Europadisc Top 10 of 2022Europadisc Top 10 of 2022 (available until 22nd Feb 2023) 1 to 10 of 10 results

Our Top 10 Recordings of 2022! Read our summary here and all discs can be found at reduced prices below.

There has been exceptional variety and quality in the new classical releases of the past twelve months. The fact is all the more remarkable as most of those recordings were made at a time when Covid-related restrictions were still in force. And, with competition not just from digital streaming and downloads but also from a rejuvenated vinyl market, they serve as proof that classical music on CD (as well as DVD/Blu-ray) is still in rude health, thanks to the efforts of record labels, producers, engineers, and above all the artists themselves. Picking our top ten titles of the year has been as challenging and absorbing a task as ever.

SzymanowskiSolo instrumental recitals have blossomed thanks to the global pandemic, and this year we were lucky enough to review remarkable Brahms from Paul Lewis (the late piano works), and the concluding discs in Alexander Melnikov’s Prokofiev sonata cycle and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s Haydn series. There was also a sumptuous album of Wagner and Mahler transcriptions, plus two works by Liszt, and Henze’s Tristan for piano tape and large orchestra, all from the ever-imaginative Igor Levit. Our top two instrumental discs both feature neglected repertoire. From Deutsche Grammophon, Krystian Zimerman returned to the music of his homeland with a splendid album of Szymanowski piano works, coupling an account of the formidably difficult Masques set down in 1994 with brand-new recordings of the Variations on a Polish Theme plus extracts from the op.1 Preludes and op.50 Mazurkas. This is a disc that confirms Szymanowksi as one of the outstanding composers of the early twentieth century, magnificently played and recorded.

MontgeroultOur other instrumental pick is features even rarer repertoire: the enterprising British pianist Clare Hammond has recorded a generous selection of Études by the French pianist-composer Hélène de Montgeroult (1764–1836) on the BIS label. In Hammond’s commanding and enormously persuasive performances, it’s easy to hear why this music has been dubbed the ‘missing link between Mozart and Chopin’. For anyone interested in the development of early-19th-century pianism, this disc is one of the must-hear releases of 2022.

This year has also brought another bumper crop of solo vocal recitals, with outstanding debut albums from sopranos Golda Schultz (‘This Be Her Verse’, featuring settings by five women composers ranging from Emilie Mayer and Clara Schumann to the present day) and Héloïse Werner (‘Phrases’, a dazzling plunge into the world of virtuoso contemporary vocal music). Egyptian soprano Fatma Said scored another winner with ‘Kaleidoscope’, as wide-ranging as the title suggests, spanning the worlds of French opera, Viennese operetta, tango and pop. In more traditional song repertoire, Carolyn Sampson and Allan Clayton gave us a ‘life-enhancing’ account of Hugo Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch.

Battle Cry, She SpeaksEven among such riches, two discs in particular stood out. On the Delphian label, mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston and theorbist Toby Carr brought a distinctive take on the trope of the abandoned woman. Alongside Baroque works by the likes of Monteverdi, Barbara Strozzi and Purcell, Owain Park’s title work Battle Cry includes references to Korngold’s Marietta from Die tote Stadt and to the poet Sappho. Charlston’s bright-edged clarity and rich lower register is perfectly complemented by Carr’s sensitive playing, charting depths which the theorbo is uniquely equipped to explore.

GriegBy any standards, the partnership of power-house young Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen with her pianist compatriot Leif Ove Andsnes would be a remarkable one. Bring them together in the music of their fellow countryman Edvard Grieg, however, and you have a heavenly artistic marriage. Their disc of Grieg songs for Decca, released way back in early January, immediately established itself as a bestseller, with the song-cycle Haugtussa (‘The Mountain Maid’) showcasing Davidsen’s extraordinary vocal range. Two further complete sets of songs and excerpts from several others complete this mouthwatering recital.

BachLarger-scale choral works have perhaps been in less plentiful supply, although discs of Rameau motets and rarities by Vaughan Williams in his sesquicentennial year have featured among the highlights. But the outstanding release to come our way was an enormously refreshing account of Bach’s formidable St Matthew Passion from the go-to early music label Harmonia Mundi. Rafaël Pichon leads his Pygmalion ensemble and a starry cast including tenor Julian Prégardien, baritone Stéphane Degout, sopranos Sabine Devieilhe and Hana Blažíková and mezzo Lucile Richardot, yet the feeling – more than most other recent recordings of this masterpiece – is of a true partnership of equals, a true consort in the best sense. Unhurried yet with a sense of dance-like momentum, thoughtfully phrased and with judicious use of rhetorical gestures, this is a performance whose strengths should appeal well beyond the confines of the ‘period performance’ movement.

Orchestral music has certainly bounced back strongly since the dark days of the pandemic made many wonder whether the days of large-scale orchestral concerts were a thing of the past. Among this year’s highlights have been a remarkable new Sibelius cycle from the young maestro Klaus Mäkelä (recently announced as next chief conductor of Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra), impressive Bruckner and Mahler symphonies under the baton of François-Xavier Roth, Poulenc from the late Bramwell Tovey, more Ruth Gipps from Rumon Gamba, Berlioz’s Harold in Italy from John Nelson, and a welcome disc of ‘African American Voices’ from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Kellen Gray.

MahlerMahler’s Symphony no.4 from the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under their chief conductor Semyon Bychkov marks the beginning of that orchestra’s first complete Mahler cycle since the days of Václav Neumann. Capped by the spellbinding yet unaffected singing of soprano Chen Reiss in the ‘Das himmlische Leben’ finale, and marked by warmly characterful playing as well as fabulous (but never fussy) attention to detail, this Pentatone series could not have got off to a more auspicious start. It has since been joined by a similarly acclaimed account of the Fifth Symphony.

KoechlinOur other orchestral pick is altogether rarer repertoire: Charles Koechlin’s Seven Stars Symphony (1933), a work that reflects not his lifelong fascination with the heavens, but an obsession with the film stars of Hollywood’s ‘golden age’. Its seven movements are exquisitely scored character sketches of such figures as Garbo, Dietrich, Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks Sr, for a vast orchestra including ondes Martenot. Although it has been in the catalogue before, this new recording for the Capriccio label by the Sinfonieorchester Basel under the finely-attentive direction of Ariane Matiakh is the only version in the current catalogue. Top-notch orchestral playing and a gorgeous account of Koechlin’s 13-minute jewel Vers la voûte étoilée all add to the attraction of this enterprising disc.

BirtwistleAt the other end of the scale, it has been a good year for lovers of chamber music, with highlights including quintets by Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn from the Doric Quartet, by Brahms from the Pavel Haas Quartet, chamber works by Ferdinand Ries from the Nash Ensemble, Mozart church sonatas, and cello sonatas by Beethoven and Martinů all featuring in our weekly reviews. It’s the Nash Ensemble who feature on our top chamber music pick, too: chamber works by the late Harrison Birtwistle, released back in early February, just two months before his death at the age of 87. Long regarded as the leading figure among British composers who came to maturity in the postwar years, Birtwistle is best remembered for his operas and music theatre pieces, and for his granitic, large-scale orchestral works. Yet in his later years he was drawn increasingly to the subtle shading and nuances of the chamber medium, and this BIS disc includes not only a revised version of his 1981 work Pulse Sampler, but an Oboe Quartet, Piano Trio and one of his final works, the Duet for Eight Strings for viola and cello (2019), featuring one of the most ethereal endings in all Birtwistle’s music.

MeyerbeerFinally, back to another genre that has faced huge challenges, but which has shown enormous resilience from performers and those behind the scenes who help to make it happen: opera. Alongside stunning recital discs from Elsa Dreisig (‘Mozart x3’) and Jodie Devos (‘Bijoux perdus’), 2022 has brought an impressive crop of complete opera recordings, including a typically individual take on Weber’s German Romantic cornerstone Der Freischütz from René Jacobs, and a DVD/Blu-ray of Janáček’s Jenůfa headed by the dream team of Asmik Grigorian and Karita Mattila. French grand opera has made something of a comeback in recent years, thanks to such enterprising companies as the Palazetto Bru Zane, whose sumptuously bound deluxe hardback presentations are a firm favourite with collectors. Their recent issue of Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable gives a welcome boost to a work that, with its succession of glorious tunes and a bacchanale for ghostly nuns, was once a firm favourite with operatic audiences. With a cast headed by John Osborn, Nicolas Courjal and Amina Edris, and forces of the Opéra national de Bordeaux under Marc Minkowski on terrific form, this is a terrific addition to the catalogue.

DebussyIt is another French opera, composed some seven decades later, that takes this year’s top slot – just pipping Birtwistle to the post! Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, setting Maurice Maeterlinck’s symbolist drama, is one of the defining works of opera in the first half of the 20th-century, alongside Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Berg’s Wozzeck. There have been several notable performances on disc over the years, from Desormière, Inghelbrecht and Ansermet to Boulez and Haitink. The new account on Harmonia Mundi – originating from a production whose public performances had to be abandoned because of the pandemic – stands out for its use of period instruments: those of François-Xavier Roth’s hand-picked orchestra Les Siècles. The cast, though not as star-studded as some, is led by Julien Behr’s soft-grained Pelléas, Vannina Santoni’s forthright Mélisande, and Alexandre Duhamel’s increasingly intense Golaud, and all are completely at home in the idiom. With exemplary pacing and balance from Roth, this has all the character of the period in which the opera was written, with all the advantages of modern sound and presentation. It shines new light on this masterpiece of the lyric theatre. In short: a winner!

Montgeroult - Etudes

BIS BIS2603
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Montgeroult - Etudes

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Artist: Clare Hammond (piano)

Gramophone Editor's Choice Europadisc Top 10 of 2022
Meyerbeer - Robert le Diable (CD + Book)

Bru Zane BZ1049
CD + Book (3 discs)

Meyerbeer - Robert le Diable (CD + Book)

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Artists: John Osborn, Nicolas Courjal, Amina Edris, Erin Morley, Nico Darmanin, Joel Allison, Paco Garcia, Choeur de l’Opera National de Bordeaux, Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine

Conductor: Marc Minkowski

Gramophone Editor's Choice Europadisc Top 10 of 2022
Szymanowski - Piano Works

Deutsche Grammophon 4863007
CD (1 disc)

Szymanowski - Piano Works

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Artist: Krystian Zimerman (piano)

Gramophone Editor's Choice Europadisc Top 10 of 2022
Koechlin - The Seven Stars’ Symphony, Vers la voute etoilee

Capriccio C5449
CD (1 disc)

Koechlin - The Seven Stars’ Symphony, Vers la voute etoilee

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Artist: Sinfonieorchester Basel

Conductor: Ariane Matiakh

Europadisc Top 10 of 2022
Battle Cry: She Speaks

Delphian DCD34283
CD (1 disc)

Battle Cry: She Speaks

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Artists: Helen Charlston (mezzo-soprano), Toby Carr (theorbo)

Gramophone Editor's Choice Europadisc Top 10 of 2022
Mahler - Symphony no.4

Pentatone PTC5186972
CD (1 disc)

Mahler - Symphony no.4

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Artists: Chen Reiss (soprano), Czech Philharmonic

Conductor: Semyon Bychkov

Europadisc Top 10 of 2022
JS Bach - St Matthew Passion

Harmonia Mundi HMM90269193
CD (3 discs)

JS Bach - St Matthew Passion

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Artists: Julian Pregardien (tenor), Stephane Degout (bass), Sabine Devieilhe (soprano), Lucile Richardot (alto), Reinoud van Mechelen (tenor), Hana Blazikova (soprano), Tim Mead (countertenor), Emiliano Gonzalez Toro (tenor), Christian Immler (bass), Maitrise de Radio France, Pygmalion

Conductor: Raphael Pichon

Gramophone Award Winner Gramophone Editor's Choice Europadisc Top 10 of 2022
Debussy - Pelleas et Melisande

Harmonia Mundi HMM90535254
CD (3 discs)

Debussy - Pelleas et Melisande

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Artists: Julien Behr (tenor), Vannina Santoni (soprano), Alexandre Duhamel (baritone), Marie-Ange Todorovitch (mezzo-soprano), Jean Teitgen (bass), Damien Pass (bass-baritone), Hadrien Joubert (treble), Mathieu Gourlet (bass), Choeur de l’Opera de Lille, Les Siecles

Conductor: Francois-Xavier Roth

Europadisc Top 10 of 2022
Birtwistle - Chamber Works

BIS BIS2561
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Birtwistle - Chamber Works

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Artist: Nash Ensemble

Europadisc Top 10 of 2022
Edvard Grieg - Songs

Decca 4852254
CD (1 disc)

Edvard Grieg - Songs

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Artists: Lise Davidsen (soprano), Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)

Gramophone Editor's Choice Europadisc Top 10 of 2022