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Best Classical Music Albums of 2018 (Top 5)

This has been a great year for classical music and I’ve found it really hard to select only 5 releases. Many of my favourite recordings didn’t make the cut, not because they are of lesser quality, but simply because I would end up including most of the recordings that I reviewed this year (for those that visit this site for the first time, let me just say that I usually review CDs that I think are worthy of 4 or 5 stars).

Having said that, the following 5 releases (in random order) have really special qualities and something new to say in an overcrowded field (with the exception of the Ferneyhough work which is here recorded for the second time). The Barenboim recording is special simply because the conductor has the guts to provide us with such an old-fashioned, gorgeously played performance. Both Currentzis and Jansons offer, what I consider to be, ideal tempi for these so familiar works and at the same time their committed playing make their recordings stand alongside the greats. Suzuki has released the perfect HIP recording of one of the greatest works ever written. As for Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, few could match their peerless technical brilliance in this extraordinary score.

The list is as follows:

Brahms, The Symphonies, Barenboim/Staatskapelle Berlin – Deutsche Grammophon

Brahms Symphonies Barenboim Staatskapelle Berlin review

After excellent symphony cycles of Beethoven, Schumann and Elgar, Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin record the Brahms symphonies and the playing is mouth-watering gorgeous.

Review extract:
This is Brahms as it should be. Bold, grand, shamelessly romantic…While I wouldn’t want to be without Jochum or Karajan in this repertoire, if you like your Brahms performed the romantic way (and this is the pinnacle of Romanticism after all) Barenboim’s new set is as good as it gets…Phenomenal playing from the Staatskapelle Berlin. Courageous conducting from Barenboim.
(Read the full review)

Beethoven, Missa Solemnis, Masaaki Suzuki/Bach Collegium Japan – BIS

Beethoven Missa Solemnis Suzuki BIS

Suzuki tackles Beethoven’s greatest work. HIP-influenced but full-bodied and greatly executed.

Review extract:
Suzuki’s performance is one of the finest performances on period instruments and in fact, for me it now goes to the top of the list for this kind of approach…In Suzuki’s hands the struggles that have preceded end in a bliss of light. This is a moving and masterful account that needs to be heard.
(Read the full review)

Ferneyhough, La Terre est un Homme, Brabbins/BBC Symphony Orchestra – NMC Recordings

la terre est un homme ferneyhough

What can one say about the BBC Symphony Orchestra? All its members outdo themselves in one of the most difficult contemporary scores. How Brabbins manages to conduct this masterpiece (and he does a splendid job, who else could have dared?) is a wonder.

Review extract:
Let me exaggerate a bit and say that all the players and soloists involved are heroes, the conductor Martyn Brabbins for managing to bring everything together (one can only imagine how painstaking the rehearsals must have been), and of course Ferneyhough himself, a composer so original and willing to push musical expression to its limits, despite criticism about the complexity in his works. This is a significant release.
(Read the full review)

Mahler, Symphony 6, Currentzis/MusicAeterna – Sony

Mahler Currentzis review

And when you least expect it, it happens: here’s a recording of the Mahler 6 to stand alongside the likes of Barbirolli. Essential listening.

Review extract:
On a personal level, let’s just say that Currentzis’s interpretation is of such depth that it helped me re-appreciate this mighty symphony. The way he shapes the Andante and the Finale, in particular, bringing out the light and grace within this darkest work, made me realise that such revealing detail, without sacrificing the composer’s intentions,  is what great interpretation in classical music is all about.
(Read the full review)


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Bruckner, Symphony 8, Jansons/Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra – BR Klassik

Bruckner symphony 8 Jansons review Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

Like the Currentzis Mahler 6, mentioned above, this is a Bruckner 8 to stand along the greats. Perfectly judged tempi by Jansons, all the needed energy and above all phenomenal playing from the Bavarian forces.

Review extract:
In fact, the remarkable release proves that once in a while great recordings of monumental works can be released from smaller labels (like BR-Klassik) that can stand beside monumental recordings like Wand’s, Karajan’s and Giulini’s. A great release and a uniquely humanistic vision of this work by Jansons.
(Read the full review)

So this is it. The 5 releases in 2018 I considered to be the most important. What is your top 5? Do let me know in the comments!

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12 COMMENTS

  1. An interesting selection. I fully agree on Jansons, not sure I fully share the excitement about Barenboim’s Brahms cycle. But I’ll make sure to check out the others. Especially Currentzis’ Mahler 6 I’m very curious about. Happy New Year and keep up the great work!

  2. These are thoughtful choices. I agree about the interest of Suzuki’s Beethoven, and I absolutely loved Currentzis’ Mahler. I’ll have to check out the Bruckner and Brahms recordings; thanks for those. Strong disagreement about Ferneyhough! I tried it and could not stomach it.

    My own favourites of the year I’ve listed here.

  3. I completely agree with Mahler 6 from Currentzis. What a recording!

    Furthermore, for me the following four releases would complete my top 5 for 2018:
    – Life, Igor Levit
    – Beethoven Symphony no. 3 and Strauss Horn Concerto no. 1, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/Honeck
    – Bruckner Symphony no. 4, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Nelsons
    – Destination Rachmaninov, Trifonov

    And the Bach333 box is magnificent! What a treasure chest!

    • I agree about the Levit and the Honeck 3 is simply a-m-a-z-i-n-g! The only reason I didn’t include it was because I didn’t have a chance to review (but I think I will). Great list!

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