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 Recording of the Week  Presto Personal Favourites from 2015

We feel very lucky at Presto that we get to listen to so many amazing recordings; unfortunately there are just too many discs for us to be able to feature in our weekly newsletter.

As this is a somewhat lean time of year for new releases, we are continuing our tradition of asking each member of our editorial team to choose a disc from the past year that they really loved, but which we simply didn't have the space to write about at the time of release.

So, here are some overlooked gems that you may have missed this year; we hope you'll want to explore them and maybe make a new discovery or two! Finally, it only remains for us to wish you a Merry Christmas from everyone at Presto!

Chris O'Reilly

Rachmaninov Variations

Daniil Trifonov (piano), Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Daniil Trifonov started playing the piano at the age of five, not because he wanted to be a pianist, but because he wanted to be a composer. He won the Tchaikovsky and Rubinstein competitions at the age of twenty, and has fast established himself as one of the leading pianists of his generation.

Aiming to continue in the tradition of great Russian composer-pianists, Trifonov’s disc of Rachmaninov Variations (released late August) suggests he looks well set to do just that. In a programme comprising three sets of Rachmaninov’s Variations along with his own composition ‘Rachmaniana’ – a kind of homage to the great composer – he demonstrates his effortless, incredible technique, combined with a maturity in music making way beyond his years.

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

Katherine Cooper

Mozart Arias

Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Freiburger Barockorchester, Gottfried von der Goltz

I know, I know, you don’t feel you need Yet Another Disc of Mozart Arias (especially one that’s interspersed with movements of one of the symphonies…). Bear with me. In terms of content there are no surprises (no obscure excerpts from the early operas, for instance) on Christian Gerhaher’s latest disc (released in September on Sony), but the integrity and immediacy of his portraits of Papageno, Guglielmo, Count Almaviva and Figaro, Giovanni and Leporello will make you feel you’re encountering these familiar characters for the very first time in all their glorious complexity and variety.

Playing to the gallery isn’t at all what Gerhaher’s about, but it’s as if we get a vocal costume-change between tracks as he moves from master to servant and back again; every time I listen to this disc it puts a smile on my face and a lump in my throat (often in quick succession, and sometimes even simultaneously), and I really can’t say fairer than that.

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

James Longstaffe

Walton: Symphony No. 2 & Cello Concerto

Paul Watkins (cello), BBC Symphony Orchestra, Edward Gardner

Edward Gardner conducts orchestral works by William Walton, beginning with a genuinely creepy, unsettling account of the Improvisations on an Impromptu of Benjamin Britten, featuring some searchingly powerful playing from the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

They are joined for the Cello Concerto by Paul Watkins; from his very first entry it’s clear that his is going to be a thoughtful interpretation, full of beautiful tone in the introspective first movement, but also impressively virtuosic in the second. The end of the piece, as the ticking motif from the first movement returns and the music fades to nothing, is spellbinding.

Concluding the disc is a performance of Symphony No. 2. Sometimes thought to be something of an oddity in Walton’s output, and certainly much less frequently performed than the First Symphony, in Gardner’s hands it comes across as a completely convincing symphonic statement. The playing is unfailingly committed and colourful, with a sensationally scintillating account of the slow movement being a particular highlight for me.

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

David Smith

Valentin Silvestrov: To Thee We Sing

Kārlis Rūtentāls (tenor), Ieva Ezeriete (soprano), Dace Strautmane (contralto), Agata Burkina (soprano), Rūdolfs Bērtiņš (tenor) Latvian Radio Choir, Sigvards Klava

Although it may not be to everyone's taste - and certainly fiercely divided opinion in the Presto office when it was released - this collection of choral works by the contemporary Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov is one of the finest discs I've ever heard. Silvestrov's musical voice has something of Pärt and something of Lauridsen about it, but he has a more vivid sense of harmony than either, and he's also a dab hand at writing a memorable tune.

The basses of Sigvards Kļava's Latvian Radio Choir deserve particular praise - the notoriously sepulchral bottom B flat of Rachmaninov's All-Night Vigil pales into insignificance next to some of Silvestrov's profundo lines, and the combined effect of this, lusciously rich harmonies and some subtle echo effects is electrifying.

Nearly all the repertoire is sacred, of course; there are several Church Slavonic works taken from the Russian Orthodox liturgy, two beautiful Christmas Lullabies in Ukrainian and a haunting Ave Maria that's surpassed even Bruckner to become my new favourite setting of that text.

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