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Awards, Recordings of the Year 2021 - Our Top 10

Top 10 2021After several rounds of highly enjoyable debate and many hours of listening, the Presto editorial team have finally decided on our Top 10 Recordings of 2021 - the albums which really made us listen afresh to core repertoire, or made compelling cases for music that was new to us all...

We'll be despatching physical awards to all our winners over the next week or so, so do look out for a photo-gallery in the not-too-distant future, and you can explore all one hundred finalists here.

The Illyria Consort, Bojan Čičić (violin), Marian Consort, Rory McCleery (director), Gawain Glenton (cornet)

'There are many things to love about this collaboration between the Marians and Čičić's Illyria Consort, not least the way that ornate contributions from the solo violin and cornet weave organically into the already rich tapestry created by the singers; the repertoire, too, is enormously attractive, with highlights including Tomaso Cecchino's energetic, dance-like Surge propera and Usper's Battaglia per sonar e cantar a 8, which brings the programme to a delightfully boisterous close.' (Katherine Cooper)

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

Basque National Orchestra, Robert Trevino

'Americascapes draws together a quartet of composers from a fascinating period when the USA was really beginning to forge its own, independent and truly American, classical voice. Trevino hails all four as part of the rich tapestry of diversity that represents the idea of America, and under his baton the Basque National Orchestra makes a gripping, convincing case for all four works.' (David Smith)

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

Michael Spyres (baritenor), Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, Marko Letonja

'Spyres charts the development of the male zwischenfach voice with such rock-solid technique and vivid characterisation that it’s impossible not to be swept along by his enthusiasm. There’s never so much as a hint that he’s pushing his instrument beyond its comfort-zone for the sake of novelty: instead, we’re left with the impression of a singer exploring everything his remarkable voice has to offer.' (Katherine Cooper)

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

Krystian Zimerman (piano), London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle

'Zimerman has recorded these concertos before, and as magnificent as those performances with the Vienna Philharmonic are, if I had to compare the two I would say that this new set is even more alive with freedom and spontaneity…Throughout all five concertos there is a palpable feeling of joy and elation about the very act of being able to make music. This exuberance is one of the many strengths of this spirited set of performances.' (James Longstaffe)

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

'Inventive, authoritative and often audacious, Armstrong’s mission to showcase the keyboard music of Byrd and Bull in glorious technicolour may raise the hackles of purists, but if you’re not allergic to hearing this repertoire performed on a concert grand you’ll likely find the variety and vitality of these performances impossible to resist.' (Katherine Cooper)

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC

Sinfonia of London, John Wilson

'Right from the determined opening bars of Britten's Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, it's clear that this is an exceptional album. There's a richness and sumptuousness to the string sound that is truly thrilling, not least in the lower strings. I can't recall many other ensembles who, like a flock of birds moving as one in the sky, are able to adapt and adjust so quickly and single-mindedly…I really can't fault it. Bliss, indeed.' (James Longstaffe)

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

Steven Osborne (piano), Paul Lewis (piano)

'Such is the synergy between them that for most of this recital I entirely forgot that I was listening to two pianists rather than one: every shift in colour, dynamic and tempo is perfectly synchronised, and the balance throughout is similarly immaculate, with neither succumbing to the temptation to over-assert themselves when playing the supporting role.' (Katherine Cooper)

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

'It almost goes without saying but alongside the Takács Quartet's customarily impeccable ensemble playing are some incredibly arresting individual moments, not least from relative newcomer to the quartet, violist Richard O'Neill, who more than demonstrates why he was picked to join the group last year...for me this album is a definite winner.' (James Longstaffe)

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

Danny Driver (piano)

'Driver’s clarity and brilliance across the whole dazzling gamut of these three sets of studies will take your breath away – so much so that you might want to take a couple of intervals along the way to let it all sink in! His technical wizardry in pieces like L'escalier du diable and Der Zauberlehrling is knock-out stuff, but he’s equally beguiling in the more lyrical moments, such as the lovely Arc-en-ciel toward the end of Book 1.' (Katherine Cooper)

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

London Symphony Orchestra, Antonio Pappano

'Even without the added emotional ratchet of the impending lockdown, Pappano’s accounts would surely have been utterly gripping. From the first grinding dissonances of the Fourth it’s clear that he understands these works on a profound level...One thing he captures particularly magnificently here – the equal even of Handley, who I’ve long considered the benchmark for Vaughan Williams’s symphonies – is the muted numbness of the quieter moments.' (David Smith)

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

DVD/Blu-ray of the Year

Jonas Kaufmann (Paul), Marlis Petersen (Marietta), Andrej Filonczyk (Frank/Fritz), Jennifer Johnston (Brigitta); Bayerische Staatsoper, Kirill Petrenko, Simon Stone (director)

'Stone’s fittingly cinematic staging has us constantly questioning the line between illusion and reality. Both Kaufmann and Petersen are utterly fearless in squaring up to the formidable vocal and emotional demands of the central roles…The third knock-out performance comes from the pit: Petrenko clearly adores this score, and ensures that every detail of Korngold’s precociously brilliant orchestration comes across loud and clear.' (Katherine Cooper)

Available Format: 2 DVD Videos

Jonas Kaufmann (Paul), Marlis Petersen (Marietta), Andrej Filonczyk (Frank/Fritz), Jennifer Johnston (Brigitta); Bayerische Staatsoper, Kirill Petrenko, Simon Stone (director)

Picture format: 16:9

Sound format: PCM Stereo and DTS-MA 5.1

Available Format: Blu-ray

Complete Edition of the Year

Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Gerold Huber (piano), with Sibylla Rubens, Camilla Tilling, Wiebke Lehmkuhl, Martin Mitterrutzner and Julia Kleiter

'This magnificent, moving survey of Schumann's complete songs more than fulfils the high expectations generated by the two individual instalments released in 2018 and 2019; the guest-singers (particularly the bright-voiced Camilla Tilling) all bring something special to the table, but it's ultimately Gerhaher's unmannered eloquence and magical synergy with his long-term recital-partner Huber which make this a set to conjure with. Unmissable.' (Katherine Cooper)

Available Format: 11 CDs

Debut Recording of the Year

Randall Goosby (violin), Zhu Wang (piano), Xavier Dubois Foley (double bass)

'You only have to hear the way he phrases the first three notes of Summertime to realise that this young American violinist is something special, but it’s the less familiar fare that really makes this an album to conjure with: Xavier Dubois Foley’s Shelter Island makes for an irresistible opener, whilst Perkinson’s Blues Forms showcases Goosby’s virtuoso chops and distinctive, glassy upper register to perfection.' (Katherine Cooper)

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

World Premiere Recording of the Year (New Music)

'Gubaidulina's Third Violin Concerto is given a mesmerising performance by its dedicatee, Vadim Repin, whose virtuosity is matched every step of the way by the Gewandhausorchester, especially in an extraordinary passage for all four trombones in unison spanning more than four octaves. The two orchestral works receive similarly glorious treatments, not least the raw power of The Wrath of God and the haunting conclusion to The Light of the End.' (James Longstaffe)

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

World Premiere Recording of the Year (Rediscovery)

Elizabeth Llewellyn (soprano), Simon Lepper (piano)

'Llewellyn’s debut recording has been well worth the wait, both in terms of programming and execution: her big, richly-coloured lyric soprano and mature artistry do full justice to this glorious programme of songs by the Anglo-African composer. The folk-inspired African Romances are beautifully done, illustrating why Coleridge-Taylor was compared to Mahler in contemporary reviews.' (Katherine Cooper)

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