The best classical CDs of 2015

Here are our top ten classical CDs of the year, voted for by Readings' staff. Displayed in no particular order.


Max Richter: The Blue Notebooks by Max Richter

The Blue Notebooks, a tenth anniversary rerelease of Max Richter’s second album, is breathtaking. Richter cites Sigur Rós as an influence, evident in the meditative ‘Horizon Variations’. This, along with tracks such as ‘Written on the Sky’, will similarly appeal to Arvo Pärt fans for its elegance and simplicity. The Blue Notebooks is all at once atmospheric, intimate, cinematic, nostalgic, and melancholic.


Brahms, Schumann & Mahler: Piano Quartets by Daniel Hope, David Finckel, Wu Han and Paul Neubauer

This recording of piano quartets from the classical and romantic eras features some of the top musicians in the world today. Violinist Daniel Hope’s contribution is particularly noteworthy: his control, and the fineness of his tone stands out amongst the rich quartet texture, but never intrudes or overpowers his fellow chamber musicians. The final movement of the Brahms G minor quartet, Rondo alla Zingarese, is a highlight for its exuberance.


The Chopin Project by Alice Sara Ott and Olafur Arnalds

In the liner notes of The Chopin Project, Olafur Arnalds asks, ‘Why not use the technology we have as not only a tool, but a part of the actual interpretation? Why can’t the microphones, the room – the sound – also be a performer?’ Together with pianist Alice Sara Ott, Arnalds has taken the music of Chopin, stripped back the harmonies, and used close microphones to enhance the sound. The result is superb.


Mozart: Opera Arias and Overtures by Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Elizabeth Watts

English soprano Elizabeth Watts possesses a voice of great vibrancy and warmth. Further, she is an intelligent singing actress, and infuses her performances with personality. This winning combination makes for a standout recording of Mozart soprano arias, accompanied here by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Christian Baldini. Watts is particularly beguiling as Zerlina, and her recording of ‘Vedrai, carino’ is a highlight of the disc.


Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé & La Valse by Philippe Jordan

Ravel’s Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé & La Valse – a ballet in one act, although occasionally described as a ‘choreographic symphony’ – epitomises the French impressionistic music of the early twentieth century. The luscious orchestration and wordless choruses combine to create a sound that is erotic and mysterious, and at times even spiritual. This recording with the Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Paris under Phillipe Jordan is absolutely scrumptious.


Reich: Music For 18 Musicians by Ensemble Signal

Steve Reich is one of the great pioneers of the minimalist movement and this new recording of his 1976 composition Music For 18 Musicians, a piece considered one of the most influential of the twentieth century, is a reminder of his genius. Ensemble Signal performs with such tight discipline that it’s hard to believe each member is a person and not a computer, although the group never once sounds robotic. An essential recording.


Schubert: Fantaisie by David Fray

Young French pianist David Fray’s playing is assured and sensitive, and his rendering of the Fantasia in F minor for piano duet with his teacher Jacques Rouvier is entrancing. The opening Piano Sonata in G major, from which the CD takes its title, is a highlight. Skip forward to the final track, ‘Lebensstürme’ for piano duet, and Fray demonstrates his capacity for energetic, impassioned playing. Imaginative, poetic, Schubertian bliss.


Max Richter: From Sleep by Max Richter

From Sleep is an hour-long sample from Max Richter’s monumental eight-hour work Sleep, to which he refers as his ‘personal lullaby for a frenetic world’. Like The Blue Notebooks, it is a meditative, often melancholy CD, and each of the seven tracks seamlessly transitions in to the next. Soprano Grace Davidson lends her ethereal voice to Sleep, and her sweet top notes are perfectly suited to Richter’s wordless lullabies.


Koehne: Time is a River by Graeme Koehne and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

The music of Australian composer Graeme Koehne is sure to lift any mood. His Forty Reasons to be Cheerful, performed by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra under Richard Mills, is a case in point. This short fanfare takes its inspiration from Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’. However, the celebratory tone does not end here, and even the more reflective ‘Elegy’ bears the hallmarks of Koehne’s optimistic style, with its sweeping strings.


Vivaldi: I Concerti Dell’addio by Fabio Biondi

I Concerti Dell’addio is a handsome selection of Vivaldi’s most elegant and mature works, performed here with great feeling by Biondi and Europa Galante. Biondi argues that Vivaldi’s attention to tempi and textural contrast ‘avoids a uniformity of language which has often been the cause of criticism’. Although bright and optimistic, this recording highlights the intelligence and delicacy behind Vivaldi’s lesser-known compositions from a dark period of his life.

Max Richter: From Sleep

Max Richter: From Sleep

Max Richter, Grace Davidson, American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME)

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