Queue 'Gramophone Top 10s'

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 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

'A controversial point in the keyboard...' Read review

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No 2

Beethoven Piano Concerto No 5

Paul Lewis (pf) BBC Symphony Orchestra / Jiří Bělohlávek

'Lewis’s first entry in the Adagio has a slight catch...' Read review

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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...' Read review

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No 4

Schumann Piano Concerto

Leif Ove Andsnes (pf) BPO / Mariss Jansons

'I particularly like the free-flowing tempo for the central Andantino...' Read review

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No 5

Grieg Piano Concerto

Leif Ove Andsnes (pf) BPO / Mariss Jansons

'However many times he has performed the Grieg, Andsnes retains a freshness and expressiveness...' Read review

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No 6

Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1

Martha Argerich (pf) BPO / Claudio Abbado

'Lyrical and insinuating, to a degree her performance seems to be made of the...' Read review

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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...' Read review

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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...' Read review

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No 9

Bartók Piano Concerto No 2

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

'If you’re after a disc of Bartók’s piano concertos that maximises on the music’s...' Read review

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No 10

Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 2

Leif Ove Andsnes (pf) BPO / Antonio Pappano

'Andsnes here gives the lie to those who find his playing on the cool side...' Read review

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Top 10 violin concertos

Guest Mon 7th April 2014

An introduction to 10 of the greatest violin concertos with highly recommended recordings

Top 10 violin concertos

Along with the piano, the violin is the instrument best served with concertos, and what a variety there is! Here’s a violin concerto Top 10 that embraces all the great works at the centre of every violinist’s repertoire ranging from the poise of the Mozart via the red-blooded Romantic works like the Tchaikovsky to the modern language of the Prokofiev and Bartók…

No 1

Mozart Violin Concerto No 3

The English Concert / Andrew Manze (vn)

'Andrew Manze’s vivid notes stress the 19-year-old composer’s...' Read review

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No 2

Beethoven Violin Concerto

Isabelle Faust (vn) Orchestra Mozart / Claudio Abbado

'The Beethoven and Berg violin concertos aren’t commonly paired on...' Read review

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No 3

Mendelssohn Violin Concerto

Daniel Hope (vn) Chamber Orchestra of Europe / Thomas Hengelbrock

'Daniel Hope has a chameleon-like ability to...' Read review

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No 4

Brahms Violin Concerto

Julia Fischer (vn) Netherlands PO / Yakov Kreizberg

'Now well in her stride as a recording artist, German violinist Julia...' Read review

 

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No 5

Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

James Ehnes (vn) Sydney SO / Vladimir Ashkenazy

'James Ehnes’s programme, complementing the Concerto with the rest of...' Read review

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No 6

Bruch Violin Concerto No 1

Julia Fischer (vn) Tonhalle Orchestra / David Zinman

'Her bright, attenuated sound, vibrantly expressive but never overbearing...' Read review

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No 7

Berg Violin Concerto

Isabelle Faust (vn) Orchestra Mozart / Claudio Abbado

'The Beethoven and Berg violin concertos aren’t commonly paired on...' Read review

 

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No 8

Bartók Violin Concerto No 2

Patricia Kopatchinskaja (vn) Frankfurt RSO / Peter Eötvös

'Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto has long since...' Read review

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No 9

Prokofiev Violin Concerto No 2

Patricia Kopatchinskaja (vn) LPO / Vladimir Jurowski

'In the last movement of Prokofiev’s...' Read review

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No 10

Shostakovich Violin Concerto No 1

Lisa Batiashvili (vn) Bavarian RSO / Esa-Pekka Salonen

'The new-found popularity of Shostakovich’s greatest concerto has...' Read review

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Top 10 piano sonatas

Gramophone Wed 3rd June 2015

From Mozart to Prokofiev - 10 of the greatest piano sonatas in outstanding recordings

Top 10 piano sonatas

The recordings gathered below trace the evolution of the piano sonata from Mozart to Prokofiev. It is not, of course, an exhaustive guide to the piano sonata tradition, in fact it would be perfectly possible to make a Top 10 piano sonatas that only included those by the undoubted master of the genre, Beethoven. He is represented here by his Moonlight Sonata, though the Hammerklavier, Pathétique, Appassionata, or any number of the 32 he composed could easily have been included. And although the list ends with Prokofiev's Seventh Sonata there are plenty more 20th and 21st century sonatas to explore by composers as diverse as Boulez, Medtner, Hindemith and Sorabji. All of the recordings below are truly outstanding and offer perfect departure points for new voyages of discovery. 

Mozart Piano Sonata No 11

Daniel-Ben Pienaar pf

(Avie)

'As his performance of the Alla turca Sonata, K331, shows, technique isn’t allowed to edge ahead of emotional and intellectual depth. A much-mistreated piece emerges in a different light' Read review

Read more on Mozart and discover the essential recordings


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Haydn Piano Sonata No 62, HobXVI/52

Marc-André Hamelin pf

(Hyperion)

'These are astonishing performances, denying Stephen Kovacevich’s mischievous claim that Haydn’s music suggests that he should dine with the servants rather than the aristocrats.' Read review

Read more on Haydn and discover the essential recordings


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Beethoven Piano Sonata No 14, 'Moonlight'

Wilhelm Kempff pf

(DG)

'Kempff's performances of all the great named sonatas – the Pathétique, the Moonlight, the Waldstein, Les adieux, the Hammerklavier – are triumphs of communicative music-making.' Read review

Read more on Beethoven and discover the essential recordings


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Schubert Piano Sonata No 21, D960

Sir András Schiff fp

(ECM New Series)

'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.' Read review

Read more on Schubert and discover the essential recordings


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Chopin Piano Sonata No 2

Janina Fialkowska pf

(ATMA Classique)

'She is grand and imperious in the Second Sonata, storming the first movement’s climax in towering and heroic fashion, and her demonic pace and drive make a true Mephisto-scherzo of the second movement.' Read review

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Liszt Piano Sonata

Angela Hewitt pf

(Hyperion)

'Hewitt holds her own to such an extent that she makes you forget all about odious comparisons and listen instead to one of the great milestones in all music.' Read review

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Scriabin Piano Sonata No 2, 'Sonata-fantasy'

Yevgeny Sudbin pf

(BIS)

'All these performances are flecked with personal touches and brilliances above and beyond even Scriabin’s wildest demands.' Read review

Read more on Scriabin and discover the essential recordings

 

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Rachmaninov Piano Sonata No 2

Nikolai Lugansky pf

(Naïve Ambroisie)

'The last pages (presto) of the finale, frequently marred by blurred detail, are here not only lucidly projected but quite thrilling, emblematic of the disc as a whole: Rachmaninov-playing of a very high order.' Read review

Read more on Rachmaninov and discover the essential recordings


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Ives Piano Sonata No 2, 'Concord'

Marc-André Hamelin pf

(Hyperion)

'Hamelin’s performance of the Concord Sonata is in the truest sense transcendental, his facility allowing him a cool poetry and lyricism inaccessible to other, more strenuously employed pianists.' Read review

Read more on Ives and discover the essential recordings


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Prokofiev Piano Sonata No 7

Boris Giltburg pf

(Orchid)

'Putting my head above a parapet, I have to say that these performances of Prokofiev’s three ‘War’ Sonatas eclipse all others on record' Read review

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Top 10 Mozart recordings

Gramophone Tue 14th January 2014

Mozart was arguably the most naturally gifted musician in history; these are classic recordings of his 10 key works

No 1

Symphony No 41, ‘Jupiter’

Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Sir Charles Mackerras

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

 

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No 2

Piano Concerto No 22

Northern Sinfonia / Imogen Cooper

'The qualities that make Cooper quite simply one of the finest pianists this country has produced...' Review


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No 3

Sinfonia Concertante, K364

Carmignola; Waśkiewicz; Orchestra Mozart / Claudio Abbado

'their skilled dovetailing and intelligent use...' Review

 

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No 4

String Quartet in B flat, ‘Hunt’, K458

Jerusalem Quartet

'Bowing varies from precise attack to breathy delicacy; and lines...' Review

 

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No 5

Clarinet Concerto

Wolfgang Meyer; Concentus Musicus Wien / Nikolaus Harnoncourt

'There are happy and shapely performances of all three...' Review

 

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No 6

Piano Sonata No 15 in F, K533

Richard Goode (pf) 

'There’s nothing more demanding of mind and finger, heart and hand...' Review

 

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No 7

Requiem

Soloists; Arnold Schoenberg Choir; Concentus Music Wien / Nikolaus Harnoncourt

'Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s...' Review

 

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No 8

The Marriage of Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro)

Soloists; Concerto Köln / René Jacobs

'René Jacobs always brings...' Review

 

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No 9

Don Giovanni

Soloists; Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra / Carlo Maria Giulini

'At last. The 1959 Giulini Don Giovanni has been digitally remastered...' Review

 

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No 10

The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte)

RIAS Chamber Choir; Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin / René Jacobs

'Jacobs sets out his stall...' Review

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