Concerto for two violins; Paris SO; Avid Records
Yehudi Menuhin is joined by his mentor Georges Enesco in this gorgeous work, played in a style nearer to baroque than one might have expected in 1932. Pierre Monteux conducts.
Knoxville: Summer of 1915; Dumbarton Oaks Orch; Sony
Samuel Barber's setting of James Agee's depiction of childhood is an American classic and is here most enchantingly sung by its first performer, the soprano Eleanor Steber, with William Strickland conducting.
Symphony No 3 (Eroica); BBCSO; Barbirolli Society
An excellent example of Barbirolli's direct and honest way with the Beethoven symphonies. This studio recording followed a 1967 live performance which drew superlatives from the critics.
Symphonies Nos 5 and 7; Philharmonia Orch; EMI
Otto Klemperer's Beethoven cycles at the Festival Hall in the 1960s were crowd-drawing events and these performances, imbued with granite-like grandeur and energy, explain why.
Beethoven Symphony No 9 (Choral); Bavarian Radio SO; Philips
A perennial challenge to all its performers, especially the chorus, the Ninth is superbly performed under Sir Colin Davis, with soloists Helen Donath, Trudeliese Schmidt, Klaus König and Simon Estes.
Violin Concerto; Berlin PO; Dutton
Recorded in 1936 by Georg Kulenkampff and conducted by Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, this was regarded as a classic from the start, although the style of playing is not today's.
Piano Concerto No 3; NBC Orch; Naxos Historical
The interest in this Toscanini performance is his choice of soloist, the English pianist Dame Myra Hess, who was popular in America and is in rapport with the fiery Italian.
Piano Concerto No 5 (Emperor); Staatskapelle Dresden; Philips
The Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau, a Beethoven specialist, gives a towering performance of this emperor of concertos, with Sir Colin Davis providing ideal support. From 1984.
Piano Trio in B flat (Archduke); EMI
Alfred Cortot, Jacques Thibaud and Pablo Casals in 1928 in an evergreen account of this wonderful trio deservedly included by EMI in its Great Recordings of the Century.
Piano sonatas; Philips
Several great pianists have recorded all 32, although ideally one needs more than one artist in this range. The last five masterpieces are wonderfully played on two discs by Mitsuko Uchida.
String Quartets; Harmonia Mundi
Same applies to these, but you must have the three Rasumovsky quartets, Opus 59, and I recommend immensely satisfying performances by the Tokyo String Quartet recorded two or three years ago.
Nuits d'été; Deutsches SO; Harmonia Mundi
A new recording of these evocative songs. Bernarda Fink finds the right tone-colour and timbre for each, and Kent Nagano conducts subtle accompaniments.
Symphonie fantastique; Berlin PO; CBS.
This much-recorded work still sounds modern after 170 years. Daniel Barenboim conducts a performance notable for its dramatic flair and its sensitivity to tone-colour.
Symphonies Nos 1-4; Scottish Chamber Orch; Telarc
Sir Charles Mackerras conducts the symphonies as he believes Brahms wanted them to sound, with smaller forces and more clarity. Performances and booklet essay are equally convincing.
Piano Concerto No 2; NBC Orch; Naxos Historical
Another Horowitz-Toscanini collaboration in a concerto demanding both virtuosity and tenderness. The First Symphony on the same disc compares usefully with the Mackerras approach.
Serenade for tenor, horn and strings; Boyd Neel String Orch; Decca
Peter Pears, Dennis Brain and the composer conducting. At the first performance in 1943, Walter Goehr conducted, but this first recording is especially precious because no one could quite replace Brain (who died in 1957).
War Requiem; LSO and ECO; Decca
Britten conducts and the soloists are those for whom it was written:Galina Vishnevskaya, Peter Pears and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; but politics kept the soprano away from the Coventry premiere in 1962.
Violin Concerto No 1; LSO; Avid Records
Some idea of how good the young Menuhin really was can be gauged from this performance in which the 15-year-old violinist is accompanied by Sir Landon Ronald.
Symphonies Nos 7 and 9; Berlin PO; DG
Monumental performances by one of the great Bruckner conductors, Wilhelm Furtwängler, recorded live in Berlin in 1944. Some audience noise but sound is remarkably good.
Symphony No 8; Vienna PO; DG.
One of Herbert von Karajan's finest recordings, particularly in the gigantic adagio where his command of the structure never falters. The orchestral playing is marvellous in its intensity and shading.
Artur Rubinstein; RCA
For Chopin enthusiasts, Rubinstein was out on his own and on two CDs he plays a selection of waltzes, mazurkas, nocturnes, scherzos and polonaises, as well as the F minor concerto.
La mer; Cleveland Orch; Decca
One of the seminal masterpieces of 20th century music, this poetic and beautifully played performance under Vladimir Ashkenazy will grace any collection.
Brigg Fair, Appalachia, Hassan; LPO; Naxos Historical
It was once the received opinion that only Sir Thomas Beecham could penetrate the heart of Delius's music.This was not wholly true, but Beecham did find something special in him and persuaded orchestras (who are said to find Delius dull) to share his love.
It is largely a matter of tempo and balance, as one can hear in the magical performance of the English rhapsody Brigg Fair, especially in the misty introduction that conjures up an early morning. It is in variation form, as is Appalachia, based on an old slave song that Delius heard in Florida. The incidental music to Flecker's Hassan dates from later, but again shows the magical Beecham touch.
Cello Concerto; Jacqueline du Pré, BBC Legends
This 1969 Proms performance by Jacqueline du Pré with the RLPO and Charles Groves was the last that she gave at these concerts, which she loved. It was generally regarded as her best.
Symphony No 9 (New World); Hallé; Hallé label
Recorded in 1927 in the old Free Trade Hall, Manchester, this performance shows how good the orchestra was under its conductor Sir Hamilton Harty. Poetic phrasing and exhilarating vitality.
The Dream of Gerontius; Hallé Orch; EMI
The ideal Gerontius recording has not yet appeared, but Barbirolli's, from 1964 with Janet Baker, Richard Lewis, Kim Borg and excellent choral singing, has yet to be outclassed for overall inspiration.
Symphonies Nos 1 and 2; LSO; EMI
A wide field, and it largely depends on personal taste, but the composer's own recordings, in remarkable sound, are the touchstone by which the rest must be judged.
Enigma Variations; LPO Live
There are no bad recordings of Enigma (except Bernstein's). Specially recommended is Mackerras, made in the 1980s and not issued until last year. As near to Elgar's own as you can get.
Violin Concerto; LSO; EMI
Made in July 1932, the composer's recording with the 16-year-old Yehudi Menuhin is a must for any collection. There are better solo performances, but Elgar himself makes this indispensable.
Cello Concerto; LSO; EMI
You must have Jacqueline du Pré's extraordinary performance with Barbirolli. It combines the talents of a young genius and a conductor who had played in the orchestra in the 1919 premiere (and later as a soloist).
Messiah; Toronto SO; EMI
Andrew Davis conducts a Messiah that belongs more closely to the traditional style of performance, but he allows ornamentation. The result is richly satisfying.
Water Music and Fireworks Music; Minnesota Orch; MMG
Played in period style, though not on period instruments, under the direction of Stanislaw Skrowaczewski. A delightful disc full of vibrant musicianship.
Paris Symphonies Nos 82-87; Concentus Musicus Wien; Deutsches Harmonia Mundi
Period playing of rare achievement under Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who concentrates on the wit and charm as well as on the ingenious structures that make them such fascinating works.
Symphonies Nos 96-99; Royal Concertgebouw; Teldec
Harnoncourt shows how he can persuade a modern orchestra to play as if it were a period band. Each of these works is a delightful masterpiece.
Symphonies Nos 102 and 103; Chamber Orch of Europe; DG
Claudio Abbado gives us a more traditional Haydn in lovingly phrased performances.
London Symphonies; Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orch; Nimbus
If you want all 12 of these works - and who wouldn't? - Adam Fischer conducts defiantly non-period performances with panache and a keen appreciation of their humour.
Das Lied von der Erde; Vienna PO; Decca
Many of us will have treasured the 1938 recording on 78s conducted by Bruno Walter, an historic issue made just before the Anschluss. He is the conductor of another classic version here, recorded in a happier Vienna in 1952, when the tenor soloist was Julius Patzak and the mezzo Kathleen Ferrier, who was to die from cancer a year later after a career of just 10 years. It is impossible not to have this in mind as she sings the great Farewell movement. The music in places lies rather high for her but the slight strain adds to the effect. Walter had conducted a famous performance with Ferrier at the first Edinburgh Festival in 1947. She was overcome with tears and omitted the final 'Ewig'. Afterwards she apologised to Walter who replied: 'Miss Ferrier, if we were all such artists as you, we should all have been in tears.'
Mahler Symphony No 9; Berlin PO; EMI
Barbirolli's rapport with the Berliners is apparent throughout this heartfelt performance, the more remarkable as at this time (1964) the orchestra rarely played Mahler.
Mahler Symphony No 10; Berlin PO; EMI.
Another British conductor, Simon Rattle, convinces the Berlin Phil of the merits of Deryck Cooke's performing version of Mahler's last work, left complete but not fully scored.
Symphonies Nos 40 and 41; Staatskapelle Berlin; DG
Historic indeed, for here is that great Mozartian Richard Strauss in the mid-1920s conducting these two sublime works very much in the practice of the 1990s - fastish tempos and unaffected phrasing.
Piano Concertos Nos 22 and 27; Scottish Chamber Orch; Philips
Alfred Brendel and Sir Charles Mackerras revel in their collaboration in two of the best of the keyboard concertos. No 27 is especially insightful.
Four Horn Concertos; Philharmonia; EMI
Dennis Brain recorded these in 1953 and 1954. His debonair style suits the music and his virtuosity still thrills. Karajan's accompaniments are perhaps over-plush for today's tastes.
Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola; LPO; BBC
Two eminent English instrumentalists, Albert Sammons and Lionel Tertis, display artistry of the highest order in this 1933 performance conducted by Sir Hamilton Harty.
String Quartets K465 and K590; Nimbus
The Franz Schubert Quartet are well suited to Mozart, as their amazing playing of the introduction to the Dissonance Quartet testifies. K590 is also given a searching interpretation.
Clarinet Quintet; Musical Fidelity
Recorded in 1994, this is an especially engaging version of this adorable work in which the clarinettist Antony Michaelson displays admirable artistry and musicianship.
Piano Concerto No 2; Philadelphia Orchestra; RCA
The composer is soloist in his most popular work, recorded in the 1930s with Leopold Stokowski conducting. This performance has never been surpassed for its blend of virtuosity and insight into the mood changes.
Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, The Bells; WDR SO; Profil
The Dances were Rachmaninoff's last major work and are haunting in their mixture of darkness and light. Semyon Bychkov conducts them marvellously and gives a superb interpretation of the choral The Bells.
Daphnis et Chloé; Boston SO; Philips
The complete ballet score, with wordless chorus by the Tanglewood Festival Choir. Bernard Haitink conducts with a sense of drama and immense care for the music's ravishing detail.
Piano Trio No1 in B flat; Cortot, Thibaud and Casals; Avid Records
Recorded in 1926 and reissued in all formats from 78s to CDs, this is a truly classic performance which defies the years because of the extraordinary rapport between three great musicians.
Piano Quintet in A ('Trout'); Artur Schnabel (piano), three of the Pro Arte Quartet, and Claude Hobday (double bass); Avid Records
A 1935 performance that captures the joy and melodic charm of the music in an insouciant manner. Some wrong notes, but no matter.
Four piano sonatas including B flat (D 960); Alfred Brendel; Philips
Brendel's Schubert is essential to any collection. He has the secret of reaching the heart of the music; his performance of the B flat sonata is a life-enhancing experience.
Piano Sonata in D (D 850); Clifford Curzon; Decca
Another magnificent Schubert interpreter whose magisterial account of the sonata is followed here by his magical playing of the Moments Musicaux and two Impromptus. Recording dates from 1964.
String Quintet; Hyperion
This sublime work receives a particularly glowing and musicianly performance from the Raphael Ensemble led by the violinist Anthony Marwood, whose intonation throughout is as immaculate as his phrasing.
Winterreise; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore; EMI
The great German baritone is here at his most poetic and insightful in this masterpiece of song-writing. The piano part, no mere accompaniment, is played by Gerald Moore with intuitive understanding.
Symphony No 9 in C major; LPO; EMI
This was one of Sir Adrian Boult's most impressive interpretations; tempi and dynamics are just right. On the latest reissue, Janet Baker sings Brahms's Alto Rhapsody.
Piano Concerto and Carnaval; Myra Hess; Dutton
Recorded in 1937 with an uncredited orchestra conducted by Walter Goehr. Dame Myra had no truck with the slow, sentimental approach to the concerto; her Carnaval is full of fantasy and poetry.
Symphony No 7; Royal Concertgebouw Orch; RCO
Mariss Jansons justifies his belief in the Leningrad symphony as a great work and obtains wonderfully nuanced and exciting playing from his Dutch orchestra. The recorded sound is sensational.
Symphony No 10; Cleveland Orch; Decca
Portrait of Stalin or not, this stands as a symphony in its own right without programmatic elements, and that is how Christoph von Dohnányi treats it.
Cello Concertos Nos 1 and 2 LSO; DG
Coded messages abound in these splendid works. Mischa Maisky plays both with insight, and the LSO plays well for Michael Tilson Thomas.
Complete String Quartets; Borodin String Quartet; EMI
These are sure to become classic performances of the 14 quartets, which are greater music than the 15 symphonies. Inspired playing throughout.
Sibelius symphonies; Boston SO and LSO; Philips
The most reliable complete set of the seven is the one conducted by Sir Colin Davis in the 1970s. There are other splendid individual performances but Davis makes his mark strongly in all.
Violin Concerto; Philharmonia Orch; Dutton
Still the finest version is that made by Ginette Neveu with Walter Süsskind not long before she died in an air crash in 1949. She plays with almost frightening fervour.
Four Last Songs; Berlin PO; DG
Strauss composed these songs while in exile in Switzerland in 1948, a year before he died. He was depressed and homesick. When his son Franz visited him, Strauss recounted all his woes and Franz replied: 'Why don't you write some nice songs?' Some time later when Franz's wife went to Switzerland, Strauss gave her a package of manuscripts and said: 'Here are the songs your husband ordered.' They are a last glorious sunset of romanticism and have been recorded by most of the leading sopranos. It is hard to recommend one recording as so many are so very good, but my choice is Gundula Janowitz, with Karajan at his most supportive as conductor. She has the creamy quality needed, but also a purity of tone to suit the moods of the poems.
Ein Heldenleben; Chicago SO; RCA
Fritz Reiner conducts an electrifying performance of this semi-autobiographical tone-poem, with its clamorous Battle Scene and its sensuous love-music. The sumptuous orchestral playing is brilliant.
Symphony No 6; Mariinsky (Kirov) Orch; Philips
A characteristically fiery and full-blooded performance by this splendid orchestra under Valery Gergiev. Luxurious string tone throughout; no holds barred emotionally.
Piano Concerto No 1; NBCSO; Naxos Historical
Famous recording by Vladimir Horowitz conducted by his father-in-law Toscanini, made in New York Carnegie Hall in 1941, in which you can almost see the sparks flying from the piano!
Violin Concerto; National SO; Dutton
Ida Haendel's dazzling 1946 recording, conducted by Basil Cameron, is a timely reminder of her astonishing accuracy and expressive interpretation. The disc includes her equally stunning account of the Dvorák.
A Child of Our Time; CBSO; Collins
Tippett conducts his vivid and moving 1939 oratorio, with Negro spirituals as chorales. His soloists with the Birmingham chorus are Faye Robinson, Sarah Walker, Jon Garrison and John Cheek.
Symphony No 5; LPO; Somm
A 1952 Prom performance at which the composer conducted and revealed more of its darker side than some other interpreters. Here, he also conducts his 1936 cantata Dona Nobis Pacem.
A London Symphony; Hallé Orch; EMI
Fervent interpretation by Sir John Barbirolli recorded in 1967 of the most colourful of the VW symphonies, and the composer's own favourite. Splendidly detailed playing.
Serenade to Music; BBCSO; EMI
Setting of lines from Shakespeare for Sir Henry Wood's jubilee as a conductor in 1938, using 16 famous British singers as soloists.
Requiem; La Scala Orch; EMI
One of the Everests of choral music, this is magnetically performed by forces under Victor de Sabata. His soloists are mouth-watering: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Oralia Dominguez, Giuseppe di Stefano and Cesare Siepi.
Belshazzar's Feast; Philharmonia Orch; EMI
The composer conducts baritone Donald Bell and the Philharmonia Chorus in a searing account of his 1931 oratorio, with brass bands and an array of percussion. Drama and excitement all the way.
Symphony No 1; Philharmonia Orch; EMI
An exciting account under the composer's direction of this richly scored symphony, first performed in 1934 without its finale, which was added a year later and here shown to be a superb climax.
Violin Concerto; Philharmonia Orch; EMI
Written in 1939 for Jascha Heifetz, who made this recording of the revised version some years later with Walton conducting. He makes light of its technical difficulties and relishes its romanticism.
Fidelio; Royal Opera House Orch; Testament
Otto Klemperer conducted this thrilling live performance at Covent Garden in 1961 with the unbeatable combination of Sena Jurinac and Jon Vickers as Leonore and Florestan.
Peter Grimes; Royal Opera House Orch; Decca
Britten conducts and Peter Pears sings the title-role he created, so authenticity is unquestionable. Ellen Orford is warmly sung by Claire Watson. Recorded in 1959.
The Turn of the Screw; English Opera Group Chamber Orch; Decca
Original cast recorded the year after the 1954 premiere. Jennifer Vyvyan as the Governess and David Hemmings as Miles. Britten conducts.
Porgy and Bess; Cleveland Orch; Decca
Simon Rattle and Glyndebourne notwithstanding, this Lorin Maazel performance from 1976 captures the essence and atmosphere of this piece. Willard White is splendid as Porgy. As Clara, Barbara Hendricks sings Summertime exquisitely.
Julius Caesar.;ENO Orch; Chandos Opera in English
Mackerras and Janet Baker dominate this wonderful performance, but the cast includes Valerie Masterson, Della Jones, Sarah Walker, James Bowman and John Tomlinson, so no wonder it's a classic.
Katya Kabanová;Vienna PO;Decca
A 1976 recording conducted by Janá?ek specialist Sir Charles Mackerras, in which the Swedish soprano Elisabeth Söderström, singing in Czech, gives a truly great and heartrending performance.
TheMerry Widow; Philharmonia Orch; Naxos Historical
Otto Ackermann treats the score as the masterpiece it is. Schwarzkopf is an exquisite Hanna and Nicolai Gedda an elegant Camille. Recorded in 1953, now skilfully remastered.
L'incoronazione di Poppea; English Baroque Soloists; DG Archiv
A wide choice for this opera, but mine is for John Eliot Gardiner's stylish approach. Sylvia McNair is a sensuous Poppea, Dana Hanchard her Nerone. Anne Sofie von Otter is Ottavia.
Le nozze di Figaro; Philharmonia Orch; EMI Classics
There is no ideal Figaro, but this 1959 recording conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini comes close, with Anna Moffo a feisty Susanna, Giuseppe Taddei as Figaro, and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as the Countess.
Così fan tutte; Concerto Köln; Harmonia Mundi
Top-class modern recording conducted by René Jacobs with period instruments. Véronique Gens and Bernarda Fink as the sisters, Werner Güra and Marcel Boone as their suitors.
Così fan tutte; Philharmonia Orch; EMI Classics
A more traditional performance (1962) under Karl Böhm, with lovely singing from Schwarzkopf and Christa Ludwig complemented by Alfredo Kraus and Giuseppe Taddei. Some cuts in recitative, two arias omitted.
Die Zauberflöte; Vienna Philharmonic;1951 Salzburg Festival; EMI Classics
Luminous live performance, recorded off-air, conducted by Furtwängler with Irmgard Seefried's adorable Pamina. Never mind the less-than perfect sound - it's the music that matters.
The Magic Flute; LPO; Chandos Opera in English
Sir Charles Mackerras conducts this enchanting performance with a superb cast headed by Barry Banks and Rebecca Evans, with Simon Keenlyside's Papageno and John Tomlinson's Sarastro.
Tosca; La Scala; EMI Classics
Callas expresses every nuance of the text in her incandescent performance (1953) and is matched by Giuseppe di Stefano as Cavaradossi and Gobbi as Scarpia. Conducted by Victor de Sabata.
Madama Butterfly; Rome Opera Orch; EMI Classics
Renata Scotto as Puccini's greatest heroine in a dramatic, closely detailed and impassioned performance conducted by Sir John Barbirolli. Carlo Bergonzi is a lyrical Pinkerton and Rolando Panerai a sympathetic Consul.
Il barbiere di Siviglia; Chamber Orch of Europe; DG
Effervescent performance conducted by Claudio Abbado and sung by a starry cast including Placido Domingo, Kathleen Battle and Ruggero Raimondi. Plenty of rivals, but go for this.
Der Rosenkavalier; Vienna PO; Decca
I suppose the majority choice for a complete Rosenkavalier would be Herbert von Karajan's with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as the Marschallin, the field-marshal's wife who is having an affair with the 17-year-old Count Octavian. But it isn't mine.
The choice is temptingly wide - and there are those classic extracts with Lotte Lehmann, Richard Mayr and Elisabeth Schumann made in the 1920s. But Solti's Decca recording of the whole opera is as fully satisfying as any, especially as he avoids sentimentality (Strauss would have approved). The Vienna Philharmonic plays sumptuously for him, and Régine Crespin's Marschallin has the right hauteur yet is still touching in the monologues about growing old and knowing that love will fade. Yvonne Minton is a splendid Octavian, Manfred Jungwirth a lustful Baron Ochs and Helen Donath a radiant Sophie. And the Italian Tenor's single aria is sung by none other than Luciano Pavarotti. A superlative recording.
Salome; New York Metropolitan Orch; Walhall Eternity Series
Sensational singing of the title role by Ljuba Welitsch, conducted by Fritz Reiner and with Hans Hotter as Jochanaan and Set Svanholm as Herod. Recorded live in January 1952.
JOHANN STRAUSS II
Die Fledermaus;Vienna PO; Decca
Search high and low for this recording, conducted with aristocratic flair and lilt by Clemens Krauss and with singing of timeless charm and beauty - Hilde Gueden as Rosalinde and Julius Patzak as Eisenstein.
Otello; NBC Orchestra; RCA
Famous and unsurpassed 1947 off-air performance conducted by Toscanini. The title role is sung magnificently by Ramon Vinay, but even better is Giuseppe Valdengo as a sinister Iago.
Falstaff; Philharmonia; EMI Classics
Herbert von Karajan at his most nimble and fleet-footed, with Tito Gobbi a generous Falstaff and Schwarzkopf as Alice Ford. The Nannetta is Anna Moffo.
La Traviata; Turin Radio SO; Naxos Historical
Maria Callas's Violetta is the performance by which all others are judged, whatever her vocal flaws. This 1951 performance, conducted by Gabrieli Santini, is among her most electrifying.
Der Ring des Nibelungen; Bayreuth Festival 1955; Testament
This marvellous performance and recording of Wagner's Ring cycle was made at Bayreuth in 1955 but has only recently been made available. It was the first stereo recording of The Ring but was not issued because of record company politics; the distinction went instead to Solti's Vienna studio recording for Decca, a fine achievement but lacking the dramatic immediacy of this one.
This cycle is conducted by Joseph Keilberth, forgotten by all but connoisseurs, but on this showing he was a major Wagner conductor.The singing is also better than on the Solti discs. Hans Hotter, in his prime, was in imperious form as Wotan, Astrid Varnay was a majestic Brünnhilde and Wolfgang Windgassen a lyrical and ardent Siegfried. The recording captures the remarkable true sound of the Bayreuth acoustic and throughout all four operas the orchestra plays its heart out for Wagner and Keilberth.
The Ring; ENO live at Coliseum; Chandos
For those who prefer Wagner in English, this enshrines Sir Reginald Goodall's powerful interpretation, with Rita Hunter's radiant Brünnhilde and Alberto Remedios as Siegfried. The Wotan is Norman Bailey; magnificent.
Tristan und Isolde; Philharmonia Orch; EMI Classics
Wilhelm Furtwängler conducts an intense and incomparable performance, recorded in 1952 by Walter Legge, catching Kirsten Flagstad as Isolde not long before retirement but still in unforget-table form. Ludwig Suthaus is Tristan.
BERLIOZ: ‘SYMPHONIE FANTASTIQUE’; RAMEAU: SUITE FROM ‘HIPPOLYTE ET ARICIE’ Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Daniel Harding, conductor (Harmonia Mundi). Mr. Harding’s Berlioz is extreme, caustic and rude, its narrative cast in the most vivid of colors. His poised, earthy Rameau is almost as audacious, if only because this repertoire has for far too long been seen as the province of period ensembles, and taboo for symphony orchestras. Together these works make even more enthralling listen than they do alone: the work of two French radicals, a century apart.
ELGAR: SYMPHONY NO. 1 Staatskapelle Berlin; Daniel Barenboim, conductor (Decca). Another Elgar record from Mr. Barenboim and his Berliners, and another appearance in our annual recommendations. The First Symphony suits them still better than the previously recorded Second. At every turn they achieve what is expected in Elgar — nobility, hush, pomp — and yet seem uneasily to undermine it, in a reminder that Elgar’s world was Mahler’s, too.
THOMAS ADÈS, PER NORGARD, HANS ABRAHAMSEN: QUARTETS Danish String Quartet (ECM New Series). For its debut recording on the ECM label, this formidable quartet offers a typically adventurous 20th-century program, including significant works by two Danes: the Modernist master Per Norgard’s Quartetto Breve, and Hans Abrahamsen’s arresting 10 Preludes (String Quartet No. 1). This exciting album opens with an early work, “Arcadiana,” by the inventive British composer Thomas Adès.
LISZT: ‘TRANSCENDENTAL ÉTUDES’ Daniil Trifonov, piano (Deutsche Grammophon); Kirill Gerstein, piano (Myrios Classics). Liszt’s 12 aptly titled études, works of visionary imagination, are so technically daunting that even many virtuosos take a pass. So it’s thrilling to have had new recordings this year from two astonishing pianists. Mr. Gerstein best conveys the grandeur and musical madness of these pieces; Mr. Trifonov (on “Transcendental,” a double album that also offers the rest of Liszt’s piano études) dispatches them with exhilarating ease, imagination and brio.
RACHMANINOFF: PIANO CONCERTO NO. 2, OTHER WORKS Alexandre Tharaud, piano; Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; Alexander Vedernikov, conductor (Erato). There are numerous classic recordings of Rachmaninoff’s popular Second Piano Concerto. Yet the elegant Mr. Tharaud’s version, at once probing and impetuous, is exceptional. While playing with plenty of virtuosic flair, he brings out inner voices and harmonic subtleties that seem fresh, even startling. This rewarding album also includes a thoughtful selection of shorter Rachmaninoff pieces.
SATIE: ‘SOCRATE,’ OTHER WORKS Barbara Hannigan, soprano; Reinbert de Leeuw, piano (Winter & Winter). In 1917-18, when Paris was a hotbed of musical Modernism, Satie composed a soft-spoken piece of miraculous modesty and precision: “Socrate,” a 20-minute setting of dialogues from Plato’s “Symposium.” The vocal lines lift the words almost reverentially, accompanied by sparse chords and gentle ostinatos. This sublime recording features Ms. Hannigan, the radiant soprano, and includes other elegant Satie vocal works.
SCHOENBERG: ‘KOL NIDRE’; SHOSTAKOVICH: ‘SUITE ON VERSES OF MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI’ Ildar Abdrazakov, bass; Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Riccardo Muti, conductor (CSO Resound). At the request of a rabbi at a temple in Los Angeles, Schoenberg composed a setting of the “Kol Nidre” for a Yom Kippur service in 1938. Mr. Muti leads his Chicagoans and the stentorian narrator Alberto Mizrahi in a gripping live performance of this starkly dramatic piece, paired with a compelling performance of Shostakovich’s suite of song settings of poetry by Michelangelo.
‘DEATH AND THE MAIDEN’ Patricia Kopatchinskaja, violin; St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (Alpha Classics). This disc is yet another testament to Ms. Kopatchinskaja’s impassioned playing and exuberant creativity. Named an artistic partner with this superb Minnesota chamber ensemble, she worked with it to surround a rich new arrangement for strings of Schubert’s great “Death and the Maiden” quartet with other melancholy outpourings of mortality’s dominion, from the 16th century to Gyorgy Kurtag.
R. NATHANIEL DETT: ‘THE ORDERING OF MOSES’ May Festival Chorus; Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; James Conlon, conductor (Bridge). When NBC cut away three-quarters through its live radio broadcast of this gorgeous oratorio’s premiere in 1937, it claimed previous commitments. But it may have been responding to callers objecting to perhaps the first network broadcast of a major work by a black composer. The Cincinnati May Festival was responsible for that premiere, and its forces brought the work — since then largely forgotten — to Carnegie Hall in 2014, under the auspices of the late, lamented Spring for Music festival. In this live recording, the orchestra plays with driving energy under Mr. Conlon and the chorus, warmly hovering, is glorious. The soloists are excellent, particularly the radiant soprano Latonia Moore and Rodrick Dixon, fervent as Moses, here imagined not as a patriarchal bass but as a youthful tenor.
HAYDN, LIGETI: CONCERTOS AND CAPRICCIOS Shai Wosner, piano; Danish National Symphony Orchestra; Nicholas Collon, conductor (Onyx). To galvanizing yet ruminative effect, this disc brings together the bright, witty, unexpectedly heartfelt music of two Central European composers: Haydn (1732-1809) and Ligeti (1923-2006). The centerpieces are piano concertos: two by Haydn and Ligeti’s uproarious, rhythmically knotty contribution to the genre. Between are alternately dreamy and lively capriccios by both; all is played with style, flair and velvety touch by Mr. Wosner, given spirited support by Mr. Collon and the Danes.
MEREDITH MONK: ‘ON BEHALF OF NATURE’ Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble (ECM New Series). When she first performed it a few years ago, Ms. Monk’s latest work of abstract music theater — its score a mixture of droning instruments, bending vocal pitches and eruptions of yelps — came across as calmly melancholy. Now, with the peril to nature seeming more acute than ever, the crystal-clear recorded version feels more like artfully focused desperation — and, in the climactic “Water/Sky Rant,” choking rage.
‘THE STONE PEOPLE’ Lisa Moore, piano and voice (Cantaloupe Music). The occasion for this disc is an assemblage of John Luther Adams’s three works so far for solo acoustic piano, including the sweeping “Among Red Mountains.” Playing through these stark landscapes with tenderness, Ms. Moore has sensitively set Mr. Adams’s trio alongside similarly atmospheric, somber, often wintry pieces by Martin Bresnick, Julia Wolfe, Missy Mazzoli and Kate Moore.
James R. Oestreich
MOZART: VIOLIN CONCERTOS Isabelle Faust, violin; Il Giardino Armonico; Giovanni Antonini, conductor (Harmonia Mundi). Ms. Faust seems thoroughly at home in an early-music style that favors intimacy and mercuriality over monumentality. Her approach to cadenzas and other solo passages is imaginative and thoughtful, and Mr. Antonini and his band supply a freshness and verve that match hers.
PÄRT: ‘KANON POKAJANEN’ Cappella Amsterdam; Daniel Reuss, conductor (Harmonia Mundi). Arvo Pärt’s magnum opus, the “Kanon Pokajanen” (“Canon of Repentance,” 1998), retains the language of its Eastern Orthodox sources, Church Slavonic, and follows Orthodox tradition in avoiding instruments, though it is not intended for church use. It is a contemplative concert work — utterly mesmerizing, despite modern-leaning harmonies — and enchanting.
‘SONGS OF STRUGGLE AND REDEMPTION: WE SHALL OVERCOME’ Dashon Burton, bass-baritone; Nathaniel Gumbs, piano (Acis). Mr. Burton is a beloved fixture of the New York choral scene, and it is always a pleasure to hear him step out in solos. In this superb collection of songs and spirituals, he reveals his personality more fully. Mr. Gumbs provides excellent support, but it is Mr. Burton’s unaccompanied version of the crucifixion anthem “He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word” that will live with you longest.
TALLIS: ‘SPEM IN ALIUM,’ OTHER WORKS The Cardinall’s Musick; Andrew Carwood, conductor (Hyperion). Sooner or later in its excellent survey of Thomas Tallis’s a cappella choral works, the Cardinall’s Musick — as listed, 12 strong — was going to have to beef up to tackle the great 40-voice motet “Spem in Alium.” Here it is, and even amid rich and exalted company, it stands apart as something truly extraordinary.
TCHAIKOVSKY: VIOLIN CONCERTO; STRAVINSKY: ‘LES NOCES’ Patricia Kopatchinskaja, violin; MusicAeterna; Teodor Currentzis, conductor (Sony Classical). Here is an album seemingly tailored for a year that epitomized disruption. Ms. Kopatchinskaja wholeheartedly joins Mr. Currentzis in bringing the untamed spirit of the primitivist “Les Noces” (“The Wedding”) into their fascinating deconstruction of Tchaikovsky’s war horse concerto, virtuosic in its own willful way.Continue reading the main story