Best of the rest: the classical CDs we missed in 2022 | Classical music

Despite more than a decade now of dire predictions of the terminal decline of the classical recording industry there’s still no sign of its imminent demise. Companies may come and go, and the emphasis of the repertory may shift from year to year, but the quantity of discs and downloads issued by both familiar and unfamiliar labels seems undiminished. There are so many new discs to sample each month that if you ask any two classical enthusiasts to name their standout releases of the year, it’s unlikely that there will be much overlap. What we do review sometimes seems barely to scratch the surface of what’s available and what deserves attention.

In a perfect world, for instance, Bru Zane’s release of one of the authentic “grand operas”, Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable, based on performances in Bordeaux conducted by Marc Minkowski, with John Osborn and Erin Morley outstanding as Robert and Isabelle respectively, should have got a column to itself, as would the latest instalment of John Nelson’s Berlioz series for Warner Classics, pairing Les Nuits d’Été with Harold en Italie, with Michael Spyres as the soloist in the song cycle, and Timothy Ridout as the viola player in Harold.

Sehnsucht, the latest themed disc on Alpha from Barbara Hannigan with the baritone Raoul Steffani combines ensemble arrangements of Berg’s Seven Early Songs and Op 2 set with a rather less convincingly scaled down version of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. And Alpha’s other two star sopranos Sandrine Piau and Véronique Gens, join forces for Rivales, an album of 18th-century arias, including numbers from operas by Cherubini, Gluck, Grétry and JC Bach, that is by turns exquisite and dazzling.

The sheer excellence of some releases only seems to increase with repeated listening. Paul Lewis’s survey of late Brahms, for Harmonia Mundi, taking in the piano pieces of Opp 116–119, has been one example of that, showing that Lewis’s Brahms is as poised and unfussy as his Mozart or Schubert. Steven Osborne’s latest Rachmaninov collection (Hyperion) pairs the Moments Musicaux with the fearsomely difficult First Sonata, and there’s more superb keyboard technique on display in Alexander Ullman’s barnstorming coupling of the two Liszt piano concertos, with Andrew Litton conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra for Rubicon, and with Liszt’s B minor Sonata thrown in for good measure.

The year’s most significant musical anniversary, the bicentenary of the birth of César Franck, was marked mostly by reissues of classic performances, but among the newly minted offerings was an unflashy yet thoroughly musical pairing on Genuin of Franck’s two best known chamber works, the String Quartet and Piano Quintet from the Eliot Quartett and pianist Dmitry Ablogin.

French composer Charlotte Sohy (1887-1955) aged 40. Photograph: Handout

Chandos’s disc of the music of the Hungarian-Croatian Dora Pejačević, with Sakari Oramo and the BBCSO, includes a piano concerto (with Peter Donohoe as the energetic soloist) alongside her Symphony in F sharp minor. Rachmaninov was the obvious model in both works, but there’s Franck and Dvořák in the mix for the symphony too, but there’s enough originality in both works to make one wonder what direction Pejačeviċ’s music might have taken had she not died at the age of 37 in 1923.

Pejačeviċ’s music may now be reasonably well represented on disc, but that of the French composer Charlotte Sohy, born two years after the former in 1887, is hardly known at all. Sohy’s works are the subject of the first release from the label La Boîte à Pépites, which will concentrate on the work of women composers; there are discs here of her piano pieces, orchestral music, and most impressive of all, her two string quartets, composed in 1933 and 1947; it’s a set that certainly deserves exploration.

Andrew Clements’ 10 picks

Eliot Quartett: Le Temps Retrouvé (Genuin)
Meyerbeer: Robert Le Diable (Bru Zane)
Paul Lewis: Brahms Late Piano Pieces (Harmonia Mundi)
Barbara Hannigan: Berg Sehnsucht (Alpha Classics)
John Nelson/Strasbourg Phil: Berlioz Nuits d’été, Harold in Italy (Warner Classics)
Dora Pejačević: Symphony, Piano Concerto (Chandos)
Steven Osborne: Rachmaninov (Hyperion)
Véronique Gens & Sandrine Piau: Rivales (Alpha)
Alexander Ullman: Liszt Concertos (Rubicon)
Charlotte Sohy: Complete Works (La Boîte à Pépite)


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