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Jeremy Eichler

Top 10 classical music albums of 2020

Conductor Thomas Adès and pianist Kirill Gerstein perform with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall in 2019.
Conductor Thomas Adès and pianist Kirill Gerstein perform with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall in 2019.Winslow Townson

BACH CELLO SUITES Miklos Perenyi

In a year during which the beauty of Bach’s music was at a premium, the distinguished Hungarian cellist Miklos Perenyi returned to the beloved Cello Suites, which sound here burnished, autumnal, wise.

SONGS BY NADIA AND LILI BOULANGER Nicholas Phan, tenor; Myra Huang, piano

Nadia Boulanger has been known more as a pedagogue than as a composer, and the work of her sister Lili, who died during the pandemic of a century ago, has been almost entirely neglected. In these crystalline performances, Phan and Huang make an almost startingly eloquent case for the enduring worth of their music.

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REYNALDO HAHN, “L’ILE DU REVE”

Hahn may be best known for his exquisite art songs that form the quintessential soundtrack of France’s Belle Epoque, but his body of work was much wider and is still being rediscovered. This year brought an elegant first recording of his charming opera, “L’ile du reve,” dedicated to his teacher Massenet. It’s an early score but you hear Hahn’s melodic gifts already taking wing.

BEETHOVEN STRING QUARTETS Ébène Quartet

In the composer’s 250th birthday year, this French foursome brought out their own freshly stylish and deeply committed take on the 16 string quartets that represent the summit of the composer’s art, and the beating heart of the entire chamber music literature.

ETHEL SMYTH, “The Prison”

Championed by the luminaries of her day, British composer Ethel Smyth wrote over 200 works including six operas, but her music all but vanished with her death in 1944. This year the conductor James Blachly, bass-baritone Dashon Burton, and soprano Sarah Brailey gave us this strong, affecting account of her final major work. Astonishingly — or not — this is its first recording.

BRAHMS CLARINET SONATAS Jörg Widmann, András Schiff

These are well-judged and beautifully rendered accounts of Brahms’s soulfully companionable Sonatas. Between the two works comes an incisive, contemporary response by way of Widmann’s own “Intermezzi.”

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The Israeli pianist and conductor David Greilsammer plays his program “Labyrinth,” in New York, Sept. 27, 2017.
The Israeli pianist and conductor David Greilsammer plays his program “Labyrinth,” in New York, Sept. 27, 2017. MICHELLE V. AGINS/NYT

“LABYRINTH” David Greilsammer, piano

Each musician finds his or her own way through the maze of the musical past. Here the Israeli pianist David Greilsammer conjures his own proprietary path across the centuries with unusual imagination and grace. From Scriabin to Satie, and Lully to Ligeti.

WALTER KAUFMANN, CHAMBER WORKS ARC Ensemble

The Toronto-based ARC Ensemble were at it again this year. No group has worked with such sustained commitment to illuminate the lives erased and the music cast into the shadows by the Second World War. Here they present the first album ever devoted to the worthy music of Walter Kaufmann, a Czech-Jewish composer who fled Nazi Europe to settle in Bombay.

ADÈS CONDUCTS ADÈS Kirill Gerstein and Boston Symphony Orchestra

The fruit of the multiyear collaboration between the BSO and British composer Thomas Adès as its artistic partner, this album presents live performances of “Totentanz” and the immensely complex yet highly persuasive Piano Concerto.

SCHOENBERG, VIOLIN CONCERTO AND “VERKLÄRTE NACHT” Isabelle Faust, violin; Daniel Harding, conductor

A handsome pairing of Schoenberg’s beloved “Transfigured Night” with his sharp-edged yet emotionally charged Violin Concerto. Faust’s playing has subtlety and imagination on its side.


Jeremy Eichler can be reached at jeremy.eichler@globe.com, or follow him on Twitter @Jeremy_Eichler.