Usually, I try to do one blog post per section (Orchestral, Piano, etc.), at least for those that I do care about. This time unfortunately my day job is keeping me quite busy and I wasn’t able to listen to all albums shortlisted by Gramophone, so this will just be a “best of” of albums from some of the nominated albums from the different categories.
Note that this is the continuation from part I that I published last week, where I had a look at the “Concerto” category. Today I’ll cover “Choral”, “Instrumental”, and “Orchestral”.
I’m following the order that Gramophone uses in their Gramophone Awards shortlist special edition.
Let’s start with the Choral section, and two recent recordings of Bach’s masterpieces.
Bach: St John’s Passion – Philippe Herreweghe – Collegium Vocale Gent (Phi 2020)
I must admit I only learned about this release from the Gramophone awards issue, although it was already released in February. What a miss! I do have already a favourite recording of the St John passion, as performed by John Butt and the Dunedin Consort, I have praised Philippe Pierlot’s excellent reading here, I also have Herreweghe’s previous version from 2001, as well as versions from Suzuki, and Gardiner (the usual suspects for great baroque vocal works).
But this new release is truly outstanding, and could potentially become my favorite, a true 5 star recording.
Bach: St Matthew Passion – Masaaki Suzuki – Bach Collegium Japan (BIS 2020)
So, after the “smaller” passion, there’s also a new release of the majestic St Matthew Passion. I’ve already written about some other fantastic versions (again by the usual bunch of John Butt, one of my 25 Essential Classical Music albums, and the recent recording of John Eliot Gardiner that I was able to attend live), so it wasn’t obvious that I needed yet another version on top of the 7 or 8 others I have in my local library. But I bought it anyhow, given the recommendations by Gramophone, unfortunately without listening to it beforehand.
Don’t get me wrong, this is brilliantly performed, with excellent soloists. So why am just a bit hesitant about it? A simple fact, Suzuki starts the opening chorus “Kommt, Ihr Töchter” is just significantly slower (8:20 compared to John Butt’s 6:38), and it startles me a bit every time. It makes it even more powerful, but it just loses a tiny bit of drive. Check it out before you buy, but it clearly is among the very top performances out there.
Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri – Philippe Ricercar Cosort (Mirare 2019)
I don’t know why this ended up being reviewed by Gramophone only in 2020, you’ll find my 4 star review of March 2019 here.
I really liked the album, and while I still would pick Bach over Buxtehude anytime, Buxtehude’s early baroque is growing on me. It is very much worth discovering.
Beethoven: Complete Piano Sonatas – Igor Levit (Sony 2019)
The more I discover Levit’s Beethoven cycle, the more I’m impressed. You’ll find my 5 star review here, but in the meantime I’ve again had the pleasure seeing Levit perform a part of the cycle live at the 2020 Lucerne festival (he played the Pathétique and Tempest among others), and have tickets for a live performance of the Hammerklavier that I’m very much looking forward to.
By the way, if you speak German, Levit has done a fantastic podcast, produced by German public radio, where he discusses in-depth every single sonata. Highly recommended.
Brahms: The Final Piano Pieces -Stephen Hough (Hyperion 2020)
Another album that I fully agree with, as reviewed here (5 stars). This album is all the way up there for me with Volodos and Perahia. Very much worth having.
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 – Kiril Petrenko (BPO’s own label, 2020)
Again, an album I already reviewed in 2019 and loved it (5 stars).
In fact, it is the one recording that made me reconsider whether I actually like Tchaikovsky (I’m still on the fence, but getting there).
Very much recommended.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the selection this year.
If you want to buy any of these albums (which I highly recommend you do), you can find the albums here (Qobuz & Hyperion):
Bach St John Passion – Herreweghe
Bach St Matthew Passion – Suzuki
Buxtehude Membra Jesu Nostri – Pierlot