The Best Classical Albums of 2021 (So Far)
Wednesday, September 8, 2021
Featuring Hilary Hahn, Leif Ove Andsnes, Nathalie Stutzmann, Stephen Hough and many more – all of these outstanding albums were released in 2021 and all were selected as Editor's Choice in Gramophone
As you will see below, 2021 has already been an exceptional year for classical music on record. Gramophone subscribers can follow the links below each album to read the original review in Gramophone's Reviews Database (find out more).
‘Journey Through a Century’
Sueye Park vn
An extraordinary album of solo repertoire, Sueye Park transcending the technical demands with performances of vivid character, drama, emotion and engagement – captured in superb sound too.
Haydn Symphonies Nos 6-8
Il Giardino Armonico / Giovanni Antonini
‘A spirit of shared enjoyment’ writes reviewer Richard Wigmore – a description that embodies this team’s many superb Haydn recordings, to which this is a triumphant addition.
‘History of the Russian Piano Trio, Vol 4’
The Brahms Trio
The Brahms Trio present works by Arensky and Taneyev with elegance and brilliant musicianship – an excellent starting point for exploring all five volumes of this outstanding series.
Mozart ‘Prussian’ String Quartets
The Doric Quartet continue to enrich the catalogue with another recording full of exactly what makes chamber music so rewarding: exploration, conversation, joyful collaboration and superb artistry.
‘La clarinette parisienne’
Michael Collins cl Noriko Ogawa pf
Master of the clarinet Michael Collins’s beauty of tone and impeccable shaping of phrase seems an absolutely perfect fit for these early (or turn-of-the-) 20th-century French works.
Mozart Piano Duet Sonatas K497 & 251
Ferenc Rados, Kirill Gerstein pf
This is truly joyful. A revered teacher and one of his most free-thinking students joined in duets that, as Michelle Assay puts it, ‘reminds you why you fell in love with music in the first place’.
Sean Shibe gtr
Each of these mainly Spanish works feels like a beautifully crafted and intimate painting – delicate, reflective, exquisite, mysterious – quietly gifted to listeners by a guitarist whose instinct for colour compels and transfixes.
‘Echoes of an Old Hall’
Music from the Old Hall Manuscript
Music from the Old Hall manuscript, a hugely important collection of English medieval music, performed with atmospheric beauty by Gothic Voices.
Kateřina Kněžíková sop Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra, Ostrava / Robert Jindra
Soprano Kateřina Kněžíková’s tone – warm, drawn straight from the heart – seems perfect for this repertoire of dreamy, richly coloured orchestral songs.
Corigliano The Ghosts of Versailles
Sols; Orchestre de l’Opéra Royal / Joseph Colaneri
Château de Versailles Spectacles
A new (audio and visual) recording of this opera made, fittingly enough, exactly where the events are set: the Palace of Versailles.
Mahler Symphony No 7
Bavarian State Orchestra / Kirill Petrenko
A remarkable recording of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, Kirill Petrenko revealing detail as if new, presenting it with thrilling vividness and weaving it into a performance of stunning impact.
Brahms Symphony No 3. Serenade No 2
Budapest Festival Orchestra / Iván Fischer
Iván Fischer leads his players in a richly expressive performance of both Brahms’s Third Symphony and Second Serenade, a beautiful orchestral sound wonderfully caught throughout.
Shostakovich Symphonies Nos 1, 14 & 15
Boston Symphony Orchestra / Andris Nelsons
Andris Nelson’s cycle reaches a high point, with performances exploring and relishing Shostakovich’s drama and imagination.
Tine Thing Helseth tpt Kåre Nordstoga org
A programme of evergreen favourites – for trumpeter and audiences alike (though with many discoveries too!) – all played with a joyful sense of evident love for the repertoire.
Randall Goosby vn Zhu Wang pf
An excellent debut from a recent Decca signing – one taught by Itzhak Perlman no less – whose album shines a spotlight on neglected music, some new works, and most of all on a wonderful young violinist.
JS Bach Six Keyboard Partitas, BWV825‑30
Mahan Esfahani hpd
Mahan Esfahani offers deeply thought-through interpretations presented with compelling conviction – added to that, he’s recorded them on a captivating modern instrument.
Bull. Byrd ‘The Visionaries of Piano Music’
Kit Armstrong pf
Kit Armstrong brings a personal modern vision to this keyboard music of centuries past, gracing it with a sensitivity and affection that feels entirely of our time.
Viviana Lasaracina pf
Enrique Granados’s atmospheric masterpiece Goyescas is offered here by Viviana Lasaracina in an entrancing album; she embraces the work’s colours and passion, and brilliantly brings it all to life.
Isata Kanneh-Mason pf
Isata Kanneh-Mason follows her debut of Clara Schumann’s music by offering her advocacy to another well-chosen programme, this time of American composers, all played with great warmth.
Mouton ‘Ezekiel’s Eagle’
Cappella Pratensis / Stratton Bull
Cappella Pratensis prove themselves to be an ensemble of exquisite skill, voices steeped in both artistry and personality, Jean Mouton’s music shaped and sung superbly.
Brahms Piano Concertos
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment / András Schiff pf
ECM New Series
These beautiful period-instrument performances, directed by András Schiff from a restored 1859 Blüthner, bring a compelling freshness to Brahms’s much-loved piano concertos.
JS Bach Orchestral Suites
Concerto Copenhagen / Lars Ulrik Mortensen
Prepare to dance, reviewer Mark Seow suggests of Concerto Copenhagen and Lars Ulrik Mortensen’s album of Bach suites – a brilliant example of this wonderful group at its best.
Schreker Der Geburtstag der Infantin Zemlinsky Die Seejungfrau
RLPO / Vasily Petrenko
Vasily Petrenko and his superb Merseyside musicians reveal their rich rapport once again in two orchestral works of lush late Romanticism.
Barber. Beach. Price ‘American Quintets’
Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective
A splendid debut from the Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective of a fascinating programme, including the premiere recording of Florence Price’s Quintet.
Mozart Serenades Nos 10 & 11
Sols of the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
Another new recording of the Gran Partita, and like all the best takes on this masterpiece it absolutely delights; period-performance Mozart at its most engaging.
Duruflé Complete Organ Works
Thomas Trotter org
A riveting journey through Duruflé’s complete organ music from the ever-brilliant Thomas Trotter, who draws the most beautiful colours from the recently restored King’s College, Cambridge organ.
Vladigerov Piano Works
Nadejda Vlaeva pf
The richly Romantic sound-world of 20th-century Bulgarian composer Pancho Vladigerov is brought to entrancing life by Nadejda Vlaeva on this splendid new addition to Hyperion’s catalogue.
Jean Rondeau hpd
This is an entrancing offering from harpsichordist Jean Rondeau, one of at times almost otherworldly intensity as he takes us on a Europe-wide exploration of music of the most reflective nature.
Kate Lindsey mez Arcangelo / Jonathan Cohen
Power, its corruption and corrosiveness, is the subject of this exquisite album from mezzo Kate Lindsey, joined by the brilliantly attentive artistry of Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo.
Sols; The English Concert / Harry Bicket
A superb soloist line-up and perfect shaping of the drama by the conductor Harry Bicket makes for a new top recommendation of Handel’s Rodelinda for reviewer Richard Wigmore.
Mozart ‘Momentum 1785’
Mahler Chamber Orchestra / Leif Ove Andsnes pf
This is a beautifully performed and recorded album of Mozart music from Leif Ove Andsnes and his Mahler CO colleagues, one clearly created amid a spirit of warm collaboration.
R Strauss Burleske. Ein Heldenleben
Bertrand Chamayou pf Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia / Antonio Pappano
A glorious showcase of Pappano’s partnership with his Rome ensemble, and with Chamayou thrilling in the Burleske.
‘The Moon & the Forest’
Miloš Karadaglić gtr
Miloš introduces us to two engaging new concertos for guitar by Howard Shore and Joby Talbot, both written and performed with a clear affection for the instrument’s sonority and soul.
Hindemith Wind Sonatas
Les Vents Français; Éric Le Sage pf
Five superb woodwind soloists, paired with a perfect pianist partner in Éric Le Sage (and all captured in vivid sound), makes for a truly compelling album of Hindemith.
Franck Organ Works
Pétur Sakari org
Pétur Sakari’s album of Franck organ music on the fabulous sounding Cavaillé-Coll instrument of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Orléans (excellently recorded by BIS), is a wonderful sonic spectacular.
Ysaÿe Six Solo Violin Sonatas
James Ehnes vn
A recording that owes much to our times, emotionally and practically – it was home-recorded during lockdown – this is a very fine survey of Ysaÿe’s solo violin sonatas from James Ehnes.
JS Bach ‘Meins Lebens licht’
Collegium Vocale Gent / Philippe Herreweghe
An exquisite addition, rich in texture and colour, to the impressive Bach catalogue being created by Philippe Herreweghe and his superb Collegium Vocale Gent.
Louise Alder sop Joseph Middleton pf
Evocative and splendid singing from Louise Alder, a soprano who embodies all the atmosphere and mystery of this gorgeous programme, just as does pianist Joseph Middleton in his playing.
The Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge / Andrew Nethsingha
The contribution of Andrew Nethsingha and St John’s College, Cambridge to the Evensong tradition – both in the chapel and on record – deserves great praise; another fascinating album.
Bartók Duke Bluebeard’s Castle
Sols; Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra / Susanna Mälkki
Exceptional soloists and a conductor who shapes the score brilliantly create a fine recording of Bartók’s dark opera, warmly welcomed by Edward Seckerson.
‘Proust, Le concert retrouvé’
Théotime Langlois de Swarte vn Tanguy de Williencourt pf
A truly delightful and lovingly performed recital, recreating a 1907 private concert held by Proust, and using two instruments of glorious character and colour held in Paris’s Musée de la Musique.
Carter The Minotaur. Pocahontas
Boston Modern Orchestra Project / Gil Rose
Another significant contribution to our understanding of modern and American music from the Boston Modern Orchestra Project under their conductor Gil Rose.
JS Bach ‘The Well-Tempered Consort, Vol 2’
This is an album of completely compelling collaboration from the Gramophone Award-winning viol consort, a richly rewarding immersion into the complexity and beauty of Bach’s world.
Johan Dalene vn Christian Ihle Hadland pf
Violinist Johan Dalene – winner of the prestigious Carl Nielsen Competition in 2019 – and pianist Christian Ihle Hadland mesmerise in Nordic music old and new.
Stanchinsky Piano Works
Peter Jablonski pf
Early 20th-century composer Alexey Stanchinsky’s music will be a discovery for many if not most, and it can ask for no better advocacy than that of Peter Jablonski in this wonderful recording.
Berg. R Strauss. Zemlinsky ‘Clair-obscur’
Sandrine Piau sop Orchestre ‘Victor Hugo’ Franche‑Comté / Jean‑François Verdier
Soprano Sandrine Piau offers a beautifully crafted and movingly sung recital.
Monteverdi ‘Il delirio della passione’
Anna Lucia Richter sop Ensemble Claudiana / Luca Pianca
Anna Lucia Richter embodies all the drama and tragedy of these Monteverdi heroines with gripping immediacy, backed by equally expressive instrumental colleagues.
Pergolesi Stabat mater
Giulia Semenzato sop Lucile Richardot mez Ensemble Resonanz / Riccardo Minasi
There’s an incredible intensity and individuality to these performances – a Pergolesi Stabat mater of real poignancy.
‘The Sweetest Songs’ Music from the Baldwin Partbooks, Vol 3
Contrapunctus / Owen Rees
An exquisite album of early music from Contrapunctus, concluding a superb survey of works from the Baldwin Partbooks, a major collection of Tudor church music.
Ludovic Tézier bar Orchestra of the Teatro Comunale, Bologna / Frédéric Chaslin
Ludovic Tézier’s baritone voice and interpretative flair makes this a vivid journey through some of the key Verdi roles he’s thrilled opera houses with.
Steven Osborne, Paul Lewis pf
Two of today’s most compelling soloists unite for this beautiful recital – from radiancy in Ravel to playfulness in Poulenc, via some sublime Debussy, this album is sheer joy from beginning to end.
Beethoven Triple Concerto. Symphony No 2
Isabelle Faust vn Jean‑Guihen Queyras vc Alexander Melnikov pf Freiburg Baroque Orchestra / Pablo Heras‑Casado
Collaborative music at its most brilliant.
Elgar Violin Concerto. Violin Sonata
Renaud Capuçon vn Stephen Hough pf London Symphony Orchestra / Simon Rattle
Refined and emotive Elgar from a violinist who deeply understands this music’s heart.
Mahler Symphony No 4
Anna Lucia Richter sop Bamberg Symphony Orchestra / Jakub Hrůša
Moving and beautifully crafted Mahler, the symphony’s sweep superbly presented by an ever-impressive conductor and players deeply immersed in its idiom.
Iceland Symphony Orchestra / Daníel Bjarnason
The Iceland Symphony Orchestra’s three-disc survey of new music linked to its homeland concludes, exploring landscape and soundscape with extraordinary imagination.
Danny Driver pf
Danny Driver’s fascinating reflections in the last issue on Ligeti’s Études perfectly paved the way for hearing the recording, and it’s one that brilliantly grasps and then conveys all the music’s inventiveness and virtuosity.
Zlata Chochieva pf
Zlata Chochieva follows her recent splendid albums of Chopin and Rachmaninov with something as intriguing as it is compelling: transcriptions that reveal both the form and a formidable pianist at their very best.
Gesualdo Madrigals, Books 3 & 4
Les Arts Florissants / Paul Agnew
Les Arts Florissants follow the Award-winning initial instalment in their series of Gesualdo madrigals with a new volume that proves equally as intense in its intimacy and artistry.
Sols; Academy of Ancient Music / Julian Perkins
Remarkably, John Eccles’s final opera lay unperformed until 1964, and only now gets its second recording – but what entrancing and engaging advocacy it here receives.
Lise Davidsen Arias and Songs
Lise Davidsen sop London Philharmonic Orchestra / Sir Mark Elder
Few young artists have generated such a buzz as our cover artist, and her hugely impressive new album reveals exactly why.
Hilary Hahn vn Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra / Mikko Franck
From the late lyricism of Rautavaara to the urgent intensity of Prokofiev, Hilary Hahn’s captivating tribute to the city of Paris is imaginatively programmed and brilliantly performed.
Locatelli ‘Il labirinto armonico’
Finnish Baroque Orchestra / Ilya Gringolts vn
From the opening track onwards, elegant playing launches a programme rich in charm from Ilya Gringolts and the Finnish Baroque Orchestra, all on sparkling form.
D Matthews A Vision of the Sea
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra / Jac van Steen
David Matthews’s sound world draws you in with expressive orchestral writing, whether evoking the sun or sea, or in his beautifully crafted Eighth Symphony.
Holmboe String Quartets, Vol 1
The Nightingale Quartet’s survey of Danish composer Vagn Holmboe’s string quartets couldn’t have a more auspicious start: performed with a gripping sense of drama and caught in richly vivid sound.
Liszt Piano Works
Benjamin Grosvenor pf
The superb pianist Benjamin Grosvenor continues to compile a richly varied discography, the repertoire always carefully chosen and the playing always deeply engaging, with an impressive recital of Liszt.
Ksenija Sidorova accordion
What better way to mark the centenary of Piazzolla’s birth than this programme from accordionist Ksenija Sidorova steeped in the soul and spirit of the tango master’s music?
Purcell Royal Odes
The King’s Consort / Robert King
An excellent album of Purcell Odes and Welcome Songs from The King’s Consort, Robert King’s impressive selection of singers and instrumentalists alike all on brilliant form throughout.
‘And Love Said …’
Jodie Devos sop Nicolas Krüger pf
Following her thrilling Offenbach album two years ago, Jodie Devos reveals herself just as compelling and communicative in this personal programme of English-language song.
Sols; Les Talens Lyriques / Christophe Rousset
Another beautifully performed and prepared recording from conductor Christophe Rousset, the singing and playing – from Les Talens Lyriques – exquisite throughout.
Orfeo 55 / Nathalie Stutzmann contr
Nathalie Stutzmann invites us to rethink the repertoire of contraltos written at a time when castratos and sopranos were their era’s stars: the case couldn’t be better made than here.
Rachmaninov Symphony No 1. Symphonic Dances
The Philadelphia Orchestra / Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Last issue, we explored the legacy of Rachmaninov and the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Yannick Nézet-Séguin proves himself not just a brilliant custodian, but a conductor creating an era of his own.
‘English Music for Strings’
Sinfonia of London / John Wilson
Once again John Wilson draws the most glorious sound from his hand-picked orchestra, lavishing care and devotion on repertoire that could have been written for him.
JS Bach Das wohltemperirte Clavier, Book 2 – selections
Piotr Anderszewski pf
Thoughtful and thought-provoking programming by Piotr Anderszewski is paired with sensitive interpretation throughout, making for a compelling Bach album.
Stephen Hough pf
Stephen Hough follows his Beethoven concerto album with a more intimate, personal meditation on life and death, a journey bookended with Bach-based reflections, and all performed with his usual intelligence and flair.
Ensemble Les Surprises / Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas
A vibrant step into 18th-century English music from Ensemble Les Surprises sees the French group shine in works both familiar and lesser known from Purcell and peers.