Every year around this time our classics reviewer William Dart selects his top 10 CDs of the year. It's a timely guide for anyone searching for a gift.
Wagner, Siegfried (Naxos)
The third instalment of the Naxos Ring Cycle once again brings Bayreuth's legendary opera house spectacularly into your lounge. The bonus this time around, alongside the assured baton of Jaap van Zweden at the helm of his Hong Kong Philharmonic, is New Zealand's celebrated heldentenor, Simon O'Neill, in prime form singing the title role.
Veni Domine (Deutsche Grammophon)
The Sistine Chapel Choir, under Massimo Palombella, celebrates Christmas with a Renaissance serenity, recorded under Michelangelo's lofty visions of Heaven. The usually flamboyant mezzo Cecilia Bartoli joins in for just one offering, a 13th century piece of Gothic chill-out, inevitably imbued with a warm Italianate glow.
Trio Da Kali & Kronos Quartet, Ladilikan (World Circuit)
The world's most adventurous string quartet blends strings with the intoxicating rhythms and song of Mali's Trio Da Kali. This hip adventure in crossover already has its first single up on YouTube. It's music for the hips, heart and soul with Hawa Kasse Mady Diabate's magisterial vocals and the hypnotic jive of fiddles and African xylophone.
Jade String Quartet, Parlour Games (Rattle, through Ode Records)
Meanwhile, in Auckland, the Jade String Quartet has helped a Kiwi quartet tradition thrive with regular commissions and performances. Parlour Games presents eight composers, ranging from the avant-garde texture play of a Karlo Margetic miniature to a buoyant and full-scale score by John Elmsly.
Henry Wong Doe, Pictures (Rattle, through Ode Records)
The drawcard for many here will be the young NZ pianist's energetic account of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, considerably more relaxed and finessed than it was in his April concert. But the ultimate triumph is local, with composer Eve de Castro-Robinson's A Zigzagged Gaze offering witty and ingenious responses to ten New Zealand visual artists.
Requiem for the Fallen (Atoll, through Ode Records)
This centenary tribute to the heroes of the Great War is powerfully laid out in words and music by Vincent O'Sullivan and Ross Harris. It's a moving piece of choral theatre, gloriously rendered by Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir, the New Zealand String Quartet and the shivery taonga puoro of Horomona Horo.
Bach Trios (Nonesuch)
Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile bring their cello, bass and mandolin combo to the cool counterpoint of the great Bach. Not surprisingly, there are nods to both jazz and bluegrass, but the trio's crisscrossing tune trails do ample justice to the German composer's cool, linear beauties.
Bach, Goldberg Variations (Deutsche Grammophon)
Mahan Esfahani's brilliant take on Bach's mammoth set of variations carried off some big prizes in 2016 but we waited until this year for a local release, occasioned by the harpsichordist's appearance with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. This 70-minute masterpiece may have been written as a cure for insomnia but there's no nodding off with Esfahani's meld of exquisite musicianship and playful chutzpah.
Shostakovich, Violin Concertos (BIS, through Ode Records)
Dmitri Shostakovich poured so many aspects of his life into his two violin concertos, written two decades apart for his friend David Oistrakh. While Oistrakh's original recordings remain benchmarks, Frank Peter Zimmermann, with a different Strad for each concerto, reconciles the wild, the edgy and the poignant.
Bela Bartok, Complete String Quartets (Harmonia Mundi, through Ode Records)
This vigorous new recording of Bartok's six string quartets is the perfect reminder that the Heath Quartet is visiting us next June. If Mahler felt that his symphonies laid out a whole world, then so do these works and the English musicians catch this in all its tragedy, wistfulness and humour, both high and low.