Europadisc Top 10 of 2019Europadisc Top 10 of 2019 (available until 27th Feb 2020) 1 to 9 of 9 results

Our Top 10 Recordings of 2019!

2019 will be remembered by many as a year of farewells. The passing of such musical greats as André Previn, Michael Gielen, Mariss Jansons, Stephen Cleobury, singers Theo Adam and Jessye Norman, not to mention early music pioneers Anner Bysla, Jörg Demus and Paul Badura-Skoda, as well as the retirement (officially a sabbatical) of the nonagenarian Bernard Haitink, has been a reminder of their lasting impact on the musical scene. Yet casting a glance over the discs we’ve reviewed during the past twelve months has given heartening reassurance of the abundance of talent, including the emergence of many new faces, to fill such big shoes. And, as ever, musical anniversaries, notably Berlioz and Clara Schumann, have provided some outstanding new releases of familiar and not-so-familiar repertoire.

SibeliusOnce again, orchestral music has been served strongly, with excellent contributions from the likes of Iván Fischer, François-Xavier Roth and Maxim Emelyanychev among others. But the orchestral disc that made a lasting impression on us was the launch of a new Sibelius cycle from the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra under their music director Santtu-Matias Rouvali. It wasn’t just the sheer quality of the playing, the lustre and depth of tone, that made an impact in their account of the First Symphony, but also the sureness of the shaping, the elegant but incisive phrasing, the emergence of new details within an already mature interpretation of the whole. The coupling, a compelling account of the early tone-poem En Saga, was similarly impressive, and Rouvali, recently announced as the next principal conductor of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, is clearly a figure to watch out for.

ChaussonAnother release from the Alpha label that made its mark was a superb disc of Chausson from the Orchestre national de Lille under Alexandre Bloch. Alongside a wonderfully idiomatic performance of the Symphony in B flat major, the standout item here was a tremendously involving and expressive account of the orchestral song-cycle Poème de l’amour et de la mer, radiantly sung by soprano Véronique Gens, in what we felt was ‘one of her finest achievements to date’. It’s worth getting this disc for the rapt account of ‘Le Temps des lilas’ alone, but there is so much more to savour besides, in performances that ooze Gallic elegance and charm. In another excellent year for solo vocal releases, this was undoubtedly one of the highlights.

SchumannOn a more intimate scale, another vocal release that stood out from the crowd was a revelatory disc of Schumann songs from the excellent young American tenor Kyle Stegall, partnered with unimpeachable stylishness on the fortepiano by Eric Zivian. As well as the two Liederkreise, opp. 24 and 39 (the latter a particularly notable performance in a highly competitive field), Stegall and Zivian give us five songs by Clara Schumann which are striking in their disarming directness. The benefits of a sensitivity to period style, with Stegall using vibrato sparingly but to telling expressive effect, are felt throughout this recital, ample proof of why the song genre was such a crucial component of 19th-century Romanticism.

Bach2019 was also a remarkable year for violinists, with Leila Josefowicz in a staggering account of Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s formidably demanding Violin Concerto, the ever-engaging Rachel Podger offering her ‘take’ on Bach’s Cello Suites, and Patricia Kopatchinskaja on typically provocative form with Camerata Bern in ‘Time & Eternity’, a wide-ranging programme from Machaut and Bach to the present day. Against such strong competition, however, two other discs make it to our Top Ten. Isabelle Faust, together with the classy period players of the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, treated us to a double-disc set of Bach Violin Concertos with abundant extras. In addition to the two ‘standard’ Violin Concertos in A minor and E major (in far from standard performances), the Concerto for two violins and the Concerto for oboe and violin, Faust includes violin versions of the D minor and F minor Harpsichord Concertos (the latter transposed to G minor), an A minor violin version of the Second Orchestral Suite, various cantata Sinfonias (including a dazzlingly souped-up version of the first movement from Brandenburg 3) and much more besides. This is Bach with bells on (though not quite literally), in performances guaranteed to blow the cobwebs away.

BrahmsOur other star violinist this year was Alina Ibragimova, with her distinctive combination of expressive flair and rich musical intelligence. She and her regular pianist Cédric Tiberghien won critical acclaim for their coupling of Sonatas by Franck and Vierne back in March, but for us it was their August release of Brahms’s Violin Sonatas, in fabulously detailed, revivifying, yet generous-spirited performances, that just pipped it to the post. The inclusion of one of Clara Schumann’s Romances for violin and piano was an added attraction to this marvellous release, the music springing from the speakers as if freshly-minted.

JanacekCédric Tiberghien’s disc of late Liszt was an early contender for solo piano choice, but here, for us, he was just surpassed by Jan Bartoš’s splendidly idiomatic and emotionally draining performances of Janáček’s solo piano music. Few other players have inhabited these works so fully, from the harrowing two-movement torso that is 1.X.1905 ‘From the Street’ (often referred to as Janáček’s Piano Sonata), through the epigrammatic yet deeply moving On an Overgrown Path, to the quasi-impressionistic riches of the suite In the Mists. Bartoš really penetrates to the heart of this music, and he is well served by the Supraphon recording team, making this an especially memorable disc of some of the 20th century’s most distinctive piano works.

BachKeyboard music of an earlier era features on another of our Top Ten: Mahan Esfahani’s eagerly awaited account of Bach’s harpsichord Toccatas, played on an outrageously magnificent new instrument modelled after Mietke and Pleyel (and including a gorgeously sonorous 16’ stop!). These are brilliantly free-spirited performances which combine expert scholarship with a level of musical daring that few others can rival, and they make one marvel anew at the profusion of inventiveness in one of the too-often overlooked corners of Bach’s keyboard music. Under Esfahani’s hands, the instrument growls, thunders, but also draws delicate tracery, and offers clear voicing in the fugal sections. Truly, a disc that has to be heard to be believed!

GretryWe’ve been fortunate to review several operas this year, including Gluck’s Orfeo (starring Iestyn Davies on heart-melting form), Mozart's Die Zauberflote from Villazon and Nezet-Seguin, and Salieri’s rarely-performed Tarare. It’s another rarity, however, that clinches top spot: André Grétry’s Raoul Barbe-Bleue (1789), a distinctive (and, in its time, hugely successful) opéra-comique take on the familiar Bluebeard fairytale. A combination of gruesome violence, Gallic charm and parody, it is given new freshness in a Nordic-French co-production under the baton of Martin Wåhlberg, with a Francophone cast headed by soprano Chantal Santon-Jeffrey, tenor François Rougier, and baritone Matthieu Lécroart suitably imposing in the title role. With performances of huge commitment and flair, this is sure to boost Grétry’s long-eclipsed reputation.

TchaikovskyFrom the opera stage to ballet: Tchaikovsky’s seasonal favourite The Nutcracker is much recorded, both in its familiar Suite form and, increasingly, as a full-length ballet. A new account of the complete work, from the ‘Evgeny Svetlanov’ Symphony Orchestra under Vladimir Jurowski, had us reaching for superlatives recently. Jurowski has emerged in recent years as a Tchaikovskian of rare distinction, and this final addition to his series of the composer’s great ballets is every bit as engrossing as one could wish. Textures sparkle, there’s a palpable sense of theatre as well as a peerless command of the symphonic arc, the first part of the work is unusually compelling, while the set pieces of the second half are utterly magical. It’s like listening to the music with a fresh pair of ears, and it almost made it to our top spot among the Top Ten. And yet…

PalestrinaOne disc above all this year has impressed us with the sheer quality of its music-making, gorgeously blended, exquisitely phrased, and caught in marvellous sound that does true justice to the music itself. Palestrina’s Lamentations have been admired by such later composers as Mendelssohn, Wagner and Debussy as models of perfection in the art of composition. In a new recording from the vocal ensemble Cinquecento of the Second Book, sung one-voice-per-part, they now receive the treatment they so richly deserve. Ranging from three- to eight-part textures, but typically five or six, these sonic jewels display a variety that is both subtle and completely absorbing. This may be music designed for performance in Holy Week, but the delights uncovered by these glorious performances are the sort that can sustain you all year round. Unquestionably a landmark addition to the catalogue, in an enormously impressive year it can still confidently take our accolade of Disc of the Year.

Gretry - Raoul Barbe-bleue

Aparte AP214
CD (2 discs)

Gretry - Raoul Barbe-bleue

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Artists: Chantal Santon-Jeffery, Francois Rougier, Matthieu Lecroart, Manuel Nunez Camelino, Eugenie Lefebvre, Enguerrand de Hys, Jerome Boutillier, Marine Lafdal-Franc, Orkester Nord

Conductor: Martin Wahlberg

Europadisc Top 10 of 2019
Tchaikovsky - The Nutcracker

Pentatone PTC5186761
SACD (1 disc)

Tchaikovsky - The Nutcracker

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Artist: State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia ‘Evgeny Svetlanov’

Conductor: Vladimir Jurowski

Europadisc Top 10 of 2019
Palestrina - Lamentations Book 2

Hyperion CDA68284
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Palestrina - Lamentations Book 2

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Artist: Cinquecento

Europadisc Top 10 of 2019
Brahms - Violin Sonatas

Hyperion CDA68200
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Brahms - Violin Sonatas

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Artists: Alina Ibragimova (violin), Cedric Tiberghien (piano)

Europadisc Top 10 of 2019
JS Bach - The Toccatas

Hyperion CDA68244
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JS Bach - The Toccatas

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Artist: Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord)

Europadisc Top 10 of 2019
Myrtle & Rose: Songs by Clara and Robert Schumann

Avie AV2407
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Myrtle & Rose: Songs by Clara and Robert Schumann

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Artists: Kyle Stegall (tenor), Eric Zivian (fortepiano)

Europadisc Top 10 of 2019
Chausson - Poeme de l’amour et de la mer, Symphony in B flat

Alpha ALPHA441
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Chausson - Poeme de l’amour et de la mer, Symphony in B flat

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Artists: Veronique Gens (soprano), Orchestre national de Lille

Conductor: Alexandre Bloch

Gramophone Editor's Choice Europadisc Top 10 of 2019
JS Bach - Violin Concertos

Harmonia Mundi HMM90233536
CD (2 discs)

JS Bach - Violin Concertos

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Artists: Isabelle Faust (violin), Bernhard Forck (violin), Xenia Loeffler (oboe), Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin

Gramophone Editor's Choice Europadisc Top 10 of 2019
Sibelius - Symphony no.1, En saga

Alpha ALPHA440
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Sibelius - Symphony no.1, En saga

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Artist: Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra

Conductor: Santtu-Matias Rouvali

Gramophone Editor's Choice Europadisc Top 10 of 2019