It may be that a lot of material was already in the can before lockdown struck, but either way there has been little let-up in the flow of high-quality recordings over the past six months. Limelight critics continued to cover new releases – often the closest people could get to live music – throughout the pandemic and now the time has come to choose our Recording of the Year from among a crowded field. A long list of 100 recordings has been whittled down to five discs in each of five categories: Orchestral, Chamber, Instrumental, Vocal & Choral, and Opera.

Given the 250th birthday celebrations it was only to be expected that there would be a fair bit of Beethoven in the mix. Among them are Christian Tetzlaff and Stephen Hough’s readings of the violin and piano concertos, Jordi Savall’s set of the first five symphonies, Paul Lewis’s take on the Bagatelles, and Matthias Goerne and Jan Lisieki’s survey of the composer’s still underrated Lieder.

Our taste for the late Romantic shows no sign of slowing with a nod for Osmo Vänska’s Mahler Seven, Elgar great and small from violinists Nicola Benedetti and Jennifer Pike, late Brahms from Stephen Hough, Bach/Busoni and more Brahms from Igor Levit, and chamber arrangements of fin de siècle works from the Alban Berg Ensemble Wien.

Blockbusters from the 20th century include Riccardo Muti’s Chicago forces in Shostakovich’s searing Babi Yar Symphony and Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, but there are also forgotten gems like the chamber music of Walter Kaufmann played by the Canada-based ARC Ensemble.

Australians getting a look-in include Stuart Skelton, who has committed his Peter Grimes to disc at last, British-based pianist and barrister Paul Wee’s virtuoso survey of Alkan, and Richard Tognetti and Erin Helyard’s period instrument look at Mozart, Beethoven and their contemporaries.

There’s more early music with Masaaki Suzuki’s latest recording of the St. Matthew Passion, Fretwork’s follow up to their iconic In Nomine disc, and a pair of operas: Handel’s Agrippina, with Joyce DiDonato as the scheming Empress, and Paul McCreesh’s new interpretation of Purcell’s King Arthur.

Rarities include a Mass by Jan Ladislav Dussek (rediscovered by Richard Egarr) and William Alwyn’s operatic version of Strindberg’s Miss Julie. Finally, two discs that mix the old with the new: Owain Park’s masterfully programmed choral recital, Fading, and an intriguing juxtaposition of Rameau and Debussy on Víkingur Ólafsson’s latest disc. In other words, plenty of food for thought.

The Limelight Recording of the Year will be announced in our December issue, available online 23 November. Subscribe by 15 November to receive the hard copy edition.

Recording of the Year 2020 nominees

Orchestral Recordings of the Year nominees

Orchestral

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

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 Recordings of the Year nominees

Chamber

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

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)

Instrumental Recordings of the Year nominees

Instrumental

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

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)

Rameau • Debussy
Piano works
Víkingur Ólafsson p
DG 4837701

Vocal and Choral Recordings of the Year nominees

Vocal & Choral

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

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             

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

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

Opera

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

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

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

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)

Read our new magazine online