Víkingur Ólafsson has won the Limelight 2020 Recording of the Year for his album of music by Debussy and Rameau on Deutsche Grammophon (4837701). This may be only his third recording for the Yellow Label, but the young Icelandic pianist has made repeated waves with his distinctive approach to programming and clarity of technique. “No pianist since the maverick figure of Glenn Gould has stamped his signature on the piano repertoire with such exciting individuality of spirit and intelligence of execution as the young Icelandic virtuoso Víkingur Ólafsson,” wrote Michael Quinn in his five-star review.

“It’s a huge honour,” Ólafsson said on receiving the award. “One of my pianistic idols is William Kapell, who was the teacher of my teacher at Juilliard. He was returning from his last tour to Australia when his plane crashed somewhere outside of San Francisco and I always remember that after his last concert he said to the journalists at the airport, ‘I’m never coming back to this country – the Australian critics are so tough and unfair!’ So, to get this Australian prize means all the more for me.”

Recording of the Year & Instrumental Recording of the Year

Recording of the Year

Rameau • Debussy
Piano works
Víkingur Ólafsson p
DG 4837701

On paper, 2020’s Instrumental Recording of the Year was a highly competitive field, one that included Paul Wee’s bravura Alkan, Paul Lewis’s Beethoven Bagatelles, Stephen Hough’s survey of late Brahms, and the latest challenging program from Igor Levit. So, what makes Ólaffson’s disc a winner? In a nutshell, a combination of canny choices, superlative execution, and a large dollop of that indefinable something that has you gasping at felicitous juxtapositions and illuminating transitions within this highly original recital. Each of the other genres (see below) were intensely tight contests, but Ólaffson won the instrumental category hands down.

“A surprising pairing at first glance, Ólafsson weaves these two revolutionary French composers into a remarkable dialogue that denies the century between Rameau’s death and Debussy’s birth to persuasively argue for them as musical twins,” wrote Quinn. “Ólafsson finds such sweet concurrence between the two that their distance in time seems to condense into a shared attitude and language.”

Read our interview with Víkingur Ólafsson
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The Instrumental category nominees included:

Beethoven
Bagatelles, Für Elise
Paul Lewis p
Harmonia Mundi HMM902416

Brahms
The Final Piano Pieces
Stephen Hough p
Hyperion CDA68116 (2CD)

Encounter
Music by Bach/Busoni, Brahms, Reger and Feldman
Igor Levit p
Sony 19439786572 (2CD)

Alkan
Symphony and Concerto for Solo Piano
Paul Wee p
BIS BIS2465 (SACD)

Orchestral Recording of the Year

Orchestral Recording of the Year

Beethoven • Sibelius
Violin Concertos
Christian Tetzlaff v, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Robin Ticciati
Ondine ODE1334-2

Orchestral Recording of the Year went to Christian Tetzlaff’s masterful coupling of the Beethoven and Sibelius Violin Concertos on Finnish label Ondine (ODE1334-2) with Robin Ticciati conducting the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin.

“Tetzlaff has recorded both before, but this new recording really raises the bar,” wrote Will Yeoman. “Add what must be one of the finest recorded accounts of the Sibelius in recent times (I have to go back to Ginette Neveu with Barbirolli for anything quite so compelling) and you have an essential purchase.”

Interview with Christian Tetzlaff coming Tuesday
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The Orchestral category nominees included:

Beethoven
Piano Concertos Nos 1 to 5
Stephen Hough p, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
Hyperion CDA68291/3

Beethoven
Symphonies Nos 1 to 5
Le Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall
Alia Vox AVSA9937 (3SACD)

Elgar
Violin Concerto et al.
Nicola Benedetti v, London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski
Decca 4850949

Mahler
Symphony No 7
Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
BIS BIS2386

Chamber Recording of the Year

Chamber Recording of the Year

Elgar • Vaughan Williams
Works for Violin & Piano
Jennifer Pike v, Martin Roscoe p
Chandos CHAN20156

Chamber Recording of the Year went to Jennifer Pike and Martin Roscoe’s pairing of under-recorded violin sonatas by Elgar and Vaughan Williams on Chandos (CHAN20156), which also features the original violin and piano version of The Lark Ascending.

“Vaughan Williams’ Violin Sonata is another compelling piece,” wrote Phillip Scott, praising Roscoe’s relish of the mysterious exoticism of the opening Fantasia, and the way both musicians throw themselves into the second movement with beautifully controlled abandon. “A benchmark recording of the two sonatas by Yehudi and Hephzibah Menuhin is highly expressive, but Yehudi’s intonation is neither as secure nor his tone as pure as Pike’s, while Roscoe is the more imaginative pianist. This new recording is a must.”

Interview with Jennifer Pike coming Wednesday
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The Chamber category nominees included:

In Nomine II
Music by Tye, Bull, Muhly et al.
Fretwork
Signum SIGCD576

Walter Kaufmann
Chamber works
ARC Ensemble
Chandos CHAN20170

Mahler • Schoenberg • Strauss
Arrangements of Symphony No. 10, Chamber Symphony, Der Rosenkavalier Suite
Alban Berg Ensemble Wien
DG 4819187

Mozart • Beethoven
Violin Sonatas
Richard Tognetti v, Erin Helyard fp
ABC Classic 4818190 (2CD)

Vocal & Choral Recording of the Year

Vocal & Choral Recording of the Year

Fading
Music by Tallis, Gesualdo, Tormis, Park et al.
The Gesualdo Six/Owain Park
Hyperion CDA68285

Vocal Recording of the Year was awarded to Owain Park and The Gesualdo Six’s Fading on Hyperion (CDA68285), a ravishing disc that combines Renaissance music by the likes of Tallis and Gesualdo with complementary contemporary choral works.

“These performances are superb: precision, warmth, power and delicacy united in an utterly beguiling whole, all the while maintaining perfect definition as each vocal tonality inhabits its own sphere,” wrote Lisa MacKinney, also admiring the recording from St George’s Church, Cambridge. “Its glorious acoustics are on show in spades, with a rich, thick presence and just the right amount of reverberation for these glorious voices to soar heavenwards.”

Interview with Owain Park coming Thursday
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The Vocal & Choral category nominees included:

Beethoven
Lieder
Matthias Goerne b-bar, Jan Lisiecki p
DG 4838351

Dussek
Messe Solemnelle
Academy of Ancient Music/Richard Egarr
Academy of Ancient Music AAM011             

Bach
St Matthew Passion
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
BIS BIS2500 (2CD)

Shostakovich
Symphony No 13 (Babi Yar)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Riccardo Muti
CSO Resound CSOR9011901

Opera Recording of the Year

Opera Recording of the Year

Handel
Agrippina
Joyce Didonato ms, Il Pomo d’Oro/Maxim Emelyanychev
Erato 9029533658 (3CD)

Opera Recording of the Year has gone to the winning new recording of Handel’s Agrippina on Erato (9029533658). Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev leads Il Pomo d’Oro with American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato as the scheming Empress and a cast that includes Elsa Benoit as her rival Poppea, Luca Pisaroni as the bumbling Emperor Claudius, Franco Fagioli as a petulant Nerone and Jakub Józef Orliński as the lovesick Ottone.

“DiDonato can be hard to write about, because you find yourself constantly reaching for the same superlatives,” wrote Justine Nguyen. “Her singing is simply magnificent, technically brilliant and expressive, without ever being mannered or laborious. In other words, you can’t detect the work, only Agrippina and her fearsome drive to wrest power for herself and her son.”

Interview with Joyce DiDonato coming Friday
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The Opera category nominees included:

Britten
Peter Grimes
Stuart Skelton t, Bergen SO/Edward Gardner
Chandos CHSA5250(2) (2SACD)

Alwyn
Miss Julie
Soloists, BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
Chandos CHSA5253 (2SACD)

Janáček
The Cunning Little Vixen
Lucy Crowe s, London Symphony Orchestra/Simon Rattle
LSO Live LSO0850 (2CD)

Purcell
King Arthur
Gabrieli Consort & Players/Paul McCreesh
Signum SIGCD589 (2CD)

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