Recordings Of The Year 2015

This is the thirteenth year that Musicweb International has asked its reviewing team to nominate their recordings of the year. Reviewers are not restricted to discs they had reviewed, but the choices must have been reviewed on MWI in the last 12 months (December 2014-November 2015).

The 128 selections have come in from 22 members of the team, the choices this year reflecting as usual, the great diversity of music and sources.

Of the selections, two received three nominations
•  Beethoven's symphonies 5 & 7 from Pittsburgh with Manfred Honeck on Reference
•  Vaughan Williams' Sea Symphony with the Halle and Sir Mark Elder on the orchestra's label

and eight have received two nominations:
•  orchestral works by Toivo Kuula on Ondine
•  a selection of Arvo Pärt from The Tallis Scholars on Gimell
•  Mendelssohn's piano trios by Trio Sitkovetsky on BIS
•  Bach's Magnificat by the Dundein Consort on Linn
•  piano music of Sibelius played on his own piano on BIS
•  Mozart's violin concertos played by Franz Peter Ziummermann on Hanssler
•  Steinberg's Passion Week on Capella Romana
•  Seiber's Ulysses on Lyrita

The nominated recordings come from 70 different labels, the leading label clearly being BIS with eight.

Choosing one recording from all those reviewed in the last months is an impossible task, yet pick one we must. Does one look at the multiply-nominated recordings above? If so, how does one pick between the nine? It is certainly not possible to listen to all the options, for the practical reasons of time and availability, but also one's own personal preferences.  What might be unlistenable for one person is the best recording ever for another.

Therefore, it seems appropriate to take as read the quality of the recordings and to look beyond that to some greater significance.  This leads to the consideration of some of the outstanding recordings featuring composers with birth or death anniversaries.  The big names here are Sibelius and Nielsen (150th anniversary of birth) and Scriabin (100th anniversary of death).  There are a number of candidates from these composers, but we have opted for a double anniversary choice instead. 

Arvo PÄRT Tintinnabuli - The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips GIMELL CDGIM049

On September 21st of this year, the Tallis Scholars performed their 2000th concert, and in a rare foray into contemporary music, they also released a recording of works by Arvo Pärt in honour of his 80th birthday.  As mentioned above, this recording was selected by two reviewers among their Recordings of the Year.

CLASSICAL EDITOR'S RECORDING OF THE YEAR What do you want from your musical experiences? I want something that is pulse-quickening, music that is delight-ascendant, a lightning conductor to tears, shivers, smiles or at the very least an experience that is provocative of interest - all those experiences that won me around to classical music in the first place. Applying those far from measurable criteria to the still overwhelmingly numerous recorded harvest has helped in the winnowing process. It has still left me with a large grab-bag of 'almost made-its'. These include Simon Callaghan's 'Indiana Jones' foray into the fascinating world of Roger Coke's piano music (Somm), Shostakovich's fearless and generous Shostakovich Song of the Forests CD (Warner), Louis Glass's Symphony No. 3 (CPO), Chris Howell's Stanford Piano music vol. 1 (Sheva), Pettersson's Symphony 9 (Bis), the complete Scriabin (Decca), the Arnold Symphonies (Chandos), a great bargain and, a real sleeper this: a vivid and even glaringly lit cycle of the Rachmaninov orchestral music (Alto).

I hope that the choice for 2016 will be even more challenging with many CD premieres. That's my excuse for some scatter-gun, wild-eyed speculation unfettered by financial considerations. Unleash the hounds! Let's hope for Benjamin Dale's orchestral tone poem, The Flowing Tide, Holst's unaccountably neglected opera The Perfect Fool and his Sanskrit opera Sita, Cecil Gray's Deirdre of the Sorrows, Chloe Hanslip recording the gorgeous violin concertos by Ivanovs and De Boeck, the Coke piano concertos from Simon Callaghan and Somm, Alwyn's massive choral-orchestral work The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Dett's great oratorio The Ordering of Moses, the three moving cantatas by Yuri Shaporin (all recorded by Melodiya at various times), the symphonies of Pancho Vladigerov, the concertos by Canadian composer Marjan Mozetich, a Chandos recording of the two sumptuous Elgarian symphonies of Healy Willan as well as Joseph Marx's soaring, opulent and intricately lyrical Eine Herbstsymphonie.

Perhaps the returned White Hope of Sir Simon Rattle might take another challenging interest in latter-day British music beyond the surface suspects. Surely he will not want to leave this territory to the likes of the gifted and imaginatively inclined Sakari Oramo. Oramo is a conductor whose choices and performances instil a real buzz. His approach to repertoire and music-making is as exciting as those days in the 1980s when Rozhdestvensky headed the BBCSO. As for unsung or little sung conductors I would like to hear more from Oliver Zeffman, John Longstaff and John Gibbons. Gibbons has done so much for provocative and unobvious programmes in Worthing, Ealing and Northampton - who else is programming Rubbra's great Fourth Symphony this season? Lastly let me direct you to two young and overflowingly gifted musicians with the light of adventure and delight still in their eyes. The first is Simon Smith who has recorded Schnittke for Delphian and whose just-issued CD of Silvestrov's piano sonatas should command a high placing in next year's ROTY lists. The second is the saxophone player Jess Gillam. Let's hear this remarkably gifted artist in some saxophone concertos including the brief and seductively flighty Malcolm Arnold and Maurice Johnstone's thoughtful Ballade.

Jean SIBELIUS Jedermann, Serious melodies, In memoriam - Turku PO/Leif Segerstam rec. 2014 NAXOS 8.573340

Almost surreptitiously, but with well placed confidence, Naxos, undaunted by BIS, have been setting out its own Sibelius theatre-music stall. In this they have collaborated with the Turku orchestra directed by that powerhouse of a composer-conductor Leif Segerstam. The forbiddingly imaginative extensive score for Everyman reminded me on occasion of the enigmas, delights and water-colours of Sibelius' music for The Tempest. The whole of Naxos's Sibelius theatre series is well worth seeking out. It harbours musical surprises and challenges in a sector of the Finnish composer's music otherwise only sparsely recorded beyond a few favourites. More to come. Superbly done.

Rob Barnett (Classical Editor)

Konstantin EIGES Piano Music - Jonathan Powell rec. 2012 TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0215

Eiges was completely unknown to me until this disc. His music is aristocratic, confident and steeped in romantic endeavour and sentiment. In a strange way it is also kindly without being bland. Stylistically there's a Medtner connection and not just in the choice of titles. The fellow feeling is pretty clear but there's no suggestion that Eiges is a counterfeit of his contemporary. Superbly packaged and documented. Toccata and Jonathan Powell do these rare and treasurable things so well.

Paul HINDEMITH The Long Christmas Dinner - American SO/Leon Botstein rec. 2014 BRIDGE 9449

Based on a Thornton Wilder play this fifty minute one act opera at last sees the light of day. It's a deeply poignant piece made all the more so by some very moving music. Hindemith takes on the sophistication of something close to music theatre rather than opera with a capital O. It's a very touching discovery.

Eugen SUCHOŇ Orchestral music - Estonian Ntl SO/Neeme Järvi rec. 2013 CHANDOS CHAN10849

Neeme Järvi's discs over the last five years or so have met with a wide range of reaction from condemnation to unleashed praise. I always want to hear his next effort and have been surprised how often he has drawn me in with his gloriously recorded, generous and annotated Chandos collections from composers I might not have thought to explore. These have included such denizens of the 78 and LP era as Chabrier, Suppé and Offenbach. This disc lets us hear the accessible and folk-influenced music of Slovakian composer Suchon. Chandos and Järvi will continue to surprise us. Who knows - how about a couple of symphonies by the Romanian composer Dimtrie Cuclin?

Henry HADLEY Orchestral music - BBC Concert O/Rebecca Miller rec. 2014 DUTTON EPOCH CDLX7319

Dutton Epoch continue at full throttle. Their forays into rare repertoire are well informed and directed and boast a high proportion of first recordings. This disc of orchestral pieces by the American Henry Hadley allows us to hear music that in its lavish indulgences may remind us of Bantock or Schmitt or Gaubert. All credit to the conductor Rebecca Miller. I hope that this signals an American rarities series from her.

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony 5 International Festival O/Leopold Stokowski rec. 1973 CAMEO CLASSICS CC9007CD

For all that many find him defiant against or irreverent towards the composer's wishes Stokowski recordings remain most often the source of the volatile and the inspired. This Tchaikovsky 5 is a truly exciting performance which for all the occasional fluffs and momentary disasters cries out to be heard. Studio perfection is too often won at the expense of lively music-making. Give me these imperfections every time. While it does not supplant Monteux and the LSO on Vanguard it’s a visceral version which takes on all comers. Very special. The rehearsal is also no mere time-filler.

Cyril ROOTHAM Symphony 2, Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity - BBC Scottish SO, BBC Concert O/Vernon Handley rec. 1975/84 LYRITA REAM2118

Here at last are two pretty much unknown ambitious British choral-orchestral works of the first half of the last century. The Symphony No. 2 is unassertive, philosophical and visionary written during his last days and completed by Patrick Hadley. The Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity is Christmas music but of an emotive nature and on a seething majestic scale. It's a bonus that these two BBC broadcasts of the 1970s and 1980s featured the late Vernon Handley as conductor. I declare an interest here being associated with Lyrita in a modest way in their excitingly reborn recording and reissue programme.

David Barker (Website Manager)
Three of my choices are composers unknown to me before the chosen recording, which makes it a very good year for a hunter of the "unsung" composer.

René de CASTÉRA Concert, Sicilienne, Piano Trio - Linda Hall (piano), Samuel Magill (cello), Lucian Rinando (flute), Dean LeBlanc (clarinet), Elmira Darvarova (violin)  rec. 2011 AZUR CLASSICAL AZC109

The trio was my main interest here and very fine indeed, but the Concert for flute, clarinet, cello and piano was an unexpected delight.

Johann Wenzel KALLIWODA Violin Concertinos, Overtures - Ariadne Daskalakis (violin) Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens CPO 7776922

I discovered Kalliwoda nine years ago through a pair of symphonies on CPO which I made a Recording of the Year.  I thought they must have given up on him, given the significant time gap, but mercifully someone at the label remembered him.  Let's hope it is isn't as long a wait for the next release.

Toivo KUULA Festive March, South Ostrobothnian Suites, Prelude and Fugue - Turku PO/Leif Segerstam rec. 2015 ONDINE ODE12702

It is to be regretted that Kuula's orchestral output amounts to little more than the four works presented here, so enjoyable are they. While they certainly show the influence of Sibelius - how could any Finnish composer of that era not - Kuula definitely has his own voice.

Felix MENDELSSOHN Piano Trios - Sitkovetsky Trio rec. 2014 BIS BIS2109 SACD

Magnificent performances in sound that is as good as I have heard in chamber music. I await more recordings from this brilliant young ensemble. No more need be said.

Romanus WEICHLEIN Encaenia Musices - Capella Vitalis Berlin RAUMKLANG RK3401

Easily my discovery of the year. Glorious Baroque chamber music, beautifully recorded and performed.  More please.

Antonio VIVALDI I concerti dell’addio - Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi (violin) rec. 2014 GLOSSA GCD923402

The affinity of Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante for Vivaldi is quite extraordinary.  After a few less than successful excursions (Telemann, Mozart) they are triumphantly back on home territory.

Stephen Barber

Michel Richard de LALANDE Symphonies pour les soupers du roi - La Symphonie du Marais/Hugo Reyne rec. 1990 HARMONIA MUNDI HMY2921337.40

This is the only complete set  of these works, famous by reputation but not by performance. Fortunately it is a very good one, which was commanding high prices on the second-hand market before being reissued. Hugo Reyne has used his imagination in realizing them from the score and they are a delight.

Igor STRAVINSKY Les Noces, Mass, Cantata - Carolyn Sampson, RIAS Kammerchor, musikFabrik/Daniel Reuss rec. 2005 HARMONIA MUNDI HMG501913

These works are all masterpieces but are rarely performed or recorded. Under Daniel Reuss’ expert direction Les Noces fizzes with life and joy while the withdrawn and hermetic cantata is brooding and intense. The Mass has a grave beauty.

George ENESCU Symphony 4, Nuages d’Automne sur les Forêts, Chamber Symphony - NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover/Peter Ruzicka rec. 2013/4 CPO 7779662

Enescu took modesty about his compositions to an extreme, often not completing or issuing some of works. He left his fourth symphony fully sketched but only partly orchestrated. Pascal Bentoiu has finished the task, as he did for the fifth symphony, and the result is a strange and compelling work in a distinctive late Romantic idiom. The other works are worth having too, particularly the Chamber Symphony, Enescu’s last work.

Johannes BRAHMS Serenades - Gewandhaus O Leipzig/Riccardo Chailly rec. 2014 DECCA 4786775

If you want the serenades in a fine modern recording, and every Brahmsian who loves the symphonies should acquire them, then Chailly’s new version is now the one to go for.

Franz LISZT Sacred Choral Music - Kammerchor I Vocalisti/Hans-Joachim Lustig rec. 2015 CARUS 83.465

Liszt’s smaller choral works are almost unknown but here is a fine selection of them which should both give pleasure and attract interest from cathedral and church choirs. The idiom may seem reminiscent of Bruckner’s much better known motets but in fact the influence goes the other way. The last number in particular, a setting of most of Psalm 137, is a jewel.

Nick Barnard
A diverse selection this year but all still ticking the boxes for my ROTY imperatives; musical and technical excellence supporting revelatory performances - all of these discs comfortably fulfil these criteria

Anthony RITCHIE Symphony 4 - Jenny Wollerman (soprano) Christchurch Symphony Orchestra/Tom Woods rec. 2014 ATOLL ACD314

The latest symphony by New Zealand composer Anthony Ritchie - a very personal and powerful response to the earthquake that struck the country in 2011. Ritchie is a prolific composer but this strikes me as one of his profoundest and best works

Suites & Overtures for the Radio Dresden State Opera O/Ernst Theis  rec. 2006-11 CPO 777838-2

Something of a revelatory set. Brilliant - in every sense - performances of little known or forgotten music written for the Radio in its earliest days. The vibrancy of the compositions is matched by the idiomatic and skilful performances.

Serge RACHMANINOFF All-Night Vigil - Phoenix Chorale, Kansas City Chorale/Charles Bruffy rec. 2014 CHANDOS CHSA5148 SACD

What a glorious piece this is and what a remarkable choir the combined Kansas City and Phoenix Chorales are. By no means the most idiomatic performance but one that re-imagines this extraordinary work as a series of extended meditations. All aided by choral singing of superhuman brilliance caught in typically gorgeous Chandos sound - soul music.

Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD Piano Concerto Benjamin BRITTEN Diversions - Nicolas Stavy (piano) Lille Ntl O/Paul Polivnick rec. 2014 HORTUS 710

An imaginative and interesting coupling that goes a long way to justifying the idea that the Korngold left-hand concerto is one of his best but least appreciated works. Thrillingly dynamic performances and excellent committed playing. The sign of a good disc is when you want more of the same.

Paul GRAENER Piano Concerto, Symphonietta, Drei Schwedische Tänze, Divertimento - Oliver Triendl (piano) Munich RO/Alun Francis rec. 2011 CPO 777 697-2

This disc is included because of one work - the achingly beautiful and moving Symphonietta written In Memoriam of the composer's young son. None of the rest of the music rises to the same level and the performances are good and committed without being uninsurable. But that Symphonietta......!

Pietro MASCAGNI Rapsodia Satanica Nino ROTA Il Gattopardo - Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz/Frank Strobel rec. 2005 CAPRICCIO C5246

A complete surprise - a major score for a film pre-dating just about every other major work in the genre written by an Italian opera composer. Great fun - very evocative, by no means profound but performed with real gusto and panache.

Dominy Clements

Johann Sebastian BACH The Art of Fugue - Angela Hewitt (piano) rec. 2013 HYPERION CDA67980

Angela Hewitt’s recording of Bach’s The Art of Fugue is to my mind a breakthrough in the performance evolution of this most enigmatic of scores. Hewitt transforms BWV 1080 into something juicy and enjoyable rather than dry and endurable, giving each line a vocal and narrative quality to create this year’s ‘must-have’ Bach release.

Domenico SCARLATTI Keyboard Sonatas Claire Huangci (piano) rec. 2014 BERLIN CLASSICS 0300603BC

The refined poetry of Claire Huangci’s playing combines with her imaginative sequencing of her Scarlatti sonatas into groupings that form their own pleasing Suites and Sonatas. This is a quietly spectacular expression of some of this year’s most enduring pianism and musicianship.

Maximilian STEINBERG Passion Week Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Chant Arrangements for Holy Week - Cappella Romana/Alexander Lingas rec. 2014 CAPPELLA ROMANA CR414-CD

One of the big choral rediscoveries of recent years combined with a stunning performance and recording, Steinberg’s sublime and eloquently moving Passion Week is a work to which I’ve returned again and again this year.

Rodion SHCHEDRIN The Left-Hander Andrei Popov, Mariinsky Ch & O/Valery Gergiev rec. 2013 MARIINSKY MAR0554 SACD

Contemporary opera can be a bit arduous, but Rodion Shchedrin’s The Left-Hander is a genuine masterpiece and stuffed so full of good things that you can lose yourself in its absurd world and emerge entertained, stimulated and educated.

Iveta Apkalna (organ) Works by Bach & Glass rec. 2013 OEHMS CLASSICS OC1827

Rich and generous, this organ recording has something glorious about it at every level: Bach in which you can bathe, and Glass as refreshing as menthol. With spectacular sonics and superlative skill in performance, this is a set that comes complete with its own magnetic field.

Arvo PÄRT Musica Selecta - A Sequence by Manfred Eicher rec. 1983-2011 ECM NEW SERIES 2454/55

As far as this year’s ECM catalogue is concerned it was a toss-up between the haunting Gesualdo on ECM or celebrating Arvo Pärt’s 80th, and in the end it had to be Manfred Eicher’s richly rewarding celebration of the composer who started it all as far as the ‘New Series’ was concerned.

Michael Cookson
The year 2015 has produced a large number of excellent recordings and choosing a list of 6 releases has been difficult, not helped by 3 of the finest arriving very late in the year. There are a number enjoyable releases that I haven’t been able to include on my final list:

When Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony was recorded live in 2014 I was part of the Bridgewater Hall audience. This is a quite outstanding account by the Hallé with soloists Katherine Broderick and Roderick Williams and choirs under Sir Mark Elder on the Hallé own label. ‘The Tchaikovsky Album’ from the RLPO under its Russian maestro Vasily Petrenko may consist of popular Tchaikovsky orchestral works but the level of performance is outstanding on the Classic FM label. Earlier this year I visited Richard Strauss’s villa in Garmisch, Bavaria which added a special dimension to my listening of his masterworks Don Juan and Ein Heldenleben played live and so remarkably by the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under the great Mariss Jansons on BR Klassik.

Brahms’s two orchestral Serenades are not given the attention they deserve in the concert hall or the recording studio so it’s pleasing to have this excellent new Decca recording from such a renowned orchestra as the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig under Riccardo Chailly. I have obtained much enjoyment from the excellent Prokofiev cycle of symphonies from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Kirill Karabits on Onyx. In the chamber music field there is the desirable and beautifully produced release of rare and colourful ‘Russian’ music by Rimsky-Korsakov, Bortkiewicz and Khachaturian. These works reflecting the exotic sounds of the Orient are admirably played by the Zürich Ensemble on Paladino Music.

All of a remarkably high standard I have also relished a number of opera recital releases from Joyce DiDonato titled ‘Stella di Napoli’ rare Neapolitan bel canto arias on Erato; ‘Power Players’ Russian arias for bass sung by Ildar Abdrazakov on Delos; ‘The French Collection’ of opera arias from tenor Piotr Beczala on Deutsche Grammophon, ‘Fiamma del Belcanto’ arias from bel canto to verismo from soprano Diana Damrau on Erato; baritone Christian Gerhaher singing ‘Mozart Arias’ on Sony and ‘Héroïque’ of French arias by tenor Bryan Hymel on Warner Classics. Finally there is a most desirable 8 CD box set of Dvorak Sacred works and Cantatas on Supraphon of which Saint Ludmila and The Spectre’s Bride are real discoveries for me.

Franz SCHUBERT Symphony 9 - O Mozart/Claudio Abbado rec. 2011 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4794652

Every now and then a new release comes along of such excellence that it virtually becomes a fixture on your CD Player. One such recording is from the late Claudio Abbado conducting Orchestra Mozart in the Schubert Symphony No. 9 in C majorThe Great’. Assembled at live concerts in 2011 at Bologna Auditorium Manzoni and also Bolzano Auditorium the audio result feels seamless. In the assured hands of Abbado and the Orchestra Mozart I haven’t heard a more beautifully played and recorded account of the Schubert Symphony No. 9 than this gold standard Deutsche Grammophon release.

Gaetano DONIZETTI Don Pasquale - John Del Carlo, Anna Netrebko, Metropolitan Opera Ch & O/James Levine rec. 2010 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 0734645 Blu-ray

Originally released in 2011, I only came upon this Blu-ray of Donizetti’s enduring comedy favourite Don Pasquale for review fairly recently. I admit being rather sceptical how soprano Anna Netrebko would handle the comedy role of Norina but she gives a terrific performance. Equally impressive is the treasurable John Del Carlo in the role of elderly bachelor Don Pasquale. Otto Schenk’s astute staging is captured superbly by video director Gary Halvorson. For unadulterated entertainment this live Met production is an absolute buffo delight from start to finish.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Symphonies 5 & 7 - Pittsburgh SO/Manfred Honeck rec. 2014 REFERENCE RECORDINGS FR-718 SACD

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Manfred Honeck is on world class form with Beethoven’s Symphonies No’s 5 and 7. This release only arrived a short time ago but its merits were evident immediately. In these live accounts one senses an elevated level of musical intelligence from Honeck together with an unyielding structural coherence. Outstandingly performed and recorded this special Reference Recordings release conducted by Manfred Honeck sits comfortably alongside the finest recordings in the catalogue.

Alexander SCRIABIN Symphonies 3 & 4 - London SO/Valery Gergiev rec. 2014 LSO LIVE LSO0771 SACD

The hundredth anniversary year of the death of Alexander Scriabin falls in 2015. Fittingly comes this quite stunning new release from Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra of The Divine Poem and the Poem of Ecstasy on the LSO Live label Another very recent arrival I have been captivated by these thrilling live performances full of spectacular colour and I sense a rarely achieved, special connection between performers and Scriabin’s enigmatic sound world.

Giacomo PUCCINI Turandot - Mlada Khudoley, Riccardo Massi, Vienna SO/Paolo Carignani rec. 2015 C MAJOR 731504 Blu-ray

Of the Puccini operas Turandot seems best suited to a spectacular production and surely there is none more magnificent than this staging on the vast floating stage on Lake Constance from the Bregenz Festival. Marco Arturo Marelli’s production replicates the Great Wall of China, terracotta in colour and brightly lit, in a dragon shape has battlements 72 metres long by 27 metres high with two towers and a life-size terracotta army of 200 plus figures. This creation of an outdoor visual and audio spectacular for opera lovers is impressively captured by video director Felix Breisach. An extremely well chosen cast includes standout performances from tenor Riccardo Massi as Calaf and soprano Guanqun Yu as Liù.

John ADAMS Absolute Jest, Grand Pianola Music - San Francisco SO/Michael Tilson Thomas, John Adams rec. 2013/15 SFS MEDIA SACD SFS0063

At the 2015 Musikfest Berlin I reported from the German première of John Adams’s Absolute Jest and this album has been recorded by the same forces the Saint Lawrence String Quartet and San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas. Adams, the acceptable face of minimalism, describes the captivating Absolute Jest for string quartet and orchestra as “a colossal twenty-five minute Scherzo.” Here Adams displays his love of Beethoven string quartets by taking and cleverly developing material from the Scherzos of the String Quartets, Op. 131, 135 and the Große Fuge, together with the Seventh and Ninth Symphonies and ‘WaldsteinSonata. Unconventionally scored for two pianos, wind, percussion and three amplified female voices in Grand Pianola Music Adams employs whimsical, eclectic mix of styles which includes Sousa-like marches to Christian revivalist anthems. Superbly played and recorded this release will unquestionably appeal to a much wider audience than John Adams devotees.

Hubert Culot
Over the last twelve months I had the opportunity to listen to a number of CDs of quality so that it proved a rather difficult task to select just a handful of them for this year's Recordings of the Year. Since I had to decide which recordings to put forward I decided to choose them on the basis of the quality of the music, the quality of the recording and of the performances as well as the interest of the programmes that these discs offered. By so doing, I am perfectly conscious that this unashamedly subjective choice does leave many worthwhile recordings out of the game. Anyway, here they are.

Mátyás SEIBER Ulysses, Elegy, Three Fragments - Alexander Young (tenor), BBC Chorus, London SO/David Atherton, Melos Ens rec. 1960/72 LYRITA SRCD348

Seiber's achievement seems now to be re-assessed through some recent recordings of his music. I think of the fairly recent recording of his three string quartets on Delphian. Now, this Lyrita release fills an important gap in Seiber's discography with a very fine broadcast performance of his cantata Ulysses as well as with a most welcome reissue of works recorded long ago by Decca. This release is a clear must for anyone interested in Seiber's often beautiful music.

Sir Arthur BLISS Madame Noy, Rout, The Enchantress, The Beatitudes - Heather Harper (soprano) Pamela Bowden (contralto) Gerald English (tenor) BBC SO & Ch/Sir Arthur Bliss, Rudolf Schwarz rec. 1957-64  LYRITA REAM1115

Not long after Dutton's release of the broadcast of the work's first performance in Coventry which was useful but somewhat unsatisfactory, Lyrita has a far better performance AND recording to offer here. This fairly generous disc also adds a few rarities such as the scena The Enchantress which is not an easy work to perform in a satisfactory way. I am delighted to record that this performance by Pamela Bowden and the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Rudolf Schwarz is a real ear-opener.

Walter LEIGH Jolly Roger - Neilson Taylor, Alan Dudley, Vernon Midgley, Ambrosian Singers, BBC Concert O/Ashley Lawrence rec. 1972 LYRITA REAM2116

Walter Leigh's career was tragically cut short but this did not prevent him to compose a good deal of music, although much of it consists of short works. This is why I welcome this recorded broadcast of his comic opera Jolly Roger, a somewhat longer work in which Leigh was able to deploy all his composing skills vocal and instrumental as well. This comic opera is really great fun from first to last and one often finds oneself humming along. This most welcome release unquestionably adds to one's appreciation of Leigh's musical skills.

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Dona nobis pacem Stephen HOUGH Missa Mirabilis - Sarah Fox, Christopher Maltman, Colorado SO Á Ch/Andrew Litton rec. 2014 HYPERION CDA68096

The appeal of this superb release is twofold: first, Andrew Litton conducts a magnificent reading of Vaughan Williams' Dona nobis pacem. Composed in 1936 as an occasional work of sorts this cantata has never lost any of its topicality for we do not live in a better world now than in the 1930's. Second, this release also offers a very fine 'fill-up' in the form of Stephen Hough's Missa Mirabilis heard here in its orchestral guise. This is deeply honest and sincere music that sometimes briefly harks back to Poulenc's large-scale choral-orchestral works, but none the worse for it, I hasten to say. Both works are superbly well served by all concerned and the recording is first-class throughout.

Carlo GESUALDO DA VENOSA Moro lasso, O crux benedicta Brett DEAN Carlo Erkki-Sven TÜÜR L'ombra della croce, Psalmody - Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Ch, Tallinn CO/Tõnu Kaljuste rec. 2014 ECM NEW SERIES 2452

This is a cleverly planned disc in which Gesualdo is the red thread, so to say, since two of his short choral works heard here in transcriptions for strings, each one providing material for a piece by Brett Dean and by Erkki-Sven Tüür respectively. The last item, though, is in no way connected to Gesualdo's music but rather presents a recent thought of the composer on one of his early works. Again, excellent engineering and – more importantly – superb and committed performances.

Robert Farr
Two years ago my choices were significantly influenced by the fact that it was the Verdi and Wagner bicentenary anniversary year, the former being a particular interest of mine as is reflected by my four-part conspectus of the life of the composer and recordings of his works published on this site. Last year, singers and a couple of Donizetti operas featured, four being of video and two of CD issues. This year there is a significant reduction in the number of discs I am choosing from, forty-nine to thirty seven. This does not so much reflect my ageing, or lethargy, but a lack of product within my realms of interest, or expertise, these being in operatic singers, the works of Verdi and the bel-canto opera composers in particular. Another significant influencing factor is my lack of interest in seeing opera performances on video involving producers who are more interested in their concept than the composer’s intentions, as seems increasingly the case in performances from mainland Europe in particular, but has now expanded to Britain and America. Of course this does not affect CD recordings and these feature equally with DVD/Bluray in my list this year. Only to half of my selections this year did I not award the imprimatur of Recording of the Month. 

Ailyn Perez (soprano) & Stephen Costello (tenor) Love Duets - BBC SO/Patrick Summers  rec. 2013 WARNER CLASSICS 2564 633485

A very warm welcome to this husband and wife duo’s first recording. This CD’s content offers a wide selection of items showing off their individual and combined vocal skills to perfection. Both are now appearing at some of the best operatic addresses.

Georges BIZET Les pêcheurs de perles - Patrizia Ciofi, Dmitry Korchak, Ch & O Teatro di San Carlo/Gabriele Ferro rec. 2012 C MAJOR 719608 DVD

Published as two reviews by Rob Maynard on and myself on Bluray and DVD, and despite some lack of Gallic style, I joined my colleague in welcoming a tuneful opera too rarely performed. Those who admire the work, as I do, should note that it can be seen at cinemas in a transmission of a new production from New York’s Metropolitan Opera in January 2016. The work has much more to it than that famous duet recording by Robert Merrill and Jussi Bjorling.

Gaetano DONIZETTI Les Martyrs - Michael Spyres, Joyce El-Khoury, O Age of Enlightenment/Sir Mark Elder rec. 2014 OPERA RARA ORC52

Opera Rara continue to fill the gaps in the catalogue of Donizetti operas with another well-recorded performance, issued on CD, and which enables a full appreciation of the composer’s qualities and achievement in this late work.  

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART La Finta Gardiniera - Carlo Allemano, Erin Morley, Le Concert d'Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm rec. 2014 ERATO 2564 616645 DVD

Mozart isn’t only about the Da Ponte trilogy! This work by the eighteen-year-old composer is of a wonderfully simplistic staging and direction of this rarely performed work. Add outstanding singer acting being matched in the pit for certain DVD enjoyment.

Gaetano DONIZETTI La Favorite - Yijie Shi, Kate Aldrich, Ch & O Capitole Theatre Toulouse/Antonello Allemandi  rec. 2014 OPUS ARTE OABD7165D Blu-ray

On Bluray, another opera that Donizetti staged in Paris features French-speaking Ludovoc Tezier, very much the lyric baritone of the moment, alongside a good cast albeit the production lacks some vitality.

Jonas Kaufmann (tenor) Nessun Dorma: The Puccini Album - O Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Antonio Pappano rec. 2014 SONY 88765 092482

Singing of power, expression and tonal variety from the tenor of the present generation that does justice to the wide variety of the composer’s creations. A luxury CD presentation with a DVD extra is available too.

Göran Forsling

Britta BYSTRÖM Picnic at Hanging Rock, A Walk after Dark, Invisible Cities - Ellen Nisbeth (viola)  Malmö SO, Swedish RSO/Daniel Blendulf  rec. 2013/14 DAPHNE 1046

Beautiful contemporary music that also tells stories. Masterly solo playing by Ellen Nisbeth.

Franz LISZT The Complete Songs Vol. 3 - Gerald Finley (bass-baritone) Julius Drake (piano) rec. 2013 HYPERION CDA67956

Gerald Finley takes over the baton for the third section of Hyperion’s relay race through the complete songs of Franz Liszt. After Matthew Polenzani’s and Angelica Kirchschlager’s excellent achievements Finley confirms that Hyperion has a winning team. He is superb!

Arias for Domenico Gizzi Roberta Invernizzi (soprano) I Turchini/Antonio Florio rec. 2014 GLOSSA GCD922608

You may not know many of the composers represented here, but they were highly esteemed in their lifetime and wrote great music that should appeal to a wide audience even today – in particular since Roberta Invernizzi, “The Queen of Baroque Opera”, sings it so marvellously.

Camilla Tilling (soprano) I skogen - Paul Rivinius (piano) rec. 2014 BIS BIS-2154 SACD

For her third song recital for BIS, Camilla Tilling has botanized among, basically, lesser known songs by the greatest Nordic song composers of the early 20th century. But make no mistake: these are eminently attractive flowers and they are sung with the utmost delicacy.

Lars Karlin (trombone) A Swedish Trombone Wilderness rec. 2014 GENUIN GEN15337

Stunning trombone playing! “Wilderness” may seem discouraging but there are contemporary or near-contemporary gems here aplenty. Thrilling, sometimes provocative but highly entertaining.

Arias for Benucci Matthew Rose (baritone) Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen rec. 2013 HYPERION CDA68078

A delicious bouquet of riveting arias – rarities as well as nice old friends – sung with the utmost finesse and vocal splendour.

Paul Corfield Godfrey
As in previous years I have restricted my selection to issues that I myself have reviewed, and have excluded reissues of material that has previously been available. Even so, once again I have had to omit some discs of real merit, such as the Villa-Lobos Symphony 10 on Naxos (a valuable reminder of a work that does not deserve total neglect), the Brahms Serenades under Riccardo Chailly on Decca (a worthy appendage to the same conductor’s set of the symphonies), and the compendium of Luke Whitlock’s music on Divine Art (which contains some really approachable modern music which should provide pleasure to all). The issues I have finally selected contain works which are to be recommended both for their contribution to the representation of otherwise unrecorded music in the catalogue or, in two cases, for the exceptional quality of the performances.

John METCALF Under Milk Wood - Wyn Davies rec. 2014 TŶ CERDD TCR013

I was delighted to receive a recording, made under studio conditions, of the opera which so impressed me when I heard the first performance in Cardiff last year. The fact that the work bids to establish itself in the repertoire was testified to by the inclusion of a question about it on the BBC Radio 4 quiz Counterpoint this year!

Michael HURD The Aspern Papers, The Night of the Wedding - Owen Gilhooly, Nicholas Morton, Ulster O/George Vass, Ronald Corp rec. 2011/14 LYRITA SRCD2350

Another opera, this time one that has languished in obscurity since its first run of performances but is a piece that is both enjoyable in its own right and (one hopes) ripe for revival following this recording.

Jean ROGER-DUCASSE Piano music - Martin Jones rec. 2013/14 NIMBUS NI5927

The piano works of Roger-Ducasse have hardly ever been performed, let alone recorded, and although the quality of the music is variable this compendium performs a valuable service to interested listeners.

Franz SCHUBERT Fierrabras - Michael Schade, Julia Kleiter, Vienna PO/Ingo Metzmacher rec. 2014 C MAJOR 730708 DVD

I include this video from the Salzburg Festival not only because it makes a marvellous case musically for the opera, but also because the production – which was unfairly slated by some critics – seems to me to be ideal in practically every respect.

Jean SIBELIUS Pelléas et Mélisande - Turku PO/Leif Segerstam rec. 2014 NAXOS 8.573301

One of the highlights of the year has been the series of Segerstam’s Sibelius incidental music with the Turku Philharmonic, which does the composer the service of taking his tempo markings at face value. All of the issues are valuable, this one particularly so even though some of the speeds are controversially slow.

Toivo KUULA Festive March, South Ostrobothnian Suites, Prelude and Fugue - Turku PO/Leif Segerstam rec. 2015 ONDINE ODE12702

The music of Kuula really deserves revival, and this release includes nearly all of the orchestral music in superb performances and recording. Even those who bought the earlier Dutton release should listen to this new disc as well.

Stephen Greenbank

Mátyás SEIBER Ulysses, Elegy, Three Fragments - Alexander Young (tenor), BBC Chorus, London SO/David Atherton, Melos Ens rec. 1960/72 LYRITA SRCD348

I have amassed quite a collection of Lyrita recordings over the years, both on LP and CD. I have yet to encounter one that disappoints. Yet, despite the high artistic quality of their releases this one, which I have recently reviewed, is one of their high points. None of the music I had heard before, and it has been a revelation to discover these wonderfully rich and imaginative scores. The Three Fragments are my favourite.

Felix MENDELSSOHN Piano Trios - Sitkovetsky Trio rec. 2014 BIS BIS-2109 SACD

Both myself and David Barker gave this release a Recording of the Month accolade, and it certainly deserves it. The Sitkovetsky Trio give compelling, deeply-committed performances. The BIS engineers have attained top-notch sound and balance. I have perhaps listened to this review disc more than any other I have been sent. Alexander Sitkovetsky and the pianist Wu Qian also play together as the Sitkovetsky Duo and their recent recording of sonatas on the Limen Label I was lucky enough to review and, yes, it too was a Recording of the Month.

Mattia Battistini (baritone) The Complete Recordings rec. 1902-1924 rec. 1910/11 MARSTON 56002-2

For lovers of historical vocal recordings, this 6 CD set of the Complete Mattia Battistini from the Marston label will be manna from heaven. These audio restorations have been a labour of love for Ward Marston and J. Richard Harris. Now Battistini’s rich baritone voice can be heard in all it’s glory. The excellent accompanying documentation, including photographs of the artist, make this an extremely desirable acquisition.

Alois HÁBA Complete String Quartets - Hába Qt rec. 2003/6 NEOS 11001-04

I’ve known Alois Hába’s complete String Quartets for some time from the pioneering accounts made by the Stamitz Quartet on Bayer Records in the 1990s. They are now showing their age, and these new recordings from the eponymous Hába Quartet, on the contemporary Neos Label, present these richly constructed works in state-of-the-art sound. I prefer the Hábas for their sense of abandon, freshness, spontaneity and a less cautious and less reverential approach. This is music crying out for a larger audience.

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY & Felix MENDELSSOHN Violin Concertos - Fumiaki Miura (violin) Deutsches SO Berlin/Hannu Lintu rec. 2015 AVEX AVCL25878

It’s always gratifying to encounter a young artist who has that extra special something. Fumiaki Miura is one such violinist. At only 22, he commands formidable technical skill, profound musicianship and a maturity of vision. I’m sure he will go far. This concerto recording debut ranks as one of most satisfying accounts of this perennial pairing I have heard, and worthily has a place on the shelves next to my favourite versions. His Prokofiev Violin Sonatas with Itamar Golan which he recorded back in 2010 for Sony (his very first recording) are equally impressive.

Johann Sebastian BACH Mass in B minor - Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen rec. 2013 HYPERION CDA68051/2

This account from Hyperion of Bach’s Mass in B minor by Arcangelo directed, from the harpsichord, by Jonathan Cohen is one of the finest I’ve encountered. Moderate-sized forces are employed, with a choir of twenty, employing four to a part, and five soloists. Cohen uses a counter-tenor for the alto parts rather than a female alto. The orchestra is a mix of period and modern instruments, and is very effective. St. Mary’s Church, Tetbury provides an ideally warm, spacious and airy acoustic. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Michael Greenhalgh

Johann Sebastian BACH Violin Concertos - Alina Ibragimova (violin) Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen rec. 2014 HYPERION CDA68068

Taking the A minor concerto as an example, it begins with precision, pace, spontaneity yet also an underlying relaxation from both Ibragimova and Arcangelo. Not reverential Bach, it’s impish at times, but equally reveals sensitive shading. The slow movement is exquisite, mellifluous and yearning while the finale has more than a touch of gypsy abandon.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Symphonies 5 & 6 - Royal PO/Felix Weingartner rec. 1927 PRISTINE AUDIO PASC399

Using a small body of strings, there’s great clarity and transparency of texture in Weingartner’s 1927 recording of the Pastoral symphony. The sureness of phrasing throughout, appreciable line, how paragraphs are built yet progress seamlessly, with everything done in an unassuming manner, is masterly, creating a satisfying sense of wholeness of expression.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Symphonies 5 & 7 - Pittsburgh SO/Manfred Honeck rec. 2014 REFERENCE RECORDINGS FR-718 SACD

These live performances are raw, uncompromising and compelling. The opening of Symphony 5 grotesquely contrasts the ‘Fate motif’ and timid strings’ response but the extreme dynamics are Beethoven’s, likewise the opening of Symphony 7 where bludgeoning power vies with pleading for calm. The seventh’s slow movement is contorted anguish, its finale demonic drive.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Violin Concertos - Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin) Bavarian RSO/Radoslaw Szulc rec. 2014 HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD98.039

Great variety here. Concerto 1 moves from spruce, convivial virtuoso display to an expansive, reflective slow movement showcasing Zimmerman’s golden tone before a flourishing finale. Concerto 3 begins incisively before the melting fragility of its slow movement and robust, purposive finale. Concerto 4 starts arresting and dainty by turns before a serenely contemplative slow movement and cheeky finale.

Franz SCHUBERT String Quartets - Quatuor Terpsycordes rec. 2015 AMBRONAY AMY044

A breathtaking demonstration of the impact and clarity that can be achieved from performance on period instruments when Schubert’s extreme dynamic contrasts and contrasts of mood are realized thrillingly. Whether quicksilver scherzo or lullaby trio, Quatuor Terpsycordes convey the full measure of Schubert’s broad paragraphs and the fiery finale is all legerdemain.

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS A Sea Symphony - Katherine Broderick, Roderick Williams, Hallé Ch & O/Sir Mark Elder rec. 2014 HALLÉ CDHLL7542

A great live recording: from the opening acclamation there’s both freshness and edge. A vast expanse is vividly realized in the slow movement with sensitive use of semi chorus and detail of orchestration. The exciting scherzo almost physically embodies a seascape. The finale has both a reverence and intimacy of contemplation.

Ian Lace
Alas, this was not such a rewarding year as far as I am concerned. Too few CDs that came my way to prompt me to award ‘Recording of the Month’. And for the first time my list has not included one CD devoted to British Music.

Patricia Petibon (soprano) La Belle Excentrique Susan Manoff (piano) rec. 2013 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 2465

This is perfection: it’s fun, it’s comic and it’s poignant and romantic. It's performed to perfection by Patricia Petibon who colours her voice to suit all the moods with unashamed abandonment and great élan.

Sergei RACHMANINOV Symphonic Dances, Suites - Natalia Lavrova and Vassily Primakov (piano duo) rec. 2013 LP CLASSICS 1019

Natalia Lavrova and Vassily Primakov are quite inspired: their playing technically secure, poetic and beautifully nuanced. They are exceptionally sensitive to the music, to each other’s line and they blend so well. Their readings have strength, delicacy and understanding of, and sympathy for Rachmaninov’s idiom.

Jean SIBELIUS Symphonies 1-7 - Lahti SO/Okko Kamu rec. 2012/14 BIS BIS2076 SACD

As my colleague Dan Morgan says, “Kamu’s distinguished Sibelius joins Vänskä’s at the top of the tree; formidable engineering, too” Need I say more?

Carl NIELSEN Symphonies 1-6 - BBC Philharmonic/John Storgårds rec. 2012-15 CHANDOS CHAN10859

These are intense and memorable performances with an outstanding, exciting and colourful ‘Sinfonia espansiva’ and a ferociously energetic, yet life-affirming ‘Inextinguishable’ Symphony No. 4. All in all, a distinguished, top drawer set.

Jules MASSENET Les amoureuses sont des folles - Sally Silver (soprano) Christine Tocci (mezzo); Nico Darmanin (tenor); Richard Bonynge (piano) Gabriella Swallow (cello) rec. 2014 SOMM SOMMCD0151

Pure delight. What a pity that these lovely songs are not better known. Here is proof, if ever there was need for such, of Massenet’s masterly lyrical invention for the female voice and of his richly descriptive writing for the piano.

Rob Maynard
My choices this year are almost exclusively of ballet. While new releases may be fewer in number, we remain fortunate that the producers of DVDs and Blu-ray discs continue to make the best modern productions available, as well as reviving - and in some cases using modern technology to bring new life to - a few gems from the past.

Daniel-François-Esprit AUBER Marco Spada - Bolshoi Ballet & Theatre O/Alexey Bogorad  rec. 2014 BELAIR CLASSIQUES BAC413 Blu-ray

This entry in the Bel Air Classiques Bolshoi Ballet HD Collection fully lives up to the high standards set by earlier releases in the series. Charismatic American dancer David Hallberg heads a strong cast that gives its all to Pierre Lacotte's latest revival and actually makes us care about the story's even more than usually nonsensical twists and turns. A strong contender for the very finest ballet release of the year.

Adolphe ADAM Le Corsaire - English National Ballet & O/Gavin Sutherland rec. 2014 OPUS ARTE OA1147D DVD

Former Royal Ballet star Tamara Rojo took the helm of English National Ballet and inaugurated her new regime with this brand new production of Le corsaire. It may well be 1001-nights style hokum, but it proved to be a critical and popular triumph. Its glamour and dash - and the opportunities it offers for virtuoso display - guarantee an entertaining couple of hours in a version as accomplished and well danced as this one.

Pyotr Il'yich TCHAIKOVSKY Jean-Christophe Maillot's 'Lac' - Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, Saint Louis SO/Leonard Slatkin rec. 2013 OPUS ARTE OA1148D DVD

Jean-Christophe Maillot's radical reimagining of Swan Lake buzzes with ferocious energy yet ultimately retains the story's emotional heft. The Monte Carlo company's immense commitment and impressive technique are demonstrated to the full in Denis Caïozzi's imaginative direction for video.

Franz LISZT Piano concertos 1 & 2 - Alexandre Kantorow (piano) Tapiola Sinfonietta/Jean-Jacques Kantorow rec. 2014 BIS BIS2100 SACD

Teenager Alexandre Kantorow offers distinctive and thought-provoking accounts of Liszt's two piano concertos and, for good measure, throws in the Malédiction for piano and strings. His father Jean-Jacques Kantorow and the Tapiola Sinfonietta lend sympathetic support and everything is captured in BIS's finest sound. There is no need to make allowances for the soloist's age: his version is up there with its finest rivals.

Ballets Français Broadcast 1955-65 VAI 4583 DVD  

Re-released once again, this valuable historical record preserves Alexandra Danilova's only professionally-filmed full length ballet - the endearing 12 minutes rom-com Mademoiselle Fifi. Violette Verdy's striking performance in Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet is also well worth rescuing from Canadian TV's vaults and reminds us what small-screen viewers were fortunate enough to be able to watch pretty regularly in the 1950s.

On with the Dance! Royal PO, Royal Opera House O/Sir Malcolm Sargent rec. 1960-62 GUILD HISTORICAL GHCD2421

A welcome reissue of some long-forgotten tracks reinforces Guild's efforts to revive Sir Malcolm Sargent's critical reputation. Remembered primarily today as a superlative choral conductor, Sargent's repertoire was surprisingly wide-ranging and he regularly led staged ballet performances. Here he demonstrates real sympathy with dancers' - and the composers' - requirements, as well as his skill as an orchestrator in an enjoyably colourful version of Les sylphides.

Ralph Moore
I have to say that for me 2015 has been rather a lean year for really outstanding recordings, the catalogue being dominated by repackaged re-issues, themed compilations  and, as far as my tastes go,  the works of increasingly obscure composers. However, two chamber music releases provide definitive recordings of music both rare and familiar compositions by Bruckner, Brahms and Zemslinsky.

Anton BRUCKNER String Quintet, Intermezzo, String Quartet - Fitzwilliam String Qt, James Boyd (viola) rec. 2010/11 LINN CKD402

My October Record of the Month presents all of Bruckner's significant chamber music on one superbly performed and engineered CD.

Johannes BRAHMS Clarinet Quintet Alexander ZEMLINSKY Clarinet Trio - Emma Johnson (clarinet) John Lenehan (piano) Michelangelo Qt rec. 2013 NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI6310

My June Record of the Month has identical virtues of beautiful recorded sound and admirable virtuosity.

Dorothea Röschmann (soprano) Portraits Lieder by Schubert, Schumann, Strauss & Wolf - Malcolm Martineau (piano) rec. 2013 SONY 88883 785852

In the vocal field, I was deeply impressed by this recital from an artist whom, it seems to me, has not been given her full due. It is a survey of women in Romantic Lieder; I urge admirers to acquire both this and her latest recording, a collaboration with Dame Mistuko Uchida in Schumann song cycles which has been issued too late to be included in this survey.

Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV The Tsar's Bride - Evgeny Nesterenko, Galina Vishnevskaya, Ch & O Bolshoi Theatre/Fuat Mansurov rec. 1973 MELODIYA MELCD1001876

I found opera recordings over the year to be largely uninspiring but I recomend this re-issue. It is a thoroughly idiomatic account of a rarer item featuring some great Russian voices from the 1970's.

Angela Gheorghiu (soprano) Autograph rec. 1988-2013 WARNER CLASSICS 2564 619047
José van Dam (bass-baritone) Autograph rec. 1974–97 ERATO 2564 619049

Another two mammoth vocal compilations which gave me great pleasure offer a fitting tribute to two of the greatest singers of our times. 

Dan Morgan
Let’s start with this year’s big composer anniversaries: Carl Nielsen, Jean Sibelius and Alexander Scriabin. First off, we had mixed sets of the Nielsen symphonies from John Storgårds (Chandos), Alan Gilbert (Dacapo) and Sakari Oramo (BIS), not to mention a sparkling Maskarade from Michael Schønwandt and a charming album of a cappella choral pieces from Ars Nova Copenhagen (both Dacapo). Among the stand-out Sibelius issues of 2015 was the Okko Kamu/Lahti box of symphonies (BIS). Notable new Scriabin releases included Garrick Ohlsson’s Poèmes (Hyperion). Other memorable items: a surprisingly good Rachmaninov Second Symphony from Valery Gergiev (LSO Live), unexpurgated Shostakovich cantatas from Paavo Järvi (Erato), radiant Berlioz from Riccardo Muti (CSO Resound) and Sally Beamish’s inventive and affecting new album The Singing (BIS). There were plenty of solo piano recordings too; Stephen Hough’s Grieg (Hyperion) comes to mind, as do these three sparklers from BIS - Kathryn Stott’s Solitaires, Sonja Fräki’s Aho and Nicolas Stavy’s Tishchenko. Unexpected treats? A tasty selection of Jongen’s orchestral music from Liège (Musique en Wallonie) and a refreshing programme of organ works from Richard Gagné (ATMA Classique).

Organ Polychrome – The French School - Jan Kraybill (organ) rec. 2013 REFERENCE RECORDINGS RR-133

This is my top pick for 2015. Reference Recordings have a reputation for top-notch engineering, but that wouldn’t count for much without performances of equal stature. Indeed, Jan Kraybill’s exemplary musicianship and the lovely sound of this noble Kansas City instrument make this one of the finest organ recordings I know. Period.

Alexander SCRIABIN Symphony 1, Poème de l’extase - Conservatory Chamber Ch, Russian Ntl O/Mikhail Pletnev rec. 2014 PENTATONE PTC5186514 SACD

For me this was the highlight of the Scriabin centenary. Mikhail Pletnev and the Russian National Orchestra have pretty much swept the board with this truly sumptuous pairing of the Third Symphony and the Poème de l’extase. Even more impressive is Polyhymnia’s engineering. This augurs well for the rest of the series.

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony 7 - Russian Ntl O/Paavo Järvi rec. 2014 PENTATONE PTC5186511 SACD

The Russian National Orchestra also featured in Paavo Järvi’s ‘paradigm shifting’ account of Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony. You simply won’t hear a more thoughtful and revealing performance of the Leningrad than this. Thanks to Polyhymnia the music emerges with startling fidelity and impact.

Carl NIELSEN Symphonies 2 & 6 - Royal Stockholm P/Sakari Oramo rec. 2014 BIS-2128 SACD

To my eternal shame I dismissed the first instalment of Sakari Oramo’s Nielsen symphony cycle, only for him to produce a Second and Sixth hot from the forging fire. These are now my preferred versions of The Four Temperaments and Sinfonia Semplice. The recording is both vivid and fearless.

Jean SIBELIUS Piano Music from Ainola - Folke Gräsbeck (piano) rec. 2014 BIS BIS-2132 SACD

What better way to celebrate Sibelius’s 150th birthday than with Folke Gräsbeck playing the composer’s own piano at Ainola? Quite apart from these sensitive and idiomatic performances – which reveal just how accomplished this music really is – Take 5’s Jens Braun achieved a minor miracle with these in situ sessions.

Alexander SCRIABIN Piano Sonata 3 Modest MUSSORGSKY Pictures from an Exhibition,  Night on a Bare Mountain - Alessio Bax (piano) rec. 2015 SIGNUM RECORDS SIGCD426

For me this has been The Year of the Piano, with a number of fine recordings of 19th-, 20th- and 21st-century repertoire. It was a tough call, but in the end I had to choose Alessio Bax’s selection of pieces by Mussorgsky and Scriabin. These are fresh, very idiomatic readings that make the music seem newly minted. Lovely tactile sound.

John Quinn
I was fortunate that once again a number of high quality recordings came my way. As usual, the challenge has been to trim down the (rather long) shortlist to a final selection of just six recordings. Among those which narrowly missed out on inclusion were Sir Andrew Davis’s fine new Chandos recording of Morning Heroes by Bliss and another superb Chandos recording on which Charles Bruffy conducted Rachmaninov’s All-night Vigil. Two splendid recordings of Soviet symphonies came from Andrew Litton (Prokofiev’s Fifth) and Andris Nelsons (Shostakovich’s 10th). With equal regret I passed over the premiere recording of James MacMillan’s St Luke Passion. The splendid disc of music by Parry from the Choir of Westminster Abbey and James O’Donnell is another disc that so nearly made the final list. I almost chose the spectacular disc of music by John Taverner from Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars; in the end by the narrowest of margins their disc of music by Arvo Pärt won through. My selections are in alphabetical order and if you acquire any of them I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.

Johann Sebastian BACH Cantata 63, Magnificat - Dunedin Consort/John Butt rec. 2014 LINN CKD469 SACD

John Butt and his Dunedin Consort offer a putative reconstruction of Christmas Day Vespers as it might have been celebrated in Leipzig in 1723. The service includes the Magnificat in its E-flat version and the cantata Christen, ätzet diesen Tag, BWV 63. Everything about this release – performances, sound, documentation and, of course, the music – is first rate. Listen to the magnificent opening chorus of Christen, ätzet diesen Tag and be swept away!

Havergal BRIAN The Tigers - BBC Singers, BBC SO/Lionel Friend rec. 1983 TESTAMENT SBT31496

Testament and the Havergal Brian Society have done an inestimable service in issuing the 1983 BBC studio broadcast of Brian’s kaleidoscopic opera. This is still, I believe, the only complete performance ever given. The score is amazingly inventive and rich in humour. The performance is splendid and Testament have really gone to town with their presentation. This release was a major event in 2015 and I found listening to it an enthralling experience.

Carl NIELSEN Maskarade - Danish Ntl SO & Ch/Michael Schønwandt  rec. 2014 DACAPO 6.220641-42 SACD

Dacapo’s recording of Maskarade must rank very highly indeed among the Nielsen 150th anniversary issues. The singing by the entire cast is superb and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra plays marvellously. Michael Schønwandt’s terrific conducting clearly energised everyone. I thoroughly enjoyed this set which is surely the happiest celebration on disc of the Nielsen anniversary.

Arvo PÄRT Tintinnabuli - The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips GIMELL CDGIM049

Issued to mark the 80th birthday of Arvo Pärt, this disc offers an excellent selection of his unaccompanied choral music in outstanding performances. As I said in my original review, the singing is beyond reproach and the Tallis Scholars penetrate to the heart of Arvo Pärt’s music.

Maximilian STEINBERG Passion Week Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Chant Arrangements for Holy Week - Cappella Romana/Alexander Lingas rec. 2014 CAPPELLA ROMANA CR414-CD

This was my discovery of the year. Passion Week consists of settings for unaccompanied choir of hymns from the Orthodox services of Holy Week. The sheer beauty of Steinberg’s music makes a great impression and the work is wonderfully served by the excellent performance from Alexander Lingas and his expert singers. Passion Week is one of the finest and most moving Orthodox settings that I’ve encountered and I was excited by getting to know it.

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS A Sea Symphony - Katherine Broderick, Roderick Williams, Hallé Ch & O/Sir Mark Elder rec. 2014 HALLÉ CDHLL7542

The latest instalment in the Hallé/Elder Vaughan Williams cycle is an out and out winner. Elder leads a wonderful performance that does full justice to VW’s ambitious score. The live recording is very fine and achieves an excellent balance between the orchestra and the large choir.

Brian Reinhart

Anton ARENSKY Piano Quintet, String Quartet 2, Piano Trio 1 - Spectrum Concerts Berlin rec. 2014 NAXOS 8.573317

Probably now the one Arensky CD everyone must own, a treasury of some of the best-ever Russian Romantic chamber music. (That string quartet with two cellos - the only thing more gorgeous is the Borodin quartet.) And these are defining performances by a starry cast of Russian soloists.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Symphonies 5 & 7 - Pittsburgh SO/Manfred Honeck rec. 2014 REFERENCE RECORDINGS FR-718 SACD

The bar is very, very high for any Beethoven symphony album that wants to be a Recording of the Year. And the bar just got much higher, thanks to state-of-the-art sound, performances that are both deeply thoughtful and thrilling, and probably the best booklet notes I've ever read.

Dreams and Prayers Works by Beethoven, Hildegard, Golijov & Sanlikol - A Far Cry; David Krakauer (clarinet) rec. 2013 CRIER RECORDS CR1401

Beethoven, Hildegard, Golijov: an exciting Boston chamber orchestra assembles a fascinating collection of music from mystic spiritual traditions. And they play it to the hilt. Star turn from klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer; what are you waiting for? Discoveries await!

Vera Gornostaeva (piano) Works by Liszt, Schubert & Schumann - rec. 1968-79 LP CLASSICS 1012

One of the joys of reviewing is discovering new music and new artists. Only 2-3 discoveries in my time at MusicWeb have been as exciting as Vera Gornostaeva, a Soviet-era pianist who taught Pogorelich but is otherwise forgotten. These live recordings are highlighted by Schubert playing that rivals her colleague, Sviatoslav Richter.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Violin Concertos - Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin) Bavarian RSO/Radoslaw Szulc rec. 2014 HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD98.039

Violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann and the Bavarian Radio Symphony's chamber ensemble strike an ideal balance between period-instrument influences and a great modern orchestra. Sheer joy.

Jean SIBELIUS Piano Music from Ainola - Folke Gräsbeck (piano) rec. 2014 BIS BIS-2132 SACD

BIS CEO Robert von Bahr admitted, in an email, to "cringing" at the idea of recording this, since he didn't like the sound of Sibelius' own piano and performer Folke Gräsbeck had already recorded the music once. But Gräsbeck was right and von Bahr was (happily) wrong: this is magic, a glorious recital, in flawless sound.

Johan van Veen

Adoramus Te Motets, songs and consort music - Clare Wilkinson (mezzo)* Rose Consort of Viols rec. 2012 DEUX-ELLES DXL1155

An interesting recording in regard to performance practice because of the use of historical pronunciation and the scoring of sacred works with solo voice and viols. Clare Wilkinson's voice blends perfectly with the Rose Consort of Viols. Pretty much ideal interpretations.

Carlo GESUALDO da Venosa Responsoria 1611 - La Compagnia del Madrigale rec. 2013 GLOSSA GCD922803

La Compagnia del Madrigale underlines the similarity between Gesualdos responsories and his madrigals. The adopting of one voice per part allows for a personal colouring of the individual parts, a maximum transparency and as a result optimum clarity of the text. There is also more room for a certain amount of freedom in the shaping of the lines and stronger dynamic accents. This results in a compelling performance of these masterpieces.

Niccolò JOMMELLI Tirsi - Yetzabel Arias Fernández (soprano) Stile Galante/Stefano Aresi  rec. 2013 PAN CLASSICS PC10308

Yetzabel Arias Fernández sings these cantatas brilliantly and with impressive ease. Although she fully explores the emotions expressed by the protagonists she doesn't forget that she is not in the theatre. These performances are certainly dramatic when the music requires it but they also have a certain overlay of intimacy. As Jommelli's oeuvre is not that well known this disc is of major importance.

Pavana Works by Philips & Sweelinck - Kathryn Cok (harpsichord) rec. 2013 SFZ MUSIC SFZM0214

Kathryn Cok delivers superb interpretations. She makes the music breathe and even if she plays in a fast tempo her interpretation has a strong sense of balance. The tempi are always well-chosen: none of the pieces drags on, and none of them is rushed. There are some fine tempo inflections which create tension and underline the contrasts within the pieces.

Sulla Lira - The Voice of Orpheus Le Miroir de Musique rec. 2014 RICERCAR RIC354

A model of intelligent programming, exploring a field in the early music landscape which is otherwise hardly known. It is not only the music itself which makes this disc a winner but also the historical context. This is a lesson in music history the like of which one doesn't hear that often. The liner-notes are very helpful in gaining an understanding of what this repertoire is about. The performances are as good as one would wish.

Yo soy la locura Raquel Andueza (soprano) La Galanía rec. 2010 ANIMA E CORPO AEC001

The features of the Italian seconda prattica come to the fore in Spanish songs for one or several solo voices with accompaniment of the 17th century. Raquel Andueza is like a fish in water in this repertoire. From the word go you feel that this is her core business. It helps that she is a native Spanish speaker. This is a highly compelling survey of the repertoire of Spanish tonos humanos.

Brian Wilson

Johann Sebastian BACH Mass in b minor - Monteverdi Ch, English Baroque Soloists/Sir John Eliot Gardiner  rec. 2015 SOLI DEO GLORIA SDG722

This has been a very good year for Bach. I’m loth to set aside Alina Ibragimova in the Violin Concertos (Hyperion), but that and a very good performance of the B-minor Mass from Jonathan Cohen (also Hyperion) must yield to John Eliot Gardiner’s remake of the Mass, thirty years after his DG Archiv recording, for his own SDG label.

Johann Sebastian BACH Cantata 63, Magnificat - Dunedin Consort/John Butt rec. 2014 LINN CKD469 SACD

I must also include John Butt’s recording with his Dunedin Consort of the Magnificat and Christmas Cantata, No.63, on SACD or as a 24-bit download.

John TAVERNER Missa Corona Spinea - The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips GIMELL CDGIM046

From an earlier period I’m tempted to include Anne Boleyn’s Songbook (Obsidian, one of a very fine series of recordings by Alamire) but The Tallis Scholars’ recording of Taverner’s Missa Corona Spinea must take pride of place.

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS A Sea Symphony - Katherine Broderick, Roderick Williams, Hallé Ch & O/Sir Mark Elder rec. 2014 HALLÉ CDHLL7542

Two very fine recordings of Vaughan Williams Symphonies have come from Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé this year on their own label, of which I choose the triumphant new version of the Sea Symphony, challenging even the classic Boult, by a slight margin over the earlier release of the Pastoral Symphony.

Richard WAGNER Der Ring des Nibelungen - Vienna PO/Sir Georg Solti  rec. 1958-64 DECCA 4786748 BD-A

There have been many fine reissues this year. Though I’m tempted to include the BIS release of the complete Sibelius symphonies as a download for the first time at even less than the CD set, and much as I’d like to include the reissue of Pierre Monteux’s recording of Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony (Beulah), the clear favourite is the release on a single blu-ray audio disc of Sir Georg Solti’s complete Wagner Ring Cycle, offered in a hard-back book with the librettos and translations for not much more than half the price of the CDs.

Arvo PÄRT Tintinnabuli - The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips GIMELL CDGIM049

Just one choice to go and I’m going to have to make a difficult decision, setting aside Bliss’s Morning Heroes (Chandos), the first instalment of Beethoven’s String Quartets (Elias Quartet, Wigmore Hall), Smetana Quartets (Supraphon) and many others in favour of Arvo Pärt’s Tintinnabuli from The Tallis Scholars.

Jonathan Woolf
I’ve limited my choice to a Mighty Handful this year: one pianist, one cellist, one violinist – what a strange trio these three would make – and then a door-stopping box set, and a historical collection. I won’t tell you what I’m sorry to have omitted, let’s get straight on to what I have included.

Cyprien Katsaris (piano) 111 Piano Hits rec. 1970-2014 PIANO21 P21052N

From Pink Panther to Pomp and Circumstance, and from the Vienna Woods to the Warsaw Concerto: it has to be Cyprien Katsaris, pianist extraordinaire. I’ve selected this bulging, bizarre, brilliant 5-CD set as representative of Piano21’s output – this being Katsaris’ own label, naturally.  He’s certainly not a man to do things by halves.

Felix Salmond (cello) Works by Beethoven, Bizet, Chopin, Fauré, Pianelli & Pierné - Leonid Hambro, Simeon Rumschisky (piano) rec. 1927-48 PRISTINE AUDIO PACM099

The second and presumably final Felix Salmond release from Pristine restores a sequence of three Beethoven cello sonatas recorded in 1948 and long marooned on an obscure LP.  This is expert, thoughtful work, rightly saluting a great musician whose reputation had begun to be eclipsed by that of his august pupils.

Giacomo MEYERBEER Meyerbeer on Record Vol. 2 rec. 1899-1925 MARSTON 530122

This was published right at the beginning of the ROTY time period but I’ve not forgotten it. The first volume appeared around five years before that but the wait has been triumphantly vindicated.  Superb rarities, and stylistically varied vocalism have been entrusted to the hands of Marston’s outstanding restoration machinery with – needless to add - documentation to match.

Decca Sound The Mono Years 1944-1956 FFRR DECCA 4787946

I had to. It was my longest reviewing assignment of the year and one of my most pleasurable.  53 CDs of Decca FFRRs, recorded between 1944 and 1956. Yes, many are household discs, and there will be considerable duplication for those versed in the recordings who are faced with the dilemma as to whether to collar the lot – or not. At the price on offer, though, it’s hard to resist.

Bronisław Gimpel (violin) Concertos by Glazunov, Goldmark & Mendelssohn - South-West German Radio O/Hans Müller-Kray, Georg Solti, O Henri Pensis/Henri Pensis rec. 1951-57 MELOCLASSIC MC2020

I’ve always loved Bronisław Gimpel’s playing – such ardour, such expressive tone, such technical address. Here he is caught live, and playing as richly and ravishingly as ever largely, it must be said, in repertoire familiar from his commercial legacy. Never mind, as every scrap of Gimpel is precious. Can I sneakily suggest a non-reviewed Gimpel box on Audite as a very necessary additional purchase.    

Leslie Wright
With all the talk of the coming demise of classical recordings, I continue to be amazed by the breadth and depth of new releases each year. 2015 has been no exception and I am privileged to have reviewed many discs this year. It becomes increasingly difficult to single out the ones I have most admired, but I choose the following as my Recordings of the Year.

Johannes BRAHMS Violin Sonatas - Augustin Dumay (violin), Louis Lortie (piano) rec. 2014 ONYX 4133

This outstanding duo emphasize all the warmth and depth of these marvelous works and at the same time do not shortchange the listener on brilliance or drama. Onyx has given them recorded sound of one’s dreams.

Jean SIBELIUS The Essential Orchestral Favorites - Helsinki PO/Leif Segerstam rec. 1995-2007 ONDINE ODE12652D

Ondine’s release of reissued material commemorates the 150th anniversary of Sibelius’ birth. Leif Segerstam is a master interpreter of the Finnish composer and the performances here reflect that. However, what makes this disc essential is the special production with a 25-page album of photos, biographical information, and chronology of the composer’s life.

Leoš JANÁČEK Glagolitic Mass, The Eternal Gospel - Prague Phil Ch, Prague RSO/Tomáš Netopil rec. 2013/14 SUPRAPHON SU41502

A new edition based on the premiere performance of Janáček’s choral masterpiece receives its first recorded performance here. It contains significant differences from other, more familiar versions. This wouldn’t matter that much, if the performances weren’t so good. Tomáš Netopil with his native resources, both vocal and orchestral, brings the work to vibrant life. The additional bonus of the splendid Eternal Gospel makes the disc even more attractive.

Antonín DVOŘAK & Leoš JANÁČEK Violin Concertos Josef SUK Fantasy - Josef Špaček (violin) Czech PO/Jiří Bělohlávek rec. 2014 SUPRAPHON SU41822

The young concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic, Josef Špaček, proves himself a master soloist in the tradition of the great violinist Josef Suk, the composer’s grandson, in absolutely stunning accounts of these works. Bělohlávek and the orchestra are with him all the way in this, my second selection from Supraphon.

Carl NIELSEN Clarinet, Flute & Violin Concertos - Nikolaj Znaider (violin), Robert Langevin (flute). Anthony McGill (clarinet) New York Phil/Alan Gilbert rec. 2012/15 DACAPO 6.220556 SACD

Sibelius was not the only major composer to have his 150th Anniversary celebrated and it was good news indeed that Nielsen received equally deserved attention from the record companies. The disc here of the concertos supplements Alan Gilbert’s Nielsen symphony cycle and the performances are all first rate. New York Philharmonic principals are the soloists for the wind concertos and Nikolaj Znaider is magisterial in the Violin Concerto.

Antonín DVOŘÁK & Édouard LALO Cello Concertos - Johannes Moser (cello) PKF – Prague Philharmonia/Jakub Hrůša rec. 2015 PENTATONE PTC5186488 SACD

There have been so many recordings of the Dvořák Cello Concerto that one would have to be exceptional to be included on this list. I have no reservations whatsoever in selecting this as my final choice. Johannes Moser, whom I had not heard before, gives as fresh-minted account of the evergreen work as could be imagined with idiomatic backing by the Prague Philharmonia under the dynamic Jakub Hrůša. Moreover, the inclusion of an equally superb performance of Lalo’s less-often heard concerto makes the disc indispensable as does the super audio sound.