The 2000s: 25 Great Recordings | Presto Music
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 Favourites, The 2000s: 25 Great Recordings

Great Recordings of the 2000s

As our series of Great Recordings by Decade moves into the twenty-first century, the steady rise of independent record-labels makes its presence felt, with Naive's pioneering Vivaldi Edition and Sir John Eliot Gardiner's Bach Cantatas project on Soli Deo Gloria among the editorial team's favourites. The London Symphony Orchestra's own in-house label (founded in 1999) also emerges as a force to be reckoned with, represented here by electrifying live recordings of Berlioz, Prokofiev and Strauss.

You can also browse the first four instalments of this series, focusing on the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s; stay tuned for our selections from the 1950s and 2010s in the coming weeks, and we'll be running a special offer on the whole series as part of our anniversary celebrations in October.

Simon Keenlyside (Prospero), Kate Royal (Miranda), Toby Spence (Ferdinand), Ian Bostridge (Caliban), Cyndia Sieden (Ariel), Philip Langridge (Alonso); Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Thomas Adès

Adès conjures Shakespeare's isle full of noises with skills worthy of Prospero himself on this studio recording, made hot on the heels of the opera's 2007 premiere; Sieden's insouciant handling of Ariel's stratospheric antics certainly impresses, but the true magic is worked by Royal and Spence in the luminous music for the young lovers and by Bostridge, whose eloquence reminds us that Caliban is no mere 'thing of darkness'. (Katherine Cooper)

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Marc-André Hamelin (piano)

Hamelin despatches Alkan's frequently fiendish technical challenges with an irresistible combination of clarity, brilliance and sheer delight in the music, finding beauty and poetry even in the densest passages and paving the way for future champions of the composer such as Mark Viner and Paul Wee, who went on to explore his weird and often wonderful world in the late 2010s. (Katherine Cooper)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir, John Eliot Gardiner

The opening recording in John Eliot Gardiner’s groundbreaking Cantata Pilgrimage – the complete cantatas of JS Bach, recorded live by the Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists and an array of magnificent soloists. Beginning in medias res with works written for the Feast of John the Baptist and the start of the long church season of Trinity, they are every bit as fascinating as pieces devoted to the major festivals. The first instalment of a truly revelatory project. (David Smith)

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC

Carolyn Sampson (soprano I), Rachel Nicholls (soprano II), Robin Blaze (alto), Gerd Türk (tenor), Peter Kooij (bass); Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki

A deeply serious reading of Bach’s magisterial Mass, from the sheer intensity of the opening consonants of ‘Kyrie’ to the meditative pacing of the more subdued tutti choruses. That’s not to say that the fireworks, when they come, are in any way lacking; Cum Sancto Spiritu and Et resurrexit both sparkle, and the closing Dona nobis traces an elegant, unhurried ascent from its understated beginning to a majestic, solemn conclusion. (David Smith)

Available Formats: 2 SACDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

BBC Philharmonic, Vernon Handley

My own acquaintance with Vernon Handley may centre around his benchmark Vaughan Williams cycle, but his tireless work as an advocate for Bax’s long-neglected music is no less noteworthy – and shows through in every bar of this magisterial collection. The swirling colours of Bax’s impressionistic idiom are vivid under Handley’s baton, but the richly detailed tonal palette never comes at the cost of the larger-scale picture and the overall forward motion of these incredible symphonic tapestries. (David Smith)

Available Formats: 5 CDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Though we’ve heard many wonderful Beethoven quartet cycles since its release, the Takács Quartet remain a benchmark for modern studio recordings of Beethoven’s quartets for both their interpretive insight and technical brilliance of their playing. There’s also a wonderful sense of balance throughout, not only acoustically between the four players but also in the performances themselves, providing the space for Beethoven’s music to shine through even brighter. (Paul Thomas)

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Few Beethoven sonata cycles have successfully captured so many facets of the composers personality as Paul Lewis’s - from the Haydn-esque humour and youthful brio he brings to the early sonatas, through the effortless yet never overt virtuosity of his playing of the great ‘heroic’ middle period works, and finally the deeply felt humanity present in the late sonatas, with Lewis’s incredibly moving Adagio from the ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata a particular highlight. (Paul Thomas)

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis

Berlioz expert Colin Davis re-recorded many of the composer's works during his tenure as Principal Conductor of the LSO; perhaps the finest of them is this account of the Symphonie fantastique. It has everything you could want, moving from graceful charm in the ball sequence to manic glee in the March to the Scaffold, topped off with impressively eerie effects in the final Witches' Sabbath (not least a shrieking E flat clarinet, demonic tubas and bassoons, and ghoulishly creepy col legno strings). (James Longstaffe)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Andrew Manze (violin), Richard Egarr (organ and harpsichord), Alison McGillivray (cello - Sonata XII)

Two of the most significant figures in early music, Andrew Manze and Richard Egarr, come together to present a fresh account of Biber’s fifteen devotional sonatas, dramatising the Rosary Mysteries via Biber’s famous use of increasingly agonised scordaturas. Manze’s decision to eschew a large bass section creates a sense of intimacy, and his relatively hands-off approach to the melody (with little ornamentation or melodrama) encourages interpretation and contemplation on the listener’s part. (David Smith)

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Peter Straka, Jan Vacík, Zdenek Plech, Maria Haan, Roman Janál, Martina Bauerová, Ales Briscein, Jaroslav Brezina & Václav Sibera; BBC Singers & BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jirí Belohlávek

One of Bělohlávek's finest achievements on disc, this 2008 recording of Janáček's madcap opera about a drunken landlord's trips to the moon and the fifteenth century makes one wonder why the piece has never achieved the popularity of The Cunning Little Vixen: even the smallest roles are beautifully characterised, and the wit, warmth and energy of the score all come across loud and clear. (Chris O'Reilly)

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Simon Keenlyside (Count), Véronique Gens (Countess), Patrizia Ciofi (Susanna), Lorenzo Regazzo (Figaro), Angelika Kirchschlager (Cherubino), Marie McLaughlin (Marcellina); Collegium Vocale Gent, Concerto Köln, René Jacobs

Though it's a studio recording, Jacobs's pacey (but never too hard-driven) Figaro crackles with all the energy of a staged performance, with everyone down to the drunken gardener and his daughter sounding completely inside their roles; first among equals, though, are Gens and Keenlyside, who convey every nuance of the Almavivas' toxic relationship, whilst Jacobs himself provides some sly, well-integrated musical commentary from the harpsichord. (Katherine Cooper)

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Sir Charles Mackerras

Period informed but with modern instruments, Mackerras’s recording of Mozart’s final 4 symphonies with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra strikes a perfect synthesis between the historically informed approach pioneered by the likes of Trevor Pinnock and the great orchestral traditions of the past. Phrasing is crisp, balance is ideal and tempi (quick but never feeling rushed) are perfectly judged. (Paul Thomas)

Available Formats: 2 SACDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

London Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev

From the moment that the silky LSO strings begin the Act One Introduction, it's clear that this recording of Prokofiev's complete ballet is going to be packed with character, beauty, and drama. Valery Gergiev captures the changing moods effortlessly, from the tender simplicity of the Balcony Scene to the raw emotion of the Death of Juliet, whilst the famous Dance of the Knights is full of power and heft. (James Longstaffe)

Available Formats: 2 SACDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Angela Gheorghiu (Butterfly), Jonas Kaufmann (Pinkerton), Enkelejda Shkosa (Suzuki), Fabio Capitanucci (Sharpless), Gregory Bonfatti (Goro) & Raymond Aceto (Bonze); Orchestra e Coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Antonio Pappano

The Romanian soprano captures Cio-Cio San's vulnerability and growing desperation to perfection on this studio recording from 2009; she's especially touching in the great love-duet which closes Act One, where her fragility contrasts movingly with Kaufmann's virile, assertively-sung Pinkerton; Fabio Capitanucci makes an understated but profoundly sympathetic Consul, and Pappano shapes and paces the drama quite magnificently. (Katherine Cooper)

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC

This music demands a huge variety of different sound-worlds: at times the quartet need to supply sheer beauty and tenderness, at others their sound must be intense and rich, and elsewhere exciting and full of rhythmic vitality. The Ebènes encompass all of this with ease - and, what’s more, the ensemble is so perfectly blended that unless you're following the score you'll often have no idea when the melody passes from one instrument to another. (Chris O'Reilly)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Joyce DiDonato (mezzo), Orchestra dell' Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Edoardo Muller

The American mezzo was already an acclaimed Rosina and Cenerentola when this scintillating recital of excerpts from operas written for Isabelle Colbran (whom Rossini married in 1822) appeared in 2009, but she proves no less compelling in the opera seria roles which make up the bulk of this programme - arias from Semiramide, Armida and La donna del lago showcase her immaculate coloratura and pearly top notes, and she brings real pathos to Desdemona's Willow Song from Otello. (Katherine Cooper)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Annick Massis (Matilde), Juan Diego Florez (Corradino Cuor di Ferro), Bruno Taddia (Raimondo Lopez), Hadar Halevy (Edoardo); Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia, Riccardo Frizza

Eight years before this live recording from Pesaro, Flórez had become an overnight star at the festival when he replaced an ailing Bruce Ford in the hugely taxing role of the 'iron-hearted' misogynist who eventually sees the error of his ways; his electrifying first entry (and indeed everything that follows) shows exactly why, though some pin-sharp ensemble-singing and Massis's elegant heroine ensure that this is far more than a one-man show. (Katherine Cooper)

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Stephen Hough (piano), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo

With performances as persuasive as these, it makes one wonder why these works aren't played more often. My favourite is probably the fifth concerto, nicknamed the Egyptian, in which the joy that both Stephen Hough and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under conductor Sakari Oramo bring to the last movement is quite palpable. (James Longstaffe)

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC

London Symphony Orchestra, Bernard Haitink

Bernard Haitink and the London Symphony Orchestra give us a gripping, masterfully-paced account of Richard Strauss's Alpine adventure. The climax of the storm is so shattering that it almost sounds as if parts of the Barbican are collapsing! Brass playing is sensational throughout: the trombones' pedal G as the protagonists reach the summit is worth the price of the disc alone! (James Longstaffe)

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Jonas Kaufmann (tenor), Helmut Deutsch (piano)

Released two years before his debut on Decca with Romantic Arias, this heady programme of Strauss songs offers more opportunity to bask in the German tenor's gifts for shading text and honing his beefy sound down to magical pianissimi; that said, the ardent, no-holds-barred accounts of Cäcilie and Heimliche Aufforderung already signal that Parsifal, Lohengrin and Siegmund beckon.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

The Polish pianist's love for the music of his compatriot shines through in every bar of this magical recital, which won the Instrumental Prize at the 2006 Gramophone Awards; he's superbly attuned to every shift in colour and texture, revealing a wealth of tiny details that often get obscured on rival recordings, and bringing Tantris the Clown and Don Juan (Masques) to life with glittering, puckish charm. (Chris O'Reilly)

Available Formats: Presto CD, MP3, FLAC

Oxford Camerata, Jeremy Summerly

Tallis’s iconic Spem in alium needs no introduction. Neither do Jeremy Summerly and his Oxford Camerata; producing a number of groundbreaking recordings of early music, largely for Naxos in the 1990s and 2000s, they played a major role in bringing music of this era to a wider audience. This is one of their finest; their textural clarity is enviable in Spem, a motet that is notoriously unwieldy to perform, and the Missa salve intemerata is a beautiful glimpse into the pre-Reformation style of the young Tallis. (David Smith)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Rachel Podger (violin), Arte dei Suonatori

Few recordings of Vivaldi’s concertos have left such a thrilling impression as Rachel Podger’s of the Red Priest’s Op. 4 set, extravagantly titled ‘La Stravaganza’. Vivaldi’s musical invention throughout the 12 concertos is matched only by Rachel Podger’s dexterity and virtuosity, which is at times jaw-dropping, and the Polish Arte dei Suonatori Baroque orchestra provide full-bloodied accompaniment. (Paul Thomas)

Available Formats: 2 SACDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Rather like Paul McCreesh's Venetian Vespers (which featured in our Top 25 Recordings of the 1990s), this is an artist's impression of the sort of programme which might have been heard in Venice during Vivaldi's lifetime, and Alessandrini and company deliver red-blooded accounts of the Red Priest's music, with energetic ensemble-playing and some ravishing solo contributions from Sara Mingardo and Roberta Invernizzi. An early highlight from Naive's ambitious ongoing Vivaldi project. (Katherine Cooper)

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Polyphony, Stephen Layton

Arguably the recording that catapulted Eric Whitacre to his status as one of the most beloved of contemporary choral composers, this album from Polyphony and Stephen Layton is a stunning collection of ravishingly-sung pieces, including the gloriously scrunchy harmonies of Sleep, Lux aurumque, and i thank You God for most this amazing day, the touching directness of A boy and a girl, and the unbearably intense grief of Whitacre's thirteen-minute setting of the biblical lament, When David heard. (James Longstaffe)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC