The alternative Christmas number one

The alternative Christmas number one


norman lebrecht

December 09, 2009

While everyone else is brushing up their best-of-09 lists, I’m shipping out the junk.

Although not a vintage year for awful classical recordings, it has been bad enough to yield ten of the worst. I exclude from the top ten all crossover execrescences and self-puff start-ups. These are just ten of the worst that came my way from recognised commercial labels:

1 England, my England

From EMI Classics, in a summer when the racist British National Party won two seats to the European Parliament, came a relase from King’s College Choir Cambridge, decked in the cross of St George and a wreath of jingoistic fervour. Bad taste? Bad timing? The intonation wasn’t up to much, either.


Bad Mahler – we were spoiled for choice:

2 Alan Gilbert’s stodgy ninth from Stockholm (Bis)

3 Valery Gergiev’s wobble-voiced 2nd (LSO Live)

4 and, dreary to a fault, Christoph Eschenbach’s stillborn Philadelphia Resurrection (Ondine)


5 Bad Boys

Bryn Terfel’s villainy hits the pits on DG.


6 Sharon Isbin: A Voyage in Song (Sony)

Just when you thought it was safe to revisit the English renaissance without tripping over Sting, up pops Ms Isbin with her numbing guitar transcriptions of Tudor lute works.   


7 Edin Karamazov, The Lute is a Song (Decca)

Gone away? No, here’s Sting gasping again with his fave lutenist. Renee Fleming’s here too with the least affecting Dido’s Lament you’ll ever hear.


8 Simon Rattle, Brahms’ second symphony (EMI)

Did the earth move for you in the second? Me neither.


9 John Adams Doctor Atomic Symphony (Nonesuch)

He may have won Last Composer Standing, but this is a deadly, pointless spin-off from an epochal opera.


10 West Side Story meets Tristan und Isolde (Warner)

Kooky programming from Barenboim’s Chicago years


You can find fuller reviews of these releases on the Lebrecht Report and compare them to the all-time worst in my history of classical recording here.

Feel free to add your own (dis)recommendations and lists in the space below. Voting closes midnight December 18. Results to be announced the following week. Let’s see who makes the real Christmas Number One of 2009. 



  • Re. “England, my England” – from this side of the Atlantic, it sounds very odd to hear you denounce a disk because the use of a national flag makes you think of racists. Granted, it seems a bit tackily patriotic and over-much … like all of the red-and-white-with-maple-leaves compilations we Canadians have to put up with.
    Is being English really so dreadful to the English? Are you just Williams-Rutter-Holsted out?
    NL replies: Unfortunately the flag of St George has been hijacked by football fans and political racists. To put it on a record cover during an election summer was insensitive, to say the least.

  • Concerning the number 10, you will see the “Yes We Can” phrase on the last page of the original score of West Side Story.
    Just for reference. Nothing more. And therefore, you don’t have to reflect this comment onto your blog.
    Yoshiyuki Mukudai

  • Yi-Peng Li says:

    I doubt that the compilation of England my England could qualify as one of the worst classical CDs of the year. Although there were a few new tracks from Cleobury and King’s most of this recording is made up of their past recordings of English music. I think that this CD is like an EMI cash cow, rather than something of integrity that Cleobury and the Choir have come up with.
    On the other hand I would mention that the Sting Winter’s Night CD might count among the worst releases of 2009.