The Gramophone Awards were launched in 1977 – the classical record industry, realizing that there was no authoritative awards event, approached us to organise and host what has become the most significant recorded classical music awards in the world. As we reached the Awards’ 40th anniversary this year, it seemed a good opportunity to pause and look back over the 40 recordings that have received our ‘award of awards’, the much-coveted Recording of the Year.
It’s with some satisfaction, leafing through the reviews of these outstanding recordings, to realise quite how many have gone on to achieve classic status. And many of these recordings, too, have their own stories to tell. Sir Charles Mackerras’s Janá∂ek opera series for Decca started almost by accident but which gave us a handful of near-definitive productions that still carry that exciting air of discovery. Or Nigel Kennedy’s career-changing collaboration with Vernon Handley in the Elgar Violin Concerto, a statement that seemed to carry echoes of the young Yehudi Menuhin’s classic recording of the same work with the composer conducting. Or Herbert von Karajan’s Mahler Ninth, a work to which he came late in his life and which seemed to unlock in him a new depth and expressivity, matched by incandescent playing from the orchestra he’d led for so many years.
Then there was The Tallis Scholars’ remarkable disc of Josquin Desprez’s Missa Pange Lingua and Missa La so fa re mi which became, in 1987, the first Early Music recording to secure the Recording of the Year accolade (a feat not matched until 2010). As Peter Phillips reminded us at this year’s Awards ceremony, which he generously attended with his superb choir to sing some Josquin for us, this was a truly life-changing event for The Tallis Scholars, now firmly established at superstars in the Early Music world.
But Recordings of the Year aren’t about music making on a large scale – they can be celebrations of the intimate and exquisite. Anne Sofie von Otter’s DG disc of songs by Edvard Grieg won our hearts in 1993 with its gentle beauty and solo singer’s artistry. Or the following year when Krystian Zimerman gave us his unique and idiosyncratic take on both books of Debussy Préludes.
There will probably be many old favourites in thse pages, but, I hope, a few that you will discover all these years after their award – aged, perhaps, like a fine wine! James Jolly December 2017
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