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by Seth Colter Walls

December 20, 2013

Top 25 Classical Albums of 2013

by Seth Colter Walls  |  December 20, 2013

If you haven't been keeping up with our monthly classical release roundups -- hey, we've missed you! -- then here's a headline from 2013: Whatever management problems doomed organizations like the Minnesota Orchestra or the New York City Opera (RIP to both, at least as we knew them), the classical music recordings scene is still a pretty vibrant one. (Also, we should make space to note that big institutions like the LA Philharmonic are doing quite well, too.)

Nonesuch, that venerable label, is still chugging along with worthy performers, perhaps none more celebrated this year than the MacArthur "genius grant"-winning pianist Jeremy Denk (whose take on Bach's Goldberg Variations is a delight). Meantime, comparative young gun flutist Claire Chase -- also a MacArthur winner -- continued to make good on her youthful promise with the album Density, on which she performs music by Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Alvin Lucier (and also some pieces by members of her own generation, such as Mario Diaz de Leon).

Familiar world-touring soloist names, such as violinist Hilary Hahn and pianist Yuja Wang, had strong years, as well. The latter's debut recording with conductor powerhouse Gustavo Dudamel brought some urgency to an oft-neglected concerto by Prokofiev, while the former's In 27 Pieces album premiered a series of bite-sized new works by worthy living composers. My favorite classical record of the year was by reed player and composer Ken Thomson, who, in partnering with the strings of the JACK Quartet, made his Cantaloupe label debut with the amazing Thaw, an album that moves from atonal cries to joyous riff-parades and on to some gorgeous melodic moments.

There was a ton of great piano music rediscovery afoot this year: The electronic artist Jace Clayton reinterpreted some excellent (but all-too-infrequently heard) minimalist works by Julius Eastman; Caroline Weichert's survey of Erwin Schulhoff's jazzy, Weimar-era etudes was a marvel; Jovita Zähl's performance of some newly discovered miniatures by John Cage deserves wider notice; Mitsuko Uchida gave us a take on the "Waldszenen" that all Schumann fans should hear.

The New York Philharmonic's live recording of Charles Ives' Fourth Symphony still gives me chills, as did conductor James Levine's return to conducting duties with the Met Orchestra (hear his Act I prelude to Lohengrin). And while Darcy James Argue's Secret Society big band plays the Newport festival and is more typically encountered in jazz lists, his attention to classical music rings clear on tracks like "Construction + Destruction," from his Brooklyn Babylon suite. So click play on our year-end playlist, and start checking out all this great music.

  1. Ken Thomson, Thomson: Thaw
  2. Jeremy Denk, J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations
  3. Claire Chase, C. Chase: Density
  4. New York Philharmonic, Steven Stucky, Christopher Rouse, Ives
  5. Hilary Hahn, In 27 Pieces
  6. Yuja Wang, Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No.3 In D Minor, Op.30 / Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No.2 In G Minor, Op.16
  7. Herbert Schuch, Ullmann: Piano Concerto, Op. 25 - Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3
  8. Jace Clayton, Clayton: The Julius Eastman Memory Depot
  9. Dawn of Midi, Dysnomia
  10. Caroline Weichert, Schulhoff: Piano Works Vol. 2
  11. Christoph Eschenbach, Hindemith: Violinkonzert - Symphonic Metamorphosis - Konzertmusik, Op. 50
  12. Alan Feinberg, Basically Bull
  13. Daniel Wohl, Corps Exquis
  14. Mitsuko Uchida, Schumann: G Minor Sonata; Waldszenen; Gesänge der Frühe
  15. James Levine, James Levine Live at Carnegie Hall
  16. Nadia Sirota, Baroque
  17. Christian Tetzlaff, Schumann: Violin Concertos
  18. Jovita Zähl, The Piano Works 9: New Discoveries
  19. David Lang, Death Speaks
  20. Sequentia, Hildegard von Bingen – Celestial Hierarchy
  21. Minnesota Orchestra, Sibelius Symphonies 1 & 4
  22. Yegor Shevtsov, Avec un frisson: Late Piano Works of Debussy & Boulez
  23. Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, Brooklyn Babylon
  24. Attacca Quartet, Fellow Traveler – The Complete String Quartet Works of John Adams
  25. Ian Pace, Finnissy: The History of Photography in Sound

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