10 of the best classical music stocking fillers to give this Christmas
21 November 2019, 14:14 | Updated: 21 November 2019, 14:21
David Mellor is a Classic FM presenter and music expert.
Stuck for Christmas gift ideas? Here’s a selection of the finest recently-released classical recordings that could make great stocking fillers for the music lovers in your life.
A puppy, is not only for Christmas, but for life, they say.
The same is true of a CD. It offers a lifetime of listening pleasure – and you don’t have to walk it, or clean up after it. It really is a gift that keeps on giving.
If you’re looking for the perfect stocking-filler this Christmas, look no further than these ten wonderful recent classical recordings.
Wien – Jonas Kaufmann (Sony)
Jonas Kaufmann is one of the great tenors of today, and a singer with a remarkable range.
As a German, he’s most at home in Austro-German music, and here he makes a fine fist of a series of Viennese songs and arias about Vienna itself.
There are popular favourites like the Merry Widow duet ‘Lippen Schweigen’, with a tune everybody knows.
But also charming, and sometimes poignant rarities, like Hans May’s ‘Es Wird Im Leben’ from a 1935 movie.
Beethoven/Sibelius: Violin Concertos – Christian Tetzlaff (Ondine)
Concertos are a good way of getting people into music, or allowing established concerto lovers to hear popular favourites a bit differently.
Both these concertos are played with real insight, and not just treated as display pieces.
This Ondine recording is excellent.
Beethoven: The Piano Concertos – Ronald Brautigam (BIS)
But the fortepianist Ronald Brautigam, and his Cologne-based original instrument band, offer the opportunity of hearing these concertos as they might have been heard in Beethoven’s time.
I get a lot of joy out of Ronald Brautigam’s many fortepiano recordings, and this is amongst the best of them.
Excellent value too, with all five concertos on two CDs, amounting to almost 2 hours 40 minutes of music.
Mussorksy: Pictures at an Exhibition – RLPO/Petrenko (Onyx)
There’s nothing like an orchestral showpiece to give you a chance to have your mind blown with some really loud stuff. So what about these ones?
Classic FM’s orchestra in the North West, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra – under their long serving and charismatic Music Director Vasily Petrenko – are on dazzling form here with Ravel’s wonderful orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and other lush and romantic Russian stuff like the Adagio from Khachaturian’s Spartacus.
Good value this, at 74 minutes.
Eric Coates: Orchestral Music, Vol. 1 – John Wilson (Chandos)
John Wilson has been recording Eric Coates for more than 20 years and is totally devoted – as am I – to Britain’s King of Light Music, who between the wars was one of the best known of all British musicians.
He’s still out there a bit, with By The Sleepy Lagoon, featured here, a well known radio signature tune, and the Dambusters March (to come in a future volume) also rightly regarded as one of Britain’s finest marches.
Here you get a fine selection of Coates’s well crafted orchestral music, including, at the end, what is arguably the greatest piece of light music ever written in these islands, his London Suite.
These three movements feature the hustle and bustle of the old Covent Garden market, nocturnal contemplation at Westminster (as if!), and the fabulous Knightsbridge March with an instantly memorable tune.
J.S. Bach: Solo Piano Works – Víkingur Ólafsson (Deutsche Grammophon)
It’s been a wonderful breakthrough year for this young Icelandic pianist.
His playing on a grand piano of some of Bach’s greatest melodies, and most contemplative pieces, makes ideal late night listening.
Ólafsson’s two-CD set also includes what are called Reworks, i.e. reflections by other composers on some of Bach’s finest inspirations.
Perfect peaceful listening.
Dreamtime – Emmanuel Pahud (Warner Classics)
For those a bit more adventurous, who want to discover new things, what about Emmanuel Pahud’s Dreamtime?
Here he features almost unknown music for the flute including a fine concerto by Carl Reinecke, who conducted the Leipzig Gewandhaus for more than 30 years in the 19th century.
Pahud, who plays most beautifully throughout, also finds a Mozart rarity, the Andante for Flute and Orchestra that will be a joyous discovery for many.
Beethoven: Complete Piano Sonatas – Igor Levit (Sony)
Now for a bargain box...
Igor Levit has taken the musical world by storm, and is rightly described on the cover of this box by the New York Times as “one of the essential artists of our time”.
No one should be without a Beethoven Piano Sonata set.
I can’t say this is the very best – no reflection of Levit, it’s just the competition is too hot for that – but Levit is a young man who will surely attract young music lovers who want to know more about Beethoven to listen to this.
No one, I swear, will be disappointed.
Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker – Vladimir Jurowski (Pentatone)
For something christmassy, you could do worse than Jurowski’s Nutcracker.
Since Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker is set on Christmas Eve, it’s inevitably often put on at Christmas.
Quite right too, though I love it every month of the year.
Vladimir Jurowski, so well known to us because of his work with the London Philharmonic and at Glyndebourne, here presents a fine performance of the complete ballet with a Russian orchestra dedicated to one of the greatest maestros of the Soviet era, Evgeny Svetlanov.
Vaughan Williams: Orchestral Music – Andrew Manze (Onyx)
And – my ultimate Christmas stocking choice? Andrew Manze’s collection of VW.
Andrew Manze, once so well known as a baroque violinist, is now making a real name for himself as a conductor.
Having recorded all of VW’s symphonies with Classic FM’s Orchestra in the North West, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, he has now produced a marvellous 70 minute-plus album of all of Vaughan Williams’s orchestral favourites, brilliantly played.
The Lark ascends, the Tallis Variations gets another run out, Greensleeves sounds most beautiful here, and room is found for excellent performances of the Dives and Lazarus Variants, and the English Folk Song Suite.
If you only get one of these stocking fillers, this is the one to have.
Even if you know this music well, these performances and this recording are absolutely splendiferous.
Listen to my show at 7pm on Sunday 15 December, to hear extracts from all these recordings as I search for the best classical stocking-fillers for the ones you love.