Queue 'Gramophone Top 10s'

Top 10 Bartók recordings

Gramophone Fri 12th February 2016

From Fritz Reiner to Patricia Kopatchinskaja, these are 10 of the finest recordings of Bartók's music

Top 10 Bartók recordings
Top 10 Bartók recordings

Concerto for Orchestra

Chicago Symphony Orchestra / Fritz Reiner

(RCA)

'A classic recording by one of the master Bartók conductors. With staggering playing by the Chicago Symphony and recording that simply doesn't sound its age, this is a magnificent achievement. RCA's sound reportage of the Concerto for Orchestra has uncanny realism, and if the climaxes are occasionally reined in, the fervour of Reiner's direction more than compensates...' Read the review

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String Quartets

Emerson String Quartet

(DG)

'The impression one gains from these recordings (I have not seen the Quartet in the concert hall) is of massive tonal projection and superlative clarity, each textural strand coloured and made audible to a degree possibly unrivalled in the recorded history of these works. DG's close brightly-lit, yet never oppressive recording quality must share some of the credit for that, of course. Combine this with controlled vehemence, headlong velocity and razor-sharp unanimity (any fast movement from quartets two to five can serve as illustration) and you have a formidable alliance of virtues...' Read the review

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Violin Concerto No 2

Patricia Kopatchinskaja vn Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra / Peter Eötvös

(Naive)

'Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto has long since been accorded classic status and in – my guess – making a determined effort to ‘think it new’, Kopatchinskaja and Eötvös sometimes risk exaggerating what is already pretty intense. The effect can be downright hectic; but it’s a mightily exciting account, which certainly doesn’t rush its fences or sell the score short. When Bartók slackens the tension and allows lyric reflectiveness to emerge, as in the first movement’s development, this performance is poetic and subtly shaded to a fault; and even though the second and third movements are usually played with a somewhat lighter touch, I found the sheer intensity of Kopatchinskaja and Eötvös’s advocacy compelling...' Read the review

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The Miraculous Mandarin

Budapest Festival Orchestra / Iván Fischer

(Philips)

'As Mandarins go, they don’t come more miraculous than this – a vivid, no-holds-barred performance that henceforth tops my list of current recommendations. Everything tells – the flavour is right, the pacing too and the sound has a toughened, raw-edged quality that is an essential constituent of Bartók’s tonal language...Delicacy trails bullish aggression, forcefulness alternates with an almost graphic suggestiveness – and it’s all there in the full score. Fischer never vulgarizes, brutalizes or overstates the case and, what is most important, he underlines those quickly flickering, folkish elements in Bartók’s musical language (they are everywhere in evidence) that other, less intuitive conductors barely acknowledge...' Read the review

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Violin Sonatas

Isabelle Faust vn Florent Boffard, Ewa Kupiec pfs

(Harmonia Mundi)

'Here Faust approaches the music from a Bachian axis: her tone is pure, her double-stopping immaculate (and never abrasive) and her sense of timing acute. She obviously relishes the score’s balance of colour and counterpoint, and her performance is distinguished by a combination of musical intuition and technical finesse (a good place to sample is 5'49'' into the first movement).I would strongly urge you to purchase this superb disc, even if you already own recordings of both works...' Read the review

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Bluebeard's Castle

Nimsgern, Troyanos; BBC Symphony Orchestra / Pierre Boulez

(Sony)

'Boulez's pacing is ideally judged—in fact, throughout this memorable performance, he balances the constituent parts of Bartok's rich tonal palette with a meticulous ear, patiently scaling the score's many texturally complex climaxes. Nimsgern is a tortured, yet commanding Bluebeard, vocally excellent and interpretatively compelling, although the recording does sometimes lend his voice an untypically cavernous quality...' Read the review

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Piano Concertos

Géza Anda pf Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra / Ferenc Fricsay

(DG)

'Much as one would like to tout the new as the best, there are some older recordings where a very special chemistry spells 'definitive', and that pose an almost impossible challenge to subsequent rivals. Such is this 1959 recording of Bartók's Second Piano Concerto, a tough, playful, pianistically aristocratic performance where dialogue is consistently keen and spontaneity is captured on the wing (even throughout numerous sessions). The first movement is relentless but never tires the ear; the second displays two very different levels of tension, one slow and mysterious, the other hectic but controlled; and although others might have thrown off the finale's octaves with even greater abandon, Anda's performance is the most successful in suggesting savage aggression barely held in check...' Read the review

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Piano Sonata

Zoltán Kocsis pf

(Philips)

'Kocsis’s mastery of tone, rhythm and articulation, allied to his painstaking attention to important source material (namely Bartók’s scores and records), make for a level of pianistic distinction that is fairly unique in this repertory. To say that, with Kocsis, ‘less is more’ is to suggest executive reticence, which is certainly not the case…this is unquestionably one of the great piano records of the post-war period...' Read the review

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Violin Concertos

Arabella Steinbacher vn Orchestre de la Suisse Romande / Marek Janowski

(Pentatone)

'Arabella Steinbacher and Marek Janowski offer us Bartók in 3D, the three dimensions not only spatial but emotional as well. I can’t think of a version of the Second Concerto, past or present, where structure and content are more thoughtfully balanced, or where significant points in the score are more lovingly underlined. I lost count of the number of times I paused the CD player to note this or that salient detail...' Read the review

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Piano Concertos

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet pf BBC Philharmonic Orchestra / Gianandrea Noseda

(Chandos)

'If you’re after a disc of Bartók’s piano concertos that maximises on the music’s drive, elegance and sparring potential, then you could hardly do better than this ear-catching new production by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and the BBC Philharmonic under the spirited direction of Gianandrea Noseda. Rarely have I encountered a reading of the First Concerto where, in the first movement especially, the sense of instrumental interplay is so consistently vital...' Read the review

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Explore Bartók's life and music...

Béla Bartók – the life and music of the Hungarian maverick

Béla Bartók’s music takes listeners on a journey through folklore and fantasy. Rob Cowan offers a guide to exploring his compelling genius... Read more

Inside Bartók's Solo Violin Sonata

Rob Cowan talks to violinist James Ehnes about the demands of Bartók’s Solo Violin Sonata... Read more

Bartók’s piano concertos – the pianist’s sternest test

Tackling Bartók’s three piano concertos is tantamount to conquering Mount Everest – but is the view from the summit worth the climb, asks Geoffrey Norris... Read more

Composer: 

Top 10 symphonies

Guest Wed 30th April 2014

For those seeking to build a classical collection, these 10 symphonies are an ideal place to start

Top 10 symphonies
Top 10 symphonies

A brief history of the symphony

The symphony first appeared on programmes – inevitably in aristocratic settings – during the early years of the 18th century, often a natural development from the Italian overture (which usually comprised three movements). By the 1770s, the four-movement form we usually think of was established and one of its earliest (and still one of the greatest) exponents was Joseph Haydn who wrote 104 symphonies. Mozart’s 41 took the symphony on a step and, as the 18th century dawned, Beethoven infused the form with a new expressivity and power. His Third Symphony, known as the Eroica, burst into the world in 1805 and extended the length of the symphony dramatically (its first movement alone is longer than many complete symphonies written a couple of decades earlier). Beethoven’s nine symphonies remain the pinnacle of the form, performed daily and still providing spiritual nourishment to audiences of every nationality and creed.

The 19th century found most of the great composers writing symphonies – Schubert (eight), Brahms (four), Schumann (four), Mendelssohn (five), Tchaikovsky (six, seven if you include the Manfred), Dvořák (nine) for example.

The four movements – usually fast, slow, faster, faster – often included a dance form as one of the central movements (usually third), and often a theme and variation form might be included (Beethoven’s Third) or a variant such as a passacaglia (Brahms’s Fourth). As a vehicle for expression, the symphony had assumed a major role and reached its apogee in the years surrounding the turn of the 20th century. Bruckner’s nine extended the length yet again, and Mahler, as he famously told Sibelius, believed the symphony ‘should embrace the world’: he used his 10 (or 11 if you include the song-symphony Das Lied von der Erde) to explore psychological states and philosophical questions that still mesh powerfully with audiences 100 years after his death.

The 20th century found the ‘centre of gravity’ of symphonic writing shift north from its Austro-German heartland to Scandinavia and Russia/Soviet Union. The Finn Sibelius wrote seven, the Dane Nielsen six, and the Soviets Shostakovich (14) and Prokofiev (seven) contributed greatly to the genre. The French and Italians largely ignored the form, though it was taken up enthusiastically in America (Copland, Hanson, Bernstein, Harris, Piston and others). In the UK – and largely from practitioners of late-Romantic, tonal writing – the symphony flourished in the 20th century: Elgar wrote two, Bax seven, Walton two, Vaughan Williams nine (continuing to write symphonies when the musical public had imagined he’d delivered his last word in the genre) and Malcolm Arnold (nine).

Today’s major symphonists – and the form has rather fallen from favour (partly no doubt to constraints of time and budgets!) – include Philip Glass (nine), Leif Segerstam (261! as of 2012), Maxwell Davies (nine), Per Nørgård (eight) and David Matthews (seven).

Width of Text & Centred

No 1

Mozart Symphony No 40

Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Sir Charles Mackerras

'There is no need to argue the credentials of Sir Charles...' Review

 

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No 2

Beethoven Symphony No 5

ORR / Sir John Eliot Gardiner

'So palpable is the excitement of these live performances that it...Review


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No 3

Dvořák Symphony No 9

Budapest Festival Orchestra / Iván Fischer

'Iván Fischer is truly “one on his own”, a fund of fascinating...Review

 

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No 4

Tchaikovsky Symphony No 6

Philharmonia Orchestra / Sir Charles Mackerras

'There is an immediacy and incisive, almost forensic clarity to this...Review

 

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No 5

Bruckner Symphony No 5

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra / Nikolaus Harnoncourt

'The word "vision" is much misused these days yet to talk of...Review

 

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No 6

Mahler Symphony No 5

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra / Sir Simon Rattle

'It made a fine nuptial offering for Rattle and the Berliners...Review

 

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No 7

Sibelius Symphony No 5

Lahti Symphony Orchestra / Osmo Vänskä

'Every so often a CD appears which, by means of some...Review

 

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No 8

Copland Symphony No 3

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra / James Judd

'This time there’s no question about Naxos claiming these two...Review

 

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No 9

Prokofiev Symphony No 5

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Sir Simon Rattle

'A Prokofiev Fifth as vibrant, intelligent and meticulously prepared...Review

 

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No 10

Shostakovich Symphony No 10

RLPO / Vasily Petrenko

'Petrenko’s Shostakovich cycle goes from strength to strength...' Review

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Top 10 Vivaldi recordings

Gramophone Thu 11th February 2016

Ten of the best Vivaldi recordings, including Gramophone Award-winners and Editor's Choice albums

Top 10 Vivaldi recordings
Top 10 Vivaldi recordings

'The Four Seasons bids fair to being the most popular classical piece of all time. There have been at least 200 recordings, and counting, and it continues to be irresistible to TV advertisers and mobile phone companies. It is piped promiscuously as telephone-hold music and into shopping malls from Buenos Aires to Bombay, and it has even infiltrated the American pop charts. Yet such is the Seasons’ picturesque charm and visceral energy that it has survived unscathed more than half a century of kitsch and commercialisation. 

The Gloria, RV589, meanwhile, with its trumpeting opening and infectiously bouncy setting of ‘Domine fili unigenite’, is perennially popular with choral societies. Assorted concertos for flute, for one or more violins – the works that sealed Vivaldi’s European fame – and an ear-tickling concerto for lute, crop up regularly in concert. Countertenors from James Bowman to Andreas Scholl have helped popularise the hauntingly melancholic F minor Stabat mater, RV621. And yet…Beyond a handful of favourites, Vivaldi has long remained more or less uncharted territory for the floating voter. Despite the impassioned advocacy of specialists, he has been too easily viewed as an engaging lightweight who inevitably pales before the twin Titans of the Baroque, Bach and Handel.' (Richard Wigmore, Gramophone, November 2011)

In the list below we recommend some of the finest recordings of Vivaldi's music, from the well known to the rarely heard (but no less beautiful).

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Antonio Vivaldi – the Red Priest

Antonio Vivaldi – the Red Priest

'The French Connection'

La Serenissima / Adrian Chandler

(Avie)

'Here the three solo instruments come and go in various combinations, always pleasing us and never outstaying their welcome. They are played with skill and taste, lapsing only when the bassoon overpowers the flute in the slow movement of RV438. The orchestral sound, as always with La Serenissima, achieves bright attractiveness and vivacity without feeling the need to pursue the taut energy of some other groups. And that’s just fine...' Read the review

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Vespri Solenni per la Festa dell'Assunzione di Maria Vergine

Soloists, Concerto Italiano / Rinaldo Alessandrini

(Naïve Opus 111)

'No, not the "Vivaldi Vespers", nor even a reconstruction of a specific event, but a kind of "sacred concert" in Vespers form, of the sort that Venetian churches in Vivaldi’s time – ever aware of the power of music to swell a congregation – were wont to mount in the name of worship. Whether or not Vivaldi ever supplied all of the music for any such occasion is not clear – no complete integrated cycle exists – but he certainly set plenty of Vespers texts, enough at any rate for Rinaldo Alessandrini and scholar Frédéric Delaméa to put together this rich programme of delights...' Read the review

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Violin Concertos, Op 4, La Stravaganza

Arte dei Suonatori / Rachel Podger vn

(Channel Classics)

'The performances by Rachel Podger are crackling with vitality and executed with consistent brilliance as well as a kind of relish in virtuosity that catches the showy spirit, the self-conscious extravagance, of this particular set of works. There are plenty of movements here where her sheer digital dexterity is astonishing – I might cite the finale of No 6, with its scurrying figures, the second movement of No 7 (the only four-movement concerto), the finale of No 2 with its repetitive figures and leaping arpeggios, the witty sallies in that of No 3, and the simple rapidity in No 11 – or indeed half a dozen others.' Read the review

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Il Proteo – Double and Triple Concertos

Christophe Coin vc Il Giardino Armonico

(Teldec)

'Playing of vitality and lyricism brings Vivaldi's music to life in a thrilling manner. Indeed, the integrity and musicianly character of these performances is in no small measure heightened by the presence of Christophe Coin. This new release is excellent in every respect: fine music, fine playing and a fine recording. An outstanding issue...' Read the review

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Stabat mater

Andreas Scholl; Ensemble 415 / Banchini

(Harmonia Mundi)

'Unlike settings of the Stabat mater by Pergolesi and some others, Vivaldi used only the first ten of the 20 stanzas of the poem. His deeply expressive setting of the poem will be familiar to many readers but few will have heard such an affecting performance as Scholl achieves here. The lyrical prayer of human yearning for faith contained in the “Fac ut ardeat” movement is most tenderly sung and here, as throughout the programme, sympathetically supported by the strings of Ensemble 415 under Chiara Banchini’s experienced direction.' Read the review

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Orlando Furioso

Sols; Choeur Les Eléments & Ensemble Matheus / Jean-Christophe Spinosi

(Naïve)

'Like Handel a few years later in London, Vivaldi must have been inspired by the peculiarly intense situations experienced by Orlando and Alcina, and the score has a dramatic stature greater than most of his other operas – although if Opus 111 continue to produce revelations like this, I may be forced to eat my words. This is a magnificent achievement, and one of the pinnacles of Opus 111’s monumental Vivaldi Edition. If Vivaldi needed a champion to more firmly establish his credentials as a fully-fledged opera composer, then this recording is it.' Read the review

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'The Vivaldi Album'

Cecilia Bartoli; Il Giardino Armonico

(Decca)

'Coarse-voiced period brass instruments herald Bartoli's riding of some particularly squally waves as tempest racks land and heart in 'Dopo un'orrida procella' from Griselda. The aria unleashes Bartoli's famous breathy, whispered coloratura, her flaming top register, and an enclosed, hollow chest-voice which seems to belong to neither of the other two...' Read the review

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The Four Seasons

La Serenissima / Adrian Chandler vn

(Avie)

'The group’s founder and violinist/director Adrian Chandler is not only steeped in the musical language of Baroque Italy, both vocal and instrumental; he is also fully conversant with its humanist wellsprings. Vivaldi’s sonnets and consequent programmatic signposting throughout the score are thus filtered through a more nuanced rhetorical vision that is more stage than page. The result is an intensely dramatic account that will add new spice to what has for many listeners perhaps come to resemble a dreary domestic relationship. Take, for example, the spacious birdsong, surging waters and thumping rustic dances of "Spring"; the languid heat and raging storms finding echoes in the cuckoo’s urgent call and the goldfinch’s stratospheric sweetness in "Summer"; the drunkard’s erratic progress mirrored in the hunters’ ebullience and the hunted’s tragic flight in "Autumn"; and the elements’ implacable indifference in "Winter"...' Read the review

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L'estro armonico

Brecon Baroque / Rachel Podger vn

(Channel Classics)

'What really shoots this recording straight to the top of the pile, however, is the sheer joy of it, the spontaneity and the tireless, surging musical energy of its many sudden feints and sallies. How grippingly, for instance, the tension climbs in the often rather polite first movement of No 4; how liltingly the off-beat theorbo strums add springy definition to the finale of No 5; and how invigoratingly the taught energy of those semiquavers in the No 3 finale finds release in a glorious chain of suspensions, and the witty interplay of the final bars spills over into a final-note twiddle that is pure natural exuberance...' Read the review

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‘Concerti per flauto’

Maurice Steger rec/flautino I Barocchisti / Diego Fasolis

(Harmonia Mundi)

'As for the performances, there is not much to be said about Steger’s virtuosity other than that his dazzling fingerwork, varied articulation and colour seem to make him capable of anything he wants. What really makes this disc an outstanding one, however, is the way he creates an individual musical world for each concerto. Maybe that is to be expected in the descriptive ones, yet few others have matched his disturbingly spectral, lute-haunted La notte, and never have I heard a more pleasingly pastoral La pastorella, with its tasteful (yes, tasteful) additions of hurdy-gurdy, psaltery and, in the second movement, folk-style strings...' Read the review

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Composer: 

Top 10 piano concertos

Gramophone Tue 15th April 2014

The top 10 piano concertos – from Mozart to Rachmaninov – with highly recommended recordings

Top 10 piano concertos

One of the richest corners of the repertoire (and one of the most popular) in which a solo piano is pitted against the orchestra – with invariably thrilling results. Mozart may have lifted the piano concerto into the modern age, but in the hands of the great Romantic masters it became a form for expression of colossal variety. Here are 10 of the greatest of all piano concertos.

No 1

Mozart Piano Concerto No 27

Andreas Staier (pf) Freiburg Baroque Orchestra / Gottfried von der Goltz

'Playing an attractive copy of a 1780s Anton Walter fortepiano, with its beautiful silvery treble and light, nutty bass, Andreas Staier confirms his credentials as a Mozartian of flair and insight. He is careful not to overdo the first movement's elegiac associations. The development, with its close contrapuntal dialogues, unfolds with a fine impassioned sweep. The Larghetto ideally balances simplicity and expressive flexibility, while the gracefully lilting finale has just the right touch of quizzical playfulness...' Read review

Read more on Mozart and discover the essential recordings

 

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No 2

Beethoven Piano Concerto No 5

Paul Lewis (pf) BBC Symphony Orchestra / Jiří Bělohlávek

'And so, all in all, these records take their place among the finest Beethoven piano concerto performances so that even when you recall beloved issues by Wilhelm Kempff, Emil Gilels, Radu Lupu and Murray Perahia (to name but four), Lewis ensures that you return refreshed and with a renewed sense of Beethoven’s range and beauty...' Read review

Read more on Beethoven and discover the essential recordings


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No 3

Brahms Piano Concerto No 1

Nelson Freire (pf) Gewandhaus Orchestra / Riccardo Chailly

'This is the Brahms piano concerto set we’ve been waiting for. Nelson Freire and Riccardo Chailly offer interpretations that triumphantly fuse immediacy and insight, power and lyricism, and incandescent virtuosity that leaves few details unturned, yet always with the big picture in clear sight...' Read review

Read more on Brahms and discover the essential recordings


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No 4

Schumann Piano Concerto

Leif Ove Andsnes (pf) BPO / Mariss Jansons

'Andsnes is firmly supported by Jansons and the Berlin Philharmonic, with playing not just refined but dramatic too in fiercely exciting tuttis. Schumann’s cello melodies are gloriously warm, with textures in both works admirably clear, and Andsnes fully responds to Schumann’s espressivo and ritardando requests. ...' Read review

Read more on Schumann and discover the essential recordings


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No 5

Grieg Piano Concerto

Javier Perianes (pf) BBC Symphony Orchestra / Sakari Oramo

'It takes a brave man to record the Grieg Piano Concerto with the spectres of pianists such as Lipatti, Michelangeli, Lupu, Perahia and Andsnes long celebrated on disc. But the young Spanish virtuoso Javier Perianes’s performance is of such a fearless and arresting brilliance that it virtually erases memories of the past. For here is the Grieg restored to all its first icy, northern and unsentimental glory...' Read review

Read more on Grieg and discover the essential recordings


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No 6

Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1

Martha Argerich (pf) BPO / Claudio Abbado

'Argerich has never sounded on better terms with the piano, more virtuoso yet engagingly human. Lyrical and insinuating, to a degree her performance seems to be made of the tumultuous elements themselves, of fire and ice, rain and sunshine...' Read review

Read more on Tchaikovsky and discover the essential recordings


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No 7

Prokofiev Piano Concerto No 3

Martha Argerich (pf) BPO / Claudio Abbado

'There have been others to match the bustle and brilliance of Argerich's Prokofiev, her coloristic range, her drive, her flashiness, her straining at the leash. But I'm not sure I could name anyone who has so satisfyingly combined all those qualities, who has given us such a rocket-launched recapitulation in the first movement, such circus-routine vividness in the following variations (Prokofiev grew up in a Russia where 'circusization of the arts' was one of the 'in' concepts), or such monstrous, hyperbolic fairy-tale imagery in the finale, and all done with the most engaging reckless abandon...' Read review

Read more on Prokofiev and discover the essential recordings


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No 8

Ravel Piano Concerto

Krystian Zimerman (pf) Cleveland Orchestra / Pierre Boulez

'Zimerman’s pianism is self-recommending. His trills in the first movement of the G major Concerto are to die for, his passagework in the finale crystal-clear, never hectic, always stylish. For their part Boulez and the Clevelanders are immaculate and responsive; they relish Ravel’s neon-lit artificiality and moments of deliberate gaudiness...' Read review

Read more on Ravel and discover the essential recordings

 

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No 9

Bartók Piano Concerto No 2

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (pf) BBC PO / Gianandrea Noseda

'The Second Concerto gives Anda, Kocsis, Schiff, Donohoe and Andsnes a fair run for their money, with plenty of air freshening the pages of the first movement, where in the wrong hands the warring combination of brass, piano and percussion can overwhelm in quite the wrong way. Not here though...' Read review

Read more on Bartók and discover the essential recordings


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No 10

Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 2

Leif Ove Andsnes (pf) BPO / Antonio Pappano

'The Second Concerto is given a Rolls-Royce reading with which only the pickiest could find fault. The last movement, though, is something special and the final appearance of its glorious second subject, greeted with a mighty timpani wallop and braying brass, is heart-stopping. The audience rightly roar their approval...' Read review

Read more on Rachmaninov and discover the essential recordings

 

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