I ranked them this year, unlike the 2005 list, so let the arguments begin. (Like the 2005 list, there are again eleven discs here.) The classics got a strong vote of confidence this year, and the newer music didn't do so badly on disc, either.
1. (tie) Beethoven Symphony No. 9. West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim, conductor. Soloists: Angela Denoke, s; Waltraud Meier, m-s; Burkhard Fritz, t; Rene Pape, b-b. (Warner Classics) The young musicians tear into Beethoven's monument and follow Barenboim's fluctuating phrasing with ease.
Same work. London Symphony Orchestra, Bernard Haitink, conductor. Soloists: Twyla Robinson, s; Karen Cargill, m-s; John Mac Master, t; Gerald Finley, b. (LSO Live) Haitink's streamlined interpretation makes a more restrained case for the work, and the vocal soloists are a little lighter, less grandly operatic, than those with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Both are live recordings, incidentally.
2. Neruda Songs. Peter Lieberson, composer; Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, mezzo-soprano; Boston Symphony Orchestra; James Levine, conductor. (Nonesuch) Wipe away the sadness surrounding Hunt Lieberson's death, and these are still some of the most powerful orchestral songs since Mahler. (Available today, and reviewed in Time Out Chicago in January, 2007.)
3. Music for String Sextet: Strauss, Berg, Schoenberg. Artemis Quartet with Thomas Kakuska, viola, and Valentin Erben, cello, both from the Alban Berg Quartet. (Virgin Classics). Verklaerte Nacht's haunting, small-scale original version and an imaginative transcription of Berg's Piano Sonata, Op. 1, by AQ violinist Heime Mueller plant this disc by the most aggressive young European string quartet on this year's list.
4. Complete Sequenzas and Solo Works. Luciano Berio, composer. Various artists. (Mode). Mode's complete set of Sequenzas was more than 10 years in the making, and could've appeared at the same time as DG's. These works, which take virtuosity as a given, include a spellbinding version of the piano sequenza by Aki Takahashi and the only available account of the bass sequenza, by Stefano Scodanibbio, who made the transcription with Berio's blessing from the cello sequenza. Stunning. TOC article.
5. The Sonatas and Partitas. J.S. Bach. John Holloway, baroque violin. (ECM) Holloway's earthy interpretations unearth (ha) new sounds in these familiar standbys.
6. Complete Preludes for Piano. Claude Debussy. Steven Osborne, piano. (Hyperion) Exquisitely measured and etched playing from the predictably excellent Scottish pianist.
7. Songs of a Fairy-Tale Princess, Harnasie, etc. Karol Szymanowski. Iwona Sobotka, soprano; Timothy Robinson, tenor; City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; Simon Rattle, conductor. (EMI) He may clog my mailbox with more unnecessary recordings than anyone else (that deadly dull La Mer, anyone?), but Simon Rattle's vivid, electric disc of Szymanowski's orchestral and choral works makes up for it. I'm considering a law that requires every currently scheduled performance of Carmina Burana be changed to feature the ballet Harnasie, instead. Same level of excitement, music that's ten times better.
8. Warp Works and Twentieth Century Masters. London Sinfonietta. (Warp). Ligeti's lively Chamber Concerto along with Nancarrow and Aphex Twin transcriptions.
9. Complete Piano Trios. Mozart. Daniel Barenboim, piano; Nikolaj Znaider, violin; Kyril Zlotnikov, cello. (EMI) Not Mozart's most inspired works, but with mentor Barenboim leading the younger generation, it's worth it.
10. Ein Deutsches Requiem. Brahms. Susan Gritton, soprano; Hanno Mueller-Brachmann, baritone; Evgenia Rubinova, piano I; Jose Gallardo, piano II; Choir of King's College, Cambridge; Stephen Cleobury, conductor. (EMI) What, no orchestra? No, and it's fine. The two pianos elucidate Brahms' polyphony judiciously, and the intricate choral writing emerges clearer than ever.
Honorable mention, the discs that almost made the list, and non-classical releases that deserve more play: What Exit? Jazz violinist Mark Feldman (ECM).
Schubert, Death and the Maiden Quartet. Takacs Quartet (harmonia mundi).
Schubert, Arpeggione Sonata. Jean-Guihen Queyras, cello; Alexander Tharaud, piano. (harmonia mundi).
I wish for each of you to find fulfillment and joy in the coming year. And I'll leave you with this:
"The truth is: We and music are not unified. Nothing in our animal past calls for anything so gratuitous as song. We must put it on, wrap it around us like the dark, cold firmament."—Richard Powers, The Time of Our Singing