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At first glance, our top picks for 2012 may seem to range far and wide, from a fresh take on an epic late Beethoven string quartet to cellist Maya Beiser playing spaciously layered new music by Michael Harrison. What unites this diverse bunch is a spirit of discovery — not just in new music that we'll return to again and again but in the artistic energy that animates each of these projects. This electricity flows through newly created works like Esa-Pekka Salonen's Violin Concerto, but it also sparks music that has become second nature, such as Bach's St. Matthew Passion, released this year in a revolutionary production directed by Peter Sellars. These are recordings that stand apart as vivid and vital, challenging and incredibly exciting.