Our top 10 classical recordings of 2023

<span>Composite: Andrew Bi; Mark Allan</span>
Composite: Andrew Bi; Mark Allan

Companies may no longer be rushing to record cycles of Beethoven or Brahms symphonies – with so many celebrated performances available of most of the standard repertoire, new versions have to be very special indeed to make an impression, but the continued exploration of neglected corners of the repertoire, increasingly works by women composers, has meant that there is always something fresh to discover. The Bru Zane label, for instance, which focuses on 18th- and 19th-century French music, continues to issue ear-opening recordings of composers who previously barely merited mention in the footnotes of music history, while the continuing efforts of specialists such as NMC, Kairos and Another Timbre, helps to ensure that a broad sample of the music being composed today reaches as wide an audience as possible.

And, if listening habits are changing – with downloads and streaming services increasingly dominating – the range of new discs this year has the same stylistic spread as it had before the pandemic. Some of the longer established labels, such as Deutsche Grammophon and Warner Classics, at one time the foundation of the whole classical industry, seem more intent today on releasing crossover albums than mainstream discs, but the smaller, more specialist labels still ensure that the range of what’s available is as wide as it’s ever been.

A weekly column like ours can’t hope to come anywhere near covering comprehensively what is released every week. Our Top 10 therefore has no claims to be definitive, but is a personal selection of the discs that we have found particularly impressive or rewarding.

1. Liszt: Salon and Stage (Kenneth Hamilton)

“Hamilton’s ability to combine pianistic flair and technical brilliance with an acute understanding of how this music came into existence makes these performances very special indeed.” Read the full review

2. Nielsen: The Symphonies (Danish National SO/Luisi)

“These performances, recorded in Copenhagen’s Koncertsalen, are thrilling enough to turn you into a Nielsen addict (he has never quite had the attention he deserves), performed by the Danes and Luisi with zest, wit and restless freedom.” Read the full review

3. Puccini: Turandot (Radvanovsky, Jaho, Kaufmann, Santa Cecilia Orch/Pappano)

“Jonas Kaufmann is on heroic form. [His] voice glows where it needs to, notably in a long-breathed Nessun Dorma. Pappano whip[s] up playing of controlled abandon … drawing out the music’s particular exotic atmosphere. The palette of orchestral colour is huge and constantly shifting.” Read the full review

4. Infinite Voyage: Schoenberg & Berg (Hannigan, Chamayou, Emerson Quartet)

“These are warm, lustrous performances … Barbara Hannigan is the soprano in the Schoenberg, her elegance and cool, precise shaping of every phrase perfectly tailored to the keenly expressive vocal lines … There’s also room on the disc for a couple of beautifully rendered rarities.” Read the full review

5. Bach: Goldberg Variations (Vikingur Ólafsson)

“Ólafsson’s interpretation is outstanding … Supple playing, flexibility in speed and mood, contrapuntal clarity, a singing bass line, an abundance of expression but no intrusive mannerisms: all make this a Goldbergs for repeated listening.” Read the full review

6. Monteverdi: Tutti I Madrigali (Concerto Italiano, Alessandrini)

“Wondrously precise attention to detail and to the exact weighting of every syllable. Demonstrating yet again that native Italian speakers have a precious advantage in tackling these settings … an outstanding achievement.” Read the review

7. Ligeti: Metamorphoses (Quatuor Diotima)

“The Quatuor Diotima meet the challenges [of these works] with more accuracy and brilliance than any I’ve heard before. Every detail of the string writing, all informed by Ligeti’s phenomenal aural imagination, is crystal clear, the shape of each movement utterly lucid.” Read the full review

8. Schumann: Piano Quartet & Piano Quintet (Faust, Schreiber, Tamestit, Queyras, Melnikov)

“Melnikov … plays a 1851 Pleyel piano on which his rhythmic articulation is superbly crisp. It perfectly counterpoints the warmly transparent sound of the gut strings, the opening exchanges of the Piano Quartet demonstrate just how satisfying the balance between them is. In the quintet too there’s an equally refreshing lightness and clarity to the textures” Read the full review

9. What of Words and What of Song (Juliet Fraser)

“The six works here provide a perfect showcase for Juliet Fraser’s gifts as an interpreter – not only her technical mastery, but also her seemingly instinctive ability to inhabit the musical worlds of stylistically very different composers with total conviction and understanding.” Read the full review

10. Beethoven: String Quartets Opp 74 and 130 (Chiaroscuro Quartet)

“There seem to be no preconceptions in these performances, everything comes from the music itself.” Read the full review