Speaking of cult potential, the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov's haunting, haunted Fifth Symphony (Sony Classical SK 66825) sneaked into the release schedules almost unnoticed. Sony were too busy throwing money at something called Voices of Light (roll on, the celestial bandwagon) to realise what they had here: a minor masterpiece, a work about change, driven by change but hung up on memories. And what memories.
Shostakovich's much-maligned Eleventh Symphony "The Year 1905" - pictorial music with an overwhelming sense of history - deals in memories, too. Its themes are revolutionary songs "like white birds flying against a terrible black sky" (Anna Akhmatova), but the subtext runs deep. Vladimir Ashkenazy and the St Petersburg Philharmonic turn back the pages of remembrance like they've only now discovered what they mean to them, and the recording (Decca 448 179-2) is a scorcher.
So, too, Valery Gergiev's more or less definitive realisation of Prokofiev's The Fiery Angel (Philips 446 078-2). All eyes and ears are on Gergiev right now. As for the Kirov's rising (risen?) young star, Galina Gorchakova, I doubt she'll ever be better. It's heartbreaking, this pitiful sound of innocence and reason lost.
There's more where that came from in Schubert's Die schone Mullerin (Hyperion CDJ 33025). And if anyone has any doubts that our own Ian Bostridge has a great international future as a lieder singer, let them now pin back their ears. His honesty and, dare I say it, sincerity are disarming.
More home-grown talent - Steven Isserlis and Stephen Hough - demonstrated that showmanship and style can and must prevail. Hough and Isserlis are 19th-century spirits in a 20th-century age. In Forgotten Romance (RCA 09026 68290 2) - ignore the title, savour the contents - they fondle Liszt, Rubinstein and Grieg (the Cello Sonata - all fire and fiords) in ways that seem all but extinct today.
And it's not such a giant leap of faith to Bruckner by way of Franz Welser- Most's blazing performances of the Te Deum and Mass No 3 in F minor (EMI 5 56168 2). Indeed, it's out of the confessional, out of the churches, and into the hearts and minds of us all.
On, then, to the pleasure dome where Thomas Zehetmair and Sir Simon Rattle with the City of Birmingham Symphony unlock the worldly and other-worldly delights of the Szymanowski Violin Concertos (EMI 5 55607 2).
Further north, Yan Pascal Tortelier and the BBC Philharmonic corner me into a straight choice between their scrumptious Roussel disc - a complete Bacchus et Ariane, long overdue (Chandos CHAN 9494) - and the best Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra money can buy (CHAN 9421). You choose.
And since it's Friday, it must be Buenos Aires. Astor Piazzolla's tango- inspired fancies (Harmonia Mundi 901595) smoulder across the dance floor and out into the night. This is like no music you've ever heard, a long day's journey into some urban twilight. Broadway bound? I think not.
But Dawn Upshaw was there with her Rodgers and Hart songbook (Nonesuch 7559-79406-2). These lovable songs warm to her touch, she believes in them as fervently as she believes in her Schubert and Schumann. Heck, in Tin Pan Alley terms, they are Schubert and Schumann. Finally, a stocking- filler, or rather 17 stocking-fillers. British Light Music Classics (Hyperion CDA 66868) is a veritable sweet trolley. I swear you can hear the well- thumbed pages of faded scores being turned over - and over. Edward Seckerson
One very simple criterion decided this selection. Which of this year's releases did I go back to after I'd reviewed them?
I'll begin with one that rather surprised me. Jacob Obrecht's Missa Maria Zart (Gimell CDGIM 032) is a 15th-century tour de force: a setting of mass text that holds the attention, almost mesmerically, for nearly 70 minutes, in a lovingly respectful performance by Peter Phillips and his virtuoso Tallis Scholars. I went back to this disc to see if the experience could possibly be repeatable. It was. Still more so was the viol group Fretwork's collection of five- and six-part Consort Setts by the Jacobean composer William Lawes (Virgin Veritas VC 5 45147 2). You'd have to look hard to find 20th-century English string music as expressive and imaginatively fertile as this.
Marc Minkowski's concert recording of Handel's La Resurrezione (Archiv 447 767 2) is another triumph for period instruments. This is the young Handel, long before the English oratorios, taking a huge risk in setting the Easter story as an opera in all but name. It's vivid, and wonderfully un-pious.
I don't think I'd call Roger Norrington's version of Bruckner's Third Symphony (EMI 5 56167 2) an unqualified triumph, but it puts a hungry cat amongst some very deserving pigeons. While some of it is simply too brusque, there's no denying the rhythmic drive and excitement, especially in the last two movements. The young English tenor Ian Bostridge takes a more tradition-conscious but entirely fresh view of another revered Viennese classic, Schubert's Die schone Mullerin (Hyperion CDJ 33025). The voice may be lightweight, but the musical intelligence and depth of feeling are exceptional.
So to the 20th century. Schoenberg's 12-tone music has a bad name nowadays, but I defy any sensitive listener not to be at least impressed by Moses und Aron, especially in this recording, made during the Peter Stein / Pierre Boulez production in Amsterdam last year (DG 449 174 2). There are scenes that draw one back: the eerie conversation at the Burning Bush, or the orgiastic, terrifying Dance Round the Golden Calf. The dark side of Dionysus also emerges in the music of Szymanowski and, in his recordings of the two Violin Concertos with Simon Rattle, Thomas Zehetmair makes more of it than most (EMI 5 55607 2). But it's balanced by feeling for the lush colours and long-breathed, folk-inflected lyricism.
Richard Hickox's new cycle of symphonies by Edmund Rubbra seems well- timed. Critical reaction suggests that it's easier now to see through the "traditionalist" surface to the rather more original heart of the music. Start with the Sixth Symphony (Chandos CHAN 9481), which has a haunting slow movement - very English but not quite like anybody else. If you already know and love Sibelius's Fifth Symphony, don't miss the original version (BIS CD 800), conducted by Osmo Vanska. The emotional character of this first version is quite different, and some of the work's most striking ideas simply aren't there - put the two versions side by side and insight follows insight.
Finally, new music by a Nordically inclined Anglo-Saxon: Diana Burrell's direct and unaffectedly individual Viola Concerto heads a set of four orchestral works, authoritatively played by the Northern Sinfonia, conducted by John Lubbock (ASV CD DCA 997). This is music with soul and grit - a refreshing antidote to all things trendy. Stephen JohnsonReuse content