At the end of an enthralling evening of music-making, and moving and witty acceptance speeches, it was Igor Levit who was called to the stage to accept the most coveted prize of all: Gramophone's Recording of the Year.
Winning the Recording of the Year Award is an extraordinary achievement for the 29-year-old pianist who was a BBC New Generation Artist from 2011-13, and for whom this is only his third recording for Sony Classical, the label he signed an exclusive contract with in 2012.
Levit performed twice during the ceremony itself, first giving a wonderfully lyrical account of the Aria from Bach's Goldberg Variations, which suspended the audience in rapt silence, and then, after an impassioned acceptance speech, the main melody from Rzewski's The People United Will Never Be Defeated!
And it was another wonderful young pianist – Daniil Trifonov (25) – who carried off the 2016 Artist of the Year Award, the only Award voted for by Gramophone's readers, seeing off competition from the likes of Sir Antonio Pappano, Jonas Kaufmann, Andris Nelsons, and indeed Igor Levit, to win the public vote. Trifonov's recording of Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Corelli and Chopin Variations, and his ownRachmaniana affirmed Trifonov's place as one of the most exciting talents of an exceptional generation of young pianists, and was our Recording of the Month in the September 2015 issue.
The baritone Benjamin Appl, whose recordings of Heine settings with pianist James Baillieu for Champs Hill Records and Schubert Lieder alongside pianist Graham Johnson for Wigmore Hall Live were highly praised by our reviewers, received Gramophone's Young Artist of the Year Award from Anoushka Shankar at this evening's ceremony. In reviewing Appl's Schubert recital in the July issue, Hugo Shirley noted that Appl's 'instinctive feel for these songs is immediately striking and manifests itself in the sort of artlessness that distinguishes the finest Lieder singers: a lack of tension, an easy relationship with the poetry, a confidence in the words and Schubert’s melodies to communicate with nothing but the gentlest helping interpretative hand.' Appl performed Schubert's Erlkönig with pianist James Baillieu at this evening's ceremony.
In his early career, Appl was mentored by the great Lieder singer Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who himself wonGramophone's Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993. This year's Lifetime Achievement Award was given to the posessor of another of the 20th century's most beautiful and admired voices: Christa Ludwig. The mezzo sent a witty and heartfelt message from Vienna - she was prevented from attending the ceremony in person by an unexpectedly expired passport!
The Label of the Year Award was presented to Alain Lanceron and Patrick Lemanski of Warner Classics. It has been an outstanding year for the label, which also won the Concerto Award for Vilde Frang's account of the Britten and Korngold violin concertos, and the Opera Award for the Antonio Pappano-conducted Aida. This was also the year in which Warner Classics produced its landmark box-set tribute to Yedhudi Menuhin: 'The Menuhin Century'.
A Special Achievement Award was presented to BBC Radio 3 in recognition of the station's support of classical music since the Third Programme commenced its broadcasts in September 1946. The Award was presented by the actor Simon Callow to the Head of BBC Radio, Helen Boaden.
The winners of the 12 recording category Awards were also presented with their prizes during the ceremony. Andrew Parrott accepted the Early Music Award from Classic FM presenter Catherine Bott for the Taverner Consort & Players' recording 'Western Wind'. The conductor Paul Agnew received the Baroque Vocal Award for his recording, with Les Arts Florissants, of Volume 1 in their Monteverdi madrigals series. The other Baroque repertoire Award, Baroque Instrumental, was won by Rachel Podger for her recording of Biber'sRosary Sonatas on Channel Classics.
The winning disc in a highly-competitive Concerto category was Vilde Frang's new account of the Britten and Korngold violin concertos with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Gaffigan. Frang returned to the stage later in the evening to give a sensational performance of Tárrega's Recuerdos de la Alhambra.
This year's Chamber category, supported by the BPI, was won by the Heath Quartet for their live recordings of Tippett's string quartets for Wigmore Hall Live. Astonishingly, this was the Heath Quartet's debut recording.
The Instrumental category was, of course, won by Igor Levit for the album which would later in the evening be crowned Recording of the Year.
Hyperion had two recordings in the final running for the Choral Award, and it was their production of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder by the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln and Markus Stenz which triumphed. Markus Stenz collected the Award this evening.
The extremely popular winner of this year's Contemporary Award was the premiere recording of Hans Abrahamsen's let me tell you by soprano Barbara Hannigan with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and conductor Andris Nelsons. Abrahamsen and librettist Paul Griffiths came to the stage to collect the Award, which will sit nicely on the mantelpiece next to the Grawemeyer Award the work won a few months ago.
'Mozart and the Weber Sisters' won this year's Recital category and the conductor of that album – Raphaël Pichon – was there to collect the Award on behalf of the ensemble Pygmalion and the soprano – and Pichon's wife – Sabine Devieilhe.
Having already won a Gramophone Award earlier this evening for Abrahamsen's let me tell you, it was Andris Nelsons again who won this year's Orchestral Award for his account of Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for DG.
Soprano Véronique Gens and pianist Susan Manoff won this year's Solo Vocal Award with their recital of songs by Chausson, Duparc and Hahn, entitled ‘Néère’. And both were at this evening's not only to receive the Award but to perform – exquisitely – the song ‘Néère’ by Reynaldo Hahn.
The winner of this year's Opera Award was special indeed: a studio recording of that grandest of grand operas Verdi's Aida, starring Anja Harteros, Jonas Kaufmann and Ekaterina Semenchuk, with the Chorus and Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano. In his acceptance speech, Pappano spoke about the near impossibility of making such a huge project a reality.
The Gramophone Classical Music Awards ceremony was streamed live by medici.tv and watched by thousands around the world. The stream will be free to watch at gramophone.co.uk/awards for the next 60 days. Don't miss it!
Purchase the official Gramophone Classical Music Awards 2016 compilation album only on Amazon.