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The Best Classical Music Albums Released in 2024 (So Far)

Cristian Măcelaru, Music Director of the Orchestre National de France.
courtesy of the artist
Cristian Măcelaru, Music Director of the Orchestre National de France.

At least as far as new classical releases are concerned, 2024 could not be off to a more exciting start. Halfway through the year, with hundreds of inspired new albums to choose from, here are five of our favorites.

Dorothy Howell: Orchestral Works
BBC Concert Orchestra, Rebecca Miller (conductor)

The last half-decade has seen a long overdue revival of interest in music composed by 20th-century British women, including Ruth Gipps, Dame Ethel Smyth, and Rebecca Clarke. This thoughtfully-crafted release from conductor Rebecca Miller and the BBC Concert Orchestra finally shines light on their contemporary Dorothy Howell, whose vibrant orchestral writing has remained curiously neglected. Four of the five featured works on this album are premiere recordings, assembled from manuscripts given to Miller after a chance encounter with the executors of the composer’s estate. Miller’s scholarship and commitment to unearthing Howell’s extensive legacy shine through every note.

Enescu: Symphonies Nos. 1-3 & Romanian Rhapsodies 1 & 2
Orchestre National de France, Cristian Mǎcelaru (conductor)

Philadelphians fortunate enough to have experienced Cristian Mǎcelaru during his recent tenure as The Philadelphia Orchestra’s assistant conductor (and later conductor-in-residence) know how gifted he is at navigating the rhythmic complexities of 20th-century Central and Eastern European repertoire. This Romanian conductor’s second Deutsche Grammophon release with the Orchestre National de France — he’s served as the ensemble’s music director since 2020 — applies the same lightness of touch and innate sense of pacing to the music of his countryman George Enescu. Like a parent untangling their child’s shoelaces moments before the school bus arrives, Mǎcelaru teases clear phrases and lines out of Enescu’s knotty, kaleidoscopic scores with masterful urgency.

Mozart: Overtures
Cologne Academy, Michael Alexander Willens (conductor)

Compared to the other more esoteric picks on this list, the suggestion of an album of Mozart opera overtures — which exist by the dozen — may feel like having a grilled cheese plopped onto the table in the middle of an expensive tasting menu. Hesitate not: there is nothing more delicious than the basics executed to perfection. The Cologne Academy and their longtime music director Michael Alexander Willens extract maximal flavor from Mozart’s curtain-raisers, finding a perfect blend of sweetness, acidity, and heat in these scintillating performances.

Maya Beiser x Terry Riley: In C
Maya Beiser (cello & electronics), Shane Shanahan & Matt Kilmer (percussion)

In the performing directions for his 1964 work In C, the composer Terry Riley stipulates that “a group of 35 [musicians] is desired” to play the piece. He then offers a terse concession: “Smaller or larger groups will work.” Cellist Maya Beiser, joined by percussionists Shane Shanahan and Matt Kilmer, make the most of Riley’s caveat in this riveting reinvention of his minimalist masterpiece, six decades after its premiere. Beiser’s amplified cello creates a chasm of sound that seems to engulf time and space, weaving together dozens of looped patterns into an infinitely mesmerizing mesh.

Rethinking the Well-Tempered Clavier
Calmus Ensemble, Natalya Pasichnyk (piano)

The fleet-fingered Ukrainian-Swedish Natalya Pasichnyk pianist offers two visions of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier: the first is traditional, a deft and assured reading of the 24 preludes and fugues contained in Book I of Bach’s seminal keyboard masterpiece. The second is radical, based on a theory by the Ukrainian musicologist Boleslaw Javorsky that Bach intended the Well-Tempered Clavier “an artistic interpretation of the images and plots of the bible,” with each of its preludes and fugues harmonically corresponding to a different Lutheran chorale. For this alternative interpretation, Pasichnyk is joined by the Leipzig-based singers of the Calmus Ensemble, who approach this project with similar open-mindedness and sensitivity.

Listen to music from these new releases and dozens more on WRTI and streaming at WRTI.org. Eager for a few more? Here are five more 2024 releases absolutely worth hearing. 

But Not My Soul: Price, Dvořák & Giddens
Ragazze Quartet

‘Diavolo’: Giuseppe Tartini - 6 Violin Sonatas
La Serenissima, Adrian Chandler (violin)

Max Reger: Melancholy
Huelgas-Ensemble, Jos van Immerseel (piano), Paul Van Nevel (conductor)

Øyvind Torvund: A Walk into the Future
Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Olari Elts (conductor)

Yunchan Lim: Chopin Études
Yunchan Lim (piano)

Zev is thrilled to be WRTI’s classical program director, where he hopes to steward and grow the station’s tremendous legacy on the airwaves of Greater Philadelphia.