Hidden gems of 2010: the classical CDs and DVDs you may have missed

Observer classical music critic Fiona Maddocks picks the releases that deserved far greater attention in the past year

Classical CDs

Elgar The Kingdom. Hallé Orchestra and Choir, soloists, Sir Mark Elder (conductor) (Hallé)

This live recording of Elgar's undervalued oratorio, set to his own text, is part of an ongoing Hallé/Elgar series: Claire Rutter and Susan Bickley, as the Blessed Virgin and Mary Magdalene, head the cast. The choral and orchestral writing, especially as delivered here, have rousing climaxes that compensate for more routine Elgariana padding. Worth discovering even if it's not his top work.

Vivaldi Ercole sul Termodonte. Rolando Villazón, Joyce DiDonato (soloists), Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi (direction) (Virgin Classics)

The secret here is Vivaldi's score, given a wonderfully energised performance by a cast of megastars: not just Villazón and the adored DiDonato but Diana Damrau, Philippe Jaroussky, Topi Lehtipuu too. The Venetian composer is ubiquitously popular for his Four Seasons but his operas, making a gradual comeback, so far remain specialist territory. His Ottone in Villa (Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini), just out on Virgin Classics, is another treat.

Liszt The Complete Songs - 1. Matthew Polenzani (voice), Julius Drake (piano) (Hyperion)

The start of a major cycle of Liszt's "orphaned" songs – the composer's own description of a neglected but substantial part of his output, full of characteristic rhapsody and poetry. Tenor Matthew Polenzani launches the series in time for the 2011 Liszt bicentennial. The singers will change, but pianist-curator Julius Drake will be a constant.

Path Louth Contemporary Music Society LCMS (Signum Classics)

It's not obvious from the bright, abstract packaging what this CD contains. Eight of nine tracks are world premiere recordings. The title relates, obliquely, to Italian composer Luigi Nono's observation: "There are no roads, but we must go on." The acoustic music, performed by the Carducci Quartet, Dublin Guitar Quartet and others, is by Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky, Arvo Pärt, John Tavener and less familiar names. Truly a hidden gem.

Classical DVDs

La Bohème Alfie Boe, Melody Moore, English National Opera, Miguel Harth-Bedoya (conductor) (Warner Classics)

Jonathan Miller's Depression-period La Bohème got a lukewarm reception on stage but transfers unexpectedly well to DVD. Isabella Bywater's Paris street-scene sets look cinematically realistic and the sung English, easy to hear on screen, gives exactly the immediacy Puccini's masterpiece needs. Alfie Boe excels and if not all the cast are ideal, the story is well told.

Simon Boccanegra Placido Domingo, Marina Poplavskaya, Antonio Pappano (conductor), Royal Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (EMI)

Scarcely an event far from the limelight – it was one of the ROH highlights of 2010, and at the BBC Proms, too – but Domingo fans who enjoyed, or missed, the great tenor-turned-baritone singing the title role of Verdi's tragic hero will covet this live DVD recording of the Royal Opera's lavish Elijah Moshinksy staging. Includes a backstage documentary element fronted by that telly natural, Antonio Pappano.

Carmen Elina Garanca, Roberto Alagna, The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor) (Universal)

A chance to see ex-National Theatre director Richard Eyre at work in this visceral, impassioned new Carmen, recorded live in January 2010, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin – one of the most exciting up-and-coming names, making a splash in Britain with his LPO concerts. Elina Garanca's striking Carmen and Barbara Frittoli's Micaela stand out, with Alagna unexpectedly affecting as Don Jose.


Fiona Maddocks

The GuardianTramp

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