's Blog

My Ten Favorite CD’s

For some online-magazine I had to come up with my 10 favorite cd’s. Tough call, I must say, not because I have so many favorites, but because my time of listening to recordings was some decades ago – so most of my favorite recordings are LP’s anyway… But since I had to write something, here is my choice!

1. Rosenkavalier with Carlos Kleiber, Lott, Moll, Otter, Bonney, Wiener Staatsoper
My mother was a singer, my father played for 45 years in the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra, so my background is orchestral music and voice, and my first choice is one of my favorite operas conducted by probably the greatest conductor who ever lived. Especially the “Finale” starting with “Marie Therese…” I used to play out of the old piano score from my grandfather (who was conductor and composer) while singing along with my mother, especially the most beautiful duett at the end between Oktavian and Sophie (I was Oktavian :)) – whenever I hear it, even think about it, I get all watery….

2. Schubert B-Flat Major Trio with the Trio Casals/Thibaud/Cortot
Even though this might not be the “best” recording of this magnificent piece of chambermusic, I grew up with it, listened to it uncountable times while driving with my parents from Berlin to Salzburg and it influenced me and my way of playing music immensely. The freedom paired with a wonderful pulse, the little charming rubatos and portamentos, for me this is still very fulfilling to listen to. Besides this Casals was my first big cello hero.

3. Schumanns Dichterliebe mit Fritz Wunderlich
Every cellist should before ever playing the Schumann Celloconcerto (or his other pieces) listen to his songs, since Schumann for me was the greatest song composer ever, and it shows even in his other works. Fritz Wunderlich as the versatile and gorgeous singer is the perfect choice. My mother had concert tickets for one of his concerts, but the night before he fell down the stairs (in Salzburg) after a drinking game with Gottlob Frick and died tragically.

4. Verdis Rigoletto mit Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi
Maybe she didn’t have the most beautiful of all voices, but her incredible musicianship and her unique timbre makes her to one of my greatest idols in music. Her exquisit phrasing, her variety in colors and vibrato and her absolute dedication to the music – I learnt and still learn so much from listening to her. My mother used to sing Gilda and I accompanied her with the big aria (Gualtier Maldè! … Caro nome) – what Callas does with it is just unbelievable. The rest of the recording ain’t bad either, by the way… 🙂

5. “The young Rostropovich” is a LP which I don’t think is available on cd, but it was one of my favorite cello LP’s growing up, as Rostropovich was my hero after I had read the book of Casals and didn’t like him so much anymore. His unbelievable superiority at the cello, his honest sound and gripping interpretations of these encores influenced me deeply – the fastest celloplaying on the planet is the “dance of the elves” by Popper, fast but elegant and clear!

6. Fjodor Schaljapin sings arias
Another important voice of my childhood, the great Russian bass, how he sings the aria of Philipp II from Don Carlos (“Dorniro Sol Nel Manto Mio Regal”) or the final Boris Godunov aria is to die for. Another must for any cellist, because this is exactly the color we should be searching for while playing music by Prokofiev or Shostakovich.

7. Dinu Lipatti Chopin/Liszt/Ravel/Brahms/Enescu:Piano Recital
As a teenager I actually spent much more time behind the piano, not only practising the piano repertoire and winning some competitions, but also accompanying the violin class of my father and my mother with her arias and various songs from Schubert to Strauss and Berg. My two favorite pianists were the obvious Vladimir Horowitz and the wonderful fragile and delicate Dinu Lipatti – I chose this disc (I have it as LP) because I love Alborada del gracioso, and his interpretation is definitely one of the most brilliant ones, besides this, Enescu is one of the most underestimated composers

8. Schwarzkopf/Fischer-Dieskau/Gerald Moore “Spanisches Liederbuch
Two of the greatest Lieder-Sänger in one package with my favorite Liedbegleiter, and Hugo Wolf as Liedcomposer in the group with Strauss and Mahler, whose songs I would play for hours with my mother. My first musicians book I read was “Am I too loud?” by Gerald Moore (that’s the German translation) and his spirit of serving the music and the musicians he worked with was deeply instilled in me, the way how I approach and look at music making – more as a servant than a “star”. And how much I love all the mannerism of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, who never had the most beautiful voice, but she was creating and expressing music in every second of a performance. And Fischer-Dieskau is one of my musical heroes of all times, I don’t think I have to explain why…

9. Glenn Gould, Goldberg Variations (1955 Version)
I know, this is a no-brainer, but the crazy, thinking genius of Glenn Gould who is pretty much the opposite of who I want to be as a musician (I love performing, and I am afraid of the studio) and who for my taste is far too perfectionist, can not be missed in the top-ten list of any (even retired) pianist. The absolute will and conviction to play music the way he knows it has to be played, with no compromises whatsoever, is an absolute role model but so difficult to achieve, since making music in public demands lots of concessions… As a child I was never much of a Bach lover, but when I heard this disc for the first time it opened my eyes and I fell in love with it instantaneously.

10. Getz/Gilberto
This is not just an alibi non-classical disc. In the mid-nineties, when I lived in New York, I did a for me very inspiring collaboration with a Brazilian jazz singer who taught me how to improvise, how to be less rigid and strict with the rhythm without loosing the pulse – a skill I am gratefully using now in my interpretations of Bach – and who showed me how to relax behind the cello. We played in some clubs together, but then she moved back to Brazil and that was it – this disc reminds me of the songs we arranged, of the feeling of eternal holiday and sensual freedom, that I would not ever want to miss, especially if I had only 10 discs to take with me 🙂


  • Ellen

    It’s fantastic that you have that memory of singing at the piano with your mother. I remember my mother’s mother that way, from when I was pretty young, though it was she who played as we sang. I still have her 1927 baby grand piano.

    I’m a big Callas fan. Once, with Bill, who prefers orchestral classical music to vocal, I was in the SoHo Dean & DeLuca. Before long, the music we’d been hearing in the background changed, and an unmistakable voice could be heard throughout the store. Bill’s head snapped in the direction of the nearest speaker as he asked me, almost awestruck, “Who’s THAT?” It was the first time that he’d heard Callas.

    I’ll have to listen to the Chaliapin Dormirò Sol . . . ; I have the Ezio Pinza version, which I’ve loved since I first heard it.

    Dinu Lipatti: too bad that he didn’t leave more recordings. He’s one of my all-time favorite pianists.

    Schwarzkopf: in about 1968, I had a subscription to a Carnegie Hall series of solo vocal recitals by women, one of whom was Schwarzkopf (I think that the others were Birgit Nilsson, Marilyn Horne, Shirley Verrett, Anna Moffo [I skipped her concert], and Leontyne Price). I wasn’t sure that, by then, it was worth hearing Schwarzkopf, but I decided to go. Her recital, with Gerald Moore, I’m pretty sure, turned out to be the best of them all! It wasn’t that her voice was the best, because of course it wasn’t; it was that her artistry and nuance were so affecting, especially in the Hugo Wolf songs. Nothing that she did seemed mannered; it was just beautiful. And memorable.

    Goldbergs: Have you heard Angela Hewitt’s recording? She’s hardly less of a perfectionist than Glenn Gould was, and I prefer her version. (She plays those fabulous Fazioli pianos . . . . )

    Getz/Gilberto: now I understand better what you mean when you talk about freedom in playing; it’s good to know where your feeling for it came from.


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