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the best albums of 2015

Each of these albums earned a Recording of the Month accolade in 2015 and give an excellent cross-section of the best that the world of classical recording has to offer today

Steffani ◊ Y Niobe, regina di Tebe Sols; Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra / Paul O’Dette, Stephen Stubbs Erato B c 2564 63435-4 (3h 44’ • DDD) The excellent orchestra is led from the front by the co-directing lutenists O’Dette and Stubbs, who bring to life the multifaceted score, whether it is bellicose trumpets and drums, the Frenchstyle pastoral ballet at the end of Act 2, a plethora of delicate arias, or tastefully realised recitatives. An exemplary testament of superb musicianship from all participants this is a landmark event in Steffani’s much‑deserved rehabilitation. David Vickers

Vivaldi L’estro armonico Brecon Baroque / Rachel Podger vn Channel Classics B b Í CSA36515 (97’ • DDD/DSD) These performances have the heat to make your blood run faster. I don’t mean heat of the hard-driven, percussive kind so often encountered today; on the contrary, line is always respected, tempos are up with the pace but never overpushed, and the instruments are allowed to speak with warmth and humanity. There is plenty of detail, but it is natural and never fussy, and ornamentation is always clever, sometimes humorous, often delightful. Lindsay Kemp

Smetana String Quartets Nos 1 & 2 Pavel Haas Quartet Supraphon F SU4172-2 (48’ • DDD) What this new recording captures particularly compellingly is the sense of the music’s extremes – at times it’s hard to believe you are in the presence of only four players, so intense is the sound. No element is taken for granted, and the way they colour the dotted falling figure that dominates so much of the first movement is a masterclass in imagination yet never sounds in the least bit contrived. This is the kind of disc that makes record reviewing the best job in the world. Harriet Smith

Schubert Piano Works Sir András Schiff fp ECM New Series F b 481 1572 (145’ • DDD) I cannot think of anyone of Schiff’s calibre who has mastered the fortepiano as well as the modern piano and shown such distinction on both. In Schubert he has a claim to be considered sovereign among today’s players, carrying forward the reading and interpretation of him into areas that others have not fully explored. I would not be without the recent achievements of Uchida, Cooper, Lewis and others; nor of course of Brendel. Schiff is, perhaps, Brendel’s successor. Stephen Plaistow

Ysaÿe Six Sonatas for Solo Violin Alina Ibragimova vn Hyperion F CDA67993 (68’ • DDD) Alina Ibragimova has made many fine recordings in recent years, but this solo Ysaÿe disc must count as one of her most memorable achievements. She gives full value to the sonatas’ varied expressive character, their virtuosity, and the imaginative and poetic way Ysaÿe wrote for his instrument. And she makes the music sound quite beautiful: we never feel the medium of unaccompanied violin is at all limiting; the sonatas speak to us unimpeded, without any sense of strain. Duncan Druce

36 The best music of 2015

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