First things first: this is not a "Top Ten" list. All of our CDs of the Week are Top Ten-worthy, so instead, we asked our staff an even harder question: which CD of the Week was your number one favorite this year?
Here are our picks for the best classical music album releases of 2018.
The Standout Favorite
Not only was this album the winner of our Twitter #CDOTWOTY bracket, but two separate members of our staff chose it as well!
Jay Fondin: My favorite CD of the Week is Sheku Kanneh-Mason's "Inspiration." Sheku and his family are an amazing bunch of musicians, but I'm blown away by his love for the cello every time I see or hear him play - you can tell how much fun he's having! Plus, the CD is packed with some of my cello favorites.
Laura Carlo: You will be astounded to learn that Sheku Kanneh-Mason was just 18 when his first CD, "Inspiration," was released earlier this year. Whether playing Saint-Saens' "The Swan" or Leonard Cohen's "Alleluia" his cello sings, dances and weeps with mastery and warmth. Two notes in and I pegged him as a budding superstar.
Chris Voss: You can tell when a musician has something to say. It’s a hard feeling to describe, but you can just tell; more than the requisite notes and phrasing, a musician with something to say imbues their playing with a heart-felt narrative core that separates them from the herd. And to my ears, the 25-year-old French guitarist Thibaut Garcia always has something to say. It’s what made him such a joy to watch perform live when he joined us at WCRB in 2016, and it's what makes his 2018 album Bach Inspirations such an enjoyable listen, and my choice for best CD of the Week of the Year.
Brian McCreath: When it comes to Yo-Yo Ma, impeccable, imaginative performances are just the beginning of the story. His ability to see beyond the intrinsic rewards of any particular piece or collection of music to find a deeper meaning to us as a community of listeners is unparalleled. That’s why, when you hear his third (and, according to him, last) recording of these cornerstones of the cello repertoire, you’re opening an invitation, one that Ma has extended to thousands of people around the world, to embrace each other’s presence and possibility.
Rani Schloss: Ray Chen's "The Golden Age" is like an extremely satisfying meal: a main course (Bruch's Violin Concerto) flawlessly executed, surrounded by many an amuse-bouche that delight and surprise you. Chen's string quartet, Made in Berlin, joins him on this album in a few tantalizing reinterpretations of pieces you may have heard many times before, but these versions (arrangements by cellist Stephan Koncz) take the old melodies in a completely new direction. I can't say enough how much I enjoyed listening to this album, and eagerly await what comes next from Ray Chen and Made in Berlin.
Kendall Todd: I've said it before, and I'll say it again: there is nobody who plays Bach with more clarity, grace, and precision than Hilary Hahn. Revisiting Bach's solo violin music 20 years after releasing her first recording, Hahn proves that taking a second look at even the most timeless music can lead to new discoveries. Her tone is sure, and the sound she creates is pure beauty. This album is a must-have.
Colin Brumley: There’s a special block of time on Saturday afternoons – between breakfast and heading to a band rehearsal – when I sink into something by Debussy. To accompany drinking my own weight in coffee to start the day, I pick a few selections to stir the creativity for my own music-making that’s about to happen; the most frequent guest is Debussy’s Images. In the collection of six vignettes for solo piano, Debussy works his sound-painting magic to evoke specific scenes, and when Stephen Hough recorded an all-Debussy album (which includes Images), I was absolutely thrilled that we chose it as the first CD of the Week of 2018.
Cathy Fuller: The rapturous piano music of Scriabin is utterly unique, and channeling its mysticism requires huge amounts of technique, imagination and heart. Vadym Kholodenko has it all, and uses it for this wildly colorful tour of Scriabin’s world – from the tender to the fiery. Stunning.
Alan McLellan: My selection for the CDOTWOTY is Stephen Hough’s “Dream Album." It’s perfect, not because it’s perfectly played (which it is!) but because it creates such a perfect mood of calm, or release from the world. Stephen Hough creates a personal dreamscape with these pieces, inviting listeners to join with him to "suspend the reality of our ordinary lives,” as he writes in the notes. And that’s exactly what we need right now.