The best classical music to discover during self-isolation
The BBC Music Magazine team introduces you to the music that's helping them keep calm and focused during the coronavirus pandemic
Oliver Condy, Editor
When not at my desk, the music I reach for most is by Mendelssohn – in recent weeks I’ve been rediscovering his string quartets which for me are the most perfect balance of poise, sophistication and indulgence.
Only the other day, I returned to a recording of No. 4 in E minor by the Elias String Quartet, the winner of the 2010 BBC Music Magazine Newcomer award. The Ebène Quartet’s recording of Nos 2 and 6 are well worth discovering too. Now – back to my spare room for some editing!
Michael Beek, Reviews Editor
Call of the Champions (titled An American Journey in the US) came out in 2002 and is an album I return to often. Topping out the programme of celebratory and commemorative works by John Williams is his epic Call of the Champions – the official anthem of that year’s winter games in Salt Lake City – and it never fails to thrill.
Williams uses the Latin words for ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’ (the Olympic motto), sung by Salt Lake City’s world-famous choir. The rest of the programme gathers together some of the composers of other great works for American celebrations, each of which never fail to surprise me each time I listen.
Williams’s gift for melody and orchestral detail shines through in works such as the Hymn to New England, Celebrate Discovery and the brilliant American Journey – a six-part suite written to accompany Steven Spielberg’s visual love letter to America at the millennium. Spirit-lifting music!
Jeremy Pound, Deputy Editor
With 2020 rapidly turning into the year of gloom, my thoughts naturally turn back to happier times. Such as, say, the summer of 1997. My first year in full-time employment as editorial assistant on Classic CD magazine, this was a time of making new friends, exploring my new home city of Bath (and its many pubs) and, of course, immersing myself in the magical world of classical music.
Part of my soundtrack to that summer was In a Nutshell, the CBSO and Simon Rattle’s glorious disc of orchestral works by Percy Grainger. It’s a wonderfully intoxicating listen, in which the Australian beguiles you with his exotic soundworld both in his own music and in his extravagantly orchestrated arrangements of piano works by Ravel and Debussy. There’s plenty of jollity in there too, mind. I loved it then and, as I sit here with a cheering glass of Sancerre, I love it just as much today.
Freya Parr, Editorial Assistant
When I’m feeling overwhelmed with the state of the world, which, at the moment, is most of the time, there are certain albums I always find myself reaching for. Víkingur Ólafsson’s 2018 recording of Bach keyboard works - which went on to win BBC Music Magazine's Recording of the Year in 2019 - is one such album.
It’s almost slightly hackneyed to talk about Bach as the great ‘de-stresser’, but it’s true. His music is a soothing balm in times of great worry, and always brings you back to neutral when your mind has been straying to stressful places, like, for example, the 5 o’clock news briefing. Ólafsson brings such depth and power to his music – he gives it some serious welly and doesn’t pussyfoot around it.
If you’re feeling slightly paralysed by anxiety, I’d recommend switching on track five: the Andante from Bach’s Organ Sonata No. 4. From a place of utter serenity, it slowly bubbles its way through various expansions of the theme, until it finally reaches a place of absolute strength and power. It’s the perfect journey of a piece to give you the get-up-and-go spirit we all need at the moment.
Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.