This is the twenty-first 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 2022-November 2023).

The 109 selections have come from 24 members of the team and 60 different labels. The choices this year reflect, as usual, the great diversity of music and sources.

Of the selections, eight have received two nominations:
• Christian Tetzlaff’s Brahms and Berg concertos on Ondine
• Kaija Saariaho’s Reconnaissance on BIS
• Volume 2 of Thomas de Hartmann’s orchestral music on Toccata Classics
• Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony from Manfred Honeck on Reference Recordings
• Tõnu Kõrvits’ The Sound of Wings on Ondine
• Music of pre-Reformation Bohemia on Supraphon
• the symphonies of Carl Nielsen on Deutsche Grammophon
• Shostakovich symphonies on Berliner Philharmoniker

Of the labels, Ondine headed the field with 7 nominations, ahead of Naxos with 6.

MWI Recording of the Year

Choosing one recording from over 1500 reviews can only be a subjective process. The new Decca remastering of Solti’s legendary Ring cycle is clearly a major event in 2023, and there are two (at least) significant composer anniversaries this year – the 150th anniversary of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s birth and the 400th of William Byrd’s death. However, our approach has always been to make our choice based on our reviewers’ nominations.

Dmitri Shostakovich Symphonies 8-10 – Berliner Philharmoniker/Kirill Petrenko rec. 2020/21 Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings BPHR220421 CD/Blu-ray

Both our reviewers, who also nominated this among their ROTY choices, expressed the generally-felt surprise at Kirill Petrenko’s appointment in Berlin, but the acclaim garnered by this release is clear evidence of the wisdom of the decision. Our reviewers praised his adherence to the scores, whilst delivering a striking and individual view of each. The symphonies were recorded under the shadow of Covid, which must have been a challenge for the engineers, but the sonic qualities of the recording are one of its many qualities.
Reviews: Dan Morgan ~ John Quinn

For the individual reviewer selections, click on the cover image to read the original review.

Len Mullenger (Founder)

Richard Wagner The Golden Ring: Great Scenes from Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen – Wiener Philharmoniker/Sir Georg Solti rec. 1958-64 Decca 4853364 SACD

In the MusicWeb Listening Room we are used to hearing superb modern recordings over high end equipment. However when we played Siegfried’s funeral march from the latest Decca remastering the initial drum tap caused John Quinn and me to look at each other because of the amazingly lifelike quality of the recording made by John Culshaw in 1965 – a lifetime ago. Jack Lawson detailed this remastering on MusicWeb International in May. The listening room experience was the first opportunity we had of listening to the new SACD release. The impact of these recordings is electrifying. Over the years I have purchased this Ring cycle in every format, the last being on Blu-ray audio; however, it would appear I will have to purchase it all again. It is very much a premium Decca release costing over £340. Walter Legge famously told Culshaw, ‘Of course you won’t sell any’ – how wrong he was. The issues come on SACDs in LP-sized packaging, which is a bit of a nuisance as I have no shelves that deep. But then my original purchase of the LPs came in a large floor standing, elaborately detailed, case. I urge you all to save your pennies. As a cheaper taster, Decca have issued this sampler having excerpts from all four operas. How well the Rhinegold transfer sounds.

Stephen Barber

Having used up my six nominations below I am slipping in here Hilary Hahn’s wonderful disc of the six Ysaÿe solo violin sonatas, which has won plaudits everywhere, including from me. I also enjoyed Manuel Esfahani’s disc of modern harpsichord concertos by three Czech composers. Another treat I am saving up will be Gluck’s Écho et Narcisse in the new recording, the first since 1985, by Hervé Niquet and his forces from Versailles.

Johannes Brahms & Alban Berg Violin concertos – Christian Tetzlaff (violin), Deutsches SO Berlin/Robin Ticciati rec. 2021/22 Ondine ODE1410-2

A master violinist is at the height of his powers in these two concertos. This is Tetzlaff’s second recording of the Brahms, his first of the Berg. Robin Ticciati is a sensitive Brahmsian and uses a smaller orchestra than usual in that work; the Berg requires larger forces. Both are so enthralling that I felt they seemed shorter than usual.

George Enescu Piano Sonatas & Suite – Daria Parkhomenko (piano) rec. 2021 Prospero PROSP0055

Enescu is the Romanian equivalent of the Hungarian Bartók, the Czech Janáček and the Pole Szymanowski but he was not really a nationalist. His mature works are nothing like the early Romanian Rhapsody, which remains his best-known work. They have something of the elusiveness of Fauré or even Busoni but also a haunting flavour all their own. Here we have the best of his piano works in authoritative performances by a newcomer.

Steve Reich Music for 18 Musicians – Synergy Vocals, Colin Currie Group/Colin Currie rec. 2022 Colin Currie Records CCR0006 SACD

By common consent, Music for 18, as it’s usually known, is Reich’s finest work and one of the best advertisements for the minimalist technique. The evocative repetitions never grow stale or outstay their welcome – as they can do in other works – and the whole has a radiant quality impossible to describe. This performance is by an ensemble which clearly loves the work and knows it well, and the composer said it was the best performance he had heard.

César Franck Hulda – Jennifer Holloway (soprano), Edgaras Montvidas (tenor), Véronique Gens (mezzo-soprano), Royal PO de Liège, Gergely Madaras rec. 2022 Bru Zane BZ1052

Franck’s only completed mature opera turns out to be a really impressive work. The story is a grim one, of the Icelandic saga type though actually based on a recent tale. Franck’s music is characteristically vivid and engaging and all the forces here rise to the occasion. The recording is handsomely presented in the Bru Zane style in a hardback book also containing the libretto with translation and essays.

Ludwig van Beethoven Christus am Ölberge – Eleanor Lyons (soprano), Sebastian Kohlhepp (tenor), Thomas Bauer (bass), Collegium Vocale Gent, O Champs-Élysées/Philippe Herreweghe rec. 2022 PHI LPH039

Beethoven’s only oratorio has strangely fallen out of favour, though it is a mature work dating from around the time of the Eroica symphony, and he was proud of it. There are six main sections, with arias and choruses and impressive writing for the singers. Herreweghe clearly believes in the work and conducts an admirable performance and the disc comes with text and translation.

Frank Martin & César Franck Piano Quintets – Martin Klett (piano), Armida String Quartet rec. 2022 CAvi-Music 8553527

Both performances here are excellent but I am nominating this particularly for the Martin, which is a rarity. This is an early work of his, in which you can still hear the influence of Franck, and also occasionally Brahms and Ravel, but it is none the worse for that. It has his characteristic fastidiousness and tone of slight melancholy. This performance should win it new friends.

Nick Barnard

This has been one of my busier reviewing years with over sixty discs covered since last year.  So the long list of candidates for my recordings of the year is longer too.  Alongside favourite labels and artists there have been some unexpected joys and revelations.  New artists and unknown composers appear with reassuring frequency.  Labels such as Toccata Classics and SOMM do not just continue to unearth interesting music but genuinely great Art and both make my final list. Chandos came very close with three discs.  A revelatory collection of music by Pierre Sancan and also for a superb disc of British flute music. John Wilson’s most recent revisit to the music of Eric Coates is simply wonderful but they all miss out by a whisker.  The following discs are in the order I reviewed them through the last twelve months.  As ever my choices must be fascinating repertoire, superbly performed and well recorded.

Thomas de Hartmann Orchestral Music Vol. 2 – Lviv Ntl PO Ukraine/Theodore Kuchar rec. 2021 Toccata Classics TOCC0676

As mentioned above Toccata’s ability to discover remarkable but unknown music is astonishing.  The symphony here is large at over 65 minutes, sprawling at times but written with a unique and passionate voice.  Performed with the conviction and high skill it requires this was as unexpected as it was compelling.

Richard Strauss Letzte Lieder (arr. choir) – KammerChor Saarbrücken/Georg Grün rec. 2020/22 Rondeau Production ROP6241

Since I always enjoy hearing arrangements of interesting repertoire I requested this disc out of mild curiosity.  I was not prepared for the sheer beauty of the result and the brilliance of the performing.  Of course, some will find such treatments of established masterpieces as verging on the musically blasphemous but when performed with the radiance and mastery as here I find such criticism irrelevant.  Probably the disc I have replayed most through this year.

Portraits of a Mind Ralph Vaughan Williams On Wenlock Edge, Four Hymns Ian Venables Portraits of a Mind – Alessandro Fisher (tenor), William Vann (piano), Navarra String Qt rec. 2022 Albion Records ALBCD057

Albion Records continue to serve Vaughan Williams’ legacy with passionate advocacy.  The well-known On Wenlock Edge leaps from the speakers with ardent fresh-voiced power with tenor Alessandro Fisher a name to watch out for.  The coupling of a new cycle from Ian Venables – the titular Portraits of a Mind – is an inspired musical choice to both complement the older works but also prove the value and relevance of such cycles in the modern musical world.

Kenneth Leighton Every Living Creature – Finchley Children’s Music Group, Londinium/Andrew Griffiths rec. 2022 SOMM Recordings SOMMCD0667 

The last SOMM recording from Andrew Griffiths and his choir Londinium made my ROTY list in 2018.  Here they focus on the music of the relatively neglected Kenneth Leighton and especially the first recording of a major a capella choral work ‘Laude Animantium’.  Another of the year’s major discoveries and one where wonders at the quality of the music is only matched by confusion over its neglect.  But the whole recital is a model of programming and superb musicianship beautifully recorded.

Franz Liszt Transcendental Études – Yunchan Lim (piano) rec. 2022 Steinway & Sons STNS30217

A disc to simply sit back and marvel at.  This feels as though it is the document of a moment when a great new artist was announced on the world stage at the Van Cliburn Competition in 2022.  Quite how an eighteen year old can perform this well in a live concert environment beggars belief.  A disc that transcends criticism – possibly even more impressive when watched via the competition video stream here.

Entartete Musik Estelle Lefort (mezzo soprano), Vlaams Radiokoor, Soloists of the Brussels Philharmonic/Bart Van Reyn rec. 2022 Antarctica Records AR051

Quite possibly the most skilfully planned mixed recital programme of the year.  Derived from concerts given in Holland this is an overview of the diversity and richness of the music produced before, during and after the horrors of the Nazis.  Juxtaposing sly and sleazy cabaret songs with ravishing choral arrangements works far better than might be expected but it is the heart-breaking music by the internees at Theresienstadt that make the most profound and enduring impression.  Magnificently performed by all the artists involved.

Rob Barnett (Founding Editor)

In 1964 Colin Wilson (1931-2013) – a musical amateur fanatically devoted to the byways of recorded music and its advocacy – wrote an unruly and provocative book “The Brandy of the Damned”. The main title of these “Essays of a Musical Eclectic” is a quote from George Bernard Shaw’s play “Man and Superman”: “Hell is full of musical amateurs: music is the brandy of the damned.” To celebrate 2024 – the book’s 60th birthday – let tumblers be raised to discoveries, enthusiasms, Colin Wilson and his still very readable book which yet retains the spark to encourage sanguine exploration.

Jean Sibelius The Tempest – Royal Danish Ch & O/Okko Kamu rec. 2021 Naxos 8.574419

Naxos and Leif Segerstam rush in with a consummately satisfying full score account of one of Sibelius’s most bewitching and unusual scores. Enchantment for Christmas and New Year.

Bernard Herrmann Wuthering Heights Suite, Echoes – Keri Fuge (soprano), Roderick Williams (baritone), Singapore SO/Mario Venzago, Joshua Tan rec. 2020-22 Chandos CHSA5337 SACD

Perhaps unpromising as a condensing of this composer’s sole grand opera. This is in fact an awesome eruption not to say meltdown equivalent in mastery and emotive punch to the Salammbo pastiche aria recorded by Kiri Te Kanawa on Charles Gerhardt’s famous RCA LP recording.

Overtures from Finland Oulu Sinfonia/Rumon Gamba rec. 2022 Chandos CHSA5336 SACD

Rumon Gamba and the Oulu Sinfonia let loose on works that hold a particular allure. Gamba is amongst the most attractive of conductors who combines safe hands with brilliance and incandescent imagination unleashed by Chandos.

Vítĕzslav Novák Orchestral Works Vol. 2Janáček PO/Marek Štilec rec. 2021, Naxos 8.574369

Startlingly well recorded with a front-to-back reach and a sweet depth. Delicious woodwind playing and smoothly honeyed strings. De Profundis contrasts the earlier works with a cloud of brooding protest, dark energy and blazing lightning.

George Frederick Bristow Symphony No. 4 Arcadian William Henry Fry Symphony No. 5 Niagara – The Orchestra NOW/Leon Botstein rec. 2022 Bridge 9572 

Muscular recordings of rare symphonic products of 19th century American orchestral romanticism. These are no dutifully played museum exhibits. The whole orchestra plays with golden age verve and astonishing elation.

Pancho Vladigerov Stage Music – Bulgarian National RSO/Alexander Vladigerov rec. 1970-75 Capriccio C8067

Much of this music is instantly captivating. This is, to date, the most desirable of the seven Vladigerov Capriccio sets. Lushly Hollywood moments, Respighi at his most overtly splendid and Bax at his most extravagantly protesting.

David Barker

My list of nominations is probably more notable, from my perspective anyway, for what is not on it, rather than what is. When, earlier in the year, I saw that a recording of Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson playing the Goldberg Variations was going to be released in October, I was, to say the least, filled with anticipation. Sadly, when I got my hands and ears on it, I was disappointed, and so what I thought would be a guaranteed ROTY nomination, is conspicuous by its absence. Of my forty-plus reviews this year, only four made it to Recommended status, and it is those I have nominated.

Kevin Puts Marimba Concerto, The City, Moonlight – Ji Su Jung (marimba), Katherine Needleman (oboe), Baltimore SO/Marin Alsop rec. 2016-21 Naxos 8.559926

This was my first encounter with the music of American Kevin Puts, and it certainly won’t be the last. It is music that is very obviously of this era, but which maintains the traditions of melody, harmony and rhythm, without resorting to pastiche.

Ciaconna! Le Centifolia/Leila Schayegh rec. 2022 Glossa GCD924207

I reviewed a few releases of this type during the year, based on chaconnes or similarly repeated Baroque forms. Others suffered from a surfeit of slow tempos and sombre music. No such problems here – spirit and verve is infused into every bar. Without a shadow of doubt, my Recording of the Year.

Johann Georg Pisendel Violin Concertos and other works – Concerto Köln/Mayumi Hirasaki (violin) rec. 2021 Berlin Classics 0302808BC

A lot of Baroque orchestral music written by composers not of the first rank tends to be pleasant but not memorable or distinctive. The works in this collection by Dresden-based Pisendel are vibrant, spirited and varied, and the enjoyment is certainly due in no small part to the performances.

Johann Sebastian Bach Goldberg Variations Reimagined – Brecon Baroque/Rachel Podger (violin) rec. 2022 Channel Classics SACD CCSSA44923

While the Reimagined part of the title is perhaps overstating matters, given that there have been several other ensemble arrangements of the Goldbergs, there is no doubt that Chad Kelly’s arrangement is, by some margin, the most authentic sounding and enjoyable. It is as though a seventh, very lengthy Brandenburg Concerto has been unearthed from some dusty German cellar. The final movement (comprising Variation 29, Quodlibet and Aria da capo) is the most uplifting music I have heard this year, and the performances are exceptional.

Michael Cookson

My selections for ‘2023 Recordings of the Year’ are an assortment of complete operas, opera aria collections, concertos and chamber music. My choice is based on the level of enjoyment gained from recordings that I find worthy of accolades.

A Tribute to Pauline Viardot Marina Viotti (mezzo-soprano), Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset rec. 2021 Aparté AP290 

Each aria in this splendid collection is connected to prima donna Pauline Viardot, née García (1821-1910), a Parisian by birth, of Spanish descent. It doesn’t take long to appreciate just how much mezzo-soprano Marina Viotti enjoys singing this collection of largely Romantic repertoire that mirrors Pauline Viardot’s roles. Spanning some sixty years from 1816 (Il barbiere di Siviglia) to 1877 (Samson et Dalila) seven of her arias are in French and three are in Italian, together with two overtures. In outstanding voice, Viotti is accompanied by the period instrument orchestra Les Talens Lyriques directed by Christophe Rousset.

Joseph Haydn Piano Trios – Guarneri Trio Prague rec. 2021 Praga Digitals PRD 25042

The seasoned performers of the Guarneri Trio Prague have recorded five Haydn piano trios on this compelling Praga Digitals album. Surprisingly, this is the first recording they have devoted to Haydn. Included is the rightly celebrated piano trio No. 39, dubbed the ‘Gypsy Rondo’. This is playing of distinction.

Giacomo Puccini The Great Puccini – Jonathan Tetelman (tenor), PKF – Prague Philharmonia/Carlo Rizzi 
rec. 2023 Deutsche Grammophon 4864683 

Tetelman released this album in 2023, following his 2022 debut release ‘Arias’ in 2022. He has selected mainly popular tenor arias that many Puccini lovers will know; the aria from Puccini’s early opera Le Villi is the only one I wasn’t familiar with. Tetelman has a terrific voice and ‘The Great Puccini’ shows that he is going from strength to strength.

Johannes Brahms & Alban Berg Violin concertos – Christian Tetzlaff (violin), Deutsches SO Berlin/Robin Ticciati rec. 2021/22 Ondine ODE1410-2

Christian Tetzlaff has been playing both the Brahms and Berg concertos for over forty years, notching up in excess of three hundred performances. He gives a compelling, committed and sincere performance of the Brahms violin concerto, maintaining a sense of nobility throughout and displaying instinctive command. In the Berg concerto, he faces the technical and emotional challenges of the score with assurance, providing an outstanding account. He is an exceptional performer, and this release has provided me with much listening enjoyment.

Jean-Baptiste Lully Thésée – Mathias Vidal (tenor), Karine Deshayes  (mezzo-soprano), Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset rec. 2023 Aparté AP325

Christophe Rousset and the period instrument orchestra Les Talens Lyriques continue their survey of Lully stage works with Thésée. An opera with prologue and five acts commissioned by Louis XIV, no expense was spared on its production, which was intended to impress the Sun King’s visiting overseas dignitaries and guests and to extoll the king. For over a century, it was a success, then it suffered even longer neglect. This is an album of distinction which serves the work proud.

Guillaume Lekeu & Marcel Dupré Violin Sonatas César Franck Mélancolie – Michał Buczkowski (violin), Andrew Wright (piano) rec. 2022 Austrian Gramophone AG0028

This is praiseworthy playing by Michał Buczkowski and Andrew Wright. Labelled here as a ‘first recording’, Dupré’s violin sonata is a work of emotional intensity and the Lekeu sonata is compelling, too; indeed, the performances of all three works are entirely absorbing.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

I make no apology for including two items in my selection which are revived videos from Opus Arte, because (1) they have restored the booklet and packaging which in their last recension were stripped to a barely minimal presentation, and (2) the initiative of their reissue deserves to be rewarded by wide circulation – which might in due course encourage further issues from this source.

Karol Szymanowski Hagith – Urška Arlič Gololičič (soprano), Polish Radio Ch, Krakow Festival O/Bassem Akiki rec. 2013 Polish Ministry of Culture SMP201404

This is a Polish radio recording of Szymanowski’s first opera, a clear attempt to out-Salome Strauss in its scandalous treatment of a Biblical story. The singing, notably from Urška Arlič Goličič in the title role, is decidedly superior to a rival version but suffers from the lack of text, translation, or any serious attempt to explain the decidedly un-Biblical treatment of the action.

John Blow Venus and Adonis Henry Purcell Dido and Aeneas – Ida Ränzlöw (mezzo-soprano), Berndt Ola Volungholen (baritone), Confidencen Opera and Music Festival O/Olof Boman rec. 2021 Opus Arte OABD7308D Blu-Ray

A superb double bill of two English ‘court operas’ from the Restoration period, given in authentic sets but with some delightfully modern touches of production and some really superb singing, especially from Ida Ränzlöw, Berndt Ola Volunholen and Rupert Enticknap.

Tõnu Kõrvits The Sound of Wings – Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Ch, Tallinn CO/Risto Joost rec. 2022 Ondine ODE 1417-2

A marvellous new work by a superb Estonian composer, spellbindingly beautiful in its treatment of an unexpectedly unpromising subject: the loss at sea of the aviator Emilia Erhardt. The vocal writing is ecstatic and lyrical by turns, and the recording and presentation are superb.

Benjamin Britten A Midsummer Night’s Dream – James Bowman (counter-tenor), Ileana Cotrubas (soprano), Curt Appelgren (bass), Felicity Lott (soprano), London PO/Bernard Haitink rec. 1981 Opus Arte OA1373 DVD

A remastering, with improved presentation and the booklet restored, of the 1981 Peter Hall production – a superbly realised production of a stunning beautiful work which should be in every collection.

Benjamin Britten Albert Herring – John Graham-Hall (tenor), Patricia Johnson (soprano), Felicity Palmer (mezzo-soprano), Alan Opie (baritone), Jean Rigby (mezzo-soprano), London PO/Bernard Haitink rec. 1985 Opus Arte OA1375D DVD

And another superb Peter Hall production from four years later, an  outrageously funny work which for one raises more than a sympathetic smile. And again, we have a booklet to make the reissue worthwhile.

Richard Rodgers Oklahoma! – Nathaniel Hackman, Sierra Boggess, Sinfonia of London/John Wilson rec. 2022, Chandos CHSA5322(2) SACD

A scholarly approach to this pioneering musical, presenting the score absolutely complete in its original form as published in 1943. The lack of dialogue is the only drawback, but those wishing to find this may have to seek out the National Theatre production of 1998 – if they can still find a copy of the video.

Hubert Culot

Again, many fine recordings have come my way during 2023 and Naxos’ hopefully ongoing Santoro cycle, to name one of the most interesting and rewarding, was one of them. However, the most impressive of all is the three-CD set of Carl Nielsen symphonies released by DG.

Carl Nielsen The Symphonies – Danish Ntl SO/Fabio Luisi rec. 2019/22 Deutsche Grammophon 486 3471

There is no doubt about it; Nielsen’s music is in the Danish National Symphony Orchestra’s DNA and they play it with unflagging energy and commitment while preserving those precious oases of calm, peace and lyricism during which the Danish composer allows his inborn lyrical nature to express itself freely. Fabio Luisi conducts strong, vital performances of these important scores and he clearly displays his empathy with and deep understanding of the music which he allows to breathe freely while keeping the proceedings under control.

Lotta Wennäkoski Flounce, Sigla, Sedecim – Sivan Magen (harp), Finnish RSO/Nicholas Collon rec. 2021/22 Ondine ODE1420-2

Over the years, Lotta Wennäkoski has emerged as one of the most endearing voices on the Finnish music scene. Her music is characterised by a lively sonic imagination and by clear structural logic. This release, the second entirely devoted to her orchestral music, is undoubtedly the place for any newcomer to start with and I for one am convinced that more is still to come.

Kaija Saariaho Reconnaissance – Helsinki Chamber Choir/Nils Schweckendiek rec. 2022 BIS BIS-2662 SACD

This recording of Kaija Saariaho’s choral music is a real ear-opener and reveals a lesser-known facet of her output i.e. if one excepts her operas. The often exacting, though ultimately rewarding music receives immaculately prepared and strongly convincing performances, all caught in BIS’ excellent recorded sound. This splendid release is a superb and timely tribute to the late, much missed Kaija Saariaho.

Tõnu Kõrvits The Sound of Wings – Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Ch, Tallinn CO/Risto Joost rec. 2022 Ondine ODE 1417-2

Over the years Kõrvits’ music has gained a most enviable and deserved place on the music scene, mainly through his personal affinity for choral music although he has not neglected instrumental music either. The Sound of Wings is the third panel of his choral-orchestral trilogy, though it was not necessarily planned as such. However, this one sounds to me as the most accomplished and the most convincing and a quite gripping and moving piece of music in its own right. Again, performances and recording are up to the best of Ondine’s standards.

Lee Denham

Thomas de Hartmann Fantaisie-Concerto, Symphonie-Poème No 1 – Leon Bosch (double bass), Lviv Ntl PO Ukraine/Theodore Kuchar rec. 2021 Toccata Classics TOCC0676

My first nomination for this year’s Recordings of the Year has an element of déjà vu about it, being yet another by this hitherto unknown Ukrainian composer, Thomas de Hartmann. His Symphonie-Poéme No 2 is really a full-scale, near-hour-long symphony that has, in some quarters, been compared to Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. If I find that comparison somewhat misleading, I still am a great admirer of this work and if you too enjoy music in the style of the early twentieth century Russian Romantic School of Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Glazunov, this is well worth discovering – and it is wonderfully played by the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra.

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Symphony 5 Erwin Schulhoff Five Pieces – Pittsburgh SO/Manfred Honeck rec. 2022 Reference Recordings FR-752 SACD

I was disappointed that Manfred Honeck’s recording of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony did not receive the overall accolade of Recording of the Year 2022, so I am delighted to be able to nominate this year yet another recording by these artists. In my view, this is the finest recording of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony that has been released for decades and with its enterprising coupling and stunning sound will no doubt become a classic in a catalogue that already boasts some superb recordings of this work.

Göran Forsling

My niche has again this year been vocal music: opera, art songs and choral music. The supply has been rich enough to make the procedure of selections complicated. Inevitably, some candidates had to be sifted out in the semi-finals, and the one who missed the winning sextet by the smallest imaginable margin was Benjamin Appl with the collection Forbidden Fruit (Alpha Classics). Other competitors who nearly made it were the duo Georg Nigl and Olga Pashchenko’s Echo (also Alpha Classics) and the fantastic counter-tenor Franco Fagioli with the Mozart programme Anime Immortali (Pentatone). It is also worth noting that three of the six winners were recordings from Pentatone.

Magdalena Kožená (mezzo-soprano) Folk Songs – Czech Philharmonic/Sir Simon Rattle rec.  2020-23 Pentatone PTC5187075 

This is a winner – a life-enhancing experience of which I wish every music lover to be a part.

Gaetano Donizetti Signor Gaetano – Javier Camarena (tenor), Gli Originali/Riccardo Frizza rec. 2021 Pentatone PTC5186886

A valuable addition to the Donizetti catalogue and a magnificent full-size portrait of a truly great bel canto artist.

Kaija Saariaho Reconnaissance – Helsinki Chamber Choir/Nils Schweckendiek rec. 2022 BIS BIS-2662 SACD

To me, this is the most important choral work composed this side of the turn of the millennium, and in harness with the rest of the programme, which is just as valuable, it is an indispensable disc for all lovers of choral music. The performances are tremendous. It is also a worthy memorial to Kaija Saariaho.

Melody Moore (soprano) Remembering Tebaldi – Transylvania State PO & Ch/Lawrence Foster rec. 2022 Pentatone PTC5187070 SACD

This recital evokes memories of “la voce d’angelo” (the voice of an angel), Renata Tebaldi’s soubriquet, but, more importantly, it presents Melody Moore in her own right as a worthy inhabitant in the Pantheon of the present generation of sopranos.

Ekaterina Siurina (soprano) Where Is My Beloved? – Kaunas City SO/Constantine Orbelian rec. 2022 Delos DE3602

In a world where really great voices are in short supply, it is a privilege indeed to listen to Ekaterina Siurina, now in her late forties, her voice in mint condition, with perfectly controlled vibrato and a glowing delivery.

Franz Schubert Die schöne Müllerin – Samuel Hasselhorn (baritone), Ammiel Bushakevitz (piano) rec. 2022 Harmonia Mundi HMM902720

I admire the beauty of his voice and the exquisite handling of nuances, but also something deeper: an intellectual and emotional insight that went to the heart, to the kernel of this much-loved and oft-recorded cycle.

Stephen Greenbank

For the first time in the ten years I’ve been nominating my Recordings of the Year, I’ve been thoroughly spoilt for choice, such has been the wealth of excellent recordings that has come my way. It’s been difficult to whittle down the list to just six and, regrettably some favorites have had to be omitted, such as DG’s Mozart Sonata collaboration between Renaud Capuçon and Kit Armstrong and Ismaël Margain’s wonderful recording of Fauré and Chopin Impromptus on the Naïve label. This year, apart from one recording, all my choices have focused on the piano.

Walter Gieseking (piano) His Columbia Graphophone Recordings rec. 1923-1956 Warner Classics 9029624559

The year began auspiciously with this magnificent 48 CD collection of Walter Gieseking’s Columbia Graphophone Recordings. The new remasterings, which are fresh and vital, have been expertly realized by Christophe Hénault of Studio Art & Son (192kHZ/24bit) “from the best available sources for the 78-era recordings and the original tapes for those from the age of LP”. Every piano aficionado will want this to grace their shelves.

Akito Tani (piano) In Concert rec. 2022 Exton OVCX00093 SACD

I’ve watched many Youtube performance of Akito Tani, and what distinguishes him from the many young pianists today is the sensitivity, poetry, fantasy, musicality and fearsome virtuosity he brings to the music. This is his debut CD and I hope he eventually spreads his wings further afield and doesn’t confine himself to Japanese audiences. He’s certainly the most promising artist/pianist I’ve discovered this year.

Frédéric Chopin Piano Sonatas, Nocturne, Barcarolle – Rafał Blechacz (piano) rec. 2021 Deutsche Grammophon 4863438

Rafał Blechacz is one of the finest pianist’s around today. Every piece of music he touches seems to turn to gold. This is the second time I’ve nominated one of his recordings. In 2017 it was his Bach recording for my yearly accolade. He has a special affinity for the piano works of Frédéric Chopin, after all he took first prize at the 2005 International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw.

Ludwig van Beethoven Piano Concertos 1-5 – Garrick Ohlsson (piano), Grand Teton Music Festival O/Sir Donald Runnicles rec. 2022 Reference Recordings FR-751 SACD

I was rather surprised that Garrick Ohlsson’s survey of Beethoven’s Complete Piano Concertos wasn’t nominated as a Recording of the Month. Excellent in every respect, I must make special mention of Reference Recordings’ audio quality, where everything is recorded and mastered to perfection. It goes without saying that Ohlsson’s interpretations set the bar very high indeed in these live performances.

Gabriel Fauré Nocturnes & Barcarolles – Marc-André Hamelin (piano) rec. 2022 Hyperion CDA68331/2

It’s only within the past couple of years that I’ve really become very fond of Fauré’s piano music. Marc-André Hamelin’s latest recording for Hyperion of the Nocturnes and Barcarolles is a delightful two disc set. Poetry, technique and formidable musicianship combine to showcase the exquisite treasures that lie within these captivating scores.

Johann Sebastian Bach Sonatas and Partitas – Bojan Čičić (violin) rec. 2021 Delphian DCD34300

This is one of the best period instrument performances of Bach’s Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas I’ve ever heard. Everything just comes together perfectly. There is an interpretive consistency, technical polish and an unmannered approach throughout, and refinement and purity imbues every bar of the music. Čičić has been blessed by the exceptionally fine acoustics of the Crichton Collegiate Church, Midlothian.

Michael Greenhalgh

As in the last two years, I sometimes provide details of pieces and interpretation that didn’t get into my review as linked, so some summaries below pay previously unpublished attention to the quality of these and their performances. Of my six choices, three are works by Byrd, as the quatercentenary anniversary of his death has resulted in a deserved increase in recordings and higher profile. In the period covered by Recordings of the Year, Presto lists 49 recordings consisting of, or including, music by Byrd, whereas the same period last year listed 24. In the Tom + Will CD selected below, all credit goes to the Kings Singers for noting that Weelkes shares the same quatercentenary, and their CD features ten works by him as against eight by Byrd. Poor Tom needs this, with Presto listing only three recordings of, or including, music by Weelkes this year and nothing the previous year.

William Byrd Pavans & Galliards, Variations & Grounds – Daniel-Ben Pienaar (piano) rec. 2020 Avie AV2574

Pienaar begins the song Callino custurame (CD1, tr. 17), one of thirteen pieces first recorded on piano, bright-eyed, with a blithe dance lilt. Variation 1 (0:21) opens out the soprano line. Variation 2 (0:42) brings continuous quavers, first to the left-hand, then interchanged with right, soprano and bass dancing together. Variation 3 (1:02) has running quavers in the bass to a more sustained soprano line which then echoes the bass at higher register. Variation 4 (1:21) has the lady, then the man, to be equally adept at running quavers. Variation 5 (1:40) says goodbye with a hint of nostalgia. On piano, everything sounds fresh and folksy.

William Byrd Songs of sundrie natures – Alamire, Fretwork/David Skinner rec. 2022 Inventa INV1011

One of sixteen pieces first recorded in this 2 CD set, The greedy hawk (CD1, tr. 12) is beautifully realised in Byrd’s smoothest madrigal manner and stylishly presented by Alamire. The rhythmic contrasts choreograph the action: stooping, pausing before taking prey; the build-up is nonchalant until from 1:07 there is an animated feast of melismas, all of which rise, fall and rise again in all three voices in imitative counterpoint until the emphatic final cadence of the strike. Before this, the didactic subtext has developed: the danger for humans of tempting prospects. The airily athletic turns thought-provoking. Now look at Julian Hindson’s cover image.

Tom + Will – Weelkes & Byrd 400 Years – The King’s Singers, Fretwork rec. 2022 Signum Classics SIGCD731

Byrd’s Praise our Lord all ye Gentiles, one of his liveliest, most accessible anthems, is given a captivating performance by the Kings Singers. No po-faced handling of Byrd’s English church music here. ‘Praise’ invites celebration and gets a hearty one, but equally telling is the affectionate acknowledgment of God’s mercy spread across the six voices and then the joyful affirmation of ‘his truth remaineth for ever’, all capped by a fabulous Amen ending with a glorious vocal peal of bells. The marvel is that the expression has become internalized through the singers often sharing it as a group, like a thankful congregation.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Piano Sonatas Vol. 5 – Peter Donohoe (piano) rec. 2018 SOMM Recordings SOMMCD0648

In the slow movements I appreciate Donohoe’s patient, unhurried, concentrated focus. K281’s comes with brightly poised weighting and floating of the melodic line, ensuring an exquisite first theme and coquettish second one, offset by a steadily firm bass. K333’s is more musing and emotive, the bass lighter but with transparency supporting the more florid melodic line. The F minor development is faced with equanimity. K533’s Andante is more complex, dramatic and summative. Its dissonant E natural surfaces after three notes where it follows 8 in K333. The left hand still leads the right’s musing but also initiates dissonance and its resolution.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Piano Concertos Vol. 10 – Robert Levin (harpsichord, organ), Academy of Ancient Music/Laurence Cummings rec. 2021 Academy of Ancient Music AAM042

Levin takesthe second movement of K107/1, Mozart’s keyboard concerto arrangement of J.C. Bach’s Sonata, Op. 5 No. 2 at a straight Andante, a brisk walking pace, so Johann Christian’s lovely tune has a smiling progress and Levin’s solo harpsichord repetition adds exquisitely florid touches of embellishment. It is a joy to hear how soloist and orchestra are so well integrated as to be of absolutely the same sympathy, demonstrating Mozart’s success in learning how to fashion a keyboard concerto. A delightful three minutes, including Levin’s improvised cadenza which threatens to go off the rails before equilibrium is restored.

Franz Schubert Impromptus – Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano) rec. 2022 BIS BIS-2614 SACD

Impromptu 8 makes a particularly refreshing appearance on fortepiano. Brautigam presents the opening F minor Scherzo in neat, clipped manner, catching fire in the upper register at the end of the second strain. Elegance vies with unpredictable energy bursts. The A flat major Trio (tr. 8, 1:24) is smoother, more playful, but develops virtuoso effects prefiguring Chopin. At 2:50, semiquavers in octaves anticipate Saint-Saens’ Carnival Pianists. A gentler mood seems possible (5:51) but the left-hand chords are creepy. An electrifying coda descends from coloratura F to basso profundo G. Brautigam’s fortepiano gives you scintillating shivers. Lewis on modern piano is terrifying.

Richard Hanlon

As I am only now returning to reviewing duties after a frustrating and extended absence, I am limiting my choice this year to just a single disc.

Anna Thorvaldsdottir ARCHORA, AIŌN – Iceland SO/Eva Ollikainen rec. 2022 Sono Luminus DSL92268 CD/Blu-ray

My disc of the year is the latest in a magnificent sequence of discs on the Sono Luminus label devoted to the amazing Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir (b 1977). An issue released in the summer coupled her two most recent orchestral masterpieces (and I’m not exaggerating) ARCHORA and AIŌN. The sheer variety of instrumental effects involved in both works is mind-boggling, yet they are never merely for show. There is a humility and coherence at play in Ms Thorvaldsdottir’s music which impresses more with each listen – and don’t get me going on her uncanny knack of eliciting an authentic and hard-hitting emotional impact with every new piece. AIŌN is effectively a 40 minute symphony but ARCHORA is arguably even more affecting. Superb performances and Sono Luminus’ unimpeachably fine audiophile recording (in several formats) seal an unmissable deal.

David McDade

As always with compiling a list of Recordings of the Year, I could easily compile another entirely different list and still not exhaust the pool of excellent new discs I’ve had the privilege to review in the last twelve months – Storgårds’ Shostakovich 14, Bychkov’s splendid Mahler, Matthew Robertson’s gleaming Monteverdi Vespers and so on – so the present list is an attempt to provide a broad cross-section.

Sir William Walton Violin Concerto Ottorino Respighi Violin Sonata – Liya Petrova (violin), Adam Laloum (piano), Royal PO/Duncan Ward rec. 2021/23 Mirare MIR670

There are recordings that one admires and praises. Then there are recordings one just can’t stop listening to. This is one of those. Liya Petrova is such an ideal match for Walton’s concerto that it tends to overshadow just how good her version of the Respighi sonata is. By some margin, this is my record of the year.

Nikolai Medtner Complete Piano Music Vol. III – Thomas Ang (piano) rec. 2023 Private Release

Thomas Ang’s planned complete survey of Medtner’s piano music goes from strength to strength and I could have chosen either of the two volumes released this year. If ever there was a reason to get into downloading music, then Ang’s luminous Medtner is it.

Johann Sebastian Bach The Art of Fugue – Cuarteto Casals rec. 2022 Harmonia Mundi HMM902717

One for the ages. A thrilling conjunction of imagination, intellectual rigour and passion brings Bach’s towering vision to vivid life.

Joseph Haydn String Quartets – Quatuor Akos rec. 2022 NoMadMusic FF004

Amongst a plethora of tremendous quartet recordings , this French outfit stood out for their infectiously gleeful romp through these most famous of Haydn quartets. Elegance and irreverence in perfect proportion.

Liza Lim Annunciation Triptych – WDR SO/Cristian Mačelaru rec. 2022 Kairos KAI0022003

Strange, murky, glittering, fabulous – these were the words with which I ended my original review of these orchestral portraits of famous women. I see no reason to alter them. Along with the box set of her operas, this recording puts Lim at the forefront of composers working today.


Rob Maynard

New releases of ballet performances on Blu-ray and DVD are these days almost as rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth.  The major Paris, Milan and Vienna companies seem to issue material only sporadically and those in the US do so hardly ever at all.  Meanwhile, I imagine that the international political situation will understandably prevent us from seeing new output from either the Bolshoi or the Mariinsky companies any time soon.  We should be grateful, therefore, that the Royal Ballet, currently experiencing something of a Golden Age, continues to record its productions and make them available to the world’s balletomanes. 

Thomas Adès The Dante Project – Choreography by Wayne McGregor, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House O/Koen Kessels rec. 2021 Opus Arte DVD OA1319D

An immensely gifted creative team, headed by composer Thomas Adès, choreographer Wayne McGregor and set and costume designer Tacita Dean, triumphantly adds a major new production to the Royal Ballet’s repertoire.  Challenging but ultimately rewarding, The Dante project demonstrates both the company’s investment in innovative work and the strength in depth that allows it to undertake such ambitious projects so successfully.

Joby Talbot Like water for chocolate – Choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House O/Alondra de la Parra rec. 2022 Opus Arte OA1366D DVD

Like water for chocolate ­serves as further confirmation of Covent Garden’s ongoing commitment to expanding the ballet repertoire.  Joby Talbot’s score and Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography add intriguing new dimensions to Laura Esquivel’s original story of love frustrated by familial jealousy.  The action, set in Mexico and Texas, provides plenty of opportunities for colourful, virtuosic performances, while simultaneously conveying profound and unsettling truths about the human condition.

The Taming of the Shrew Choreography by John Cranko, Music by Karl-Heinz Stolze, after Domenico Scarlatti – Stuttgart Ballet State Theatre Stuttgart O/Wolfgang Heinz rec. 2022 Unitel Editions 808108 DVD

Stuttgart Ballet continues to promote the choreography of its sometime director John Cranko.  The taming of the shrew is, in some ways, the most intriguing of the three great narrative ballets that he produced in the 1960s and this idiomatic and enthusiastically delivered performance does the piece full justice.  As with earlier Stuttgart/Cranko releases, the extensive supporting material adds immensely to viewers’ understanding and appreciation.

Carlos Gomes Opera Overtures and Preludes – Minas Gerais PO/Fabio Mechetti rec. 2022 Naxos 8.574409

Even if we hear no voices and are simply offered a sequence of overtures and preludes, this CD very usefully provides something of an overview of Carlos Gomes’ operatic output.  After listening to it, I was sufficiently inspired to buy a Blu-ray disc of his masterpiece Lo schiavo – which proved just as enjoyable.  While Verdi’s description of Gomes as “a truly musical genius” may now appear somewhat hyperbolic, his music as presented on this disc is certainly worth investigation and rediscovery.

Springtime in Amsterdam A film by Christof Loy – Annette Dasch (soprano), Thomas Oliemans (baritone), Netherlands PO/Marko Letonja rec. 2021 Naxos NBD0169V Blu-ray

While something of a niche production, this proves to be an enjoyable feature film that’s characterised by an innovative approach to the way in which music is incorporated into drama.  A sequence of well-chosen operetta excerpts and more modern chansons, all very well sung and imaginatively staged, offers a running commentary on a story that, if somewhat slight, is expertly brought to life by engaging cast members who deliver their winning performances with the greatest skill.

Ralph Moore

It has been another lean year in what I like to think of as my “specialist” area of opera and vocal music – with the exception of tenor Jonathan Tetelman’s Puccini recital, but I think we must watch and wait to see how he develops. Compensation for the lack of operatic nominees resides in the number of first-class recordings of Bruckner symphonies – another of my favourite categories of music. I did think of including the Clarion Choir’s Rachmaninov Vespers but, good as it is, for me it does not displace the vintage recording by Sveshnikov on Melodiya. Likewise, I would have liked to include the BR issue of Haitink’s superb Bruckner Fourth Symphony with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra from 2012, but that is not new as such and I already have a top recommendation for that symphony in my list, as per below. Haochen Zhang’s set of Beethoven’s five piano concertos on BIS nearly made the cut; likewise the immensely talented Alpesh Chauhan’s Tchaikovsky disc on Chandos – but nothing beats Stokowski in Francesca da Rimini, so that had to go. That leaves the following:

Jean Sibelius Symphonies 3 & 5, Pohjola’s Daughter, Op. 49 – Gothenburg SO/Santtu-Matias Rouvali rec. 2018/19 Alpha Classics 645

The controversial Rouvali at his best in the repertoire to which he is most suited; thrilling playing of an unusual combination of Sibelius symphonies in the best sound.

Anton Bruckner Symphony 4 – Tokyo SO/Jonathan Nott rec. 2021 Exton OVCL00796 SACD

Yet another first-rate live recording from an unexpected source which confirms the affinity modern Japanese orchestras have for Bruckner, in an ideally paced account conducted by Jonathan Nott.

Franz Schubert Piano Trios, Notturno, Rondo, Arpeggione Sonata – Christian Tetzlaff (violin), Tanja Tetzlaff (cello), Lars Vogt (piano) rec. 2021 Ondine ODE1394-2D

A fitting tribute to an artist who left this memento mori in partnership with two of the finest soloists on the circuit today.

Sergei Rachmaninov Symphony 2 – Ural PO/Dmitry Liss rec. 2021 Fuga Libera FUG816

An extraordinarily vital account of Rachmaninov’s most popular symphony, suffused with the true Russian spirit.

Anton Bruckner Symphony 7 – Rotterdam PO/Lahav Shani rec. 2022 Warner Classics 5419761966 

A young Israeli conductor directs a grand, majestic recording of Bruckner’s most popular and accessible symphony which can take its place among the finest.

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Symphony 5 Erwin Schulhoff Five Pieces – Pittsburgh SO/Manfred Honeck rec. 2022 Reference Recordings FR-752 SACD

Once again, Manfred Honeck reinforces his reputation as perhaps the most stimulating conductor working today, delivering an exceptional reading of two interestingly contrasted pieces, directing one of the world’s great orchestras.

Dan Morgan

Dmitri Shostakovich Symphonies 8-10 – Berliner Philharmoniker/Kirill Petrenko rec. 2020/21 Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings BPHR220421 CD/Blu-ray

‘Kirill who?’ My initial response to the news that Kirill Petrenko would succeed Sir Simon Rattle as chief conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2019. Curious, I listened to some of his earlier recordings – he guested with the orchestra from time to time – and while I was quite impressed nothing prepared me for his revelatory Shostakovich 8, 9 and 10. These are taut, highly idiomatic performances, peerlessly played and superbly recorded. If the rest of this projected cycle is this good, we are in for a treat indeed.

Mike Parr

2023 has left us with a goodly number of very fine recordings that deserve to be investigated music lovers , especially those who, like myself, have a penchant for opera and vocal music in general. These outstanding recordings are proof against a seemingly endless thread of commentary on our message board about opera being in decline.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov Christmas Eve – Georgy Vasiliev (tenor), Julia Muzychenko (soprano), Frankfurt Opern- und Museumsorchester/Sebastien Weigle rec. 2021/22 Naxos NBD0154V Blu-Ray

Possibly the happiest release of the past year, Christof Loy’s production managed to balance a reasonable level of faithfulness to the fairy tale with a modern design esthetic. The production was superbly cast and realized by the forces of the Frankfurt Opera Company. This off-beat set is my top choice of the year.

Gaspare Spontini La Vestale – Maria Rebeka (soprano), Stanislas de Barbeyrac (tenor), Flemish Radio Choir; Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset rec. 2022 Bru Zane BZ1051

Palazetto Bru Zane continues to hold the standard high for deluxe operatic releases of non-standard repertory. While not absolutely perfect in all respects, Christophe Rousset’s realization of Spontini’s masterpiece proved to be a revelatory experience.

Engelbert Humperdinck Der Blaue Vogel Incidental Music & Symphonic Pictures – Berlin RSO & Ch/Steffen Tast rec. 2021 Capriccio C5506

The concert suite of Humperdinck’s long unheard incidental music for Maeterlinck’s children’s play The Blue Bird restored an important score to circulation and for that reason I chose it over other releases of more familiar repertoire. Capriccio’s execution of this lovely work is beyond criticism.

Marc-Antoine Charpentier David et Jonathas – Reinoud Van Mechelen (tenor),
Caroline Arnaud (soprano), Ensemble Marguerite Louise/Gaétan Jarry rec. 2022 Château de Versailles CVS102 CD/DVD/Blu-ray

Charpentier’s tragédie lyrique achieved a superb production at Versailles which balanced historical authenticity with inventiveness. The choreography in particular puts to shame many a modern travesty that has encroached into the staging of baroque opera. The Château de Versailles label thought enough of this to package all formats (CD/DVD/Blu-Ray) in a single box so one can enjoy it to the maximum.

Felix Mendelssohn Elias – Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone), Bayerisches Staatsorchester/Wolfgang Sawallisch rec. 1984 Bayerische Staatsoper Recordings BSOREC0003

Late in the year Bayerische Staatsoper Recordings came out with its first historical release. A truly shattering account of Mendelssohn’s Elias. Sawallisch and his team of soloists were operating at white heat for this concert performance. Despite any flaws from being recorded at a single live concert, I have never experienced such a powerful representation of Mendelssohn’s best-known oratorio.

Glyn Pursglove

Citadel Of Song Anakronos rec. 2021 Heresy 028

Good scholarship underlies this disc, though it is far from being ‘authentic’. Attracted by the ballate in Boccaccio’s Decameron, of which no period settings survive, Catriona O’Leary, leader of Anakronos, searched the music of Boccaccio’s time to find music matching the verse of Boccaccio’s poems. The result is fascinating and exhilarating.  The box declares “Medieval Music meets Jazz, Rock and Other to revivify the songs from Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th century masterpiece The Decameron”. The music-making is more disciplined and sympathetic than that claim might imply; the level of musicianship is high, and Boccaccio’s lyrics get a new lease of life.

Wenzeslaus Thomas Matiegka Six Sonatas for Guitar – David Starobin (guitar) rec. 2019 Bridge 9567

This disc makes a persuasive case for Matiegka’s little-known sonatas. They have been recorded before, but David Starobin’s performances reveal a previously unsuspected emotional range, from the sweet to the tragic, the volatile to the tender. These performances are everything one could hope for: beautifully phrased, well informed, technically assured, sensitive and beautifully judged in tone and colour.

Jistebnický Kancionál – Sound of the Bohemian Pre-Reformation Tiburtina Ensemble/Barbora Kabátková rec. 2020 Supraphon SU42912

The music on this disc (sacred music from medieval Bohemia) was previously entirely unknown to me. The performances by the Tiburtina Ensemble, led by Barbora Kabátková, are dignified and moving, with an air of genuine spirituality and recorded in a fully appropriate acoustic. A revelation!

Monologues Anna Bonitatibus (mezzo soprano), Adele D’Aronzo (piano) rec. 2022 Prospero PROSP0068

The repertoire is largely unfamiliar, coming from a territory midway between the opera house and the concert hall or salon. The groundbreaking programme, including works by Zingarelli and Pauline Viardot as well as by Rossini and Wagner, gets top-class performances by mezzo-soprano Anna Bonitatibus (dramatic and psychologically perceptive) and pianist Adele d’Aronzo (sensitive as both accompanist and soloist).

Alfonso Ferrabosco Music to Hear … – Richard Boothby (viola da gamba) rec. 2020 Signum Classics SIGCD757

If Richard Boothby played the violin or the cello, he would surely be far more famous than he is. As a player of the viol(s) he attracts less attention than he should. One might also say that Alfonso Ferrabosco attracts less attention than he should, too, given how skilled and inventive a composer he is. On this disc, Boothby’s performances are effectively a ‘celebration’ of Ferrabosco’s music; whether it be dancing or meditative, Boothby finds – and communicates – its sophisticated beauty.

Angelus: French Sacred Song Sarah Fox (soprano), Rupert Gough (organ) rec. 2022 Ad Fontes AF009

A thoroughly engaging programme in which there are both familiar works (e.g. by Franck and Messiaen) and some that are less so (by, for example, Lili Boulanger and Flor Peeters) – all of them heard in accomplished and insightful interpretations and excellent recorded sound.

John Quinn

Among the outstanding discs that didn’t make the final cut for my selections were: a rewarding coupling of songs by Vaughan Williams with Ian Venables’ new cycle, Portraits of a Mind (Albion); an excellent collection of orchestrated English Choral Anthems (Delphian); the premiere recording of Sir James MacMillan’s Christmas Oratorio (London Philharmonic); Tchaikovsky orchestral music conducted by Alpesh Chauan (Chandos); and a splendid disc of Mahler songs from Dame Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton (Signum). I was impressed by Mathias Goerne’s collection of Schubert songs in orchestrations by Alexander Schmalcz (DG) and by the Tallis Scholars in John Sheppard (Gimell). James Newby’s outstanding recital ‘Fallen to Dust’ (BIS) was edged out narrowly by another song disc from the same label. The following six releases demanded to be chosen and if you have acquired any of them, I hope you have found them as rewarding as I did. 

Richard Wagner Götterdämmerung – Birgit Nilsson, Wolfgang Windgassen, Wiener Philharmoniker/Sir Georg Solti rec. 1964 Decca 485316-2 SACD 

The famous Decca ‘Ring’ has been remastered and issued on SACD to mark the 25th anniversary of the death of Sir Georg Solti. This last instalment came my way. Comparing the SACDs with the original CDs and the later Blu-ray release was a revelation. The performance itself is magnificent and the latest remastering shows it off to optimum advantage. As I said in my review, anyone listening to these SACDs is likely to conclude that in audio terms Decca gave us a recording for the ages, now revealed in all its splendour. This release excited me more than any other in 2023; it’s my personal Recording of the Year.

Anton Bruckner Symphonies 1-9 – Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Herbert Blomstedt rec. 2005-12 Accentus Music ACC80575

A set of live performances, given between 2005 and 2011, in which Herbert Blomstedt conducts the magnificent Gewandhausorchester Leipzig in Bruckner’s nine numbered symphonies. All of Blomstedt’s accumulated wisdom is poured into these performances and, in addition, the music-making is full of life. The orchestral playing is peerless, the recorded sound is superb, and Blomstedt is a magisterial guide to all nine symphonies. The cycle is wonderfully consistent and, I believe, can be ranked among the very best. 

Carl Nielsen The Symphonies – Danish Ntl SO/Fabio Luisi rec. 2019/22 Deutsche Grammophon 486 3471

Fabio Luisi displays excellent credentials as a Nielsen interpreter in this very consistent cycle. The Danish National Symphony Orchestra have an undeniable affinity with the music, which they play splendidly. Though all the performances are excellent, those of the Third, Fourth and Fifth are particularly fine. DG’s sound is as impressive as the performances. This is a distinguished addition to the Nielsen discography.

Sergei Rachmaninoff Symphonies 2 & 3, The Isle of the Dead – Philadelphia O/Yannick Nézet-Séguin rec. 2018-22, Deutsche Grammophon 486 4775

This release by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin is a distinguished contribution to the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s birth. The Second Symphony receives a magnificent performance which, even allowing for one small interpretative mis-judgement, sets a new benchmark for recordings of the work. The accounts of the Third Symphony and The Isle of the Dead are no less successful.  These thrilling performances are fit to rank with the best in the Rachmaninoff discography.

Dmitri Shostakovich Symphonies 8-10 – Berliner Philharmoniker/Kirill Petrenko rec. 2020/21 Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings BPHR220421 CD/Blu-ray

I’ve been very impressed by Kirill Petrenko’s work to date with the Berlin Philharmonic but this trio of Shostakovich symphonies is the finest example of their partnership that has so far come my way. They are mightily impressive in the Ninth and Tenth but their account of the Eighth is simply magnificent. The orchestra’s own label is renowned for its high production values and this release is no exception; the sound and video images are top-class.

Franz Schubert Elysium – Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Joseph Middleton (piano) rec. 2020/21 BIS BIS-2573 SACD

Among several top-quality song recital discs, this one stood out. Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton offer a treasurable Schubert recital. They perform as a genuine partnership and the performances always sound fresh and spontaneous. BIS’s wonderfully sensitive engineering enhances the music-making. Listen to the rapt rendition of Nacht und Träume; that should seal the deal.

Johan van Veen

Adriatic Voyage The Marian Consort, The Illyria Consort/Bojan Čičič rec. 2020 Delphian DCD34260

A compelling survey of music from the Adriatic coast, which is largely unknown. The importance of such a disc can hardly be overstated, especially as the music is of fine quality. Add to that the excellence of singing and playing and the nomination is inevitable.

Song of Beasts Ensemble Dragma rec. 2019 Ramée RAM1901

A fascinating programme, which sheds light on the world of the Middle Ages, its preoccupations and ideas. The music is often technically highly complicated, but musically compelling. Agnieszka Budzinska-Bennett is responsible for some of the best singing in music of the 14th century that I have heard in a long time.

Hildegard of Bingen Sacred Chants – Grace Davidson (soprano) rec. 2021 Signum Classics SIGCD717

The chants by Hildegard of Bingen belong among the most frequently performed repertoire of the Middle Ages. However, seldom, if ever, are they performed by a single voice without the participation of any instruments. Grace Davidson delivers highly impressive performances, in which the magic of this music is perfectly communicated.

Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber Mystery Sonatas – Mayumi Hirasaki (violin) rec. 2020/21 Passacaille PAS1088

Biber’s Mystery Sonatas are available in many recordings and this one has to be ranked among the best. Mayumi Hirasaki’s performances are exciting, intense and often dramatic. The timing, articulation and dynamics are important instruments to achieve maximum expression.

Jistebnický Kancionál – Sound of the Bohemian Pre-Reformation Tiburtina Ensemble/Barbora Kabátková rec. 2020 Supraphon SU42912

Liturgical chants from 15th century Bohemia, part of which comes from the circles of the Hussites. If one has an ear for old liturgical practices, this is a most fascinating disc. The singing of the Tiburtina Ensemble (and, not to forget, its members in solo episodes) is superb. The acoustic is exactly what this music needs.

From Mannheim to Berlin Octavie Dostaler-Lalonde (cello piccolo), Victor García García (cello), Artem Belogurov (fortepiano) rec. 2021 Challenge Classics CC72961

The acquisition of a cello with four strings inspired Octavie Dostaler-Lalonde to put together a programme of music for cello whose compass fits the tuning of her instrument. This disc is interesting from a historical point of view but also because it includes four first recordings. The performances are of the highest calibre, and Dostaker-Lalonde’s speech-like and dynamically differentiated interpretation bring these pieces to life.

Roy Westbrook

Sergei Rachmaninov Piano Sonata No. 1, Preludes – Lukas Geniušas (piano) rec. 2023 Alpha Classics 997

Rachmaninov’s 150th anniversary year produced a number of fine issues of his music, including a delightful recital of his songs from soprano Asmik Grigorian and pianist Lukas Geniušas. I was minded to suggest that as a Record of the Year, until I heard them live at London’s Wigmore Hall and realised that performance was even better! Then along came the same pianist with a piece I assumed was lost. Geniušas suggests in his booklet note that this is the best of all the composer’s works for solo piano, and offers playing to back that up.


Jonathan Woolf

Nikolai Kapustin Piano Concerto No.5, Concerto for two pianos, Sinfonietta – Frank Dupree, Adrian Brendle (piano) Berlin RSO/Dominik Beykirch rec. 2022 Capriccio C5495

Kapustin has always appealed to jazz-leaning listeners but he should appeal to everyone. His assimilation of jazz devices is well-nigh perfect as are his classically conceived structures. He’s also a great communicator so unless you’re an irredeemable snob, give him a listen.

Sergei Rachmaninov Symphony No.3, The Bells (1913) – London PO/Sir Thomas Beecham, BBC SO/Sir Henry Wood rec. 1937 Biddulph 850272

This was was my favourite historical recording of the year. Recorded privately in 1937 it features Beecham and Wood conducting Rachmaninov in dynamically conceived performances and in some style.

Jörg Demus (piano) The Bach Recordings for Westminster rec. 1955-1963 Eloquence 484 2053

Demus is still thought of in some quarters as something of a second-tier pianist. Not by me. The Bach Westminsters remain a cornerstone of his discography and though later remakes may prove superior in some cases, this body of recordings reinforces what I wrote about him in my review – that he was cultured, cultivated and eloquent.


Leslie Wright

2023 was another good year for recordings; I have selected five, all but one of which I reviewed, but I could have included more than six on my list. Others I could have chosen are two outstanding BIS SACDs:  Rautavaara and Martinů piano concertos with Olli Mustonen, and Janáček and Pavel Haas string quartets with the Escher Quartet.  On Naxos, JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic provide much pleasure in two symphonies of Scriabin, as do Christine Bernsted and Ramez Mhaanna in Auerbach’s 24 Preludes for violin and piano.

Johannes Brahms, György Ligeti & Roberto Sierra Horn Trios – Manuel Escauriaza (horn), Miguel Colom (violin), Denis Pascal (piano) rec. 2021 IBS Classical IBS182022

A stunning disc of three major trios in astonishing performances by hornist Manuel Escauriaza, violinist Miguel Colon, and pianist Denis Pascal, all of whom were new to me.  The Sierra Horn Trio has undoubtedly received its premiere recording here and makes an appropriate disc-mate to the trios of Brahms and Ligeti, accounts that can stand with the best of previous recordings.

Olivier Messiaen Des canyons aux étoiles . . . – Utah Symphony/Thierry Fischer rec. 2022 Hyperion CDA68316

An awe-inspiring performance of one of Messiaen’s masterpieces by the Utah Symphony under Thierry Fischer near the source of the composer’s inspiration.  Pianist Jason Hardink and hornist Stefan Dohr are the prominent soloists, but the whole ensemble really excels.  Hyperion provides state-of-the art recording where one can hear all the wonderful details of the orchestration clearly.

Grażyna Bacewicz Piano Concertos & other works – Peter Jablonski, Elisabeth Brauẞ (piano), Finnish RSO/Nicholas Collon rec. 2022 Ondine ODE1427-2

Grażyna Bacewicz is now getting the attention she has long deserved, nowhere more so than in this new recording of major works, including her Piano Concerto, Concerto for Two Pianos, and Music for Strings, Trumpets, and Percussion.  The disc begins with the delightful Overture, which would make a fine opener for any orchestral concert.  The performances by the soloists and the Finnish Radio Symphony conducted by Nicholas Collon are all first rate.

Infinite Voyage Works by Berg, Chausson, Hindemith & Schoenberg –
Emerson String Quartet, Barbara Hannigan (soprano), Bertrand Chamayou (piano) rec. 2022 Alpha Classics 1000

This farewell recording by the Emerson String Quartet is rather special, not only in the repertoire, which the quartet had not previously put to disc, but also in the addition of soprano Barbara Hannigan and pianist Bertrand Chamayou.  The chosen programme contains songs by Hindemith and Chausson, and string quartets of Berg and Schoenberg that seem to work together surprisingly well and are superbly performed by the artists.

Béla Bartók Concerto for Orchestra, Viola Concerto – Amihai Grosz (viola), O Ntl Lille/Alexandre Bloch rec. 2022 Alpha Classics 1013

The pieces on this disc are of the standard repertoire of which there are numerous fine accounts on disc from which to choose.  It would take something exceptional for this to be one of my top recommendations – and indeed, it is. The Viola Concerto played by the renowned Amihai Grosz has changed my opinion of the work, which now I find to be the equal of Bartók’s other mature concertos.   The popular Concerto for Orchestra is given a thrilling performance by Alexandre Bloch and the Orchestre National de Lille in a vivid recording that can easily be compared to those by native Hungarian conductors.