The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Here are lists of the Best Classical Recordings of 2017 as named by The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes magazine and Gramophone magazine | December 16, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

Just in time for last-minute holiday shopping and streaming – whether by others or yourself – some major publications and critics have published their lists of the top classical recording of 2017.

Personal preferences and taste matter, to be sure. So opinions inevitably differ.

But in some cases, the verdicts seem close to unanimous.

Take the case of some pianists.

You can, for example, find overlapping agreement on the merits of the 24-year-old Italian pianist and Cliburn Competition silver medal laureate Beatrice Rana playing the famed Goldberg Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Same for the 33-year-old Icelandic pianist Vikingur Olaffson who gives revelatory readings of works by contemporary American Minimalist composer Philip Glass.

And many critics give raves to acclaimed Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes playing neglected piano miniatures by Finnish symphonic titan Jean Sibelius. (See Andsnes discussing Sibelius in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The various lists cover all genres from solo piano music to songs, chamber music to symphonies, oratorios to operas.

You can find lots of neglected repertoire — both early and new — unknown artists and small labels.

But there are also major stars, tried-and-true repertoire and large vintage or heritage labels.

In short, both beginners and experienced classical listeners and players can find plenty to please them.

In addition, some of the lists for the past year include links to lists from previous years. And those lists too still have some excellent choices that hold up.

Here is a link to the 2017 list in The New York Times, which was compiled by several critics:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/13/arts/music/best-classical-music-recordings-2017.html

Here is a list by a critic and columnist for Forbes magazine:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jenslaurson/2017/12/13/the-10-best-classical-recordings-of-2017/#60b8fd87ebca

Here is the list from John von Rhein for the Chicago Tribune:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/vonrhein/sc-ent-best-classical-recordings-2017-1206-story.html

And here is a list from the British Gramophone magazine, which often favors artists and groups located in the United Kingdom:

https://www.gramophone.co.uk/feature/the-best-new-classical-albums-december-2017

And in case you missed it before, here are lists from other sources that this blog has posted and linked to:

From famed WQXR-FM radio in New York City:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/12/14/classical-music-here-are-the-top-20-classical-recordings-of-2017-as-chosen-by-famed-radio-station-wqxr/

And here are the classical nominations for the 2018 Grammy awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/classical-music-here-are-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-2018-grammy-awards-they-make-a-great-holiday-gift-list-of-gives-and-gets/

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8 Comments »

  1. I agree with Vicki, I actually find these lists not more biased than any other best of lists. And I don’t think this is necessarily big corporate behind it (sorry but Classical just is extremely niche, big business doesn’t care), but every reviewer (including my own little efforts in this space) has some natural preferences. Gramophone for example has a clear preference for UK artists, but I don’t even think it’s a nationalistic thinking issue, it may just be down to increasing familiarity.

    I’ll be publishing my own best of 2017 lists in a bit, they will as biased as everybody else’s, just in a different way.

    Comment by Musicophile — December 16, 2017 @ 3:26 pm

    • Well, since you are publishing “your own list” (and who cares but you) that makes you a bit biased, doesn’t it? And you are strikingly wrong about the nationalism evident in Gramophone, and your thinking is so muddled I cannot make out what this means: “but I don’t even think it’s a nationalistic thinking issue, it may just be down to increasing familiarity.” Pray tell us what “increasing familiarity” is. On the other hand, your answer can likely be filed with your proposed list, in the “circular file”.

      Comment by fflambeau — December 16, 2017 @ 11:32 pm

  2. Oh, please. These lists are more diverse than that. And the Forbes List you single out for being a corporate shill isn’t less diverse than the rest. The labels presented on that list since it exists (excluding Re-issues) are:

    2014:

    Zig-Zag
    Harmonia Mundi
    BR Klassik
    ECM
    Vienna Symphony
    Carus
    BIS
    Naive
    Challenge
    MDG

    2015:

    aeon
    Chandos
    Capriccio
    Harmonia Mundi
    Profil
    Mirare
    Zig-Zag
    Centrediscs
    Ondine
    Challenge

    2016:

    Pan Classics
    Nimbus Records
    Reference Records
    cpo
    Challenge
    Chandos
    BIS
    BIS
    Alpha
    Harmonia Mundi.
    Dutton Labs

    2017:

    Sony – Schubert
    Sony – Schmidt
    Naive – LvB
    Kairos -Cerha
    Chaconne (Chandos) – Guretzky
    Alpha – Liszt/LvB
    cpo – Mendelssohn
    Ricercar – J.B(!).Bach
    Reference Recordings – DSCH
    Decca – Tchaik.
    Toccata Classics – Krenek

    That’s three major labels in 42 choices. A real shill for corporate America (or whatever), huh?

    And even if Beethoven and Tchaikovsky and Schubert are present, so are a lot of composers most people have not even heard of. I dont’ understand these broad, anger-fuelled accusations apparently based on presumptions how things must be (in order to to fulfill the prejudice), rather than on what the facts are.

    Comment by Vicki — December 16, 2017 @ 2:19 pm

    • You also don’t seem to understand that the linked albums in the story come from: Warner Classics, DG, and Sony Classics, giant international corporations whose business it is to promote their artists and sell their records. That fact is not in dispute but you avoid it.

      And you are also factually wrong on rhe broadness of composers. I think one composer (Philip Glass) is on one of the lists presented and that’s it for American composers.

      Forbes is Forbes: it represents large international corporations. If you can’t see that, then…..

      Comment by fflambeau — December 16, 2017 @ 11:29 pm

      • There is more to broadmindedness than including American composers, isn’t there? Should they get a quota or is it an inherent sign of close-mindedness if one does not love releases of American composers best, at the end of the year?

        I can see what Forbes is and I can see what the labels are, that were recommended on their site. You criticized these lists based on a presumption and I merely pointed out that the presumption doesn’t seem to translate into facts in that case. It is you who seem to be doing the avoiding, by simply repeating your accusations.

        And why are you being so aggressive and unpleasant? Is that necessary?

        Comment by Vicki — December 17, 2017 @ 8:31 am

    • Including Chicago 17 and NYT 17, lists that tend to like releases that seem more heavily promoted, it still doesn’t look very one-sided: Majors 14: Mids: 29 Small labels: 22

      Zig-Zag/Alpha/Outhere: IIIIII
      Warner/Erato: IIIII
      DG/Decca: IIIII
      Harmonia Mundi: IIII
      Sony/DHM: IIII
      ECM: III
      Challenge: III
      BIS: III
      Chandos: III
      Berlin Phil: II
      Naive: II
      Reference Records: II
      cpo: II
      BR Klassik: I
      Vienna Symphony: I
      Carus: I
      MDG: I
      aeon: I
      Capriccio: I
      Profil: I
      Mirare: I
      Centrediscs: I
      Ondine: I
      Pan Classics: I
      Nimbus Records: I
      Dutton Labs: I
      Kairos: I
      Toccata Classics: I
      Naxos: I
      Battle Media: I
      Catneloupe: I
      Hyperion: I
      Telegraph Harp: I
      CSO Resound: I
      Wide Hive: I
      BMOP/sound: I

      Facts over Allegations. But who can expect that, in the age of Trump.

      Comment by Vicki — December 17, 2017 @ 8:51 am

  3. It’s no coincidence that the linked albums come from: Warner Classics; Deutsche Grammophone; and Sony Classics. They’re all trying to do the same thing: sell records and build their star system. Forbes is Forbes, a voice of corporate America as is the Chicago Tribune, “America’s newspaper for Americans”.

    As to the same artists appearing on these various lists, ask yourself, is this surprising, given who is paying for the ads in most cases (yes, the record companies). And far from containing a vast assortment of classical music, they hew to the old and tried (because this formula has made money for them in the past). For instance, Bach (do we really need yet another recording of the Goldberg variations when on YouTube it shows hundreds of them in various forms and from pianists like Glenn Gould, Daniel Barenboim, Andras Shiff, Grigorij Lipmanovič Sokolov, Rudolf Serkin, Tatiana Nikolayeva, Rosalyn Turek, Wilhelm Kempff, Igor Levit, Zhu Xiao Mai, Grigory Sokolov, Maria Tipo, Claudio Arrau, Murray Perahia, Eunice Norton, Karl Richter, Beatrice Rana, Ferruccio Busoni, Nicholas Angelich, Maria Yudina, Andrea Padova, Vladimir Feltsman, Peter Serkin, Ante Sladolojev, Kimiko Ishizaka, Clive Swansbourne, Angela Hewitt, Marta Espinos, Alexandre Thiroud, Sviatoslav Richter (and this is just a partial list of the pianists; there is also an enormous group of harpsichordists and artists on other instruments). What will we learn that is new from this artist being pushed by Warner Classics?

    On most of these lists, there are zero American composers. None. It’s the same suspects: Beethoven, Bach, Sibelius, Mozart, Wagner etc. And do we we need yet another version of Lohengrin (and this coming from Swedish National Radio)?

    If classical music is in trouble, and it is, it is because the “gatekeepers” want people to listen to the same music again and again. It’s not working.

    Comment by fflambeau — December 16, 2017 @ 1:33 am


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