1. BRITTEN: The Complete Works
The Britten centenary brought forth a slew of recordings, books, and DVDs but this superb 65-CD box set is the grand prize, with contributions from 20 labels ranging from all the iconic recordings to many rarities.
2. BRITTEN: String Quartets
Takács Quartet Britten’s three quartets finally receive the full Takács treatment, and these performances of febrile imagination make the strongest case yet for this underplayed corner of the 20th-century chamber music literature.
3. BEETHOVEN: Diabelli Variations
András Schiff, piano This two-disc set offers the rare chance to hear side-by-side performances of the “Diabelli” Variations on two very different instruments built a century apart: a Bechstein from 1921 and a fortepiano from Beethoven’s day. Schiff marvelously tailors his urbane playing to the contours of each instrument, and tosses in the luminous Sonata No. 32 in C minor (Op. 111) for good measure.
4. EISLER: “Ernste Gesänge” and other works
Matthias Goerne, baritone, with Ensemble Resonanz This ravishing if brief set of backward-glancing late songs for baritone and strings encapsulates with unsentimental pathos the complex life and career of this still-neglected German composer, who experienced both wartime exile in the United States and a difficult postwar return to East Germany. Goerne’s grasp of Eisler’s idiom is unsurpassed.
5. DUTILLEUX: Correspondences and other works
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France; Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor The passing of the towering French modernist Henri Dutilleux was one among several big losses this year in the classical music world. Here Salonen, his former student, leads performances that bring a complex, prismatic language into radiant focus.
6. BACH: St. Matthew Passion
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin with Sunhae Im, Bernarda Fink and others; René Jacobs, conductor The two choirs are recorded here in a way that simulates the large distances that may have originally separated them in Bach’s Thomaskirche. But the main draw for most listeners will be, more simply, the impeccable singing and sheer freshness Jacobs and his forces bring to this familiar score.
7. STRAVINSKY AND PROKOFIEV: Violin Concertos
Patricia Kopatchinskaja, violin; London Philharmonic Orchestra; Vladimir Jurowski, conductor Anyone who heard this barefooted Moldovan violinist’s sensational local debut this fall with the Boston Philharmonic may have wondered what else she’s been up to. Here’s one answer: Prokofiev’s Second and the Stravinsky concerto, in readings of uncommon freedom.
8. VERDI: Otello
Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Aleksandrs Antonenko, tenor, Krassimira Stoyanova, soprano; Riccardo Muti, conductor This year’s Verdi bicentenary occasioned not only an array of shelf-bendingly large box sets but also a few excellent single-work releases, among them this “Otello” most notable for the forceful playing of the CSO, Antonenko’s fine Otello, and Muti’s masterful sense of Verdi’s style.
9. In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores
Hilary Hahn, violin; Cory Smythe, piano This diverse collection of miniatures represents the fruit of Hahn’s ambitious commissioning project, through which she engaged 26 composers to write brief works for violin and piano, and held a contest for encore number 27 that drew over 400 entries. Hahn was already a well-established virtuoso. This project marks her evolution as something far more interesting: a creative force.
10. GANDOLFI: From the Institutes of Groove
Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Gil Rose, conductor It was a big year for BMOP’s house label BMOP/sound and this was just one of several distinguished releases. Gandolfi has rock and jazz somewhere deep in his ear, and the three concertos collected here — for bass trombone, bassoon, and alto saxophone — display a sophisticated post-minimalist craft wedded to an abiding spirit of visceral communication.
JOHN LUTHER ADAMS: Inuksuit
This poetic work scatters its percussionists (between 9 and 99 of them) across an outdoor landscape and invites its audience to wander beneath the canopy of sound. Of course no recording could really approximate a live performance, but last June percussionist Doug Perkins nevertheless led 32 colleagues deep into the Vermont woods. The big surprise is just how much they captured of the interplay between music and place.