Gramophone Awards Shortlist 2023: Orchestral Category
Tuesday, September 5, 2023
Discover the six albums that have been shortlisted for the Orchestral Award at this year's Gramophone Classical Music Awards
Interestingly, music of the 20th century is very well represented in the Gramophone Awards Shortlist this year, and the Orchestral category offers an entirely 20th-century field with Langgaard, Messiaen, Nielsen, Rachmaninov and Weinberg on single-composer albums alongside another of John Wilson’s beautifully programmed collections featuring Delius, Elgar, Howells and Vaughan Williams. Last year's winning recording in this category was Mahler's Symphony No 7 by the Bayerisches Staatsorchester and Kirill Petrenko.
You can explore this year's six nominees below, or the complete Shortlist in our free digital magazine.
The 2023 Orchestral Award is sponsored by music insurance specialists Lark Music.
Orchestral Award 2023: The Shortlist
Langgaard Symphony No 1, ‘Klippepastoraler’
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra / Sakari Oramo
Recorded live at the Philharmonie, Berlin, June 16‑18, 2022
The Berlin players offer stamina and assurance, vital in those multilayered accompaniments and sudden jump-cuts. As observed previously, they can handle Langgaard’s tendency to bellow ‘bigger, louder’ in the outer movements and do so with swagger. Horns and Wagner tubas are particularly magnificent (how about the former at bar 462 in the first movement, at 19’06”?) but in truth you probably hear the sonic qualities of the orchestra better in the interlude-style second and third movements, where storms aren’t raging – particularly the latter’s yeast-like rise to intensity... Andrew Mellor
Messiaen Des canyons aux étoiles …
Utah Symphony Orchestra / Thierry Fischer
The Utah Symphony has enjoyed something of a golden era under the direction of Thierry Fischer, and this latest release marks a relative departure given that previous Hyperion projects have been of 19th-century French repertoire. An apposite one, even so, as Des canyons aux étoiles … (1971‑74) was partly inspired by Messiaen’s visiting the canyon region of southern Utah and, as this recording was preceded by a performance the orchestra gave in that locale, the work (premiered in New York) might be said to have ‘come home’ in the fullest sense... Richard Whitehouse
Nielsen Symphonies – No 4, ‘The Inextinguishable’, Op 29; No 5, Op 50
Danish National Symphony Orchestra / Fabio Luisi
And so to the blistering opening of the Fourth Symphony, The Inextinguishable, which is truly elemental and the most exciting account of the piece I’ve heard since Martinon and Chicago back in the day (RCA, 11/67). It’s that fierce rhythmic drive, that imperative, and the sense that these players have the wherewithal to push the music as far as Luisi wants to take it. As for the piece itself – it’s not just the games it plays with tonality but the constant surprises it springs, the unorthodoxy of its developmental and textural ideas. The little gavotte which briefly charms us in the second movement is a case in point but at the opposite extreme there’s the searing string oration of the slow movement starkly punctuated by timpani (a premonition of the penalty shoot-out to come in the finale).
The headlong fugue into that finale is so exciting and the seismic excitement of duelling timpani is as punchy as needs be. But it’s the return of the harassed but indomitable main theme of the symphony that needs to be absolutely incandescent – and it is. Thrilling... Edward Seckerson
Rachmaninov Symphony No 3, Op 44. The Isle of the Dead, Op 29. Vocalise, Op 23 No 14
Sinfonia of London / John Wilson
We might love Rachmaninov for his big tunes but he is also a great master of building epic spans from repetitive motifs and richly varied textures (but no tunes), and this places him much closer to Wagner and Sibelius than to Tchaikovsky. Perhaps the greatest of these untuneful masterpieces is The Isle of the Dead, which took its inspiration from the famous Böcklin painting of that name. The painting shows us a boat carrying a coffin to a mysterious rocky island that juts vertically out of the water, the cliffs carved out to form a mausoleum. The music ruminates for some time before it gets going, and takes even longer to reach its shattering climax.
The stillness of the first section poses problems for conductors, and many performances strike me as just too somnolent, testing the listener’s patience. But in the capable hands of John Wilson the piece is as riveting as it should be from the very beginning... Marina Frolova‑Walker
Weinberg Symphonies – No 3, Op 45; No 7, Op 81. Flute Concerto No 1, Op 75
Marie-Christine Zupancic fl City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen / Mirga Gražinytė‑Tyla
The Flute Concerto has already been picked up by a number of soloists looking for 20th-century alternatives to Nielsen’s masterpiece. Marie-Christine Zupancic, principal flautist with the CBSO, gives a beautifully clean and unflustered performance (I have heard others spoil the impression by pushing too hard). To say that she and the CBSO can withstand comparison with the dedicatee, Alexander Korneyev, and Barshai’s starry ensemble is the highest praise, though Korneyev’s hypnotic intimacy in the slow movement remains uniquely inspiring.
As for the symphonies, Thord Svedlund’s Chandos recordings stand up remarkably well. Honours are fairly even in the Seventh, and if pushed I would even prefer the Gothenburgers in the Third, for their extra degree of vehemence and ‘attitude’. That said, for those new to this repertoire, DG’s extremely well-filled disc is self-recommending... David Fanning
‘Music for Strings’
Delius Late Swallows (arr Fenby) Elgar Introduction and Allegro, Op 47 Howells Concerto for String Orchestra Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Sinfonia of London / John Wilson
This repertoire calls for the warmth and resonance that are hallmarks of the ‘Chandos sound’, and St Augustine’s Kilburn serves very well for the imagined space of Gloucester Cathedral which the Tallis Fantasia not only fills but embodies in its formal architecture. From an acoustic vantage point set a good way back and a little higher, the psalm-like articulation of ‘Why fum’th in fight’ is beautifully clear, before the full hymn texture (from 3’00”) is illuminated from within by arpeggiated harmonies lost or obscured on most recordings.
Better still, whether heard in Spatial Audio or simply on a decent system, Vaughan Williams’s dialogue with the past (from 4’14”) is vividly staged by the appreciable distance between ensembles, and to a degree matched on record only by Constantin Silvestri’s masterful handling of the acoustic in Winchester Cathedral (Warner, 5/68). Without stretching to Silvestri’s heavenly lengths, Wilson wisely takes the composer’s metronome mark with a generous pinch of salt, while easing back and forth in the central section with a feeling for the ground beneath his feet like Lewis Hamilton in his McLaren... Peter Quantrill
Explore all of this year's shortlisted albums in our FREE digital magazine – out now!