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ELEVEN FOR ’11

GLOBE CRITICS PICK THEIR TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2011 - PLUS A SURPRISE FAVORITE

December 18, 2011
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“Best’’ is such a loaded word, isn’t it? Especially when you are talking about the year in music, what does it even mean?

Does it refer to the album that far outsold the others? That would be Adele’s “21,’’ which appears on critic Sarah Rodman’s list. Or is it the record that doubled as your constant soundtrack, from the morning commute to the sonic wallpaper while you cooked dinner? For me, that was PJ Harvey’s “Let England Shake.’’

These are questions the Globe’s music critics grapple with when it comes time to survey the past year’s array of records, from rock and pop to hip-hop and classical to jazz and world.

In many cases, our top 10 picks did not set the charts on fire, but they will be remembered as albums that defined 2011 for us. For kicks, we also threw in a selection that pleasantly surprised us.

JAMES REED

1. PJ HARVEY

“Let England Shake’’ War and its lingering devastation are not the most obvious hallmarks of riveting rock music. Yet somehow Harvey wove them together against a backdrop of clanging melodies on the year’s most visceral album in indie rock. It was a train wreck for the ears: The imagery was gruesome, but you couldn’t stop listening.

2. KURT VILE

“Smoke Ring for My Halo’’ Shedding some of his cult status, this Philly singer-songwriter finally broke through with what he aptly called an “epic folk record.’’ Except this one flickered with traces of Neil Young and Lou Reed at their most dejected.

3. RAPHAEL SAADIQ

“Stone Rollin’ ’’ For his follow-up to 2008’s acclaimed “The Way I See It,’’ Saadiq looked beyond Motown and Stax to make a modern soul classic that was not afraid to rock, roll, and sometimes even lull.

4. GILLIAN WELCH

“The Harrow & The Harvest’’ Slow as molasses and just as dark, Welch’s latest collection of sepia-toned Americana was eight years in the making and well worth the wait.

5. BEYONCÉ

“4’’ How’s this for a diva reinvention: One of pop’s brightest stars turned inward to take stock of her life and realized she is pretty content. More introspective than exclamatory, “4’’ was nevertheless deeply satisfying - no doubt for the artist as much as for her fans.

6. BON IVER

“Bon Iver’’ No longer an underground sensation, frontman Justin Vernon dared to recast his austere folk songs into something far more spectral and grandiose. It paid off: Bon Iver is nominated for four Grammys, including best new artist, at next year’s ceremony.

7. TOM WAITS

“Bad as Me’’ He has always been full of surprises and quick to take a detour, but on his latest, Waits finally found the sweet spot among his various guises: carnival barker, tender balladeer, rockabilly hellcat, and ramshackle bluesman.

8. WASHED OUT

“Within and Without’’ The debut from Ernest Greene’s one-man synth-pop band got lumped into the chillwave movement, but it couldn’t have been any warmer. It was the rare dance album that had heart and soul in mind as much as beats and hooks.

9. LIA ICES

“Grown Unknown’’ A torch singer masquerading as folk musician, this Brooklyn, N.Y., singer-songwriter bewitched on her sophomore release with shape-shifting textures and her gossamer soprano.

10. DUM DUM GIRLS

“Only in Dreams’’ Everything popped in Technicolor on the Dum Dums’ confident second album: The guitars were heavier, the melodies more streamlined, and lead singer Dee Dee summoned the sass of Chrissie Hynde when she went in for the kill. “Coming Down’’ still gives me chills.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

K.D. LANG & THE SISS BOOM BANG “Sing It Loud’’ Backed by a lean new band that knew how to frame and complement that big voice of hers, lang returned to form with an album that easily ranks as her most memorable in at least a decade.

1. DAVE HAUSE

“Resolutions’’ The albums that imprint themselves on our hearts do so by helping us celebrate the highs, providing solace in the darkness, confirming things we already know about the world, and teaching us things we don’t know. Every CD on this list did that for me, but none more so than this heartfelt collection of ruminations in which Hause has said he tried to capture “where your youthful aspirations meet with your adult reality.’’

2. ADELE

“21’’ Ouch. Refining what it means to hurt so good, the British powerhouse - with first-class assistance from several collaborators including Dan Wilson and Paul Epworth - took down an ex and took us with her on this major leap forward from her debut. Whether scraping the sky with her voice or excavating the depths of her scorched heart, Adele is proving herself a singer-songwriter of extraordinary grace and pathos.

3. THE DECEMBERISTS

“The King Is Dead’’ Sometimes a detour takes you to a thrilling new place, and on its sixth full-length album, the band famous for its arcane references and elaborate musical set pieces takes a stroll down a simpler, more countrified lane. Thanks to pitch-perfect vocal and instrumental contributions from folks like Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, and Peter Buck, the band produced a set as enjoyably earthy as its previous releases were delightfully arch.

4. LORI MCKENNA

“Lorraine’’ We’re used to the Stoughton native opening a vein and pouring out bittersweet musical stardust, but this gut punch of a record - named for her late mother and namesake - goes beyond even her best work. Exuding strength and vulnerability in her flinty voice, she unearths the universal in the detailed specifics of motherhood, marriage, family, and home.

5. ERIC CHURCH

“Chief’’ Locating his true voice, the North Carolina native tips from good to great on his third release. He deftly found a way to express a sense of lyrical individuality and musical adventurousness within the confines of contemporary country while simultaneously stretching its boundaries on both heartbreakers and boot-stompers.

6. JILL SCOTT

“The Light of the Sun’’ When life hands the gifted Philly singer lemons she makes sweet soul music out of it. Heck, when it hands her anything that’s what she does. Scott’s first release in four years finds her on a joyful, lively, funny, and deeply funky search for good men, good times, good faith, and the strength to recognize the good - or at least useful - in the bad.

7. VINCE GILL

“Guitar Slinger’’ The title speaks to the country veteran’s well-known six-string prowess, but all of his talents are on display on this wide-ranging album, with vocals that swing from celestial highs to raggedy lows, and songs that distill the joys and catastrophes of life in ways that make you laugh out loud and well up with tears.

8. FOO FIGHTERS

“Wasting Light’’ As musical niches become ever more diffuse, it’s a comfort to have these guys around to rep for rock ’n’ roll. On one of their most vital, thoroughly satisfying releases to date - thanks in part to contributions by old friends such as Butch Vig, Krist Novoselic, Pat Smear, and Bob Mould - the Foos go from a whisper to a scream but never forget the vital charms of melody and raw power.

9. THE ROOTS

“Undun’’ They may now be better known as Jimmy Fallon’s house band, but the Roots manage - with astonishing consistency - to craft records of seductive darkness. Nominally a concept album about a look back at the short, bleak life of a fictional inner city kid, the songs stand on their own as mini-symphonies of sound and fury as voices (including guests Dice Raw, Bilal, and Big K.R.I.T.) pile up over collisions of hip-hop, rock, gospel, and soul.

10. DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS

“Go-Go Boots’’ The cast of characters expands as the Southern rockers continue their tradition of weaving intense, intricate, hard-boiled narratives while keeping the beat and the atmosphere hard and heady. This time they’ve spiked their brew with an extra (and welcome) dose of swampy soul.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

MICHAEL MONROE

“Sensory Overdrive’’ The Hanoi Rocks frontman serves up a set of bristling rockers that sneer, snarl, smirk, and sing about the good times and the bad, careering from pop-punk to hard rock and even a dab of country. And you won’t find another record released in 2011 that manages as skillfully to utilize both Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead and Lucinda Williams.

1. ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER

“Replica’’ Layered with shimmering synthetic textures and flecked with fragments of long-shelved commercials, the latest effort from Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Sudbury native Daniel Lopatin manages to be touching without sentiment, wry without irony, and arresting without gimmickry. The brilliance of “Replica’’ comes from its effortless transformation of the banal into the sublime; it’s a whole new way to understand “ambient.’’

2. TORO Y MOI

“Underneath the Pine’’ Chaz Bundick’s second full-length as Toro Y Moi showcases the same facility with gauzy uptempo pop that was made apparent on his critic-tickling debut, 2010’s “Causers of This.’’ But where “Causers’’ became chillwave’s unwitting Exhibit A, “Underneath the Pine’’ finds Bundick putting down the laptop and picking up every instrument he can lay hands on, creating a near-perfect pop record in the process. File under: Skillwave.

3. PANDA BEAR

“Tomboy’’ For those who find Noah Lennox’s primary project (the amorphous psych-pop gang Animal Collective) too wild, woolly, and wailing, his solo material as Panda Bear offers a far more composed vehicle for his harmonic prowess. Like a hall of mirrors, Lennox’s voice reflects, refracts, and splits into luminous multiples. “Tomboy’’ is as tender as it is dizzying.

4. JAMES BLAKE

“James Blake’’ Don’t call UK dubstepper-turned-crooner James Blake’s debut solo album “minimalist.’’ Though barely sewn together with Blake’s threadbare vocals and glitchy stitches of rhythm, “James Blake’’ packs some serious emotional density; and his ear for microsonic details make each track uncannily rich. Is it a kinder, gentler dubstep? An elegant new template for slow jams? James Blake has only just started surprising us.

5. JOHN MAUS

“We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves’’ Lifting its title from Alain Badiou’s “Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art,’’ the heady underpinning of John Maus’s third proper full-length never weighs down its effervescent synth-pop. “Believer’’ is as uplifting an anthem as 2011 is likely to bestow upon pop history, as Maus aims his nostalgic gaze skyward, sending his voice scattering through the cosmos in a wash of cathartic echoes.

6. MINKS

“By the Hedge’’ Sparkling new-wave meets burly ’90s guitar rock on this Brooklyn band’s debut, and the result isn’t nearly as formulaic as that setup. Fans of the Drums may appreciate MINKS’s slightly cloudier day at the beach, but anyone with a soft spot for lilting boy-girl vocals (“Cemetary Rain’’), slack psychedelics (“Out of Tune’’), or pure indie-pop perfection (“Kusmi’’) has something to look forward to on “By the Hedge.’’

7. DIRTY BEACHES

“Badlands’’ Transient Taiwan native Alex Zhang Hungtai conjured the eight songs of “Badlands’’ as a way to reconnect with his father through the sounds he loved as a young man. And while the spirits of Elvis and Orbison loom over songs like “Sweet 17,’’ there’s enough David Lynch and Suicide lurking in the corners to ensure this doesn’t come off as hammy homage. “Badlands’’ is singularly weird, and difficult to let go of.

8. BIBIO

“Mind Bokeh’’ British producer Stephen Wilkinson skillfully avoided the riptide of chillwave by tempering his time-warped tones and frayed electronics with syrupy lo-fi funk, glimmering embellishments, and one gnarly vintage synth cameo after another. More than a gear dork’s dream come true, “Mind Bokeh’’ is a fabulous cross-section of 2011’s indie sensibilities, thrown beautifully out of focus.

9. CRAFT SPELLS

“Idle Labor’’ With “Party Talk,’’ Californian whippersnapper Justin Vallesteros had the sunshiny stoner pop hit of the summer locked down in April; it was just an added bonus that his entire debut showcased the same rosy-cheeked bedroom-pop smarts. With its parade of addictive melodies, “Idle Labor’’ catches a promising young talent at an endearingly modest moment.

10. BALAM ACAB

“Wonder/Wander’’ Young producer Alec Koone may still live with his folks in Pennsylvania, but his debut as Balam Acab sounds transmitted from some distant (and watery) planet. Stark yet immersive, “Wonder/Wander’’ is like a divining rod pointed toward a post-dubstep future that still only exists as a dream.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

JAMES FERRARO

“Far Side Virtual’’ Originally conceived as a suite of ringtones, shape-shifting experimentalist James Ferraro’s hypercommercial jingle-scapes are polished to an almost blinding gloss. Each meta-melodic track revels in its disposability, and the whole album conjures a vibe of catatonic consumer bliss. It’s unsettlingly familiar.

1. REKS

“R.E.K.S.’’ Lauding Reks’s third solo album for its adherence to rugged East Coast lyricism and gritty sample-based beats (from Statik Selektah, Pete Rock, and others) is missing half the point. Sure, the DJ Premier-produced single “25th Hour’’ is intelligent street hop at its best, but Reks’s ear for detail and versatile flows, plus a fearless introspective streak, demand attention from rap fans of any region or background.

2. KENDRICK LAMAR

“Section.80’’ While he’s been grouped with emerging rap voices like J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar’s indie album - a conceptual piece exploring the psychology of the post-Reagan era youth - shows serious artistic ambitions that set him apart from the crowd. Equally adept in getting personal (“Kush and Corinthians’’) and relating others’ stories (“Keisha’s Song’’), the 24-year-old has been taken under Dr. Dre’s wing - and it’s no surprise.

3. DANNY BROWN

“XXX’’ Behind his crude sense of humor and a flow that occasionally strains his voice into a rushed, manic waterfall of syllables, Danny Brown is really just a guy coping with turning 30. Steeped in a grimy post-Dilla Detroit vibe, Brown reflects on three decades of life, from drug abuse battles (“DNA’’) to petty theft (“Scrap or Die’’) to rap itself (“Pac Blood’’).

4. A$AP ROCKY

“LiveLoveA$AP’’ In indulging in his love for Houston’s chopped-and-screwed rap aesthetic, the 23-year-old Harlemite’s breakout release stands as a landmark for post-regional, post-hardcore hip-hop. Slipping comfortably within dreamy, stoned-out instrumentals from producer Clams Casino, Rocky’s talent isn’t in dominating the mike but in assimilating disparate rap styles into a vibrant, engaging overall package.

5. FREDDIE GIBBS

“Cold Day in Hell’’ Gary, Ind.-born Gibbs has won comparisons to such legends as Tupac and Scarface for his gritty brand of gangsta rap, of which this mixtape is a perfect example. Harsh and unrelenting as his songs can be, Gibbs quietly frames his personal struggle within a social and political context, reminding listeners how powerful hardcore hip-hop can still be.

6. FRANK OCEAN

“nostalgia, Ultra’’ After riding a wave of hype through most of 2011, California hip-hop crew Odd Future’s best candidate for continued success is singer Frank Ocean. Over beats sampling the likes of Radiohead, the Eagles, and MGMT, Ocean crafts an album stocked with memorable cuts (“Novacane,’’ “Songs for Women’’) that walk the line between indie, electronic, and new-wave hip-hop influences.

7. ARAABMUZIK

“Electronic Dream’’ Bombastic, aggressive hip-hop crashes headfirst into ’90s rave anthems on this impressive debut record from the Providence-based producer (Cam’ron, Jim Jones). Layers of crisp drums, ethereal vocal samples, and meticulous sonic detailing transform past dance hits into richly textured, postmodern rap instrumentals, ranging from spectacularly grimy (“Underground Stream’’) to hazy melancholia (“Lost in a Maze’’).

8. DJ QUIK

“The Book of David’’ After a six-year absence, the perennially underrated DJ Quik released a comeback album that shows how ahead of the curve the rapper-producer has always been. Using mostly live instruments he plays himself, Quik invites old friends Ice Cube, Kurupt, Suga Free, and others to indulge in his best production in years, a warm, organic combination of West Coast funk and glossy ’80s R&B.

9. ACTION BRONSON

“Dr. Lecter’’ In a genre lacking compelling personalities, Queens rapper-producer Action Bronson provides a memorable glimpse into his New York state of mind, populated by women, drugs, guns, and his biggest inspiration, food. Moving freely between gritty reality raps and bizarre fantasies, Bronson’s world plays out like a Fellini movie set to an East Coast boom-bap beat.

10. THE WEEKND

“House of Balloons’’ This Canadian-based music project led by singer Abel Tesfaye isn’t hip-hop, but its initial offering executes a distinct style of vacuously seductive, minimalist electro-R&B whose influence is permeating into rap (see Drake’s collaboration with Tesfaye on his most recent album). Even when he seems enraptured in the album’s preening sense of over-indulgence, Tesfaye makes songs like “What You Need’’ sound urgent and alluring.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

CLAMS CASINO

“Instrumental Mixtape’’ While not groundbreaking in itself, this collection of instrumentals from New Jersey producer Clams Casino (A$AP Rocky, Lil B) provides a glimpse of hip-hop’s sonic evolution beyond 2011. As 808 drum machine kicks and fuzzy Southern synths clash with atmospheric chillwave electronica, the difference between a hazy stoner jam and a bold, cinematic beat becomes increasingly blurred.

1. SUSANA BACA

“Afrodiaspora’’ Soulful pedagogy from the sublime-voiced Baca, who this year was named Peru’s culture minister, and here leads a grand tour of Africa-rooted music from Latin America and the Caribbean, including New Orleans, with her customary grace and serene mastery.

2. MAMANI KEITA

“Gagner l’argent français’’ A shimmering, just-right set from a Malian woman singer who deserves broader recognition. Also very much a producer’s album, as French arranger Nicolas Repac develops intricate layers of rock and electronic elements, but it’s Keita’s voice that does the transporting.

3. BEZ

“Super Sun’’ A superb alternative-soul singer who happens to come from Nigeria - and a male counterpart to that country’s new songstresses such as Asa, Nneka and Ayo. Watch for Bez to emerge in the United States in 2012, starting with a visit to SXSW in March.

4. BALLAKÉ SISSOKO + VINCENT SEGAL

“Chamber Music’’ Recorded deep in the night in Bamako, this exceptional Franco-Malian meeting of cello and kora, mostly duets with a few occasional guests, is austere yet never forbidding; rather, quietly joyous and entirely unexpected.

5. BLITZ THE AMBASSADOR

“Native Sun’’ Ghana-born, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based MC Blitz Bazawule had his breakout year behind this feisty album of socially-minded trans-Atlantic hip-hop, roaming across the funk, Afrobeat and highlife distilled by his excellent working band.

6. BALOJI

“Kinshasa Succursale’’ Gruff and full of fire, Congolese MC Baloji, who is based in Brussels and raps in French and local languages, returned to Kinshasa to record with Konono No. 1, soukous guitarists and other local luminaries. Urban and urgent.

7. KIRAN AHLUWALIA

“Aam Zameen’’ Ahluwalia’s far-reaching, cosmopolitan innovations on Indian ghazal and Punjabi folk songs keep getting better. On her fifth album she’s joined by Touareg superstars Tinariwen and Terakaft (both of which had fine new records this year as well, by the way).

8. AURELIO

“Laru Beya’’ Very much the anointed successor to the late Andy Palacio, who revived Garifuna music from Central America’s Caribbean coast, Aurelio delivers with a far-reaching set that folds in local pop and looks back across the ocean to Senegal, with Youssou N’Dour and others contributing.

9. KARSH KALE

“Cinema’’ The Bay Area producer has been scoring films in India lately, but his South Asian-infused electronic sound has always felt cinematic. Here he’s at his seamless best, melding contributions from Indian classical musicians and American rockers with no trace of any fusion awkwardness.

10. DJ JAMJAM

“Oyinbo Swagga Vol. 2’’ (mixtape, available online) Nigeria is a rich new frontier for hip-hop and R&B, plenty of it hyper-commercial; many current top stars (P-Square, M.I., Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, and more) appear on this chock-full mix by a London DJ. Not all the music is great, but the crash-course immersion is frenetic and vital.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

EL GÉNÉRAL

“Rayes Le Bled’’ The year’s big surprise in world events was the Arab Spring. Local hip-hop played a part, expressing popular discontent and documenting the uprisings, beginning with this protest song by El General, from Tunisia, where it all began. Be sure to watch the video as well.

1. JACQUES COURSIL

“Trails of Tears’’ The nearly forgotten trumpeter, now in his 70s, returns with a haunting, mournful song cycle that memorializes the forced relocation of Native Americans in the 1830s. Absolutely stunning.

2. MATANA ROBERTS

“Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens De Couleur Libre’’ Another case of music meeting history. The saxophonist and vocalist manages to evoke both John Coltrane and Abbey Lincoln in a bruising album that confronts the slavery in Roberts’s ancestry. Painful and powerful.

3. MATANA ROBERTS

“Live in London’’ A completely different sort of record from perhaps the most exciting young saxophonist in jazz. Here she is in concert with a blazing quartet that never lets up. The opening number, “My Sister,’’ is a 27-minute tour de force.

4. LEE KONITZ, BRAD MEHLDAU, CHARLIE HADEN, PAUL MOTIAN

“Live at Birdland’’ Sometimes a band of all-stars can sound as though they have been playing together all their lives. Unfortunately, this will be one of Motian’s last recordings, as the drummer died in November.

5. JAMAALADEEN TACUMA

“For the Love of Ornette’’ Ornette Coleman returns the favor for all the work that electric bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma has provided over the years in the saxophonist’s band. Funky, catchy, and free.

6. DONNY MCCASLIN

“Perpetual Motion’’ No saxophonist is more deserving of wider recognition than McCaslin, and this acoustic-electric effort may be his best yet. It’s bop, it’s funk, and it’s rock, all in one.

7. THE FOUR BAGS

“Forth’’ What a strange lineup for a jazz quartet: trombone, accordion, guitar, and woodwinds. But what vibrant, compelling music. This is as hip as chamber jazz gets. To drive the point home, the quartet even covers a song by the French electronic duo Air.

8. LANDRUS KALEIDOSCOPE

“Capsule’’ Brian Landrus, who leads this quintet, plays baritone saxophone and bass clarinet. Those may be unusual lead instruments, but it all sounds completely natural. This is a very modern, very organic sort of jazz fusion, with no regard for the boundaries that separate jazz, rock, pop, and R&B.

9. JD ALLEN TRIO

“Victory!’’ If saxophonist JD Allen has a guiding principle, it is this: Get in and get out. His trio’s tunes are short and snappy; they run two, three, four minutes apiece. And they make every explosive second count.

10. CINQUE

“Catch a Corner’’ Organist Joey DeFrancesco is the best-known member of this funky quintet, which put out the tightest soul-jazz recording of the year. You want to party where these guys party.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

LUIS CONTE

“En Casa de Luis’’ Percussionist Luis Conte has gigged with a slew of A-listers - Ray Charles, Pat Metheny, and Madonna among them - but has put out precious few records under his own name. Here is the result of his pent-up energy: a dynamite set of Afro-Cuban numbers that feature him making use of every piece of percussion imaginable, with liberal use of overdubs allowing him to showcase his dexterous abilities.

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’’

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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JAMES REED
MICHAEL BRODEUR
STEVE GREENLEE | JAZZ
JEREMY EICHLER | CLASSICAL