Europadisc Top 10 of 2018Europadisc Top 10 of 2018 (available until 27th Feb 2019) 1 to 10 of 10 results

2018 has proved another exceptionally strong year for classical music on disc, defying the doom-mongers and providing collectors with ever more adventurous, revealing and rewarding explorations of the repertoire. And once again the many smaller and medium-sized labels have introduced listeners to music for too long overlooked by the big players, or revisited established classics in new and enlightening ways.

As ever, solo piano recitals have been exceptionally strong, with discs from Rachmaninov and Suk to Saxton and Stephen Hough’s Dream Album catching our ear. But for us the outstanding recital was Alexander Melnikov’s brilliant 4 Pieces | 4 Pianos (Harmonia Mundi), on which this probing musician served up a dazzling display of keyboard artistry with Schubert’s Wanderer-Fantasie on an Alois Graff piano of 1828-35, a magisterial account of Chopin’s Op.10 Études on an 1837 Érard, Liszt’s formidable Réminiscences de Don Juan on an 1875 Bösendorfer, and Stravinsky’s virtuosic Three Movements from Pétrouchka on a modern Steinway. Anyone who still doubts the insights possible from an historically informed choice of instrument coupled with supreme musicality should hear this disc, which still bowls us over on every playing.

At the other end of the scale, orchestral music still forms the backbone for many classical record buyers, and 2018 has served up many memorable releases, including anniversary-themed discs of Debussy (notably from Emmanuel Krivine and the Orchestre national de France) and Bernstein (the three symphonies from Antonio Pappano and his Santa Cecilia Orchestra). But the stand-out orchestral disc for us was Danish composer Rued Langgaard’s Second and Fourth Symphonies performed by the Vienna Philharmonic under Sakari Oramo on the Dacapo label. Orchestra and conductor clearly revel in the music’s late-Romantic soundworld, with a recording to match, making this release – complete with a delightful lollipop in the form of Jacob Gade’s perennially popular Tango Jalousie – an especially appealing one.

2017 was definitely the Year of Song for us, but this year’s best vocal recitals have certainly proved every bit as strong, if less numerous. Our favourite was Vienna: Fin de siècle from the dream team of Barbara Hannigan and pianist Reinbert de Leeuw (Alpha). Alongside seductive works from the trinity of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern they place gems by Alexander Zemlinsky and Alma Mahler, before ending up with a set of ‘Mignon’ Lieder from Hugo Wolf’s Goethe-Lieder. The entire programme seems refracted through the prism of early modernism, and it all comes as a huge treat for lovers of art song turn-of-the-century Vienna alike.

Choral music has also fared particularly well in 2018, from Handel to Berlioz and Prokofiev. Beethoven’s Missa solemnis from Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan on BIS proved particularly successful. With a strong team of soloists including tenor James Gilchrist and baritone Benjamin Bevan, and choral forces brilliantly balanced, it combined in ideal measure technical polish and expressive integrity in a ‘period’ performance that really scales the musical heights.

More intimate in scale was a putative reconstruction of one of Dieterich Buxtehude’s Abendmusiken, evening concerts the Baroque composer organised at the Marienkirche in Lübeck. We have long been admirers of Lionel Meunier’s Vox Luminis ensemble, and on this Alpha release they join forces with the instrumentalists of Ensemble Masques to serve up a selection sacred vocal works and secular trios sonatas that reveal the range of Buxtehude’s writing, from the contemplative and reflective to the infectiously uplifting, proving that the composer’s choral and chamber music deserves to be much better known than it is. With performances like this, they will win Buxtehude many new admirers.

‘Early’ music has indeed had a good year. Among a veritable cornucopia of Handel releases, the most ear-catching and certainly the most popular was an album devoted to his early Italian Cantatas from soprano Sabine Devieilhe, mezzo Lea Desandre and Le Concert d’Astrée under Emmanuelle Haïm (Erato). Devieilhe and Desandre each take a solo cantata, in which the torments of Arianna and Lucretia respectively are revealed in harrowing detail, and they combine forces in the arcadian, quasi-operatic Aminta e Fillide. With brilliant instrumental support, and memorable vocal ornamentation devised by Haïm herself, this reveals Handel’s youthful cantatas for the masterpieces they truly are, and no Handelian should miss these splendid performances.

Another revelation this year has been the consort music of Matthew Locke, in benchmark performances from the superb viol consort Phantasm on the Linn label. By teaming up with their regular lutenist partner Elizabeth Kenny, they create a staggering variety of textures in Locke’s music, full of unexpected and completely beguiling harmonic twists and turns. It’s as if the listener is eavesdropping on instrumentalists simply making music for their own pleasure at the highest level of artistry. Even for those as yet unfamiliar with the delights of consort music-making, this is a disc to treasure over and over again.

For chamber music of later provenance, too, 2018 has delivered some outstanding releases. String quartet aficionados will already know that Alina Ibragimova’s Chiaroscuro Quartet is one of the hottest tickets in the chamber music world right now, and their new recording on BIS of Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ Quartet, coupled with the earlier G minor Quartet, D173, really blows the cobwebs away, with edgy period-instrument brilliance, some jaw-dropping speeds, but also a probing musicality that cuts right to the heart of Schubert’s bittersweet soundworld.

In a year of notable musical anniversaries, the centenaries of Bernstein’s birth and Debussy’s death have prompted record companies to some generous offerings. Especially impressive has been Harmonia Mundi’s selective series of discs from their major artists devoted to Debussy’s music, ranging from some of his best-known works to many lesser known pearls. For us, one of the finest releases in the series has been the combination of the elusive three late sonatas (for cello and piano, flute, viola and harp, and violin and piano) with his last four piano pieces, performed by a starry ensemble of soloists including Isabelle Faust, Jean-Guihen Queyras and Tanguy de Williencourt. It’s a disc that seems to distill the very essence of Debussy’s groundbreaking style in performances of huge commitment.

By a narrow but crucial margin, our Disc of the Year for 2018 is another chamber music release, and yet another excellent recording from the Alpha label. Entitled simply Deux, this disc from mercurial violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja and no less gifted pianist Polina Leschenko couples violin sonatas by Poulenc and Bartók with Ravel’s ever-popular Tzigane and Delibes’ Coppélia Waltz in a sparkling piano arrangement by Dohnånyi. These are dazzlingly virtuosic performances that seem to catch the music in the moment of creation, and they sound as fresh and vital now as they did when we first reviewed them back in mid-February. Few other artists today can so successfully create the illusion of edge-of-the-seat live performance in a studio, and for this reason among many others, in a year of exceptional quality, Deux is a worthy winner!

Handel - Italian Cantatas

Erato 9029563362
CD (2 discs)

Handel - Italian Cantatas

£10.40 £8.50

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special offer ending 27/02/2019

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Artists: Sabine Devieilhe (soprano), Lea Desandre (mezzo-soprano), Le Concert d’Astree

Conductor: Emmanuelle Haim

Gramophone Editor's Choice Europadisc Top 10 of 2018
Debussy - The Three Sonatas, Late Works

Harmonia Mundi HMM902303
CD (1 disc)

Debussy - The Three Sonatas, Late Works

£12.30 £8.50

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Artists: Isabelle Faust (violin), Alexander Melnikov (piano), Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello), Javier Perianes (piano), Xavier de Maistre (harp), Antoine Tamestit (viola), Magali Mosnier (flute), Tanguy de Williencourt (piano)

Gramophone Editor's Choice Europadisc Top 10 of 2018
Schubert - String Quartets 14 (Death and the Maiden) & 9

BIS BIS2268
SACD (1 disc)

Schubert - String Quartets 14 (Death and the Maiden) & 9

£12.30 £9.45

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Artist: Chiaroscuro Quartet

Europadisc Top 10 of 2018 Gramophone Editor's Choice
Matthew Locke: For Lovers of Consort Music

Linn CKD594
CD (1 disc)

Matthew Locke: For Lovers of Consort Music

£12.30 £9.45

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Artists: Phantasm, Elizabeth Kenny (lute)

Europadisc Top 10 of 2018
Vienna: Fin de siecle

Alpha ALPHA393
CD (1 disc)

Vienna: Fin de siecle

£12.30 £9.45

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Artists: Barbara Hannigan (soprano), Reinbert de Leeuw (piano)

Europadisc Top 10 of 2018
Langgaard - Symphonies 2 & 6; J Gade - Tango Jalousie

Dacapo 6220653
SACD (1 disc)

Langgaard - Symphonies 2 & 6; J Gade - Tango Jalousie

£12.30 £9.45

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Artists: Anu Komsi (soprano), Sakari Oramo (violin), Wiener Philharmoniker

Conductor: Sakari Oramo

Gramophone Editor's Choice Europadisc Top 10 of 2018
Buxtehude - Abendmusiken

Alpha ALPHA287
CD (1 disc)

Buxtehude - Abendmusiken

£12.30 £9.45

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Artists: Ensemble Masques, Vox Luminis

Conductors: Oliver Fortin, Lionel Meunier

Gramophone Editor's Choice Europadisc Top 10 of 2018
Beethoven - Missa solemnis

BIS BIS2321
SACD (1 disc)

Beethoven - Missa solemnis

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Artists: Ann-Helen Moen (soprano), Roxana Constantinescu (mezzo-soprano), James Gilchrist (tenor), Benjamin Bevan (baritone), Ryo Terakado (violin), Bach Collegium Japan

Conductor: Masaaki Suzuki

Europadisc Top 10 of 2018
Deux: Music for Violin & Piano by Bartok, Poulenc & Ravel

Alpha ALPHA387
CD (1 disc)

Deux: Music for Violin & Piano by Bartok, Poulenc & Ravel

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Artists: Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin), Polina Leschenko (piano)

Gramophone Editor's Choice Europadisc Top 10 of 2018
Four Pieces - Four Pianos: Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, Stravinsky

Harmonia Mundi HMM902299
CD (1 disc)

Four Pieces - Four Pianos: Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, Stravinsky

£12.30 £8.50

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special offer ending 27/02/2019

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Artist: Alexander Melnikov (piano)

Gramophone Editor's Choice Europadisc Top 10 of 2018