The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: WQXR names the best classical recording of 2018. Plus, here are other guides to help you use gift cards | January 5, 2019

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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is another gift list that The Ear just found. Even though it was compiled before the holiday, he looked for it but didn’t find it.

It’s another of the top classical recordings of 2018. But this time, the list – with plenty of sound samples — comes from WQXR, the famed classical music radio station in New York City.

It may be too late to use for holiday gift giving – unless it is for yourself. After all, there are a lot of gift cards waiting to be redeemed.

Also below are several other lists so that you can cross-check and compare. The CD of Chopin ballades and nocturnes by Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes (below), for example, makes almost all the lists, which is a good sign of quality. (You can hear Andsnes play the Ballade No. 4, The Ear’s favorite, in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

Here is the link to WQXR:

Here is a link to the top picks by critics for The New York Times and the Top 10 for National Public Radio (NPR):

And here are the nominations for the 2019 Grammy Awards:

Posted in Classical music
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  1. Hi Jacob, I am a journalist and I’m writing a piece about Lola Astanova. Would it be possible to contact you by phone or email? My email is


    Comment by Seth Hettena — January 7, 2019 @ 4:32 pm

  2. Another problem with such lists is that they are often nationalistic. Here is one that is openly so (from Canada and only representing that country).

    I think this at least recognizes there is a problem with lists and nationality:


    Comment by fflambeau — January 6, 2019 @ 10:12 pm

  3. Who’s the owner of the New York Times? I thought the Sulzberger family (they are the public face).

    But the real owner is the richest man in the world from 2010-14, Carlos Slim, a Mexican billionaire worth around $60 billion. He owns 17% of the shares of the Times.

    Needless to say, for a man who made his money in telecoms, he likely has investments in all the major record labels.


    Comment by fflambeau — January 5, 2019 @ 2:48 am

  4. Here’s an interesting extract from a list of “22 Things Record Companies Will Look For…” when signing artists. Note that being a good musician is 15th on the list, behind “what is your world view”, and “do you have good relationships with other companies in the music business.”

    Here’s that extract:

    “Why do so many great musicians and songwriters never manage to get a record deal? Simply put, there are countless musicians who can play well on their instruments or write great songs – making ‘musical ability’ a very common and easy to find commodity that offers little value on its own. Because great musicians are easy to find, and because of other changes that occurred in the music industry over the last 30 years, record companies are now looking at MUCH MORE than ‘just’ musical skills when it comes to finding musicians they want to work with.
    Before you will even be considered for a record deal, you must prove to record companies that you possess a broad range of skills, character traits and mental attitudes that they look for in potential partners (in addition to great musical skills). Since companies cannot simply rely on ‘whatever you tell them’, they will spend time investigating your background before deciding to work with you (or not).”



    Comment by fflambeau — January 5, 2019 @ 2:03 am

  5. Although it is now a “public radio” station, WQXR has had ties in the past with major corporations such as the New York Times (who originated what it is now), ABC, Disney, and Univision. Its library and website originated with the New York Times, a huge neo-liberal corporation, which of course, has extensive ties (and gets lots of revenue) from big recording labels.


    Comment by fflambeau — January 5, 2019 @ 1:40 am

  6. As to the recording companies being concealed, the Mahler Symphony #6 is really a Sony Recording (not identified on the cover). See what I mean?


    Comment by fflambeau — January 5, 2019 @ 1:21 am

  7. Another problem with the list presented is that it minimalizes American musicians: There is only 1 in the top 5 recordings (the unknown Augusta McKay Lodge, in her debut album).

    Meanwhile, the list does include the usual suspects of record producers: Sony (3 albums), DG (at least 4 albums), Harmonia Mundi, Naxos, & BIS. Interestingly, some of the recording studios are concealed on the covers.

    As for appearing on more than 1 list: credit goes to marketing, to cut and paste features, and to a lack of journalistic integrity (how many of these albums were sent out as “gifts” by the recording companies?), not necessarily talent.


    Comment by fflambeau — January 5, 2019 @ 1:08 am

  8. “The CD of Chopin ballades and nocturnes by Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes (below), for example, makes almost all the lists, which is a good sign of quality.” Or, of good marketing, note that the producing company is Sony Records one of the largest in the world, with a huge marketing budget. That really is what your lists are mostly about.


    Comment by fflambeau — January 5, 2019 @ 12:47 am

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