Hooked on classics: stars back their favourites for awards

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The Independent Culture

And as is perhaps fitting for a celebrity It Girl, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson will be rooting for the sexy Mexican tenor Rolando Villazon in this year's prestigious Gramophone magazine awards for classical music recordings.

Six albums have been selected as finalists for the Record of the Year award, which will be presented this month after voting by an expert panel and, for the first time, the public.

Gramophone, which has run its awards for 30 years, hopes to achieve a buzz of excitement around the recordings by allotting each a celebrity supporter, as it did last year for the first time.

Mr Waite will be promoting the virtues of Bach's cantatas, as conducted by John Eliot Gardiner; Samuel West, the new artistic director of Sheffield Theatres, is eulogising Beethoven's late string quartets, as performed by the Takacs Quartet; and Ms Palmer-Tomkinson's choice is Villazon's recording of Gounod and Massenet arias.

The other three finalists are John Eliot Gardiner - again - conducting Berlioz's opera The Trojans, released on DVD, championed by the former culture secretary Chris Smith; René Jacobs, conducting Haydn's The Seasons, championed by Jonathan Ansell from the X Factor band G4; and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conducting Haydn's Paris symphonies, championed by the Heart FM DJ Emma B.

The shortlist was drawn up by nearly 50 classical music reviewers from hundreds of nominations from record companies in 15 categories ranging from orchestral to chamber music. A voting academy including retailers and broadcasters then chose the six from the individual category winners, which must have been released in the year to 31 May.

James Jolly, editor of Gramophone, said: "These 12 months have proved some of the richest in terms of extraordinary recordings. Imaginative programming and performances of the highest standing make this a truly vintage year."

The introduction of the celebrity champions last year had boosted the profile of classical music and sales of all the records, he added. The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart, conducted by René Jacobs, sold "spectacularly well" after it was named Record of the Year.

"We can't take all the credit because it did get very well reviewed, but there was a considerable blip," Mr Jolly said.

Although DVDs have been eligible in the past, this year is the first time one has been shortlisted for the awards, but he thought there were likely to be more in future. "As a visual medium, it is the way opera should be moving. We may have seen the end of the big blockbuster audio-only recordings," he said.

It was wonderful, he added, to have two quality recordings of Haydn and to see the return to the shortlist of John Eliot Gardiner, the musician who has won more Gramophone awards than any other, with 13 so far.

The public will be invited to vote via www.gramophone.co.uk. Their views will be combined with those of the expert academy and the winner will be announced at a lunch on 29 September.

The finalists

JS Bach: Cantatas

Sir John Eliot Gardiner, conductor

Champion: Terry Waite

"Bach is a meticulous composer who has the capacity to breathe a certain harmony into the soul. If you haven't heard the Bach cantatas, these discs give you a wonderful introduction."

Beethoven: Late String Quartets

Takacs Quartet

Champion: Samuel West

"I had already bought this partly because their violist Roger Tapping is a good friend, partly because the extent of my own cello playing is Opus 18 No 1 which they start with and partly because I'm a big fan of the quartet. These works are the pinnacle of the string quartet repertoire."

Hector Berlioz: The Trojans

Sir John Eliot Gardiner, conductor

Champion: Chris Smith

"The Trojans is an enormous rolling wonderful romantic flawed but very moving work and this particular production does it incredibly well. You get a layering of sound coming from the orchestra and chorus over which the singing takes place and it's just thrilling."

Haydn: The Seasons

Rene Jacobs, conductor

Champion: Jonathan Ansell

"Right at the end of his long life, Haydn could still write real masterpieces. This is an amazing piece and it is performed with such crispness. The soloists are fantastic but the chorus is out of this world. "

Haydn: "Paris" Symphonies

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor

Champion: Emma B

"It was the first time I have heard these - the man was so blooming prolific you could spend a whole year and wouldn't get through all his works. It's lovely spirit-lifting music.It makes you smile. "

Gounod-Massenet: Arias

Rolando Villazon, tenor

Champion: Tara Palmer-Tomkinson

"It's easy supporting this because he's sexy and he's crazy and I love Mexicans. He is really passionate with an enormous amount of energy and it really comes over in his music. It takes a lot of work to get that great voice."