The Rt Hon The Lord Mayor, Alderman Dr Andrew Parmley (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images for the London Symphony Orchestra)

Album of the year

The best of an inspiringly musical 2023

Artillery Row Lebrecht's Album of the Week

Album of the Year? There’s quite a few.

Let’s start with the ones that got away.

I’m in love with the Goldberg Variations by Vikingur — he seems to have dropped that long Icelandic surname — and have listened to them at least half a dozen times. I didn’t review the release when new because it was swamped with critical hyperbole, and I had little to add. I love this disc (DG).

The Doric string quartet’s new Beethoven cycle is brilliantly programmed. The first double-album contains quartets from different periods of the composer’s life, neatly counterposed. This is a walk with Beethoven through his creative life — can’t wait for the next instalment (Chandos).

Yuja Wang’s capture of four Rachmaninov concertos and the Paganini Variations in a single concert made headlines for its athleticism. Beneath the attention-seeking lies some sensitive musicianship (DG). Boris Giltburg’s set with the Brussels Philharmonic is warmer, more contemplative (Naxos).

I got my Vaughan Williams fix from the Royal Liverpool Phil’s dance album of Job and other bits, leagues apart from Strictly (Onyx) — and I cannot resist Kurt Weill’s Die Propheten, despite Franz Werfel’s leaden polemics (Capriccio).

There were two albums of 2023 that will stand every test of time

Amongst the ones I did review, Semyon Bychkov’s Czech Philharmonic account of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony joins the front rank of penetrative interpretations, wondrously performed (Pentatone). The last lifetime recording of the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho pulled heartstrings I didn’t know I had (BIS). Anthony McGill’s melding of Brahms sonatas and American music was memorably affecting (Cedille), and I was happy to spend time with the long-neglected Cesar Franck symphony in D minor (Alpha).

When push comes to stop-wasting-my-time, though, there were two albums of 2023 that will stand every test of time. One was the farewell gift of the Emerson Quartet, a dazzling menu of Schoenberg, Berg, Hindemith and Chausson that no other ensemble could have conceived or pulled off — and with Barbara Hannigan doing the vocal bits. You won’t believe what you hear, and you really won’t want to miss it (Alpha).

That said, my album of the year is … Fabio Luisi’s Nielsen set with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, the most idiomatic and immersive account of the six symphonies we have ever heard on record — and that includes Bernstein, Blomstedt and other epic forerunners. Luisi and his Danes just get it. Nothing more to be said. Get it (DG).

And have a very happy festive season.

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