Which of this year’s records will stand the test of time?

Which of this year’s records will stand the test of time?


norman lebrecht

December 17, 2021

Choosing an album of the year is never easy. In a pandemic period of alternating isolation and emergence there are additional pressures and distortions. A performance that overwhelms you one week can seem ephemeral the next. Marketing hype melts like the snows of yesteryear. An eye-catching cover offers nothing to the ear.

That said, 2021 has yielded more memorable albums than I can count on the fingers of two hands.

I drew up a longlist yesterday to get some perspective. I’ve now whittled those selections down to three.

The new partnership of German baritone Matthias Goerne and Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho on Deutsche Grammophon will still take our breath away ten years from now. Performing drawingroom Lieder of Richard Wagner Hans Pfitzner and Richard Strauss, the pair take us into unimagined realms of fantasy and fulfilment. A major contender for record of the decade.

The  Canadian mezzo Emily D’Angelo has made the boldest debut recording in years – songs by women, many of them young and alive (DG). This is gateway music of a very high order.

It has been the toughest year I can remember for string quartets, with three leading ensembles giving up the ghost and others fretting how to rebuild their connection with a homebound public. For sheer beauty and brave decision making, the Ebène Quartet (Erato) leave the rest of the field breathless. Fresh from a world-encircling Beethoven tour, they took up a pair of modern nocturnalities by Schoenberg and Dutilleux, augmenting them with new settings of nightclub songs, winding up on Moon River without a care in the world. Exhilarating? Just what the pandemic expert ordered.

By the narrowest of margins, I declare this my Album of the Year.

More here.

And here.

En francais ici.

In The Critic here.


  • Concertgebouw79 says:

    Yeol Eum Son’s Kapustin album was fantastic. A shame that it didn’t have more publicity. Same thing for the Villa Lobos symphonies box by the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra. Marvelous. Both are not from big houses. There’s a life outside of Decca and DG.

  • PS says:

    “That nocturnal witchcraft that humans have always had a sense of is an infinite source of inspiration.”


  • MR says:

    The Arnold Schoenberg music included brings to mind how he had a sometimes humorous relationship with Gustav Mahler.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    Without disputing the choice of disc, it suddenly strikes me that in this, the 500th anniversary year of Josquin des Prez’s death, I don’t recall having seen any mention of his music or of the new CDs of his music here. I could be wrong…

  • Frank Flambeau says:

    The painting on the cover is certainly fantastic.

  • Bloom says:

    Edward Gardner Chandos recording, “Verklärte Nacht” , the one which begins with a bizarre, hallucinatory Lehar, is also interesting.

  • Kenny says:

    I know it’s got to be me, but I just don’t get Goerne’s message. Heard him live only a few times (Papageno, Wozzeck) and a bunch of Lieder recordings until I gave up in utter frustration. (Can’t possibly imagine him as Wotan. Even Wolfram would be a stretch too far.) I have a similar problem with Hampson

    That said, maybe I’ll risk the new CD. That’s how one gets to 6000 and 60.