1 Dunedin Consort Bach: Magnificat (Linn)
Great scholarship and tremendous musicality ensure the top spot here, as John Butt reconstructs Bach’s seasonal offering within its original liturgical setting. This is how the work would have been presented in the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig in 1723, with organ music, hymns and the Christmas Cantata 63. This Linn recording, made in Greyfriars Kirk, has so much atmosphere you’d swear you were sitting on the front pew.
2 David Watkin Bach: Cello Suites (Resonus)
Loading article content
There is, of course, a very moving story behind this recording, as the SCO’s former principal cellist (now head of strings at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) completed the last suite mere weeks before he had to give up playing because of an autoimmune condition. But this isn’t a sentimental choice: Watkin’s performance is emotionally intense, but as sensitive and searching as it is precise and informed.
3 Scottish Chamber Orchestra Haydn: Symphonies 31, 70 & 101 (Linn)
The first of two planned albums of Haydn symphonies from Robin Ticciati and the SCO ranges chronologically across the composer’s oeuvre but sticks to three D major works for thematic unity. No 101 (‘The Clock’) is the best known piece, but there’s top work here from the orchestra’s horns and a great feel for the composer’s baroque leanings on No 31.
4 Scottish Ensemble Tchaikovsky: Serenade For Strings/Shostakovich: String Quartet No 2 (Linn)
Jonathan Morton and the Scottish Ensemble bring a wonderful lightness of touch to the Tchaikovsky – a truly beautiful interpretation of a major work in the string repertoire. But that’s not all. Morton’s transcription of the Shostakovich is richer and more dramatic, a full-sounding arrangement that encourages the listener to appreciate the work from a different angle.
5 Philip Higham Bach: Suites For Solo Cello (Delphian)
It’s unfortunate that Higham’s reading of the Bach cello suites was released within months of David Watkin’s disc, which has overshadowed it on many end-of-year lists. Or, looking at it another way, it’s fortunate, as we’re now blessed with two outstanding players who pour their artistry into each and every note. Here the Edinburgh-born instrumentalist takes a clean, no fuss, technically meticulous approach to the music.
6 Sally Beamish, The Singing (BIS)
This standout collection of orchestral music by the Stirlingshire-based composer features star soloists (alto sax player Branford Marsalis on Under The Wing Of The Rock; Hakan Hardenberger on Trumpet Concerto; accordionist James Crabb on the title piece, which uses the traditional instrument to delve into Scottish history and the Highland Clearances). There’s great colour too from the RSNO and NYOS.
7 James Macmillan, St Luke Passion (Challenge Classics)
There’s remarkable orchestral and choral power in the second of Macmillan’s four planned Passions, which climbs mountainous peaks and drops into quiet valleys on this 70-minute-plus live recording with Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Choir and the National Youth Choir. Few composers today are able to state their personal faith on such impressive scale.
8 Red Note Ensemble John McLeod: Moments In Time (Delphian)
Not the easiest listening experience you’ll have this year, but one that’s rewarding on two levels: for coming afresh to McLeod’s tribute to Messiaen’s Quartet For The End Of Time, and for the dedicated playing by Red Note Ensemble, who find war and peace in the music’s moments of violence and calm.
9 Scottish National Jazz Orchestra/Makato Ozone Jeunehomme (Spartacus)
Okay, I’m breaking with convention here and slipping a big band jazz release among the classical works. But the piece in question is Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 9, as reinvented by Japanese pianist Ozone. Recorded live in 2014, the performance doesn’t mess around as cheesy pastiche: it treats Mozart’s composition with the respect it deserves, achieving thrilling conversations between soloist and ensemble.
10 Francis Macdonald Music for String Quartet, Piano and Celeste (TR7 Records)
After releasing a couple of laptop-constructed albums while on tour, the drummer from Teenage Fanclub makes a brave leap into classical composition, joined here by four members of the Scottish Ensemble. The music has a haunting minimalist quality, as strings draw out the inherent sweetness of the patterned piano melodies.