In these diminished times, any year that yields a couple of releases that can rank with, and perhaps displace, the legends of recording history must be counted a good one. On these terms, 2017 was a pretty good vintage. There was an impressive Berlioz Requiem from Erato, a Hänssler retrieval of the last known recital of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the first in a promising Chandos series of the orchestral works of Richard Rodney Bennett and, at the opposite end of the scale, a Jonas Kaufmann assault on both tenor and mezzo parts of Das Lied von der Erde – a Sony production of such epic awfulness on every front, including sound quality, that it will stand the test of time in my cabinet of deathless horrors.
Not a bad year, then, and for the piano absolutely epic. We witnessed the return, after long absences, of Yevgeny Kissin in Beethoven and Krystian Zimerman in Schubert. Daniil Trifonov came up with a quirky and original way to present Chopin. Steven Osborne did almost enough on Hyperion to cure my Debussy aversion. Sony published the out-takes of Glenn Gould’s first set of Goldberg Variations. And we received the complete keyboard works of J S Bach on Erato from the extraordinary Zuzana Ruzickova, who sadly died in September at the age of 90. Each and any of these would contend for record of the year in any vintage year.
It boils down to a shortlist of three DG pianists at the peak of their powers – Kissin among the summits of Beethoven, Trifonov defining a soundworld that is distinctively his own and Zimerman contriving to persuade us that Schubert, in his last year of life, was anything but a man with death on his mind. The Polish pianist’s reading of two late sonatas is so thoughtful, so fundamentally rethought, that we start to see Schubert as a different person, a young man with great anxieties, grappling with the densities of creation. I keep returning over and again to listen to this performance. It is, without qualm, my album of the year.