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 Awards, Gramophone Awards 2020 - Recording of the Year

Gramophone Awards 2020 Shortlist Due to the virtual nature of this year’s event, I’m reporting from home in Warwickshire rather than from the slightly more glamorous setting of The Dorchester or the Connaught Rooms, following a lovely online ceremony filmed at Glyndebourne and presented by James Jolly and American mezzo Kate Lindsey; the evening also featured performances from artists including Alexandre Kantorow, Benjamin Grosvenor, Igor Levit, and Stile Antico. Read on for details of the Artist and Young Artist of the Year, Lifetime Achievement Award and more…

Until 30th November we're offering discounts of up to 20% off the winning recordings.

Recording of the Year (and Orchestral category-winner)

Gidon Kremer (violin), Kremerata Baltica, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla

The Lithuanian conductor’s debut recording on Deutsche Grammophon (which has already received a slew of accolades, including one of our own Recordings of the Year prizes in 2019) takes the overall laurels this year; in her acceptance speech Gražinytė-Tyla spoke movingly of her discovery of the Polish-born Soviet composer’s music seven years ago, reflecting that ‘in these days of loss which we are living through right now he is a huge inspiration’.

Read James’s full review of the recording here.

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

Artist of the Year - Igor Levit

As well as his award-winning cycle of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas (listed below and praised in the December edition of Gramophone for its ability to ‘delight, provoke and intrigue in equal measure’), the Russian-German pianist has recently released a mesmerising album of Bach, Brahms, Busoni, Reger and Feldman, inspired in part by the enormously popular ‘house-concerts’ which he live-streamed from his home in Berlin (and occasionally from empty public venues) at the height of lockdown – the most ambitious of which saw him perform Satie’s minimalist marathon Vexations over the course of twenty hours. Presenting the award at Wigmore Hall, John Gilhooly thanked a visibly moved Levit for ‘providing spiritual nourishment at a time when music fell silent’.

You can view Igor Levit's full discography here.

Young Artist of the Year - Natalya Romaniw

The Welsh soprano began the year as Madam Butterfly at English National Opera, and last month returned to the company as a ‘vocally plush and sensuous’ (The Telegraph) Mimì in their drive-in performances of La bohème at Alexandra Palace. Her debut solo recording Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul (with the Czech/British pianist Lada Valešová, featuring songs by Rimsky-Korsakov, Dvořák, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Janáček and Novák) was released on Orchid Classics in May and was an Editor’s Choice in Gramophone, with Mark Pullinger observing that ‘Romaniw is a great talent. The plush richness of her soprano is astonishing’.

Natalya Romaniw's full discography is available here.

Lifetime Achievement Award - Itzhak Perlman

The first violinist to win this award since his mentor Isaac Stern in 1999, Perlman (who turned 75 a few weeks ago) vowed to ‘get some more records under my belt and maybe win another!’ in his twinkly acceptance-speech, which was preceded by warm tributes from the composer and conductor John Williams and Perlman’s student Randall Goosby, who described bonding with his teacher over a mutual love of chicken nuggets. James Jolly also paid homage to Perlman’s ‘artistry, musicianship and sheer beauty and power of sound’ as well as his ‘triumph over physical adversity’.

You can browse the full list of Itzhak Perlman's currently available recordings here.

Label of the Year - Alpha

Founded in 1999, the Paris-based label has had an exceptional year, with stand-out releases including tonight’s presenter Kate Lindsey’s superb L’Arianna (featuring cantatas by Alessandro Scarlatti, Handel and Haydn) with Arcangelo and Jonathan Cohen, Barbara Hannigan’s arresting album of music by Grisey, Haydn and Nono La Passione, Anna Prohaska’s lockdown Bach project Redemption, and of course Martin Helmchen’s Beethoven concertos with Andrew Manze and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (see below).

Until 30th November we’re offering discounts of up to 40% on all Alpha titles.

Concept Album of the Year - From the Ground Up: Chaconnes

Samuel West, Baba Israel (narrators); O/MODƏRNT, Hugo Ticciati

Featuring chaconnes by JS Bach, Purcell, Piccinini and Pellegrini as well as more recent examples by Dusan Bogdanovic and Johannes Marmén and group improvisations by the ensemble, O/Modernt’s second album on Signum was praised in Gramophone last July for the players’ ability to ‘bring the genre’s inherent sexiness and sway to every note’ and for Ticciati’s solo performance of the Ciaccona from Bach’s Partita in D minor which ‘warms into gloriousness’.

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

Beethoven 250 Award - Martin Helmchen, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Andrew Manze

Martin Helmchen (piano), Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Andrew Manze

The first instalment of Helmchen’s Beethoven cycle with Manze and the DSOB impressed reviewer Michelle Assay with its ‘artistry, poetry, stylish musicianship and, perhaps above all, rapport between soloist and conductor’ in December 2019, and was later described as ‘interpretative gold’ in International Piano as well as being nominated for an International Classical Music Award. The second volume (featuring Concertos Nos. 1 and 4) was released on Alpha in April.

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

Special Achievement Award - Robert von Bahr (BIS)

This year’s prize goes not to a performer or organisation, but to the maverick Swedish record-producer and engineer who founded BIS in 1973, and has been much praised over the years for his commitment to embracing new formats and environmentally-friendly packaging, as well as his recent practical support of his artists during the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated challenges. Among those who sent messages of congratulation were the conductors Osmo Vänskä and Andrew Litton, the pianists Yevgeny Sudbin, Noriko Ogawa and Alexandre Kantorow, and the soprano Carolyn Sampson – who performed Schubert’s An die Musik with Joseph Middleton in tribute to Von Bahr.

You can view the complete available BIS catalogue here.

Orchestra of the Year - The Philadelphia Orchestra

A third of the votes for this audience-led award went to the American orchestra, founded in 1900 and currently under the direction of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who succeeded Charles Dutoit in 2012; their recent successes on record include a live recording of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony (awarded five stars in BBC Music Magazine, who described it as ‘brilliant music-making that will leave you breathless’) and a multi-award-winning Rachmaninov project with Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov.

You can view the orchestra's full available discography here.

Category Winners

Chamber

Vilde Frang (violin), Barnabás Kelemen (violin), Lawrence Power (viola), Nicolas Altstaedt (cello), Alexander Lonquich (piano)

'What makes this CD unmissable is the Veress Trio, a masterpiece and a performance to match.'

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

Choral

Benjamin Bruns (Evangelist), Christian Immler (Christus); Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki

'One never doubts Bach or Suzuki’s belief in its importance for mankind. The musicians convey it with infectious zeal...Generic early music politesse is relegated to the shadows.'

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

Concerto

Benjamin Grosvenor (piano), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Elim Chan

'He has already lived with these works for long enough to strike a balance between thoughtfulness and youthful spontaneity…Chan and the RSNO offer solid support.'

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

Contemporary

Mark Stone (baritone), Kirill Gerstein (piano), Christianne Stotijn (mezzo), Boston Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Adès

'For proof that Adès does what he does with mind-boggling brilliance, look no further.'

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

Early Music

Les Arts Florissants, Paul Agnew

'The fleeting nature of Gesualdo’s flurried passages is a particular speciality of Les Arts Florissants.'

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

Instrumental

'Above all there’s that sense of being completely at one with Beethoven himself. And that, in the end, is what makes this such a magnificent achievement.'

Available Formats: 9 CDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Opera

Joyce DiDonato (Agrippina), Elsa Benoit (Poppea), Luca Pisaroni (Claudio), Franco Fagioli (Nerone), Jakub Józef Orliński (Ottone); Il Pomo d'Oro, Maxim Emelyanychev

'With DiDonato nonpareil in the title-role and a uniformly strong cast, this now becomes a first choice for Handel’s Venetian masterpiece.'

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

Orchestral

Gidon Kremer (violin), Kremerata Baltica, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla

'It takes a performance of fierce concentration and absolute dedication to ensure this music’s hold on an audience...this has to be one of the most important symphonic releases of the year.'

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

Recital

Sandrine Piau (soprano), Le Concert de la Loge, Julien Chauvin

'With her silvery tone, immaculate sense of line and telling if understated way with words, Piau is very much at home in this repertory.'

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

Solo Vocal

Nicky Spence (tenor), Julius Drake (piano), Václava Housková (mezzo), VOICE, Victoria Samek (clarinet)

'Not only does Spence’s voice offer a rare mix of steely strength and velvety tenderness but his bright, vibrant timbre communicates a touching, wide-eyed sense of ardent longing, tinged with melancholy.'

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

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