Best of 2016

01.01.17
Calidore String Quartet , Marin Alsop, James Conlon, Sir Andrew Davis, David Robertson, Robert Spano, Daniel Barenboim, Jeremy Denk, Alexandre Tharaud, Daniil Trifonov, Shai Wosner, Gil Shaham, Colin Currie, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra , Staatskapelle Berlin , Cleveland Orchestra , St. Louis Symphony Orchestra , West-Eastern Divan Orchestra , Philharmonic Orchestra , The Knights , VOCES8 , Lisette Oropesa, Tamara Mumford, Bryan Hymel, John Relyea, Morris Robinson, James Darrah

As 2016 comes to an end, we honor all of our artists and their accomplishments and wish them a fulfilling year ahead. Opus 3 Artists has culled through the many "best of" lists and we're delighted to have found many of our artists celebrated. Whether it is best classical compositions, greatest classical performances, or the best albums, our artists are lauded for their hard work and talent. Hats off to our Opus 3 Artists! 

Vulture Best of:

10 Best Classical-Music Performances 

COLIN CURRIE - Switch, Andrew Norman
Andrew Norman paints our high-speed world in vivid symphonic colors, and orchestras can’t get enough of it. A few months after the New York Philharmonic premiered his piano concerto Split, the Utah Symphony played his new percussion concerto, Switch, at Carnegie Hall. Different though the works are, they share an explosive, spectacularly disjointed intricacy. 

WQXR Best Of

Classical Christmas Albums

VOCES8 - Winter
If we had to use one word to describe this Christmas release from the UK octet, it would be “stillness.” The songs here are characterized by a texture reminiscent of the untouched snow and arrangements of compositions by composers such as Arvo Pärt and Ólafur Arnalds evoke scenes of an icy — yet beautiful — Eastern European winter. Also featured are interpretations of Rachmaninoff, Holst and the British folk song “The Snow it Melts the Soonest.”

SIR ANDREW DAVIS, JOHN RELYEA, TAMARA MUMFORD - Handel: Messiah, Mormon Tabernacle Choir
For fans of Handel’s most famous oratorio, 2016 was a pretty solid year. Two notable recordings were released: one from Sir Andrew Davis and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the other from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. This effort represents Sir Davis’s second pass with Messiah (the other being from 1987, it too with the TSO.) Also led by his baton is the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and soloists Erin Wall, Elizabeth DeShong, Andrew Staples and John Relyea. 

12 Significant Classical Music Events

DANIIL TRIFONOV - Liszt: ‘Transcendental Etudes’
Daniil Trifonov has developed an impressive, almost unprecedented, mastery of the piano. In 2015, at the age of 24, Trifonov performed a cycle of all of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerti. In 2016, he managed to outdo himself by recording all of Franz Liszt’s etudes. These are some of the most difficult pieces for piano ever written and it’s rare to see them performed or recorded at all. Not only did he record all of them this year for Deutsche Gramophone (the label’s first time releasing all of the etudes in one album), he did it in only five days. His reviews are consistently phenomenal, and he might truly be the strongest pianist of the younger generation. As Mozart once said of the young Beethoven: “Keep an eye on that boy!”

21 Musical Gift Ideas That Will Make Your Year

SHAI WOSNER - Haydn & Ligeti: Concertos & Capriccios
The Israeli pianist Shai Wosner brings his fierce wit and improvisatory spirit to this unusual pairing of Haydn and Ligeti capriccios and concertos. Matched by the equally dexterous playing of Nicholas Collon and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, this record has consistently amused and gratified our staff since it was released in June. Those daunted by the connotation of Ligeti with Kubrick’s psychedelic rendering of space-time may find his playful Piano Concerto a more welcoming introduction.

New York Times Best Of

Best Classical Music Recordings

STAATSKAPELLE BERLIN - Elgar: Symphony No. 1
Another Elgar record from Mr. Barenboim and his Berliners, and another appearance in our annual recommendations. The First Symphony suits them still better than the previously recorded Second. At every turn they achieve what is expected in Elgar — nobility, hush, pomp — and yet seem uneasily to undermine it, in a reminder that Elgar’s world was Mahler’s, too.

DANIIL TRIFONOV - Liszt: ‘Transcendental Etudes’
Liszt’s 12 aptly titled études, works of visionary imagination, are so technically daunting that even many virtuosos take a pass. So it’s thrilling to have had new recordings this year from two astonishing pianists. Mr. Gerstein best conveys the grandeur and musical madness of these pieces; Mr. Trifonov (on “Transcendental,” a double album that also offers the rest of Liszt’s piano études) dispatches them with exhilarating ease, imagination and brio.

ALEXANDRE THARAUD - Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2, Other Works
There are numerous classic recordings of Rachmaninoff’s popular Second Piano Concerto. Yet the elegant Mr. Tharaud’s version, at once probing and impetuous, is exceptional. While playing with plenty of virtuosic flair, he brings out inner voices and harmonic subtleties that seem fresh, even startling. This rewarding album also includes a thoughtful selection of shorter Rachmaninoff pieces.

JAMES CONLON - R. Nathaniel Dett: ‘The Ordering of Moses’
When NBC cut away three-quarters through its live radio broadcast of this gorgeous oratorio’s premiere in 1937, it claimed previous commitments. But it may have been responding to callers objecting to perhaps the first network broadcast of a major work by a black composer. The Cincinnati May Festival was responsible for that premiere, and its forces brought the work — since then largely forgotten — to Carnegie Hall in 2014, under the auspices of the late, lamented Spring for Music festival. In this live recording, the orchestra plays with driving energy under Mr. Conlon and the chorus, warmly hovering, is glorious. The soloists are excellent, particularly the radiant soprano Latonia Moore and Rodrick Dixon, fervent as Moses, here imagined not as a patriarchal bass but as a youthful tenor. 

SHAI WOSNER - Haydn & Ligeti: Concertos & Capriccios
To galvanizing yet ruminative effect, this disc brings together the bright, witty, unexpectedly heartfelt music of two Central European composers: Haydn (1732-1809) and Ligeti (1923-2006). The centerpieces are piano concertos: two by Haydn and Ligeti’s uproarious, rhythmically knotty contribution to the genre. Between are alternately dreamy and lively capriccios by both; all is played with style, flair and velvety touch by Mr. Wosner, given spirited support by Mr. Collon and the Danes.

Best Classical Music

JAMES DARRAH - Breaking the Waves (Director)
Kiera Duffy, a soprano of courageous focus, held her ground against inevitable comparisons with Emily Watson’s harrowing performance in the Lars von Trier film on which Missy Mazzoli’s darkly compelling new opera is based. Writing under a commission from Beth Morrison Projects and Opera Philadelphia, which gave the work’s premiere in September, Ms. Mazzoli gave her characters clear, passionate vocal lines and supported them with oceanic orchestral textures. It’s rare to encounter a new opera in which music and drama nudge each other forward; celebrate this one, which comes to the Prototype festival in New York in January. 

BRYAN HYMEL, JOHN RELYEA - Guillaume Tell
Performed in October for the first time at the Metropolitan Opera in its original French, Rossini’s final opera was imposingly cast — and conducted, with his usual lucidity, by Fabio Luisi. There was a sense of both Rossini’s virtuosity and the emotions that fuel it from the platinum-tone tenor Bryan Hymel and the coolly sparkling soprano Marina Rebeka. Best was Gerald Finley, his dignity and warmth swelling the stick-figure title character into a three-dimensional being.

ROBERT SPANO, ATLANTA SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA - A German Requiem
Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus followed with a fine performance at Carnegie Hall in April, commemorating the centenary of Shaw himself, long the orchestra’s conductor, and the chorus’s founder. 

DANIIL TRIFONOV - Prokofiev Concerto Marathon 
The conductor Valery Gergiev loves thinking big. Why perform one or two of Prokofiev piano concertos when you can present all five at once? So in a marathon concert, “Folk, Form and Fire,” he led his Mariinsky Orchestra in these five works, in order, each with a different — and distinctively brilliant — pianist. It was great to hear the neglected Fourth Concerto for piano, left hand, played scintillatingly by Sergei Redkin, as well as the cryptic, neo-Classical, seldom-heard Fifth, dispatched handily by Sergei Babayan. The evening opened with young George Li’s crisp account of the exuberant First Concerto; Alexander Toradze brought weighty virtuosity to the daunting Second; and the amazing Daniil Trifonov won a predictably huge ovation for his dazzling account of the popular Third. 

The New Yorker Best Of

Moments and Performances

CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA - Abrahamsen’s “let me tell you”
Early in the new year, the Cleveland Orchestra gave an impressively chilling concert at Carnegie Hall. Hans Abrahamsen’s vocal-orchestral piece “let me tell you,” a setting of a Shakespeare-derived text by Paul Griffiths, is one of the masterworks of the new century; Barbara Hannigan made each note glow and shiver. After intermission, Franz Welser-Möst led a pile-driver account of Shostakovich’s hysterical, apocalyptic Fourth Symphony. Did someone know what 2016 had in store?

JAMES DARRAH - Breaking the Waves (Director)
Missy Mazzoli’s “Breaking the Waves,” in its première run at Opera Philadelphia, proved, if anything, even more harrowing than the Lars von Trier film on which it is based. Kiera Duffy gave an eruptive performance as the Scottish wife who undergoes sexual degradation at her husband’s behest; Mazzoli wove ominously shimmering music around her. The opera comes to the Prototype Festival in January.

BRYAN HYMEL, JOHN RELYEA - Guillaume Tell
At the end of what may have been the year’s most accomplished operatic turn, Gerald Finley, in the title role of Rossini’s “Guillaume Tell” at the Met, sang, “Liberté, redescends des cieux, / Et que ton règne recommence!”—“Liberty, descend again from the skies / And may your reign begin anew!”

Recordings

DAVID ROBERTSON, ST LOUIS SYMPHONY - John Adams: “Scheherazade.2”

DANIIL TRIFONOV - Liszt: ‘Transcendental Etudes’

JAMES CONLON - R. Nathaniel Dett: ‘The Ordering of Moses’

The Guardian Best Of

Best Classical Music 

DANIEL BARENBOIM, WEST-EASTERN DIVAN ORCHESTRA
Two of the supreme musicians of our age were child prodigies in Buenos Aires in the 1940s, and they have remained good friends ever since. Argerich (pictured) makes a rare London appearance in the first of Barenboim’s Proms this year; she is the soloist in Liszt’s first piano concerto, before Barenboim conducts the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra in extracts from Wagner operas.

PHILHARMONIA ORCHESTRA - Stravinsky: Myths and Rituals

DANIIL TRIFONOV
Perhaps the most gifted of the brilliant current generation of twentysomething pianists, Trifonov has become an Edinburgh regular in recent years. He’s now graduated to the Usher Hall for his solo recital, which is built around two of the most technically challenging works in the piano repertoire: Liszt’s Grandes Etudes De Paganini and Rachmaninov’s first piano sonata.

The Boston Globe Best Of

Top 10 of the Year

JEREMY DENK 

Limelight Best Of

Instrumental Recording of the Year 

DANIIL TRIFONOV - Liszt: ‘Transcendental Etudes’
The earliest version dates from 1826, but the pianist-phenomenon decided that these pieces were not difficult enough. Other pianists could still manage to play them! While these 12 Etudes and the others in this recital were designed to showcase Liszt’s superhuman technique, Liszt the poet is still in evidence. Recordings have tended to lean towards one or other extreme. Generally, young pianists show off their skill. Older pianists stress the poetry and musicality. Trifonov, a contemporary wünderkind with an old soul, displays the detachment of a colourist, which suits the pieces perfectly.

The Arts Desk Best Of

Best of Classical 

CALIDORE STRING QUARTET - East Neuk Festival

JEREMY DENK - Wigmore Hall

Bay Area Reporter Best Of

Best Classical Recordings

DANIIL TRIFONOV - Liszt: ‘Transcendental Etudes’
In my eons as a music critic, I've rarely seen a single recording make everyone's "Best of" list, but this year Daniil Trifonov's Transcendental (DG), a recording of all of Liszt's solo-piano etudes, has done just that. The astounding pianist seems one of those musicians that comes from another planet, to which he offers us a peek in this truly transcendental recital. If we're extra nice, maybe someday he'll take us back there with him.

The Baltimore Sun Best Of

Highlights from Baltimore’s Classical Music Scene

LISETTE OROPESA - Brahms Requiem

MARIN ALSOP, MORRIS ROBINSON - Verdi Requiem

GIL SHAHAM & THE KNIGHTS - Leshnoff Concerto

MARIN ALSOP - Aaron Jay Kernis’ Second Symphony

Gramophone 2016 Best Of

Artist of the Year 

DANIIL TRIFONOV
No one could begrudge the choice by Gramophone’s readership of Daniil Trifonov as Artist of the Year. Wherever he has played people have been enthralled. It has been claimed that among pianists a talent such as his is a phenomenon that appears no more than two or three times in a generation, if that. In the five years since winning the Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky competitions Trifonov has made a successful career on terms that are his own and established himself everywhere as someone we shall always want to hear.