Our ten favourite albums released in 2018

Martha Argerich Sergey Babayan Prokofiev for TwoProkofiev for Two

Martha Argerich & Sergey Babayan

Romeo and Juliet – Eugene Onegin – Hamlet – The Queen of Spades – War and Peace

Deutsche Grammophon, 2018

After many successful performances of Prokofiev for Two around Europe, this recording is the crowning achievement. As one might expect from two refined pianists, their performance is riveting. The chemistry between Argerich and Babayan is perfect. They perform Prokofiev’s works with exceptional stamina and with extreme attention for colours and dynamics. In this way, they accentuate the delicate side of his music, but especially its sharp colours. Review >>>

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Journey to Mozart

Daniel Hope, violin

Zurich Chamber Orchestra

Deutsche Grammophon, 2018

Journey to Mozart is one of those recordings where you find proportion and balance from any point of view, both for what concern the selected pieces and for their performance. It is obvious that every detail of this album has been scrupulously considered. The works are complementary to one another and highlight their reciprocal differences or similarities. Review >>>

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Rachmaninov Symphony No. 3 Symphonic Dances AshkenazyRachmaninov – Symphonic Dances, Symphony No. 3
Live in Concert

Philharmonia Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor

Signum Classics, 2018

As the previous two instalments of Rachmaninov’s symphonies recorded live by Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Philharmonia Orchestra (you will find our review of the Symphony No. 2 here), this new release is a gem too. It brings together two works that Rachmaninov wrote in his final years, the Symphony No. 3 (1935-6, revised 1938) and the Symphonic Dances (1940).

Both works testify the composer’s homesickness for Russia and his unhappiness, which became progressively worse after several years of forced exile. And yet, Ashkenazy’s rendition is anything but grim and sad and he is able to find some light and solace despite the mood that the works convey. Review >>>

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Vikingur Olafsson Johann Sebastian BachJohann Sebastian Bach

Víkingur Olafsson

Deutsche Grammophon, 2018

Ólafsson definitely has the measure of the music. His style of playing is clear-cut, to the point of being essential, but not for this it is incomplete or neglected. On the contrary, his technical rigour is perfectly balanced by an incredibly ample use of colours and dynamics that embellish Bach’s music in a straightforward way, with honesty and immediacy. It seems that the aim of this recording is to reach a seamless melodic smoothness through the constant recourse to crystalline sounds and coherent connections. It is astonishing how Ólafsson voices extended passages with the utmost clarity. The sound that springs from his fingers is transparent, to reveal instantly the innermost recesses of this music. In this regard, the Organ Sonata No. 4 is one of the finest samples of brightness and grace. Review >>>

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Bernstein The Three Symphonies PappanoBernstein – The Three Symphonies

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, mezzosoprano
Beatrice Rana, piano
Nadine Sierra, soprano
Josephine Barstow, speaker
Alessandro Carbonare, clarinet

Coro e Voci Bianche dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Ciro Visco, chorus master
Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Antonio Pappano, conductor

Warner Classics, 2018

To mark Bernstein’s centenary, Antonio Pappano and the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia recorded the three symphonies and Prelude, Fugue & Riffs written by the American composer, pianist and conductor. No one better than them could make such a tribute to Bernstein, as the composer’s ties with Santa Cecilia are close. He was Honorary President of the Accademia from 1983 to 1990, the year of his death, and he also conducted his symphonies with the Orchestra. This album is therefore «a way of saying thank you to Leonard Bernstein», as Antonio Pappano states.

Antonio Pappano and the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia give a fine performance of the three Symphonies and their roster of guest stars is equally valuable. Overall, the sound is rich, detailed and clear and it makes possible to enjoy the works at their best. Review >>>

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Bell Max Bruch Scottish FantasyJoshua Bell – Scottish Fantasy

Academy of St Martin in the Fields

Sony Classical, 2018

The guiding thread of both works must be identified in the candid vigour of their rendition. Bell’s reading is plenty of chiaroscuros that bring depth to Fantasy and Concerto, even though they are quite direct in their character and light and shade appear more as delicate nuances rather than evocative effects. This said, straightforwardness has transparency for its main feature and the works are extremely coherent from one end to the other – a coherency made of warm sound and soaring lyricism. Review >>>

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Bruckner Symphony no. 7 Wagner Siegfried’s Funeral March NelsonBruckner – Symphony no. 7

Wagner – Siegfried’s Funeral March

Gewandhausorchester Leipzig

Andris Nelson, conductor

Deutsche Grammophon, 2018

As in the previous recordings of this cycle of Bruckner’s symphonies, Andris Nelson’s exceptionally deep and sensitive conduction finds the most immediate and skilful response from his orchestra, the prestigious Gewandhausorchester. Their communicativeness is prompt and intuitive and the palette is rich and varied. You can easily follow each of the orchestral “voices”: from the round and burnished sound of the brasses (particularly noteworthy in the Funeral March) to the silky and sparkling woodwinds to the now melancholic, now elegiac strings. Furthermore, the recorded sound is exceptionally fine and it is virtually impossible to lose even the slightest nuance. Review >>>

Olivier Messiaen Catalogue d’ Oiseaux Pierre-Laurent AimardOlivier Messiaen – Catalogue d’Oiseaux

Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano

Pentatone, 2018

Being familiar with Messiaen’s music from very early in his career, pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard records here his first complete Catalogue d’Oiseaux. This is one of the richest and of the most vibrant renditions that Messiaen’s Catalogue can have. The technical skills and brilliance are at the service of music and the layers of articulation are finely executed. The Oiseaux preserve all their varied timbral qualities that (as Messiaen said) «imitate the timbre of each bird». Aimard seems to take delight in highlighting them. The shades he finds alternate between the darkest to the lightest with all the gradations that is possible to imagine and that leads to various mixtures of colours. In addition, Aimard always takes his time and pauses and silences between the notes are as important and significant than the sounds, creating some suggestive effects. Review >>>

Menahem Pressler Clair de lune. Debussy, Fauré, RavelClair de lune

Debussy, Fauré, Ravel

Menahem Pressler, piano

Deutsche Grammophon, 2018

The first thing that draws the listener’s attention is that there is something thoughtful and considered in the performance of these pieces. This “something” makes you guess that the pianist is not a young man anymore and that the stamina that usually belongs to young artists has no place here. The word which summarizes perfectly this recording is indeed: tranquillity.

[…] The pianist’s relaxation and serenity, in fact, are perfectly compatible with the “narrative texture” of the selected works and never lead to the disastrous impression of predictability, not even in Clair de lune, which lasts more than six minutes (instead of the usual four-five). The colours of his piano are original and the sound of the instrument is so fluid to be stirring, especially in the piani and smorzandi, where it seems to liquefy. Review >>>

Anne Akiko Meyers Mirror in MirrorAnne Akiko Meyers – Mirror in Mirror

with Akira Eguchi, piano
Elisabeth Pridgen, keyboard; Jakub Ciupińsku, luthéal reproduction
Philharmonia Orchestra
Kristjan Järvi, conductor

AVIE, 2018

The album reveals a different and yet common feeling, which gives it clarity and evenness. In the performance of the works, Meyers keeps a perfect balance between two inextricable forces: her constant, unfailing energy and a beautiful, inner vision which she conveys with honesty and emotion. Her dazzling technique, her frankness and above all her insight make Mirror in Mirror a gorgeous recording. The refined tone of some of these works (especially the two lullabies, Lullaby for Natalie and Edo Lullaby, and Spiegel im Spiegel), the suggestiveness of others (Metamorphosis II and O Magnum Mysterium) and the intensity of some others (Tzigane and Wreck of the Umbria) are all features that Meyers is able to point out thanks to her painstaking accuracy and soulful playing. Review >>>

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