Top 10 classical albums
ABRAHAMSEN: LET ME TELL YOU
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra with Barbara Hannigan; Andris Nelsons, conductor The superb Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan shines like a white diamond on the debut recording of this delicate, coruscating piece. With Andris Nelsons conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the music induces a cold frisson with every gesture. The recording is only 32 minutes long and feels shorter, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more substantial use of musical time and space.
THE DEER’S CRY
The Sixteen; Harry Christophers, director Redoubtable British ensemble The Sixteen makes the new feel ancient and mysterious, and the old feel fresh and alive. This lush, luminous recording penetrates to the heart of intensely devotional works by Byrd, Tallis, and Pärt.
CZERNOWIN: THE QUIET
Various ensembles Harvard faculty member Chaya Czernowin deconstructs the possibilities of orchestral music, breaking it down to its atomic components and reforging it in improbable shapes. These five sonic tapestries are woven in subtle gestures that owe as much to sound’s absence as its presence. Don’t try to listen on the T.
SHOSTAKOVICH UNDER STALIN’S SHADOW — SYMPHONIES NOS. 5, 8 & 9: SUITE FROM “HAMLET” (LIVE)
Boston Symphony Orchestra; Andris Nelsons, conductor Andris Nelsons leads the BSO in a crisp, crackling rendition of three Shostakovich symphonies plus the oddly chipper “Suite from Hamlet,” netting the orchestra its second Grammy nomination in as many years. This Deutsch Grammophon recording captures the almost overwhelming effect of experiencing this music in Symphony Hall.
ÁGOCS: THE DEBRECEN PASSION
Boston Modern Orchestra Project with Lorelei Ensemble, Lisa Bielawa and others; Gil Rose, conductor The first recording of assorted works by NEC faculty composer Kati Ágocs. The record’s core is “The Debrecen Passion,” a mystical confluence of the sacred and secular illuminated by the superb Lorelei Ensemble and BMOP. Also sublime is “Vessel,” which utilises the medieval technique of multiple simultaneous texts to create something unmistakably modern.
BACH: FRENCH SUITES
Murray Perahia, piano In his premiere release on Deutsch Grammophon, Perahia gives us an exquisitely sculpted rendition of Bach’s French Suites. Tender and precise, every note seems to dance under his hands.
DEATH AND THE MAIDEN
St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, with Patricia Kopatchinskaja, violin Kopatchinskaja’s own string orchestra arrangement of Schubert’s immortal “Death and the Maiden” quartet is peppered with other musical memento moris: Byzantine chant, a merry Renaissance Toden Tanz, a Dowland lament, a craggy Kurtág Ligatura. Death never sounded so alive.
FIRMINUS CARON: TWILIGHT OF THE MIDDLE AGES
Huelgas Ensemble; Paul Van Nevel, director In impeccable, warm tones, Huelgas Ensemble paints a portrait of the Franco-Flemish composer Firminus Caron, a contemporary of Dufay about whom scarce personal information survives. This album’s offerings run the gamut from a contemplative composite Mass to secular chansons such as the plangent “Les despourveu infortune” and the rollicking “Corps contre corps,” which would necessitate an “Explicit Lyrics” sticker were it in English.
REICH: MALLET QUARTET, SEXTET, NAGOYA MARIMBAS AND MUSIC FOR PIECES OF WOOD
Third Coast Percussion These Chicago-based percussion adventurers ride Reich’s phasing waves with a subtle hint of slink. This is a record so translucent and playful that the phrases seem to leap out of your headphones, and individual blocks of wood melt into a blissful flow.
TAYLOR BROOK: ECSTATIC MUSIC
TAK Ensemble New York new-music chamber ensemble TAK pins down the musical magical realism of emerging composer Taylor Brook. These young, fearless players navigate Brook’s mechanized instruments and alternate tunings with fluid grace and confidence.
JULIUS EASTMAN — FEMENINE
S.E.M. Ensemble Minimalist composer Julius Eastman’s “Femenine” went unheard for decades, following his dismissal from academia, loss of scores, drug addiction, and death in poverty. As a proud gay black man with no patience for establishment politics, Eastman was unapologetically himself in everything he did, and his work is an important reminder that classical music has never been as homogenous as it seems. This recording of a 1974 performance, released on the Finnish label Frozen Reeds, is an invaluable glimpse into an almost-forgotten mind.