The ten best classical albums of the Noughties

11.21.09
Osvaldo Golijov, David Robertson, Christoph Eschenbach
The Times (London)

By Neil Fisher and Richard Morrison

10. Violin Concerto/Rocana by Unsuk Chin (Analekta)
The South Korean composer comes good with the visionary beauty of her violin concerto, lightly nodding to Eastern culture as its soloist (Viviane Hagner) soars through what sounds like both time and space on her way to a tautly compelling conclusion. The orchestra caprice Rocana is a quirky bonus.

9 Ayre by Osvaldo Golijov (Universal)
Beloved by America for his joyous blending of global traditions – from Sephardic chant to Latin dance – but more likely to be castigated by the Brit-pack for cynical schmaltz, Golijov’s craft is shown off best in this energetic and thoroughly tuneful workout, itself a very clever partner piece to Berio’s totemic Folk Songs.


8. Violin Concerto by Thomas Ades (EMI Classics)
Subtitled Concentric Rings and written for the outstanding British violinist Anthony Marwood, Ades 2005 concerto has a nervous energy and a sense of uncompromising soul-searching that places it among the best orchestral works produced to date by the still young English composer.

7. Book of Hours by Julian Anderson (NME)
Half an hours of fireworks for 19 players, enhanced by a glowing patina of electronics, Anderson's Book of Hours is a weird and wonderful musical response to two medieval treasures. You feel like an intruder at a promordial ritual whose meaning is but dimly perceived but whose fervour is intoxicating.

6. The Veil of the Temple by John Tavener (RCA Red Seal)
About 480 minutes long, Tavener's choral magnum opus played from dusk to dawn at its world premiere. This is the condensed version - a mere three hours - but it captures the epic grandeur and gathering sense of religious and musical ecstacy in the piece. Someone, somewhere, should give another complete performance.

5. Clarinet Concerto by Magnus Lindberg (Ondine)
Brilliantly extrovert and entertaining piece from the Finnish composer, requiring the clarinettist (the astonishing Kari Kriikku, for whom it was written) to take on a fluttering solo line full of multiphonics and other special effects. A giddy 25-minute flight through an enchanted forest of bewitching sounds.

4. Chiffre-Zyklus by Wolfgang Rihm (CPO)
One of the most uncompromising voices of contemporary composition, Rihm crowns his epic cycle of Chiffres (it means “ciphers") with the 2004 Nach-Schrift. Together, the complete canvas is arresting, violent, and persistently dramatic even as it challenges the listener pace by pace. Stefan Asbury conducts the virtuoso players of MusikFabrik with assurance.

3. St John Passion by James MacMillan (LSO Live)
A blazing blockbuster from the passionately pious MacMillan, in this spellbinding live recording from the work’s first performances by the LSO under Colin Davis. The Good Friday liturgy is transformed in this audacious melding of biblical narrative, Celtic chant and coruscating orchestral frenzies.

2. Notes on Light/Mirage/Orion by Kaija Saariaho (Ondine)
A brilliant trio of works by one of the most luminous voices of the 21st century. Karita Mattila sings the song cycle Mirage with lustrous intensity; cellist Anssi Karttunen grips in the concerto Notes on Light and conductor Christoph Eschenbach sculpts the orchestral adventures of “Orion” with conviction.

1. Doctor Atomic Symphony by John Adams (Nonesuch)
Orchestral work derived from Adams's stunning operatic depiction of the fateful moment in July 1945 when J. Robert Oppenheimer's scientists swallowed their ethical doubts, successfully tested the atomic bomb and changed the world. Coruscating instrumental power, fine lyrical moments.