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Recording of the Week, Presto Personal Favourites from 2016

We feel very lucky at Presto that we get to listen to so many amazing recordings; unfortunately there are just too many discs for us to feature everything that excites us in our weekly newsletter.

As this is a somewhat lean time of year for new releases, we are continuing our tradition of asking each member of our editorial team to choose a disc from the past year that they really loved, but which we simply didn't have the space to write about at the time of release.

So, here are some overlooked gems that you may have missed this year; we hope you'll want to explore them and maybe make a new discovery or two!

Chris O'Reilly

This may well be my personal Disc of the Year. Everything about this recording just sounds so ‘right’ - the clarity of textures, the beautiful phrasing, the natural and distinct voice-leading, the rhythmic vitality… indeed it is hard to find any element of this disc which isn’t perfection itself.

Murray Perahia’s innate musicianship, completely free of any mannerisms or distractions, demands repeated listening: you never tire or get bored, but hear new and charming subtle details at every turn.

Quite possibly the most rewarding disc you could ever hear; I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Graham Southern

Music By John Taverner & Court Music For Henry VIII

This release was a tremendous discovery for me in 2016 - and is now one of my favourite recordings of the last several years. Andrew Parrott and his Taverner Choir & Players have given us many vibrant and vital recordings over the last three decades, none finer than this. With Taverner's Western Wynde Mass as its cornerstone, this recording also ventures into the Court Music of Henry VIII via English composers William Cornysh and Hugh Aston.

I dare to say that The Western Wynde is a choral masterpiece and this interpretation was rightly lauded at the 2016 Gramophone Awards with the Early Music Award. There is superb singing throughout, incisive and brisk, both from the choir and from Emily Van Evera and Charles Daniels. This recording is such a delight - a really special discovery - bringing this music alive once again for a new generation of listeners. You will certainly enjoy it!

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Katherine Cooper

Ian Bostridge (tenor), Antonio Pappano (piano), Elizabeth Kenny (lute), Adam Walker (flute), Lawrence Power (viola), Michael Collins (clarinet)

With repertoire ranging across four centuries, this delightfully eclectic collection of Shakespeare settings has to be one of the most outstanding musical offerings marking the 400th anniversary of The Bard’s death this year.

Bostridge is every bit as compelling in the lute-songs of Shakespeare’s near-contemporaries (where, to my ears, his astringent timbre and often quirky way with the text stave off any excessive Merrie England tweeness) as he is in the more austere territory of Tippett and Stravinsky; as with their joint celebration of Britten’s 100th birthday back in 2013, Antonio Pappano’s exuberance offsets Bostridge’s introspective delivery quite beautifully, and classy contributions from guests including the lutenist Elizabeth Kenny and violist Lawrence Power make for something rich and strange indeed.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

James Longstaffe

Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Dausgaard

Whether or not you agree with the principle of musicologist Deryck Cooke producing a performing version of Mahler's unfinished Tenth Symphony, there's no denying that this live recording from the Seattle Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Dausgaard is a stunning, emotionally-draining performance. It covers every extreme, with the first movement alone moving effortlessly between the desolate, searching violas in the opening bars, to a gloriously rich tone from the horns, trombones, and strings in the main section, and then the most shattering, savagely dissonant climax towards the end.

With its ever-changing time signatures, the second-movement Scherzo must be one of Mahler's most fiendish movements to perform, but the Seattle players don't put a foot wrong. The central Purgatorio movement is genuinely creepy, and Dausgaard navigates the shifting moods of the fourth movement with ease. Finally, the last movement, after its opening salvo of bass drum thwacks and lugubrious tuba phrases, moves into one of Mahler’s most affecting melodies, played with touching poignancy by the orchestra’s principal flute. A magnificent recording.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

David Smith

Neil Percy, LSO Percussion Ensemble

Steve Reich, who turned 80 this year, has had (and continues to have) a profound influence on the direction of American classical music. This finely-polished album from the percussion section of the LSO showcases three of his compositions – the exquisitely simple Clapping Music, the mesmerising Music for Pieces of Wood, which sees the humble claves come into their own and create a biting and powerful sound-world, and lastly his well-known Sextet, whose rhythmic and tonal complexity exemplifies Reich’s ensemble writing.

The constantly-shifting pulses of both Music for Pieces of Wood and the Sextet require a level of musical feeling that goes far beyond what ‘conventional’ works demand, and it’s testament to the LSO musicians’ skill that the furious mental work going on beneath the surface is completely undetectable - the rhythmic compass is always rock-solid, allowing Reich's interlocking cells to work their magic.

Available Formats: SACD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC