The best and worst in 2005

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STRONG FINNISH Esa-Pekka Salonen reigned onstage and on CD in 2005.

THE BEST

Cleveland Orchestra
The reserved, resolutely unflashy Radu Lupu offered a poised, insightful traversal of Beethoven's five piano concertos with the Cleveland Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in February; Franz Welser-Mst provided lithe direction, and surrounded the cycle with adventurous works by Birtwistle, Harris and Dutilleux.

Metropolitan Opera casts
In March, the Metropolitan Opera's Don Carlos and Der Rosenkavalier both presented textbook examples of ensemble performance; in the latter, German soprano Angela Denoke made her house debut as an especially poignant Marschallin.

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Two June concerts by Esa-Pekka Salonen's Los Angeles Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall demonstrated the excellence the conductor has instilled in his band, as well as an overall ingenuity that extended to the very staging of Ives's The Unanswered Question.

Metropolitan Opera casts
An all-American concert at Carnegie Hall in October—which opened with lush Ives, closed with hypercaloric Gershwin, and feted Elliott Carter and Lukas Foss in between—proved that the ardor James Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra have for each other shows no sign of cooling.

Francesca Zambello
The director oversaw the season's most ingenious pieces of stagecraft: the playful portal in which she and the late Maria Bjrnson set Rachel Portman's wistful The Little Prince at New York City Opera, and the sliding panels in which she and Adrianne Lobel framed Tobias Picker's gripping An American Tragedy at the Met.

THE WORST

The Met's Tosca
Was Salvatore Licitra running on fumes in his snoozy portrayal of Cavaradossi in the Met's Tosca in March? Or was he, like the rest of us, simply trying to banish the sight and sound of Maria Guleghina's ravenously sloppy titular diva?

The Met's Gounod productions
The Met's two new productions of Gounod operas missed the mark in completely different ways: Andrei Serban's alternatingly musty, lurid and misplaced Faust stuck Ren Pape in a grotesquely priapic skin suit, while Guy Joosten's staging of Romo et Juliette—apart from one breathtaking tableau—suggested an Enlightenment-era Swatch watch.

TOP TEN RECORDINGS

1. Richard Wagner
Tristan und Isolde (EMI Classics)
Although it's not the last word on Wagner's delirious drama by any means, Plcido Domingo's Tristan is a must for admirers of this consummate artist...and of conductor Antonio Pappano's work, as well.

2. J.S. Bach
The Sonatas and Partitas (ECM New Series)
Violinist Gidon Kremer offers a miraculous balance of science and spirituality, objectivity and impulsiveness.

3. Osvaldo Golijov
Ayre (Deutsche Grammophon)
More than a star turn for soprano Dawn Upshaw, Golijov's genre-crashing song cycle maps new stylistic frontiers.

4. Joseph Haydn
The Paris Symphonies (DHM)
It's impossible to imagine a more exactingly executed, stylishly characterized take on Haydn's Symphonies Nos. 82-87 than this one by Nikolaus Harnoncourt's Concentus Musicus Wien.

5. Esa-Pekka Salonen
Wing on Wing (Deutsche Grammophon)
Long recognized as a brilliant conductor, Salonen here leads three of his own works—each a bold, vivid piece of sonic architecture with doors pushed invitingly wide open.

6 and 7. Alvin Lucier
Wind Shadows (New World) and Alvin Lucier (Antiopic)
Two double-CD sets—by the Barton Workshop and Charles Curtis, respectively—tune in to the wavelength of Lucier's ethereal sines and drones.

8. Jordi Savall
Du temps & de l'instant (Alia Vox)
The viola da gamba master and his family meld songs and dances of disparate cultures in a heartwarming vision of global unity.

9. Matthew Welch
Dream Tigers (Tzadik)
The Brooklyn-based composer leaps vast geographical distances, imagining statistically implausible musical melting pots that sound utterly natural.

10. Pierre Boulez
Le marteau san matre (Deutsche Grammophon)
The furtive mystery and spellbinding beauty of Boulez's magnum opus are lovingly rendered and captured in stunning sound.

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