A look back at some of the most memorable journeys in music taken this year in modern classical with an emphasis on solo, ensemble, and chamber compositions. From the delicate and intimate to the passionate and exhilarating, this is an exceptionally vibrant and beautiful collection of music. – Click on album titles in the list below for more information
Editors note: Few of the albums presented in these lists fit neatly into a single genre and we would not have it any other way, nor would the artists. The categorizations used here should not distract the reader from the joy of discovery. They are simply a way to organize and present based on my perceptions of compatible listening experiences and I was not above stretching the boundaries and making exceptions to fit in the most music possible.
Max Richter – From Sleep [Deutsche Grammophon]
This one hour distillation of music from the 8 hour Sleep project works wonderfully as a summation of his “manifesto for a slower pace of existence” and as a beautiful modern classical record.
Featured track: ‘Dream 3 (in the midst of my life)
Rachel Grimes – The Clearing [Temporary Residence]
Is there no bottom to the wellspring of talent and creativity Rachel Grimes possesses? On evidence of The Clearing, apparently not. A trailblazer of the genre and still a master of it as well. Enthralling.
Featured track: ‘Further Foundation’
Julia Kent – Asperities [The Leaf Label]
Such rich and resonant sounds, so beautifully layered and intertwined, and bursting with visceral emotion and memorable melodies. A gripping journey.
Featured track: ‘Flag of No Country’
Nils Frahm – Solo [Erased Tapes]
Performed on the Klavins M370, a 3.7 meter high prototype of what will be the largest piano every built, Frahm released this quietly stunning set of solo tunes on the 88th day of the year to inaugurate what will be an annual celebration of the piano. What’s not to love here?
Featured track: ‘Some
Lubomyr Melnyk – Rivers and Streams [Erased Tapes]
A wonderful full length excursion with Melnyk’s dazzling continuous music applied to the piano . Despite being able to play nearly 20 notes per second, expressive beauty is never sacrificed for speed or technique. Nicely augmented on some tracks by Hyelim Kim on flute and co-producer Jamie Perera on guitar.
Featured track: ‘Parasol (excerpt)’
Ólafur Arnalds & Alice Sara Ott – The Chopin Project [Mercury Classics]
Exquisite is the word for this adventurous, yet deeply respectful reworking of the music of Chopin by virtuoso pianist Alice Sara Ott and Icelandic modern classical artist Ólafur Arnalds interwoven between gorgeous new compositions.
Featured track: ”Verses
Jacob David – omkuld [Moderna Records]
Another gem marking the strong debut year of the Moderna label, David’s warmly organic style centered around dampened piano and delicately constructed compositions is a respite for the ears.
Featured track: ‘Andachten’
Peter Gregson – Touch [Sono Luminus]
The immensely talented cellist and composer follows up last year’s excellent Lights in the Sky with another gem of a studio album that is as playful and inventive as it is beautiful.
Featured track: ‘Cycle’
Julien Marchal – Insight
After teasing us with a four track EP of the same title last year, Marchal finally released this full 13 song collection of solo piano pieces .Far from more of the same, he offers a diverse range of styles and classic and contemporary references and pristine playing that made it worth the wait. Even better – it comes with bonus reworks by Haring, Phillip Lamy, and Sleep Orchestra.
Featured track: ‘XIII’
Iskra String Quartet – Iskra [1631 Recordings]
Playing like something of a neoclassical greatest hits, the quartet offer effusive interpretations of pieces from a slate of modern classical and cinematic composers including Jóhann Jóhannsson, Peter Gregson, Ólafur Arnalds, Isobel Waller-Bridge, and David Julyan.
Featured track: ‘Chorale (Five)’
Jane Antonia Cornish – Continuum [Innova]
I was mesmerized at first listen by this paradoxically expansive yet intimate suite of chamber music composed by Cornish and impeccably performed by the Decoda ensemble.
Featured track: ‘Continuum I’
Jacob Pavek – Illume [Unperceived]
Pavek choice of richly sonorous grand piano matched by Leah Ottman’s impeccable violin playing is a breath of fresh air. Illume may be direct and uncomplicated, but it is also pure, elegant, and undeniably beautiful. The format and the music may be intimate, but it projects a resonant concert hall aura that captivates.
Featured track: ‘Illume’
Masayoshi Fujita – Apologues [Erased Tapes]
Fujita’s uplifting compositions on vibraphone blended with strings and woodwinds sparkle and delight in this refreshing addition to the Erased Tapes catalog.
Featured track: ‘Tears of Unicorn’
Jim Perkins – Constance [Bigo & Twigetti]
Perhaps the most experimental and challenging selection here, there are so many ideas, tones, and timbres on this vibrant and inventive set of ensemble compositions by Jim Perkins. It dazzles and intrigues.
Featured track: ‘Islands’
Stefano Guzzetti – Ensemble [Stella Recordings]
A sumptuous recording of generous length that comes beautifully packaged as well. The ensemble adds a welcome expansiveness to Guzzetti’s lovely compositions while retaining a warm intimacy and elegance thanks to their fine musicianship and telepathic understanding.
Featured track: ‘Scusa’