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ELEVEN FOR ‘11

Classical music’s top albums of 2011

Kurt Masur leads the BSO and pianist Nelson Freire at Symphony Hall.

Stu Rosner

Kurt Masur leads the BSO and pianist Nelson Freire at Symphony Hall.

1. FAURÉ: COMPLETE CHAMBER MUSIC FOR STRINGS

Renaud and Gautier Capucon, Ebene Quartet, et al. A five-disc set in which first-rate French musicians tastefully survey the late-Romantic chamber music of Gabriel Fauré in vibrant and probing performances, one after another.

2. TOMÁS LUIS DE VICTORIA: SACRED WORKS

Ensemble Plus Ultra; Michael Noone, director An excellent 10-disc introduction to the sacred music of Spain’s greatest Renaissance composer, marking the 400th anniversary of his death.

3. LISZT: “HARMONIES DU SOIR’’

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Nelson Freire, piano In a year that saw torrents of Liszt, this tribute disc stood out for its pianistic wisdom, refinement of touch, and pure sensual beauty.

4. BERLIOZ “LES NUITS D’ETE’’ and HANDEL ARIAS

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, mezzo-soprano; Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra; Nicholas McGegan, conductor Numerous groups continue to scour archives for more Lieberson performances, and we are the beneficiaries. Here is a luminous yet firmly probing account of Berlioz’s song cycle from the late mezzo-soprano, and more peerless Handel.

5. COUPERIN: HARPSICHORD WORKS

Richard Egarr, harpsichord Over the course of four discs, an eloquent and persuasive case for the rarely spotted harpsichord music of Louis Couperin (circa 1626-61). Egarr is sensitive to every nuance, and finds expressive worlds within these bejeweled miniatures.

6. STEVE REICH: WTC 9/11

Kronos Quartet There were plenty of musical memorials this year for the 10th anniversary of 9/11, but Reich’s terse, potent work is the one that stays with you. This is music extracted and built up from the sounds of the day and the voices of those who responded to the attacks.

7. BEETHOVEN: COMPLETE SYMPHONIES

Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra; Riccardo Chailly, conductor Often favoring sweepingly fast tempos, Chailly draws fresh, bracing performances from an orchestra with this music in its soul. You get the overtures, too.

8. BEETHOVEN VIOLIN SONATAS, Vols. 2 and 3

Alina Ibragimova (violin), Cedric Tiberghien (piano) Deeply engaged and deftly imagined Beethoven from a pair of young players on the rise, taken from live performances at Wigmore Hall. There are plenty of soloistic riches but best of all may be how well these two listen to each other.

9. SHOSTAKOVICH: VIOLIN CONCERTO NO. 1

Lisa Batiashvili, violin. Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra; Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor A resourceful reading of one of the great modern violin concertos, filled out with some alluring shorter pieces by Giya Kancheli and Arvo Pärt.

10. LEON KIRCHNER: ORCHESTRAL WORKS

New York Philharmonic, Harvard Chamber Orchestra This welcome disc showcases the distinguished Leon Kirchner (1919-2009) as composer, conductor, and pianist, and features his Piano Concerto No. 1 as well as music adapted from his opera “Lily.’’ This is music too alive and viscerally intelligent to slip away unremembered.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

“THE LISZT PROJECT’

Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano Leave it to this commanding French pianist to show how a Liszt tribute can open out into the worlds of Wagner, Berg, Scriabin, Bartok, and Messiaen, with superb playing throughout. This is the Liszt disc for those who think they don’t like Liszt.

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