Stories » Vikingur Olafsson - Glass Piano Works makes NPR Music's Top 10 Classical Albums Of 2017

Top 10 for Oct

Vikingur Olafsson - Glass Piano Works makes NPR Music's Top 10 Classical Albums Of 2017

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In spite of the back seat classical music often takes in America in terms of sales figures and sheer visibility, there's nothing wrong with the music itself. This list of 10 albums is a testament to today's vibrant performers and composers, and of course some of the masters from the past. The year began with a celebration of the dean of minimalism, Philip Glass, turning 80 and an extraordinary tribute by pianist Víkingur Ólafsson. It ended with a stentorian paean to maximalism in a gripping account of Les Troyens, Berlioz's grandest of grand operas. In between were great performances by percussionists, choral groups, more pianists, opera singers and one sweet and agile string quartet.

Released Jan. 27, four days before Philip Glass turned 80, this album serves as a brilliant birthday present to the composer and a perfect entry point for newcomers or even naysayers. Its sheer beauty may surprise you. No current pianist tackling this increasingly popular repertoire offers the consistent transparency and keen musicianship of Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson. On the album, he offers half of Glass' 20 piano etudes, but begins with "Opening" from Glassworks. Every inner voice is not only clearly audible, but individually shaped. It might be the most haunted and naturally detailed performance so far.

The Études have their own personalities and challenges. No. 9 is especially manic in Ólafsson's hands, while No. 2 rolls out in liquid waves like a Debussy Arabesque. No. 14 winks and nods and the rapid fire scales in No. 13 are proof of Ólafsson's precision. Then there's No. 20, which sounds like no other Glass solo piano work. Devoid of the usual repetitions and with aching melancholy, it sounds like Philip Glass meets Franz Schubert in outer space, as bass notes smolder and gorgeous melodies soar and evaporate. The album also features distinctive arrangements of No. 2, No. 5 and "Opening" featuring Ólafsson and the top-notch Siggi String Quartet.

SEE ALL NPR Music's Top 10 Classical Albums Of 2017