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 Awards, Recordings of the Year - Special Category Nominees

Special Awards 2018As the Presto Awards panel embark on a final round of detailed listening and heated discussion to decide on our Top 10 Recordings of 2018, we reveal the shortlists for the six new special category awards which we’ve introduced this year: Rising Star, Conductor of the Year, two species of Premiere Recordings, Best Completed Cycle/Series, and Best Deluxe Boxed Set. The winners will be revealed alongside the Top 10 next Friday morning…

Special prices on the top 100 titles will run until 28th January 2019.

Rising Star

Eric Lu

A student of Jonathan Biss and Đặng Thái Sơn, this 20-year-old Chinese-American pianist won the First Prize and Terence Judd Hallé Orchestra Award at The Leeds International Piano Competition in September after holding the audience and jury spellbound from his very first entry in Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto in the final; the live recording (issued earlier this month on Warner Classics) testifies to musicianship of immense poise and potential. You can read David's interview with him about his competition success here.

Eric Lu (piano), Hallé Orchestra, Edward Gardner

'This is a reading that is full of glinting brilliance on the part of Lu – his dexterity is impressive, as is his trilling, and in the more extrovert moments he is in his element.' (Gramophone)

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

Jakub Józef Orliński

The hype surrounding him has focused on his breakdancing skills and modelling career as much as his mellifluous voice, but this exciting Polish countertenor is the real deal: he came perilously close to stealing the show in the tiny role of Eustazio in Rinaldo at the Barbican this spring, and his debut album of sacred baroque arias by the likes of Nicola Fago, Domenico Sarro and Francesco Feo showcases a timbre that’s distinctly earthier than that of his Warner/Erato stable-mate Philippe Jaroussky.

Jakub Józef Orliński (countertenor), Il pomo d’oro, Maxim Emelyanychev

'[Fago's] Latin motets Confitebor tibi and Tam non splendet are remarkable works that showcase the unearthly beauty of Orlinski’s tone, his pearly coloratura and fabulous breath control. He’s only 28, but this is a special voice to look out for.' (Sunday Times)

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

Sheku Kanneh-Mason

It’s two years since he was crowned BBC Young Musician of the Year, but the nineteen-year-old British cellist (currently an undergraduate at the Royal Academy of Music) has bided his time in releasing his first solo album: Inspiration, which includes his own arrangements of music by Leonard Cohen and Bob Marley as well as Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto, came out on Decca in January and won an Opus Klassik Award in October. You can read Katherine's interview with him here.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason (cello)

'Even at the start of his career, nothing masks the authority or technical finesse of his playing...Above all, Kanneh-Mason’s playing radiates love of life, commitment and hope.' (The Times)

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

Conductor of the Year

Edward Gardner

The British conductor’s had an extremely prolific year, with recordings including a superb Peer Gynt and Berlioz’s Grande Messe des Morts with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, an account of Elgar’s Second Symphony which was described in Classical Music as ‘a tremendous performance that breathes nobility and confidence’, and the third volume of his acclaimed Walton series with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. You can read David's interview with him about the latter recording here.

Browse the full list of his currently available recordings here.

Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Choirs, Edward Gardner

'Gardner is certainly alive to the drama of the tale and his ‘Hall of the Mountain King’ is superbly caught by Chandos’s engineers...In the Piano Concerto, Gardner brings to the table flair, drive and an almost Tchaikovskian lushness to the string sound, which matches well Bavouzet’s commanding manner in the piano’s opening flourish.' (Gramophone)

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

BBC Symphony Orchestra, Edward Gardner

'Gardner’s BBC Symphony Orchestra take is commensurate in achievement with everything else that the conductor has set down for the company recently – a performance of real heft and drama.' (Classical CD Review)

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

James Ehnes (viola), BBC Symphony Orchestra, Edward Gardner

'Gardner’s BBC Symphony Orchestra forces play [the Partita] as the showpiece it is, revelling in its unfashionable Italianate lyricism and witty high jinks.' (Sunday Times)

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

Louis Lortie (piano), BBC Philharmonic, Edward Gardner

'Gardner, long a conductor drawn to architecture and detail, takes far from a routine view [of the Second Concerto], his supportive presence ensuring a bold canvas. Hair-pinning throughout is alacritous.' (Classical Source)

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

John Wilson

In addition to his contributions to the Leonard Bernstein centenary at the BBC Proms and an acclaimed Porgy & Bess at English National Opera, the Gateshead-born conductor has had a busy 2018 in terms of recordings, with two further volumes of his Copland series with the BBC Philharmonic on Chandos winning widespread acclaim and a second instalment of the orchestral music of the late Richard Rodney Bennett with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra flying the flag for a composer whose symphonic work still deserves wider recognition.

Browse the full list of his currently available recordings here.

BBC Philharmonic, John Wilson

'Wilson’s empathy with this music is infectious.' (The Times)

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

BBC Philharmonic, John Wilson

'Wilson and the BBC Philharmonic make the most of this music’s European footprints...But they’re equally effective punching out the American jazz rhythms…All told, this ebulliently performed collection offers a fascinating portrait of a greatly skilled composer in transition.' (BBC Music Magazine)

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

Howard McGill (tenor saxophone), Gordon Rigby (timpani), Scott Dickinson (viola), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, John Wilson

'The performances of all these works, under the composer’s friend John Wilson, are exemplary. The players of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra treat Bennett’s melodic lines with just the expressive flexibility they need and meet the technical challenges of the Symphony with aplomb.' (BBC Music Magazine)

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

Onyx Brass, John Wilson

'This really is a superb disc - a veritable box of delights or a horn(!) of plenty...John Wilson proves himself to be a deft and intelligent interpreter of this music which he allows to push on in flamboyant display or swagger with burnished grandeur as the mood demands.' (MusicWeb International)

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

François-Xavier Roth

Roth’s explorations of French orchestral music with the period instruments of Les Siècles have gone from strength to strength this year, with a Mother Goose and Le Tombeau de Couperin which Katherine described as a ‘revelatory sonic experience’ back in April, and a magical reading of Debussy’s Nocturnes and Jeux (released tomorrow) as part of Harmonia Mundi’s Debussy Centenary Edition.

Browse the full list of his currently available recordings here.

Les Siècles, François-Xavier Roth

'The instruments gathered by Les Siècles bring a delicious transparency, so that there is both greater distinctiveness in the instrumental colours and a more satisfying blend than tends to be achieved on current instruments'. (BBC Music Magazine)

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

Les Siècles, François-Xavier Roth

Nocturnes & Jeux is released tomorrow on Harmonia Mundi.

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

Renaud Capuçon (violin), London Symphony Orchestra, François-Xavier Roth

'Capuçon’s keen, lean lyricism in the solo part, and his chamber music-like rapport with the LSO’s woodwind soloists, offer compelling perspectives on this well-known, if still not popular, music. Roth is a kindred spirit, responding to the emotional depth of Capuçon’s solo line in the central andante tranquillo of the Second Concerto.' (Sunday Times)

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

Best Completed Cycle or Series

Masaaki Suzuki Bach Cantatas

Suzuki embarked on his multi-award-winning Bach marathon back in 1995, and after completing his survey of the sacred cantatas back in 2013 he and Bach Collegium Japan set about tackling their secular counterparts with equal conviction and clarity; the final volume (released on BIS in September) impressed David with the self-effacing musicianship on display in works which register as ‘very much more than an appendix to the ‘real’ body of music’.

The series is on special offer until 3rd December.

Explore the full series >>

Copland Orchestral Works

The first instalment of Wilson’s Copland series (including the suites from Billy the Kid and Appalachian Spring) was one of our Top Ten Recordings of the Year in 2016, with Katherine observing that ‘his lifelong immersion in the sound-world of 30s and 40s American music is evident from the off’, and subsequent volumes continued in the same wonderfully idiomatic vein; the closing volume of Connotations and the Third Symphony was a Presto Recording of the Week earlier this month, thanks to the conductor’s ‘gift for making familiar Americana seem fresh-minted’.

Explore the full series >>

Harmonia Mundi Debussy Centenary Edition

This ten-volume series commemorating the centenary of Debussy’s death got off to a flying start with the Jerusalem Quartet’s ‘impressively dynamic’ account of the String Quartet in May, with later highlights including Alexander Melnikov’s riveting interpretation of the second book of Préludes (an August Choice in both Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine), and Harmonie du Soir - a luminous song-recital from Sophie Karthäuser, Stéphane Degout, Eugene Asti and Alain Planès.

The series is on special offer until 14th January.

Explore the full series >>

Premiere Recording

Czech Philharmonic, Jiří Bělohlávek

Based on a short story by Tolstoy, this one-act 1952 ‘pastoral opera’ about a lonely cobbler who rediscovers the joy in life through being of service to others may sound mawkish on paper, but Martinů’s score exudes folksy vitality and teems with infectious little melodies; shot through with echoes of Janáček, Britten, Copland and even Bernstein, it receives a compelling performance from a cast of native Czech-speakers under the late Jiří Bělohlávek. Read our full review here.

Available Format: CD

Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Sophie Koch (mezzo), Riccardo Chailly

Composed in 1908 (shortly before The Firebird) as a memorial to Stravinsky’s teacher Rimsky-Korsakov and performed in January of the following year, the score of Chant funèbre was lost for over a century before being discovered in a pile of manuscripts at the St Petersburg Conservatory in 2015; James described Chailly’s landmark recording as ‘one of the most remarkable discs of Stravinsky’s music to have appeared for some time.’ Read his complete review here.

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

Max Emanuel Cencic, Julia Lezhneva, Mary-Ellen Nesi, Juan Sancho, Dilyara Idrisova, Hasnaa Bennani; Capella Cracoviensis, Jan Tomasz Adamus

Surely also a contender for Album-Cover of the Year, this exhumation of the Neapolitan singing-teacher extraordinaire’s 1732 opera based on the life of a Roman general in the first century AD comes across as far more than a compendium of virtuoso vocal exercises with orchestral accompaniment, thanks to some astute casting decisions and the playing of Capella Cracoviensis, by turns exuberant and lyrical under Jan Tomas Adamus.

Available Formats: 3 CDs, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Premiere Recording (new work)

Allan Clayton, Sarah Connolly, Barbara Hannigan, Rod Gilfry, Kim Begley, John Tomlinson, Jacques Imbrailo; London Philharmonic Orchestra, The Glyndebourne Chorus, Vladimir Jurowski

Setting a libretto by Matthew Jocelyn (which plays dazzlingly fast-and-loose with the various versions of Shakespeare’s text) and brought vividly to life by a stellar cast headed by Allan Clayton, the Australian composer’s Hamlet premiered at Glyndebourne in 2017 to overwhelmingly positive reviews and will transfer to the Metropolitan Opera in 2021/22. The spine-tingling writing for off-stage (or rather, ‘under-stage’!) chorus and the mad-scene for Barbara Hannigan’s Ophelia are just two highlights in a score that looks set to gain a firm foothold in the repertoire.

Read our interview with the composer here.

Available Format: DVD Video

Allan Clayton, Sarah Connolly, Barbara Hannigan, Rod Gilfry, Kim Begley, John Tomlinson, Jacques Imbrailo; London Philharmonic Orchestra, The Glyndebourne Chorus, Vladimir Jurowski

LPCM 2.0 DTS-HD 5.1

Available Format: Blu-ray

Joyce DiDonato, Ailyn Pérez, Frederica von Stade, Nathan Gunn, Anthony Roth Costanzo; Orchestra and Chorus of The Dallas Opera, Patrick Summers

Premiered at Dallas Opera in 2015, Jake Heggie’s warm and witty operatic rom-com about the opera-world follows all-American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato) as she returns to her home-town to take centre-stage in a revival of a (fictional) bel canto masterpiece, Rosa dolorosa, figlia di Pompei; the pastiche Donizetti is affectionately done, and the backstage rivalries and romantic entanglements recall the prologue of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC, Hi-Res+ FLAC

Adam Walker (flute), Alina Ibragimova (violin) Hallé, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Ryan Wigglesworth, Edward Gardner

Three contrasting and hugely original works by the British composer Watkins (b. 1976) receive their first outings on record here; the stand-out for Katherine was the 2013 Flute Concerto, thanks to Watkins’s ‘ingenious approaches to writing for flute and large orchestra, allowing Adam Walker to hover miles above low brass and contrabassoon in some passages, and setting him against muted high strings and/or solo violin in others’.

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

Best Deluxe Box Set

Deluxe individually-numbered limited edition box set (English-language Edition)

Totalling over 280 hours of music and featuring 750 performers, this supremely authoritative 222-disc collection includes seven world premiere recordings and ten hours of new recordings as well as benchmark performances from musicians including Masaaki Suzuki, Christopher Hogwood, Alfred Brendel, Marie-Claire Alain, Pablo Casals, Wanda Landowska, Arthur Grumiaux and Zuzana Růžičková. Watch our unboxing video here.

Available Format: 222 CDs + DVD Video

Yuja Wang (piano), Seong-Jin Cho (piano), Berliner Philharmoniker, Sir Simon Rattle

5 SACDS and 1 Blu-ray capturing the two concerts which Rattle gave at Suntory Hall Tokyo at the end of his tour of Asia with the Berliner Philharmoniker in November 2017: Strauss’s Don Juan, Stravinsky’s Petrushka, Brahms’s Fourth Symphony, Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony, Ravel’s Piano Concerto (with Seong-Jin Cho), Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (with Yuja Wang), and Unsuk Chin’s Chorós Cordón, which Rattle commissioned especially for the tour.

Available Format: 5 SACDs + Blu-ray

The most comprehensive and well-documented of this year's centenary tributes: consisting of 121 CDs, 36 DVDs and a blu-ray audio disc, this limited-edition set includes the complete Mahler, Brahms and Beethoven symphonies, the legendary Tristan und Isolde with Peter Hofmann and Hildegard Behrens, and many of Bernstein’s own works such as the three symphonies, Chichester Psalms, Candide and the Serenade after Plato's Symposium.

Available Format: 121 CDs + 36 DVDs + 1 Blu-ray Audio