From mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli's ambitious revival of the early Baroque composer Agostino Stefani (and yes, she's got another outrageous album cover) to three very different roles for the violin, here's a clutch of classical albums I returned to again and again this year for sheer delight and aural inspiration. Bartoli lavishes extravagant attention on the music of a fascinating but forgotten link in the history of opera. Daniel Hope shines in an amusing overhaul of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Hilary Hahn thwarts classical music convention to improvise with an avant-garde pianist. And MacArthur "genius" Leila Josefowicz brings to life a shimmering violin concerto — and musical farewell — from conductor-composer Esa-Pekka Salonen. Click on the listen link to hear Weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz and I spin the albums, and check out the list below for longer excerpts of the music.
(Click here for NPR Classical's Top 10 Albums of the year)