The 10 Best Classical Recordings of 2016

By Lisa Flynn |

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As producer of WFMT’s New Releases, I listen to hundreds of recordings a year and enjoy sharing the best and most interesting with you every day. Here are 10 albums from 2016 that stood out because of the incredible performances, the repertoire, the historical significance, or all of the above. I hope they’ll become some of your favorites, too.

Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 3, 6 & 7
Minnesota Orchestra / Osmo Vänskä

This is the much-anticipated final release in the Minnesota Orchestra’s acclaimed survey of Sibelius’s complete symphonies. Music Director Osmo Vänskä leads the Orchestra in Sibelius’s lean and beautiful Third Symphony, the mysterious Sixth, and his majestic, one-movement Seventh Symphony. Buy album

Liszt: Transcendental Etudes
Kirill Gerstein, piano

Kirill Gerstein is a multifaceted pianist who has quickly ascended into the highest order of classical musicians. He describes Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes as one of the “towering mountain peaks of the piano literature.” They can be seen as a distillation of mid-19th century Romanticism, capturing its otherworldly experiences and spirituality. Buy album

Beethoven: Missa solemnis
Soloists; Arnold Schoenberg Choir; Vienna Concentus Musicus / Nikolaus Harnoncourt

The performances of Beethoven’s Missa solemnis at the Styriarte festival in Graz and at the Salzburg Festival in summer 2015 were the last concerts by Nikolaus Harnoncourt – the same year he retired from the stage. It was his express wish that this recording, produced during rehearsals and the concerts in Graz, would be his last release. Harnoncourt died on March 5, 2016, at the age of 86. Buy album

Steve Reich: The ECM Recordings
Minimalist pioneer Steve Reich found his first home as a recording artist with ECM. This specially-priced set issued for his 80th birthday collects three seminal recordings made between 1976 and 1980 and includes Reich’s original liner notes along with new commentary by Paul Griffiths: “The music can wield immense power through its vibrant architectures of sound in motion.” Buy album

Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro
Soloists; Chamber Orchestra of Europe / Yannick Nézet-Séguin

This is the fourth release in Deutsche Grammophon’s series of Mozart operas conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin and initiated by tenor Rolando Villazón. The Marriage of Figaro is recorded with a stellar cast, one of the brightest and most insightful conductors of our day, and a handpicked orchestra playing at their best in the stunning venue of Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus. Buy album

Steinberg: Passion Week
The Clarion Choir / Steven Fox

Passion Week is a long-lost choral masterpiece by Maximilian Steinberg. A product of his interest in the sacred and mystical, it is based on medieval Slavonic chant melodies within modern choral textures. Steinberg’s settings are colorful, complex and rich, with a diverse and sometimes daring harmonic palette. Buy album

Martha Argerich: Complete Chopin Recordings
This 5-CD set brings together Martha Argerich’s complete studio, live and radio recordings of Chopin on Deutsche Grammophon, and documents her special, intuitive and passionate relationship with the composer’s music. Issued for her 75th birthday, this retrospective offers a comprehensive view on the composer who has always been at the heart of Argerich’s repertoire. Buy album

Leonidas Kavakos, violin; Enrico Pace, piano

Leonidas Kavakos plays some of the most colorful and demanding violin works ever written, paired with a selection of beautiful and lyrical encores. Kavakos described his motivation for the disc: “I wanted to present something that contained a variety of different styles and that focused on the violin as an expressive instrument.” Buy album

Shostakovich: Under Stalin’s Shadow (Symphonies Nos. 5, 8 & 9)
Boston Symphony Orchestra / Andris Nelsons

Following their Grammy-winning recording of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony, Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra are heard in live performances of the popular Fifth Symphony, the darkly compelling mid-war Eighth, and the elusive Ninth. Also included are excerpts from Shostakovich’s incidental music for a 1932 Moscow production of Hamlet. Buy album

Bach: The French Suites
Murray Perahia, piano

A longtime proponent of Bach on the modern piano, Murray Perahia has been hailed as one of the composer’s “most rewarding interpreters, both live and on disc” (New York Times). Perahia brings his exquisite touch to the six French Suites – works that are at once delicate, profound, tender and joyful, and all suffused with the rhythmic vitality of the dance. Buy album