Sampling the Grammy-Nominated Classical Releases

Email a Friend

FREE Download: Maria João Pires plays Schubert’s Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, Fourth Movement

The Grammy Awards take place on Sunday, Jan. 26, and of the 82 categories, eight will go to classical music-related releases. Along with jazz, world music and other less mainstream categories, they'll be handed out in a ceremony prior to the telecast (but video-streamed online). To get you primed, here are recordings by nine standout nominees. A complete list is available at


Sibelius's Symphonies 1 and 4: Minnesota Orchestra; Osmo Vanska, conductor; BIS (Best Orchestral Performance)
Available at

With the 15-month lockout behind it, the Minnesota Orchestra can now look ahead to its first concerts in its renovated Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis, scheduled for Feb. 7-15. This battle-weary orchestra may have even more to celebrate if a Grammy goes to the group's recording of Sibelius's Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4, recorded prior to the labor dispute with (now former) music director Osmo Vanska. While not as popular as some of Sibelius's other works, these performances have deep strain of Nordic beauty.


Schumann Symphony No. 2 and Overtures: Claudio Abbado, conductor; Orchestra Mozart (Best Orchestral Performance)
Available at

The prognosis is less hopeful for Orchestra Mozart, an ensemble that the late conductor Claudio Abbado founded 10 years ago. The Bologna, Italy-based orchestra announced this month that it will be temporarily suspending operations, due to cuts in government funding. The orchestra hadn't performed since last summer, and Abbado's death on Monday will have other obvious implications. Nevertheless, this recording of Schumann is a strong reminder of the ensemble's accomplishments.


Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Apollo: Berlin Philharmonic; Simon Rattle (Best Orchestral Performance)
Available at

As featured last year, Rattle and Berlin made arguably the strongest Rite of Spring recording in many years, timed to the 100th anniversary of the work's seminal premiere, packed with plenty of drama and virtuoso playing.


Times Go By Turns: New York Polyphony
Music by Byrd, Plummer, Tallis and others
Available at

The sumptuous sound of English Renaissance music takes center stage in New York Polyphony's latest recording featuring masses by Thomas Tallis and William Byrd, as well as a three-voice Mass setting by their little-known predecessor, John Plummer. Rounding out the collection are three new works written for the quartet by composers Gabriel Jackson, Andrew Smith and the late Sir Richard Rodney Bennett. As the ensemble told WQXR last year, the recording was made in a small church in rural Sweden, and the acoustic captures the quartet's vibrant, crystalline sound.

Below: New York Polyphony performs Byrd:

Arvo Part: Adam’s Lament: Latvian Radio Choir; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; Tonu Kaljuste, conductor (Best Choral Performance and Best Contemporary Classical Composition)
Available at

One of today's most popular composers, Estonian Arvo Pärt wrote the title work of this album in 2009, on a joint commission from the cities of Tallinn and Istanbul. It sets the poetic lamentations of St. Silouan, a Russian Orthodox monk on Mount Athos in Greece; the piece appropriately has a mystical quality, combining choral homophony and higher string sounds. Several shorter, equally beautiful pieces round out the recording, each bathed in a halo of sound.


Beethoven’s Complete Violin Sonatas; Leonidas Kavakos, violin; Enrico Pace, piano (Best Chamber Music Performance)
Available at

Known as a fiddler's fiddler, Leonidas Kavakos made his Decca debut last year with a set of the complete Beethoven violin sonatas. Joined by pianist Enrico Pace, Kavakos delivers performances that have a nice sense of scale. Melodies are often vigorous but appropriate to Beethoven, an expressive vibrato is just warm enough.


Schubert Piano Sonatas: Maria João Pires, piano (Best Classical Instrumental Solo)
Available at

The Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires takes on Schubert's two most ambitious sonatas: the Piano Sonata in B flat major, D. 960 and the Piano Sonata in A minor, D. 845. Throughout she captures the music's grandeur, structural sweep and lyricism.


Wagner: Jonas Kaufmann; Deutsche Oper Berlin Orchestra under Donald Runnicles (Best Classical Vocal Solo)
Available at

When Kaufmann's Wagner recital album arrived last year, the late Marion Lignana Rosenberg wrote for Operavore, "The prize of Kaufmann’s latest Decca the prayer from Rienzi, 'Allmächtiger Vater, blick herab,' which he begins in a rapt mezza voce and builds slowly to a ringing climax. He sings the complete version of the Grail narrative from Lohengrin with melting beauty and a sense of mystery...And who knew that a tenor could bring such vulnerability to the Wesendonck-Lieder (in Felix Mottl’s orchestration)? Wagner called “Im Triebhaus” and “Träume” “studies for Tristan und Isolde.” Dare we hope that the same holds true for Kaufmann?"


“Mission:” Cecilia Bartoli/I Barocchisti (Best Classical Vocal Solo)
Available at

Cecilia Bartoli is bald, vaguely sinister, and in ecclesiastical drag on the cover of her latest recording, "Mission." The packaging is classic Bartoli. Thankfully, so are the performances, which showcase the long-forgotten composer Agostino Steffani (1654–1728). The album was nothing if not thoroughly researched and the music is frequently revelatory. Read more on Operavore.


Free Download:

There are two easy ways to access the free download:

1. Through WQXR's Facebook Page

2. Sign-up below for our weekly e-newsletter, which goes out on Thursdays. The track will be available as you sign up. For current subscribers, the download will be included in the newsletter itself.