Awards - Gramophone Awards 2016: Finalists

by Chris O'Reilly. 15th August 2016

The 2016 Gramophone Awards are now just a month away, and we're pleased to present the top three discs which will be battling it out in each of the 12 categories.

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Baroque Instrumental

JS Bach: Organ Works

Masaaki Suzuki (organ)

"If one’s reflexive default at the prospect of an organ recording – even an exquisitely curated Bach one – is one of dispassionate or nonchalant resistance, this recording is as likely to turn ears as any made...Suzuki offers beautifully turned, reflective and buoyant readings."

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Biber: The Rosary Sonatas

Rachel Podger (violin)

"She can play with grace and beauty – at the opening of ‘The Carrying of the Cross’, for instance...There are also many subtleties of articulation and timing, almost as if there are words and pauses lying behind the notes."

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William Lawes: The Royall Consorts

Elizabeth Kenny (theorbo), Daniel Hyde (organ), Phantasm

"Phantasm's playing brims with imaginative fantasy and dance-like momentum…a pleasing broadening of textures is injected into this beguiling survey by the additional tenor violist Emily Ashton and organist Daniel Hyde in some denser six-part sets."

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Baroque Vocal

JS Bach: Magnificat

Dunedin Consort, John Butt

"Another intriguing and excellently performed project from Butt and his Dunedin Consort...As usual the forces are small-scale, save for two lusty congregational hymns (adorned with enjoyably headstrong organ improvisations). The Magnificat itself is exciting, fresh and faultlessly paced."

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Monteverdi Madrigali Volume 1: Cremona

Les Arts Florissants, Paul Agnew

"If a keen sense of the interpretative moment is the hallmark of ensemble performance at its best, then this new Monteverdi instalment from Les Arts Florissants deserves to be held up as such...One is torn between regret that there is to be only one further volume, and anticipation at what it might bring."

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Le Concert Royal de la Nuit: Louis XIV 1715-2015

Ensemble Correspondances, Sébastien Daucé

"Daucé invokes the privilege of creative licence with the interpolation of numerous extracts from operas by Italians invited to Paris by Cardinal Mazarin during the early years of the Sun King’s reign... A rotating team of up to 52 musicians traverse the musical spectrum from whispered intimacy to jovial ceremony."

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Chamber

Berg, Wellesz and Zeisl: Works for soprano and string quartet

Renée Fleming (soprano), Emerson String Quartet

"Astonishingly accurate and coordinated accounts ...[In the Lyric Suite's Finale] the Emersons leave you longing for what might have been...Wellesz suits Renée Fleming down to her fingertips. She is woven between the lines of the original quartet version."

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Brahms: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 3

Artemis Quartet

"The Artemis give us a Brahms of and for our time…[they have] taste and sense in abundance, and we could count ourselves very lucky to hear nowadays a performance of the C minor Symphony that matched this recording for its urgency and discretion of response."

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Tippett: String Quartets Nos. 1 - 5

Heath Quartet

"Caution is thrown to the winds most memorably in the Fourth Quartet, the cycle’s charged flashpoint. The Heaths maintain tension throughout, withholding arrival-points from this birth-to-life narrative...No one has dramatised the finale's palindrome, with a spooky hall of mirrored harmonics at its centre, with the poise of the Heaths. A tremendous achievement."

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Choral

Bliss: Morning Heroes & Hymn to Apollo

Samuel West (orator), BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis

"Davis’s handling of the multi-movement structure of Bliss’s poetic anthology, which ranges from the deeply personal to the collective, is sensitively paced and shaped...This new recording is a revelation for its clarity (notably of the composer's vivid orchestral palette and imaginative choral writing), coherence and sheer emotional intensity."

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Howells: Collegium Regale

Trinity College Choir Cambridge, Stephen Layton

"This is a stunning recording in so many respects. Attention to dynamic detail, especially the hushed quality of the Magnificat, brings out the ethereal, not to say numinous character of this highly original miniature...while moments of more characteristic Anglican prayerfulness are shaped by Layton and the Trinity choir with true, intimate poetry."

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Schoenberg: Gurrelieder

Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, Markus Stenz

"A profoundly musical performance of clarity and intelligence. Technically, too, it’s a formidable achievement...Excellent performances throughout from orchestra, soloists and choruses – rarely have the lush textures of Schoenberg’s late-Romantic cantata sounded this fresh."

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Concerto

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor

Maria João Pires (piano) Orchestra of the 18th Century, Frans Brüggen

"[Pires] quietly husband[s] the instrument's resources with her own sure and discriminating touch...It's a wonderful performance, during which Brüggen and his players come fully into their own."

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Britten & Korngold: Violin Concertos

Vilde Frang (violin) Frankfurt Radio Symphony, James Gaffigan

"These are urgently communicative, potentially transformative accounts…played with almost intimidating dexterity and polish, not to mention impeccable intonation [Frang’s] music-making still manages to project an impression of honesty and naturalness."

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Rachmaninov Variations

Daniil Trifonov (piano)

"The opening bars tell you this is going to be a good ‘Pag Rhap’. As things turn out, it is a great one, up there with the very best...While Trifonov revels in the pianistic gymnastics, he is also alert to the moments of mischief...Trifonov and Nézet-Séguin do seem genuinely to be a meeting of musical minds."

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Contemporary

Hans Abrahamsen: Let me tell you

Barbara Hannigan (soprano), Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Andris Nelsons

"It is a richly theatrical journey...[Hannigan's] vehemence and passion suggest she thinks justice is finally being done to a woman who never did get much chance to tell her side of the story...The Danish composer’s sound world is a mass of glinting detail."

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Julian Anderson: In lieblicher Bläue and other works

London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, Vladimir Jurowski

"The writing is characteristic in its insistent mix of glitter and grit, new (American) colours added to an eclectic pick of the 20th-century bran tub…if Vladimir Jurowski's punchy performances were indeed captured live with only minimal patching, they are all three remarkably accomplished."

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Birtwistle: Angel Fighter

Andrew Watts , Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts, BBC Singers & London Sinfonietta, David Atherton

"Angel Fighter owes as much to terse commentaries from choir and instruments as to extended dialogues between admirable singers, and Atherton couples scrupulous attention to detail with exemplary alertness to the steadily unfolding shape of the whole."

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Early Music

Arnold & Hugo de Lantins: Secular Works

Le Miroir De Musique, Baptiste Romain

"These ensembles make the case for instrumental participation in this repertory as compellingly as Gothic Voices did for all-vocal performance…this is one of the most satisfying 15th-century recordings I've heard in a while: specialist repertory that doesn't deserve to be."

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Scattered Ashes

Magnificat, Philip Cave

"This sonorous ensemble, combined with Cave's unhurried tempi, create a wonderfully melancholic sound world. Their interpretations of the post-Josquin generation of continental composers, Gombert and Clemens specifically, are among the finest on disc."

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Western Wind: Music By John Taverner & Court Music For Henry VIII

Emily Van Evera (soprano), Charles Daniels (tenor), Taverner Choir & Players, Andrew Parrott

"The Western Wynde Mass nicely contrasts with The Tallis Scholars’ recording, being incisive and brisk where Peter Phillips’s reading is smoother and more leisurely. Parrott is perhaps more persuasive in conveying its pacing...the sound recording successively juggles a wide range of distributions, from harpsichord to choir."

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Instrumental

JS Bach, Beethoven, Rzewski: Variations

Igor Levit (piano)

"There is, if you care to rationalise, a Russian depth of sound and eloquence of phrasing, tempered by Germanic intellectual grasp...Levit’s musical personality is as integrated and mature as his technique. And both of these are placed at the service of the music’s glory rather than his own."

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Ravel: Complete works for solo piano

Bertrand Chamayou (piano)

"Revelatory performances of breathtaking beauty and incomparable power. Most striking, perhaps, is their unforced naturalness...Everything flows with the inevitability of speech, precisely articulated, direct and unmistakably sincere...No one who loves French music or exquisite piano-playing will want to miss this."

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Domenico Scarlatti: 18 Sonatas

Yevgeny Sudbin (piano)

"He shares with Horowitz an ability to conjure up landscapes and narratives within these sonatas, so vividly and intensely are they etched."

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Opera

Tchaikovsky: Pique Dame

Misha Didyk, Tatiana Serjan, Larissa Diadkova, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Mariss Jansons

"Serjan is a vibrant, fearless Lisa...Hers is a voice with plenty of ‘blade’ when required, yet she can shade it beautifully...[Didyk] surprises with his baritonal depths here as Herman, as well as a ringing top...Diadkova’s Countess happily relies more on secure vocal technique than scary histrionics and Oksana Volkova is a rich-voiced Polina."

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Verdi: Aida

Anja Harteros, Jonas Kaufmann, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Ludovic Tezier, Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Roma, Antonio Pappano

"Harteros is arguably the most interesting Aida on record since Callas...Pappano goes one better [than Karajan], with orchestral playing of rare accomplishment from an Italian ensemble which is alive to the opera’s every word...as fine an all-round Aida as the gramophone has yet given us."

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Zandonai: Francesca da Rimini

Christina Vasileva, Martin Muhle, Juan Orozco, Philharmonisches Orchester Freiburg, Fabrice Bollo

"A well-engineered modern account of the work...But it’s also an excellent achievement on its own terms....[the cast] sing powerfully, reliably and impressively. Christina Vasileva’s soprano is up to the challenge of Francesca...Fabrice Bollon conducts the score with a sure touch and is particularly adept at bringing out its moments of beauty."

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Orchestral

Dutilleux: Métaboles, L'arbre des songes & Symphony No. 2

Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Ludovic Morlot

"[Morlot] opts for a woolier and more pliant (for which don't read softcore) mode of attack. Intuition tells me that Dutilleux would have gravitated towards [this] approach…veins of orchestra perspective are opened up [and Morlot] evokes the thrill of ears discovering orchestral vistas and architecture in the moment."

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Elgar: Symphony No. 1

Staatskapelle Berlin, Daniel Barenboim

"Barenboim’s long association with, and love for, Elgar has effectively made it part of his musical DNA...And because he is a master he has somehow communicated all of that, both in practical and spiritual terms, to an orchestra for whom it is relatively unfamiliar. That is the really startling achievement here and it manifests itself in playing that is as exciting as it is nuanced."

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Shostakovich Under Stalin's Shadow: Symphony No. 10

Boston Symphony Orchestra, Andris Nelsons

"Powerful and beautifully crafted, this recording – the first from the relationship between DG and the Boston Symphony under Nelsons – is a hugely impressive sign of just what this ensemble/maestro partnership may go on to achieve."

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Recital

Mozart: The Weber Sisters

Sabine Devieilhe (soprano), Pygmalion, Raphaël Pichon

"The programme centres around three magnificent showpiece arias for Aloysia...Among her specialities were sustained pianissimo high notes; and I can't imagine they were more delicately floated than they are by Sabine Devieilhe, a lyric coloratura who combines a pure, sweet timbre and dazzling virtuosity."

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Arie Napoletane

Max Emanuel Cencic (countertenor), Il Pomo d'Oro, Maxim Emelyanychev

"Flamboyance and intelligence don’t always go hand in hand, though Max Emanuel Cencic possesses both qualities in spades...a recital of superb cogency that has claims to being his finest album to date...Il Pomo d’Oro are on fine form, too, and Emelyanychev, volatile, sensuous and keenly intense, is impressive."

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Scene!: Concert arias by Beethoven, Haydn, Mendelssohn and Mozart

Christiane Karg (soprano), Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen

"Karg holds vocal finesse and expressive intensity in near-ideal equipoise. Singing with style, grace and fiery temperament, she brings each of these distraught heroines excitingly, individually alive, while the superb players of Arcangelo - not least the dulcet clarinets - are true dramatic partners rather than mere accompanists."

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Solo Vocal

Beethoven: Lieder & Bagatellen

Werner Güra (tenor), Christoph Berner (fortepiano)

"Berner relishes [the Bagatelles'] quirkiness, explosive energy and rarefied lyricism...Güra’s mellifluous tenor has lost none of the freshness of a decade and more ago. He sings An die ferne Geliebte with a wondering, confiding intimacy, punctuated by surges of excited urgency."

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L'heure exquise: A French Songbook

Alice Coote (mezzo) & Graham Johnson (piano)

"A beautifully formed recital shining different lights on a central theme. It is distinguished by Coote’s thorough absorption in the stylistic character of each song...Johnson’s piano accompaniments are, as ever, wonderfully apt and complementary to the voice."

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Néère: Véronique Gens

Véronique Gens (soprano) & Susan Manoff (piano)

"Gens, as one might expect, is exceptional in this repertoire. Most of the songs are about erotic anticipation and tristesse, and her dark, slightly smoky tone adds to the sensuality of it all. She sings as much off the text as the line, but nothing is nudged or forced in an overtly interventionist way."

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