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 Gramophone Choices, Gramophone Editor's Choices - January 2020

Gramophone January 2020Stephen Hough’s ‘supremely sensitive’ readings of Brahms’s late piano pieces (released last Friday on Hyperion) occupy the top spot this month, with Vasily Petrenko’s Strauss, Martyn Brabbins’s Vaughan Williams, and Christophe Rousset’s recording of Lully’s Isis all receiving honourable mentions – you can read Katherine’s interview with Rousset about a work which he describes as ‘an absolute masterpiece’ here.

Recording of the Month

Stephen Hough (piano)

'Blend imaginative yet learned interpretation, profound sensitivity and poetry, and personal charisma, and you have here one of the finest accounts of Brahms’s late piano works on record, one that stands head and shoulders above most contenders in an ever-growing catalogue...Hough reveals each miniature as a compact piece of theatre, putting an array of timbres and varied accentuation at its service.'

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

Editor's Choices

Xenia Löffler (oboe), Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Georg Kallwelt

'Mingling athletic precision and devil-may-care abandon, the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin relish the music’s seething energy and harmonic and dynamic shocks...Löffler is all you could ask in this repertoire, phrasing and colouring with spontaneous flair, bringing a twinkling sense of fun (not a word readily associated with CPE) to the finales and a singing eloquence to the slow movements.'

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

Lars Vogt (piano), Royal Northern Sinfonia

'The music-making is nothing short of sensational. This is a bold Brahms D minor with immense character, audacious and courageous. It is also perhaps the most sensitive and subtle reading of the score in recent memory...A wealth of seldom-heard orchestral detail emerges, with exquisite wind-playing especially prominent. Nothing is extraneous; every gesture seems bent towards maximum expressivity.'

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

Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko

'It showcases three of the composer’s most vividly pictorial works in performances shot through with the same sense of discovery and flexibility, and of conductor and orchestra thoroughly enjoying themselves...[Tuck's] playing is beautifully integrated and superbly eloquent...But it’s largely Petrenko’s conviction that makes the performance so special, with no bar allowed simply to play itself, the music’s descriptiveness vividly but never doggedly conveyed.'

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

BBC Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins

'One immediately feels Brabbins’s special affinity for this music in the numinous pacing of the first movement of the Pastoral Symphony... Brabbins and the Hyperion recording team bring a thrilling clarity to the heavier timbres of the Scherzo and the diaphanous, mercurial (even Holst-like) coda...Brabbins’s reading of the first movement of the Fourth Symphony has much of the familiar violence and ferocity that we know from this work.'

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


'This release speaks of a sustained commitment to the core repertory of English consort music while championing contemporary music for viols...This is Fretwork at their finest: historical sympathy and innovation in bounds, a fearless endeavour to plough through the 21st century in all its noise and ugliness with these old and fragile instruments that continue to have so much to say.'

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

Peter Kofler (organ)

'Kofler’s performances find an ideal balance between stylistic integrity and interpretative individuality, and there is little here which is going to cause offence to even the most hardened Bach specialist. At the same time, enhanced by that glorious recorded sound, Kofler’s playing has a real sense of communication, portraying these works with conviction and enthusiasm supported by a splendidly robust and fluent technique.'

Available Formats: 5 CDs, MP3, FLAC

La Compagnia del Madrigale

'It seems to me that they have taken time to properly hit their stride, but here they rediscover the heights scaled with Claudio Cavina at the helm. These are near-flawless readings, effortlessly poised and formally legible. Their responses to textual and musical cues are never overdrawn but subtle and even humorous.'

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

New York Philharmonic, The Crossing, Young People’s Chorus of New York City, Jaap van Zweden

'Hope, depression, anger and sorrow: Fire in my Mouth takes us through the various stages of grief but its main message – of fairness and equality to all humans, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or background – is one that remains worryingly relevant to our times, and one that is communicated with sobering urgency, energy and immediacy in Wolfe’s gripping work.'

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Eve-Maud Hubeaux, Cyril Auvity; Chamber Choir of Namur, Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset

'The Namur Chamber Choir is full-bodied but the singers are marvellously light on their feet. The orchestra respond with brilliance and precision to Christophe Rousset’s direction. A word, too, in praise of an ear-tickling continuo group...This is a highly enjoyable addition to an excellent series of operas by a composer who, thanks to French groups such as Les Arts Florissants and Les Talens Lyriques, is at last coming into his own.'

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

DVD/Blu-ray of the Month

Svetla Vassileva (Llàra), Massimiliano Pisapia (Americo), Andrea Borghini (Iberè), Elisa Balbo (La contessa di Boissy), Daniele Terenzi (Gianfèra), Dongho Kim (Il conte Rodrigo/Goitacà); Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Lirico di Cagliari, John Neschling

'Gomes provides plenty of lyrical material for his singers. One can certainly detect the influence of Verdi...Andrea Borghini is the standout in a mixed cast. His sturdy baritone has a clean Verdian line and he sings his arias magnificently...With effective performances, this is a good showcase for Lo schiavo and I hope enterprising companies take it up soon.'

Available Format: DVD Video

Svetla Vassileva (Llàra), Massimiliano Pisapia (Americo), Andrea Borghini (Iberè), Elisa Balbo (La contessa di Boissy), Daniele Terenzi (Gianfèra), Dongho Kim (Il conte Rodrigo/Goitacà); Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Lirico di Cagliari, John Neschling

PCM Stereo 2.0

DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Available Format: Blu-ray


Raymond Lewenthal (piano), London Symphony Orchestra, Charles Mackerras, Eleazar de Carvalho

'All in all, this collection is a must-have for all pianophiles and lovers of music-making in the grand manner...We need to hear more (and ensure the legacy) of this intuitive, pioneering and charismatic pianist.'

Available Format: 8 CDs