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Jeremy Eichler's top 10 classical CDs of 2010

Who rocked the music world this year? Globe critics choose their favorite 10 albums -- and highlight some noteworthy surprises

By Jeremy Eichler
Globe Staff / December 19, 2010

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SHOSTAKOVICH: THE PRELUDES AND FUGUES Alexander Melnikov, piano This Bach-haunted solo piano cycle has somehow never earned its rightful place among the composer’s chamber music, but Melnikov makes a dazzling case for these brief yet monumental keyboard gems. If you get hooked, track down Mark Mazullo’s fine new book on them, too.

WAGNER: “PARSIFAL’’ Gary Lehman, René Pape, with Valery Gergiev conducting the Chorus and Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theater Gergiev can be a formidable Wagnerian and here he leads a dramatically paced, luminous account of “Parsifal.’’ Gary Lehman is unremarkable in the title role, but René Pape’s Gurnemanz is tremendous.

IVES: PIANO SONATAS Jeremy Denk, piano Denk conveys both the teeming surface details as well as the quiet inner beauty within this dense, craggy, majestically sprawling music.

ELGAR: VIOLIN CONCERTO Nikolaj Znaider, violin, with Sir Colin Davis conducting the Dresden Staatskapelle A supremely eloquent recording made using the violin with which Fritz Kreisler premiered the work in 1910. Znaider and Davis enjoy a rare chemistry.

SCHUBERT: QUARTETS & QUINTET Belcea Quartet with Valentin Erben, cello The Belcea’s set of timeless late-Schubert (including “Death and the Maiden’’ and the towering G-Major Quartet alongside the Cello Quintet) bursts with playing by turns searingly expressive and exquisitely subtle.

BRAHMS: PIANO MUSIC Murray Perahia, piano Deeply satisfying, winningly proportioned Brahms from a keyboard master. Includes those treasurable Piano Pieces (Opp. 118 and 119) as well as the Rhapsodies (Op. 79) and the Handel Variations.

“TWO ROADS TO EXILE’’: MUSIC OF BRAUNFELS AND BUSCH Artists of the Royal Conservatory This superb chamber troupe continues sifting through the musical rubble of the last century, this time unearthing a fascinating String Quintet by Braunfels written in 1945 during his internal exile in Germany. Remarkably, given its quality, this is the piece’s first recording.

BIELAWA: “IN MEDIA RES’’ Soloists with Gil Rose conducting Boston Modern Orchestra Project The artistic fruits of Lisa Bielawa’s recent tenure as BMOP’s composer-in-residence are beautifully presented on this two-disc set, including her Double Violin Concerto and her Concerto for Orchestra, both of which place her hauntingly lyrical yet restlessly inventive compositional voice on full display.

SHEPPARD: “MEDIA VITA’’ Stile Antico A gorgeous album devoted to the music of Tudor composer John Sheppard, delivered here with uncommon skill by this young British vocal ensemble on the rise.

SZYMANOWSKI: ORCHESTRAL WORKS Christian Tetzlaff, violin, with Pierre Boulez conducting the Vienna Philharmonic The Polish composer’s impressionistic Symphony No. 3, “Song of the Night,’’ receives a duly clear yet bewitching account, prefaced by the Violin Concerto No. 1, played with great lyric sensitivity.

BIGGEST SURPRISE SCHOENBERG: “GURRELIEDER’’ Gunther Schuller conducting New England Conservatory Orchestra. In 1977, Gunther Schuller somehow inspired the students of NEC to transcend the expected limits of a school orchestra and deliver an astonishingly good performance of Schoenberg’s grand late-Romantic masterpiece in Jordan Hall. This year he released a live recording on his own label.