The best classical albums of 2011

Recordings by yMusic, Joseph Calleja and Hilary Hahn topped our list.

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  • Joseph Calleja, The Maltese Tenor

    Joseph Calleja, The Maltese Tenor

  • Hilary Hahn, Charles Ives: Four Sonatas

    Hilary Hahn, Charles Ives: Four Sonatas

  • Beethoven, Complete Symphonies

    Beethoven, Complete Symphonies

  • Steve Mackey, It Is Time

    Steve Mackey, It Is Time

  • Ursula Oppens, Winging It

    Ursula Oppens, Winging It

  • Aaron Siegel, Science Is Only a Sometimes Friend

    Aaron Siegel, Science Is Only a Sometimes Friend

  • Photograph: Anna Hult

    Gustavo Dudamel

    Gustavo Dudamel

  • Ben Frost and Daniel Bjarnason, Solaris

    Ben Frost and Daniel Bjarnason, Solaris

  • Yuja Wang, Rachmaninov

    Yuja Wang, Rachmaninov

1 yMusic, Beautiful Mechanical (New Amsterdam)
This fashionable sextet, which met playing backup for indie-rock acts like Sufjan Stevens, the National, and Antony and the Johnsons, shows it is ready for its close-up with a driving, spunky debut album featuring chamber music by Son Lux, Annie Clark, Shara Worden, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Judd Greenstein and Gabriel Kahane.

2 Joseph Calleja, The Maltese Tenor (Decca)
On this, Calleja's third solo disc, the Met tenor clearly begins to hit his stride. Every aria is imbued with his velvety tone, impeccable phrasing and an expressivity that endures even without the visual gestures that singers rely on so often.

3 Hilary Hahn, Charles Ives: Four Sonatas (Deutsche Gramophone)
Violinist Hilary Hahn and pianist Valentina Lisitsa reveal Ives's four underserved violin sonatas to be gems of subtle innovation with their lithe yet profound performance.

4 Beethoven, Complete Symphonies (Decca)
Conductor Riccardo Chailly adds Beethoven to a series of complete symphony cycles that already included those of Brahms, Bruckner and Mahler, leading Leipzig's superlative Gewandhaus Orchestra. The nine symphonies plus eight overtures move along at a healthy clip and Chailly's interpretations feel refreshing without rocking the boat.

5 Steve Mackey, It Is Time (Cantaloupe)
Starting with four drum gurus beating steady time on a metronome, It Is Time quickly evolves into a percussion fantasy in which time folds over itself in mixed meter. The DVD features a performance video by Mark DeChiazza, adding to our appreciation by showing how sounds were made with everything from cymbals to kitchen timers.

6 Ursula Oppens, Winging It: Piano Music of John Corigliano (Cedille)
John Corigliano is a decorated American composer and a safe choice for so many orchestras looking to commission new works, but this recording is a welcome reminder of his inventiveness and panache.

7 Aaron Siegel, Mantra Percussion Science Is Only a Sometimes Friend (Lock Step)
Brooklyn composer Aaron Siegel frees ambient music from its dour, eerie reputation with this atmospheric work for eight constantly ringing glockenspiels and organ, which taps into a joyful flow of energy reminiscent of Terry Riley's.

8 Brahms, Symphony No. 4 (Deutsche Grammophon)
Sometimes it's hard to know whether we love Gustavo Dudamel more for his fiery podium presence or his interpretative skills. On this live recording, the visual element (meaning his bouncing tresses) is removed, leaving us with an inspired and inspiring performance of Brahms's most powerful symphonic masterpiece.

9 Ben Frost and Daniel Bjarnason, Solaris (Bedroom Community)
This alluring symphonic suite for string orchestra, prepared piano and guitars, from two Reykjavik buddies, makes us want to turn off all the lights, run a bath and settle in for a long, healing winter hibernation.

10 Yuja Wang, Rachmaninov (Deutsche Grammophon)
Our hats are off to this stellar young pianist for reinvigorating two repertoire warhorses, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

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