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The best classical albums released in 2021 so far

A list of the greatest classical music recordings released so far in 2021, as chosen by the BBC Music Magazine critics

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The best orchestral recordings

Ben-Haim
Symphony No. 1; Pan*; Pastorale variée**
*Claudia Barainsky (soprano), **John Bradbury (clarinet); BBC Philharmonic/Omer Meir Wellber
Chandos CHAN 20169   60:45 mins

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‘The First Symphony is the most substantial work here. Composed during the early years of the Second World War, its fiercely dynamic outer movements – a combative Allegro energico and an obsessively rhythmic finale marked Presto con fuoco, performed with mesmerising urgency by Wellber and the BBC Philharmonic – surely reflect the turbulent political environment the composer faced at the time.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Read more reviews of the latest Ben-Haim recordings here

Scriabin R Strauss
R Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra; Scriabin: Symphony No. 4  ‘The Poem of Ecstasy’
Seattle Symphony/Thomas Dausgaard
Seattle Symphony SSM 1025   52:23 mins

‘I’d thought of Dausgaard as a febrile kind of conductor, but he knows when to go slow and spacious here, when to drive to thrilling climaxes. His booklet notes are excellent, too.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Read more reviews of the latest R Strauss recordings here
Read more reviews of the latest Scriabin recordings here

Myaskovsky Prokofiev
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5; Myaskovsky: Symphony No. 21
Oslo Philharmonic/Vasily Petrenko
Lawo LWC 1207   62:31 mins

‘Admirable it may be of Vasily Petrenko to continue his winning streak in an ever-growing discography by pairing symphonies by Prokofiev and his lifelong friend Myaskovsky, ten years his senior, but there can be no doubt what really matters here – a powerful and revelatory take on a masterpiece, Prokofiev’s Fifth.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Read more reviews of the latest Prokofiev recordings here
Read more reviews of the latest Myaskovsky recordings here

Haydn
Symphony No. 15 in D; Symphony No. 35 in B flat; Symphony No. 45 in F sharp minor ‘Farewell’; Scena di Berenice, Hob.XXIVA:10*
*Sandrine Piau (soprano); Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini
Alpha Classics ALPHA684   77:34 mins

‘This is the latest release in Giovanni Antonini’s project to record all of Haydn’s symphonies by the tercentenary of his birth in 2032. It centres on two great ‘farewell’ works: the fiercely concentrated Symphony No. 45, from which the players gradually depart at the end, and the emotionally charged Scena di Berenice, premiered together with the Symphony No. 104 towards the end of Haydn’s last London visit in 1795.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Read more reviews of the latest Haydn recordings here
Find out more about Haydn and his works here

Rachmaninov
Symphony No. 1; Symphonic Dances
Philadelphia Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
DG 483 9839   79:32 mins

‘You need not only a sensitivity to the special string warmth but also an ideal flexibility for the tempo rubato implied when not explicitly requested in so much of Rachmaninov’s music. Charles Dutoit, who recorded the major orchestral works with the Philadelphia in the early 1990s, didn’t have it; Nézet-Séguin does, in spades, and he’s allowed an occasional largesse which slightly holds up the pell-mell progress of the First Symphony’s fateful finale cavalcade.’

The best (and worst) recordings of Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances

Read our full review of this recording here.

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Find out more about Rachmaninov and is works here
Read more reviews of the latest Rachmaninov recordings here

Beethoven
Symphony No. 9 ‘Choral’
Christina Landshamer (soprano), Jennifer Johnson Cano (mezzo-soprano), Werner Güra (tenor), Shenyang (bass); Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh; Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/Manfred Honeck
Reference FR-741 (CD/SACD)   62:44 mins

‘Everything about this performance has heft, from the orchestra to the soloists, with precision sculpting from Honeck verging on the maniacal, the Finale a joyous argy-bargy of conflicting forces, beset with moments of transcendent, expressive beauty.’

Read our full review of this recording here

Read more reviews of the latest Beethoven recordings here
Read our guide to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 here

Read more reviews of the latest orchestral recordings here

The best concerto recordings

Silver Age
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 16; Sarcasms, Op. 17; Piano Sonata No. 8 in B flat major, Op. 84; Gavotta, Op. 95 No. 2; Scriabin: Piano Concerto in F sharp minor, Op. 20; Stravinsky: Serenade in A; The Firebird Suite; Three Movements from Petrushka
Daniil Trifonov (piano); Mariinsky Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
DG 4835331   139:59 mins (2 discs)

‘A golden-age collection from Trifonov, and it’s admirable that these two discs are always more about the music than about him, when as a recording superstar he could have taken an easier option. If I were to choose a compendium of Russian (mostly) 20th-century works for solo piano and piano-with-orchestra, this would be close. I learned new things about every work here, but the way Trifonov makes every moment live is simply astonishing.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Read more reviews of the latest Scriabin recordings here
Read more reviews of the latest Prokofiev recordings here
Read more reviews of the latest Stravinsky recordings here
Read more reviews of the latest concerto recordings here

Ammann • Bartók • Ravel
Ammann: The Piano Conceto ‘Gran Toccata’; Ravel: Concerto for the Left Hand; Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 3
Andreas Haefliger (piano); Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Susanna Mälkki
BIS BIS-2310 (CD/SACD)   75:30 mins

‘With a work of this complexity, it’s easy to become somewhat numbed by the sheer density of ideas. Yet thanks to the totally compelling partnership between Haefliger and Susanna Mälkki, the excitement is sustained from first bar to last, and BIS’s forensically detailed recording brings a welcome clarity to the scoring.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Read more reviews of the latest Ammann recordings here
Read more reviews of the latest Ravel recordings here
Read more reviews of the latest Bartók recordings here

Bartók Martinů

Martinů: Violin Concertos Nos 1 & 2; Bartók: Sonata for Solo Violin
Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin); Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/Jakub Hrůša
BIS BIS-2457 (CD/SACD)   74:40 mins

‘The Bartók Solo Violin Sonata is a great bonus and beautifully played, but these landmark performances of the Martinů concertos are the headline items and both are unquestionably outstanding.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Read more reviews of the latest Bartók recordings here
Read more reviews of the latest Martinů recordings here

Plaisirs illuminés
F Coll: Les plaisirs illuminés; Ginastera: Concerto for Strings; Veress: Musica concertante; plus works by Bartók, Kurtág and Ligeti
Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin), Sol Gabetta (cello); Camerata Bern/Francisco Coll
Alpha Classics ALPHA580   75:26 mins

‘Two threads run through this adventurous disc – the spirit of Béla Bartók and the Camerata Bern’s prowess – but the force of personality at the centre of it all comes from the violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, who since 2018 has been ‘artistic partner’ of the ensemble.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Christian Lindberg
Liverpool Lullabies; Waves of Wollongong; 2017
Evelyn Glennie (percussion); New Trombone Collective; Antwerp Symphony Orchestra/Christian Lindberg (trombone)
BIS BIS-2418 (CD/SACD)   72:00 mins

‘In 1997, long fêted for his prodigious artistry as a trombonist, Christian Lindberg discovered an equal flair for composing. More recently, he has won accolades as a conductor. This ebullient album reveals him a force of nature in all three roles alongside superb collaborators including an ever-agile Antwerp Symphony Orchestra.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Who are the best percussionists today?

Read our reviews of the latest Christian Lindberg reviews recordings here

Concertos for Mallet Instruments
Alexis Alrich: Marimba Concerto; Karl Jenkins: La Folia; Ned Rorem: Mallet Concerto
Evelyn Glennie (percussion); City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong/Jean Thorel
Naxos 8.574218   71:01 mins

‘Another engaging disc from the ever-compelling Evelyn Glennie with three attractive concertos that should win many friends. From its shimmering opening, Alexis Alrich’s substantial three-movement Marimba Concerto creates a distinctive lyrical world. The insistent rhythmic patterns of minimalism sit naturally alongside calmer, more impressionistic textures allied to hints of Glennie’s fascination with Asian music.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

The best recordings by percussionist Evelyn Glennie

Read our reviews of the latest Evelyn Glennie recordings here

Weinberg
Violin Concerto, Op. 67; Sonata for Two Violins, Op. 69
Gidon Kremer, Madara Pētersone (violin); Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Daniele Gatti
Accentus ACC 30518   51:04 mins

‘This performance, recorded live in Leipzig during February 2020, undoubtedly benefits from Kremer’s passionate commitment, but also offers a distinct advantage over rival recordings through its vivid recorded sound and the superbly compelling contribution from the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester under Daniele Gatti.’

Read our full review of this recording here

Read more reviews of the latest Weinberg recordings here
We named Gewandhausorchester Leipzig one of the best orchestras in the world

Paris
Chausson: Poème, Op. 25; Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 1; Rautavaara: Deux sérénades
Hilary Hahn (violin); Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France/Mikko Franck
DG 483 9847   51:31 mins

‘Hahn is not afraid to play a true pianissimo when called for, with no loss of tone, nor is she fazed by Chausson’s stratospherics – the part spends much of its time way up above the treble stave.’

Read our full review of this recording here

Read more reviews of the latest Prokofiev recordings
Read more reviews of the latest Chausson recordings

Christian Lindberg
Liverpool Lullabies; Waves of Wollongong; 2017
Evelyn Glennie (percussion); New Trombone Collective; Antwerp Symphony Orchestra/Christian Lindberg (trombone)
BIS BIS-2418 (CD/SACD)   72:00 mins

‘Again in Liverpool Lullabies (2015-16), a double concerto for trombone and percussion based on memories of the city and childhood lullabies, the apparently incongruous is rendered fantastically akin. Vividly played by Lindberg and Evelyn Glennie, flashes of savagery add spice to a dynamic mix that sweeps into jazzy tenderness with ease.’

Read our full review of this recording here

Read more reviews of the latest Christian Lindberg recordings here

Read more reviews of the latest concerto recordings here

The best opera recordings

Vivaldi’s Argippo
Emőke Baráth, Marie Lys, Delphine Galou, Marianna Pizzolato, Luigi De Donato; Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi
Naïve OP 7079   112:10 mins (2 discs)

‘The bass Luigi De Donato is a youthful Emperor and Emőke Baráth‘s Argippa sounds more satisfying as the plot curdles, with thrilling top notes, callisthenic coloratura and deep dives into the chest register. Of the women characters Delphine Galou’s Zanaida gets the pick of the arias in a recording that is bright and lets the singers lead, which is as it should be.’

Read full review of this recording here.

Read more reviews of the latest Vivaldi recordings here
Find out more about Vivaldi and his works here

Willem Jeths: Ritratto
Verity Wingate, Martin Mkhize, Frederik Bergman, Paride Cataldo, Dominic Kraemer, Lucas van Lierop, Cameron Shahbazi; Dutch National Opera; Amsterdam Sinfonietta/Geoffrey Paterson
Challenge CC 72849   88:24 mins

It’s invidious to single out individuals from the young cast, many of them members of the Dutch National Opera Studio, but Verity Wingate is compelling as Luisa, and Paride Cataldo’s posturing D’Annunzio all but steals the show.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

I Am Hera
Bellini: Arias from I Capuleti e i Montecchi; Gluck: Arias from Orfeo ed Euridice; Handel: Aria from Giulio Cesare; Mozart: Arias from Idomeneo, The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute; Puccini: Arias from La bohème and Gianni Schicchi; Rossini: Arias from The Barber of Seville and Il Turco in Italia; plus works by Joowon Kim, Pergolesi and Un-Yung La
Hera Hyesang Park (soprano), Johannes Maria Bogner (harpsichord); Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Bertrand de Billy
DG 483 9456   66:35 mins

‘Hera today, but hopefully not gone tomorrow. The young Korean soprano Hera Hyesang Park has recorded one of the most satisfying debuts for many a day.’

Read our full review of this recording here.


Read more reviews of the latest Mozart recordings here
Read more reviews of the latest Bellini recordings here

Margaret Catchpole: Two Worlds Apart
Kate Howden, William Wallace, Nicholas Morris, Richard Edgar-Wilson; Perpetuo/Julian Perkins
Naxos 8.660459-61   165:36 mins (3 discs)

‘Stephen Dodgson (1924-2013) – a distant relative of Charles, aka Lewis Carroll – left a notable body of work that, under the auspices of The Stephen Dodgson Charitable Trust, is edging towards the recognition it deserves. Margaret Catchpole: Two Worlds Apart (1979) is one of Dodgson’s three operas – this is its first recording.’

Read our full review of this recording here

Eccles: Semele
Anna Dennis (soprano), Richard Burkhard (baritone), Helen Charlston (mezzo-soprano), Héloïse Bernard (soprano), Graeme Broadbent (bass)  et al; Cambridge Early Opera; Academy of Ancient Music/Julian Perkins
AAM AAM012   121:27 mins

‘John Eccles’s sexy, sparkling opera bursts to life – finally! Shelved in 1706, Semele has never been professionally recorded, so this production was worth waiting for. Cast, band, director and sound are all top-notch, restoring Eccles’s score to its full glory.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

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Royal Handel
Handel: Arias from Flavio, Re De’ Longobardi; Admeto, Re Di Tessaglia; Siroe, Re Di Persia, etc; plus works by Arisoti and Bononcini
Eva Zaïcik (mezzo-soprano); Le Consort
Alpha Classics ALPHA 662   64:59 mins

‘In 2017, Eva Zaïcik dazzled BBC Proms audiences in Monteverdi’s Vespers. This project shows why. From her gut-punch climactic notes to the buttery evenness of her register, Zaïcik’s command is exhilarating.’

Read our full review of this recording here

Read more reviews of the latest Handel recordings here
Find out more about Handel and his works here

Read more reviews of the latest opera recordings here

The best choral and song recordings

Mahler
Erinnerung: Dan Knaben Wunderhorn – selection; Rückert-Lieder; Lieder und Gesange aus der Jugendzeit
Christiane Karg (soprano), Malcolm Martineau, Gustav Mahler (piano)
Harmonia Mundi HMM 905338   68:37 mins

‘This recital interleaves songs from Das Knaben Wunderhorn, the collection of folk-poem settings which occupied Mahler for years, along with a selection of others, with the five Rückert-Lieder at the core. Given Mahler’s modest song oeuvre, there are no rarities here, but the sequence is thoughtful. And the performance of this recital is magnificent, painting each miniature landscape in generous, vivid detail.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Read our reviews of the latest Mahler recordings here
Read more about Mahler and his works here

… and …
Arvo Pärt: Drei Hirtenkinder; Kleine Litanei; Virgencita; Habitare fratres in unum; Alleluia tropus; And I heard a voice…; Caroline Shaw: and the swallow; Julia Wolfe: Guard my tongue; Anon: Laude di Cortona (arr. Paul Hillier)
Ars Nova Copenhagen/Paul Hillier
Naxos 8.574281   62:48 mins

‘Consummate choral singing, luminous, multi-coloured and virtuosic, each word lovingly and clearly enunciated, each line beautifully shaped, in a performance of deep, rapt spirituality.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Read more reviews of the latest Arvo Part recordings

An Italian Travel Diary
M-A Charpentier: Mass for Four Choirs, etc; plus works by Benevoli, Beretta, Cavalli,  Cazzati, Giamberti and Merula
Ensemble Correspondances/Sébastian Daucé
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902640   74:45 mins

‘This ‘travel diary’ brings together the sort of music Charpentier may have encountered en route and provides a narrative thread for a selection of ravishing, often revelatory, works. This is an inspiring programme which highlights the reasons why Italy had such an overwhelming impact on the impressionable young Parisian.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Read more reviews of the latest Charpentier recordings here

Bruckner: Latin Motets
Latvian Radio Choir/Sigvards Klava
Ondine ODE 1362-2   56:38 mins

‘This Latvian choir resounds from the bottom upwards and sounds like an anxious congregation praying.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Handel’s Tea Time
Handel: Venus & Adonis; 24 English Songs, HWV 228 – excerpts; Mi palpita i cor, HWV 132b; Purcell: The Fairy Queen – O Let Me Weep
Dorothee Mields (soprano); Die Freitagsakademie Bern
Sony Classical 19439792732   76:04 mins

‘Baroque ensemble Die Freitagsakademie and star soprano Dorothee Mields have performed together since 2017, but this is their first recording. The wait has been worth it.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Read more reviews of the latest Handel recordings here
Find out more about Handel and his works here

Caroline Shaw
Narrow Sea; Taxidermy
Dawn Upshaw (soprano), Gilbert Kalish (piano); Sō Percussion
Nonesuch 7559791789   28:22 mins

‘Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw continues to make waves with her imaginative and expressive works that glide effortlessly between genres. This short but exquisite disc showcases Shaw’s 2017 Narrow Sea, recorded by its outstanding original performers: Sō Percussion, soprano Dawn Upshaw and pianist Gilbert Kalish.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Read our reviews of the latest Caroline Shaw recordings here

Josquin
Motets and Mass Movements: O bone et dulcissime Jesu a 6; Domine, ne in furore tuo, etc.
The Brabant Ensemble/Stephen Rice
Hyperion CDA68321   77:08 mins

‘The Brabant Ensemble’s recordings have tended to focus on less familiar Franco-Flemish composers associated with the duchy of Brabant, but here they turn to the celebrated ‘fons et origo’ of Renaissance polyphony, Josquin des Prez. The selection of works chosen to mark the 500th anniversary of the composer’s death does, however, unveil some rarities’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Read our reviews of the latest Josquin recordings here

Dreams of a New Day Songs by Black Composers
Burleigh: Five Songs of Laurence Hope; Bonds: Three Dream Portraits; Kerr: Riding to Town; Leslie Adams: Amazing Grace; Damien Sneed: I Dream a World; Shawn E Okpebholo: Two Black Churches; Owens: Mortal Storm; Fariña: Birmingham Sunday (arr. Liverman)
Will Liverman (baritone), Paul Sánchez (piano)
Cedille 90000200   58:57 mins

‘A true passion project, Dreams of a New Day gives voice to the remarkable creative contributions of African-American composers from the 20th century to the present day, while also celebrating the generations of poets and lyricists ‘who have encapsulated seminal events from the African-American community’. Performed with beauty, poise and conviction, the resulting disc is a powerful tribute to a sea of talent too often neglected and sounds a call for social justice.’

Read our full review of this recording here

Read more reviews of the latest Will Liverman recordings here

Gál
Hidden Treasure – Unpublished Lieder
Christian Immler (bass-baritone), Helmut Deutsch (piano)
BIS BIS-2543 (CD/SACD)   72:25 mins

‘This is a treasure-trove of songs in the tradition of Richard Strauss, melodically radiant and full of sensitivity to atmosphere. Only five, Op. 33, were published in Gál’s lifetime.’

Read our full review of this recording here

Read more reviews of the latest Gàl recordings here
Read more reviews of the latest Christian Immler recordings here

Read more reviews of the latest choral and song recordings here

The best chamber music recordings

The Mad Lover
Suites, Sonatas and Variations by Thomas Dunford, H Eccles, J Eccles, Matteis the Elder, Matteis the Younger, D Purcell and H Purcell
Théotime Langlois de Swarte (violin), Thomas Dunford (lute)
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902305 74:48mins

‘Taking its name from John Fletcher’s Jacobean tragicomedy, The Mad Lover offers a taste of England’s sensual, passionate, sometimes wild, often eccentric musical soundscape in the years around 1700. Ornate and refined sonatas rub shoulders here with popular, foot-tapping numbers, many of them founded on ground basses that recur, like an obsessional memory, throughout the programme.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Read more reviews of the latest chamber recordings here

R Schumann
String Quartets Nos 1-3
Emerson String Quartet
Pentatone PTC 5186 869   76:46 mins

‘It seems that at last people are really starting to get Schumann’s chamber music. The Piano Quintet has always been popular, but the three string quartets he wrote the same year are marvels too. It’s just that they’re subtler, less extrovert, at times more enigmatic. Here’s playing that penetrates this music to a degree that surprised even a fully paid-up fan like me.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Erkki-Sven Tüür
String Quartet No. 2 ‘Lost Prayers’*; Fata Morgana; Synergie†; Lichttürme
†Florian Donderer, Harry Traksmann (violin), Marrit Gerretz-Traksmann (piano), Leho Karin, †Tanja Tetzlaff (cello); *Signum Quartett
ECM 481 9540   54:40 mins

‘Erkki-Sven Tüür is best known for his robustly elemental orchestral writing, with nine symphonies and a host of concertos and other large-scale pieces composed to date. Yet, as this album of chamber works attests, he is equally at home with far smaller forces where his trademark dramatic extremes and expansive gestures take on a powerful immediacy close-up.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Weinberg
String Quartets Nos 2, 5 & 8
Arcadia Quartet
Chandos CHAN 20158   68:24 mins

‘The Arcadia’s evident enthusiasm for the music is perfectly conveyed here with playing that maximises the emotional range explored in each work, as well as exploiting to the full the music’s tonal and textural varieties and its underlying sense of unease.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Mozart
String Quartets Vol. 3: K155, 168, 172, 387, 575 & 590
Armida Quartett
CAvi-music AVI8553032   116:19 mins (2 discs)

‘Encapsulating the best of all worlds, the Armida play with the exquisite nuancing of the finest old-school outfits, yet with a take-nothing-for-granted interpretative inquisitiveness that takes historically informed practice to a whole new level.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Read more of our reviews of the latest Mozart recordings here
Find out more about Mozart and his work here

Beethoven
Sonata No. 8 in G, Op. 30/3 (arr. Pahud)*; Serenade in D, Op. 25†; Allegro and Minuet in G, WoO 26††; Trio Concertante in G, WoO 37*^
Emmanuel Pahud, ††Silvia Careddu (flute), ^Sophie Dervaux (bassoon), †Daishin Kashimoto (violin), †Amihai Grosz (viola), *Daniel Barenboim (piano)
Warner Classics 9029513974   77:34 mins

Beethoven didn’t write much chamber music for flute, but Emmanuel Pahud and an impressive team of colleagues here make lovely, lively work of what the great composer did produce for the instrument, not to mention something he didn’t: the G major Sonata Op. 30 No. 3, originally for violin but periodically co-opted by flautists almost ever since.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Read our reviews of the latest Beethoven recordings here
Find out more about Beethoven and his works here

Beethoven
Violin Sonatas Nos 7 & 10
James Ehnes (violin), Andrew Armstrong (piano)
Onyx ONYX 4209   51:37 mins

‘Such music seems especially apt to the contained luminosity of James Ehnes’s violin playing, the pristine pianism of Andrew Armstrong and their remarkable rapport, playing as if one.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Read more reviews of the latest Beethoven recordings here

Haydn
String Quartets, Op. 74 Nos 1-3; Folk Music from Scotland
Maxwell Quartet
Linn Records CKD 641   81:52 mins

‘Haydn quartets interspersed with Scottish folk song arrangements – the idea sounds wildly incongruous, and yet how well it works in these fine performances.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Read more reviews of the latest Haydn recordings here
Find out more about Haydn and his works here

Saint-Saëns
Violin Sonata No. 1; Cello Sonata No. 1; Piano Trio No. 2
Renaud Capuçon (violin), Edgar Moreau (cello), Bertrand Chamayou (piano)
Erato 9029516710   75:51 mins

‘There is always room for more Saint-Saëns, especially in this centenary year of his death, and more especially when it’s played with such technical skill and intelligence.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

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Read our reviews of the latest Saint-Saëns recordings here
Find out more about Saint-Saëns and his works here

R Strauss
Metamorphosen (arr. Leopold); Capriccio Prelude; Quartettsatz in E flat; String Quartet in A, Op. 2; Ständchen; Festmarsch for Piano Quartet; Two Pieces for Piano Quartet, Op. 13
Oculi Ensemble
Champs Hill CHRCD 155   85:14 mins

‘Singing tonal nuance and dynamic variety distinguish the two 1940s masterpieces, and it’s amazing how many more than seven strings seem to be playing in the Metamorphosen climaxes. The final retreat into introspection is properly moving.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Read our reviews of the latest Richard Strauss recordings here
Find out more about Richard  Strauss and his works here

Horn Discoveries
Mason Bates: Mainframe Tropics; Bissill: Song of the New World; D Riniker: Velvet Valves; Wallendorf: Willisabethan Sarahnade
Sarah Willis, Klaus Wallendorf (horn), Kotowa Machida (violin), Philip Mayers (piano)
Alpha Classics ALPHA732   51:09 mins

‘Most importantly, [Willis] is a true virtuoso of one of the most unforgiving of instruments, equally at home in the long legato lines of Richard Strauss as she is in the acrobatics-without-a-safety-net of the Schumann Konzertstück.’

Read our full review of this recording here

Beethoven • Pleyel
Beethoven: Cello Sonatas, Op. 5; Variations on ‘Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen’; Pleyel: Nocturne ‘Souvenir de la Flûte enchantée’
Raphaël Pidoux (cello), Tanguy de Williencourt (piano)
Harmonia Mundi HMM902410   64:44 mins

‘Cellist Raphaël Pidoux handles his tawny-voiced Pietro Guarneri with fiery grace, drawing luminous lyricism and gruff delicacy. The 1855 Gebauhr fortepiano, played by Tanguy de Williencourt, is an ideal partner, with a silky, light articulation but sufficient heft for Beethoven’s orchestral-like textures.’

Read our full review of this recording here

Read more reviews of the latest Beethoven recordings here
Find out more about Beethoven and his works here

Coleridge-Taylor
Uncovered, Vol. 1 – Fantasiestücke; Clarinet Quintet*; Piano Quintet**
*Anthony McGill (clarinet); Catalyst Quartet; **Stewart Goodyear (piano)
Azica Records ACD-71336   76:11 mins

‘Through four colourful movements, the Catalyst Quartet and pianist Stewart Goodyear capture the combination of freshness and subtle structural command that would become a hallmark of Coleridge-Taylor’s mature work.’

Read our full review of this recording here

Find out more about Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and his works

Read more reviews of the latest chamber recordings here

The best solo instrumental music recordings

Thalberg
L’art du chant appliqué au piano, Op. 70; plus transcriptions of Mendelssohn, Rossini and Schubert
Paul Wee (piano)
BIS BIS-2515 (CD/SACD)   
139:11 mins (2 discs)

‘Three cheers for Paul Wee who, having previously established his dazzling virtuosity in Alkan, now presents Thalberg’s entire set in delectably appealing performances. Wee effortlessly conveys Thalberg’s periodic illusion, as in Meyerbeer’s ‘Nel silenzio fra l’orror’, that three or four hands are involved. Whether in Bellini, Donizetti, Gretry, Mercadante, Mozart or Weber, Wee’s richly evocative playing perfectly captures the spirit of each role.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Read more reviews of the latest Thalberg recordings here
Read more reviews of the latest instrumental recordings here

Bowen
Fragments from Hans Andersen; 12 Studies, Op. 46; Concert Studies Nos 1 & 2
Nicolas Namoradze (piano)
Hyperion CDA68303   66:32 mins

‘Namoradze brings total technical assurance alongside exuberance and an unshowy sense of integrity to these fiendish pieces. An altogether enjoyable disc.’

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CDA68303

Beethoven

Symphony No. 6 (arr. piano four hands)*; Piano Sonata No. 17 ‘Tempest’
Theodosia Ntokou, *Martha Argerich (piano)
Warner Classics 9029516403   65:37 mins

‘Argerich is as engagingly spontaneous and pianistically responsive as ever, yet here she plays with exquisite refinement, as though distilling her interpretative essence to its essentials. Ntokou counterbalances Argerich’s inspired pianism with captivating flair, textural acuity and fine-graded tonal matching.’

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9029516403

Reicha
L’Art de varier, Op. 57
Ivan Ilić (piano)
Chandos CHAN 20194   86:50 mins

‘Now in its third volume, Ivan Ilić’s exploration of the piano works of Anton Reicha is making those works’ cognate origin with the works of Beethoven yet more abundantly clear.’

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CHAN 20194

Rapa Nui Odyssey
JS Bach: Chromatic Fantasia & Fugue in D minor, BWV 903; Chopin: Nocturnes Nos 1 & 19, etc; Handel: Keyboard Suite, HWV 430 in E; Liszt: Ballade No. 2 in B minor; Vallée d’Obermann; plus works by Rachmaninov and Scriabin
Mahani Teave (piano)
Rubicon RCD1066   102:32 mins (2 discs)

‘Mahani Teave is in her late 30s, but sounds more like an artist of the 1950s/’60s, following in the footsteps of an Arrau or Nikolayeva: someone with an entirely natural feel for what the piano is all about and a personality that can meld ideally with the composers’ worlds. She has a rich, luminous tone – and just try the deep, growling opening of the Liszt Ballade No. 2 – which complements a splendid instinct for rubato, expert voicing and colouring.’

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Paganini
24 Caprices
Ning Feng (violin)
Channel Classics CCS 43221   75:29 mins

‘There have been many and varied bravura recordings of Paganini’s Caprices these last years – they are, after all, the go-to for virtuosic display, written by the legendary 19th-century violinist as a way of showcasing his phenomenal technique. Here Ning Feng adds his own deeply expressive yet understated interpretation.’

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Bach & Beyond, Part 3
JS Bach: Solo Violin Sonatas Nos 2 & 3, BWV 1003 & 1005; Berio: Sequenza VIII for Solo Violin;
John Harbison: For Violin Alone
Jennifer Koh (violin)
Cédille CDR 90000 199   86:23 mins (2 discs)

‘Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas are the prime progenitors of later works for solo violin, and there’s a growing tradition for performers to programme them with contemporary pieces.’

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Vida breve
Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 2; plus works by Bach, Busoni, Gounod, Hough and Liszt
Stephen Hough (piano)
Hyperion CDA68260  74:19 mins

‘‘Vida breve’ (life is short), the subtitle of Stephen Hough’s Piano Sonata No. 4, is the theme explored throughout this album. The sequence works well as a recital-like experience, and also as a vehicle for Hough’s comprehensive mastery of his art.’

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French Duets
Debussy: Six épigraphes antiques; Petite suite; Fauré: Dolly Suite; Poulenc: Sonata for Four Hands; Ravel: Ma mère l’Oye; Stravinsky: Three Easy Pieces for Piano Duet
Steven Osborne, Paul Lewis (piano)
Hyperion CDA68329   67:45 mins

‘Lest it be thought the album is all cosy nostalgia, the headbanging spirit of Poulenc’s early Sonata gatecrashes the party with its alternative brand of youthful vigour, pushed forward with joyous abandon. In short, this is pure enjoyment from start to finish.’

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Liszt
Piano Sonata in B minor; Années de pèlerinage II – Sonnettos Nos 47, 104 & 123; Berceuse; Réminiscences de Norma; Zwölf Lieder von Franz Schubert – Ave Maria
Benjamin Grosvenor (piano)
Decca 485 1450   84:29 mins

‘Even on a modern concert grand, with its built-in capacity for maximum brilliance, Benjamin Grosvenor conjures a brand of full and rounded keyboard sonority different from that of many of his contemporaries, and recalls the giants of an earlier generation (Busoni, for instance, or Josef Lhévinne).’

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Ligeti
Études for Piano, Books 1-3
Danny Driver (piano)
Hyperion CDA68286   54:24 mins

‘It is easy to understand why, with their exhilarating brilliance and mesmerising beauty, these pieces have captured the imagination of players and audiences alike, and they surely count as the summit of the Hungarian-Transylvanian composer’s achievement.’

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Philip Glass
Piano Sonata; Passacaglia for Solo Piano ‘Distant Figure’; Piano Etude No. 20
Maki Namekawa (piano)
Orange Mountain Music OMM 0149   49:13 mins

‘Maki Namekawa, the first pianist to record the composer’s complete Etudes, worked closely with him to understand the thrust of the work – and it shows.’

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JS Bach
The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II – excerpts
Piotr Anderszewski (piano)
Warner Classics 9029511875   75:08 mins

‘For this listener at least, Anderszewski’s interpretations and juxtapositions have a compelling inevitability; but the other reason for the recording’s success lies in his pianism. Anderszewski’s flexible, responsive touch and his often slowish tempos allow a subtle suggestiveness.’

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