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Our critic chooses some of the best recordings of 1982

By Thor Eckert Jr. / January 5, 1983

New York

1982 saw a reduction in the quantity and variety of new releases. Though numerous important works were introduced to the American record audience for the first time, there was still the notion that the 36th recording of a Tchaikovsky symphony with just anybody was actually going to find a vast audience.

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The digital-recording method has taken over almost completely. This new year promises the arrival of the laser-read compact disk that eventually should eliminate the 12-inch vinyl LP altogether. Ironically, this grand new step into audio realism happens at a time when fewer and fewer really interesting performances are being released.

Having said all this, the following recordings seem to me to be exceptional and among the best of the releases of last year. They are listed in no particular order of preference. Of course, I do not pretend to have heard every record released during this time.

* J. S. Bach: Goldberg Variations. Glenn Gould. (CBS Masterworks Digital - IM 37779). Bach's remarkable set of variations were the vehicle for the late Glenn Gould's legendary recording debut in 1955. This rerecording, done almost 26 years later, offers further insights into the musical and analytical mind of an acclaimed eccentric and musical genius, and manages to be equally compelling in complementary fashion to the original classic performance.

* Leos Janacek: ''The Cunning Little Vixen.'' Lucia Popp, Eva Randova, Dalibor Jedlicka. Vienna Philharmonic, Sir Charles Mackerras. (London Digital - LDR-72010). London's Janacek opera cycle forges along with a superb account of a work full of haunting moments and grand interludes. As the Vixen and her suitor, the Fox, Lucia Popp and Eva Randova sing beguilingly, and Sir Charles Mackerras conjures powerful and bewitching sounds from the glorious Vienna Philharmonic.

* Stephen Sondheim: ''Merrily We Roll Along.'' Original Broadway cast recording. (RCA Red Seal CBL1-4197). In a year that brought us recordings of the musically shoddy ''Dreamgirls'' and the often lovely ''Nine,'' Sondheim's work stands apart, as it does every time he puts pen to verse and music paper. This is a vintage - and structurally sophisticated - Sondheim score with predictably remarkable lyrics. It is superbly recorded, and is released on RCA's high-quality ''Half-Speed Mastered'' line.

* Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58. Rudolf Serkin, piano. Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa. (TELARC Digital DG-10064 ). This second release in what promises to be an entire Serkin/Ozawa/BSO Beethoven piano concerto cycle finds Serkin in a thoughtful, elegaic mood. His playing, at once subdued and beautiful, is touchingly autumnal in quality. Ozawa partners the pianist attentively, and the sound is stunning.

* Jan Sibelius: ''Karelia Suite,'' Op. 11; Valse Triste, Op. 44; ''En Saga,'' Op. 9; ''Pohjola's Daughter,'' Op. 49. The Boston Symphony Orchestra, Colin Davis. (Philips 9500 893). This is a glorious supplement to the complete boxed set of symphonies Philips released several years back with Davis and the BSO. Davis is the preeminent Sibelian of the day, and of course the BSO is one of the great orchestras of the world - a winning combination indeed.