THE BEST CLASSICAL recordings of 1985 include quite a few in a format unimagined a few years ago: video. Probably the two most successful items are comic: the rollicking Covent Garden production of "Die Fledermaus" (Pioneer Artists LaserDisc PA-84-099) and "Anna Russell: The (First) Farewell Concert" (Video Arts International VAI-16, Beta Hi-Fi or VHS).
But there's enormous impact and a strong historic interest in the video of the Metropolitan Opera's gala (and marathon) 100th anniversary concert (Pioneer Artists LaserDisc PA-84-095) and in its video production of "La Boheme," which surpasses the staged performance in intimacy and dramatic impact (Pioneer Artists LaserDisc PA-85-135).
On tape, Video Arts International has issued some excellent material based on BBC opera telecasts from Covent Garden and Glyndebourne, but its greatest service to opera- lovers so far has been to make available for home viewing the classic 1962 film of "Der Rosenkavalier," conducted by Herbert von Karajan and starring Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (VAI-OP-2, Beta hi-fi or VHS).
Among the thousands of sound-only recordings issued in the last year, the following have seemed outstanding. Catalogue numbers are given for the formats in which they were heard; other formats may also be available:
MONTEVERDI -- "Orfeo." Nigel Rogers, Patrizia Kwella and others; Chiaroscuro, London Baroque and the London Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble, Nigel Rogers conducting (Angel/Reflexe 4D2X-3694, two cassettes with libretto). The earliest of Monteverdi's three surviving operas has fared least well with performers and audiences, largely because its highly mythological libretto is less endowed with human interest. This beautifully sung performance in authentic baroque style finally gives it full justice.
BERNSTEIN -- "West Side Story." Kiri Te Kanawa, Jose Carreras, Tatiana Troyanos, Marilyn Horne, Leonard Bernstein conducting (Deutsche Grammophon 415 253-2; two CDs with libretto). In this recording, Bernstein asserts "West Side Story's" claim to the status of a classic, and has the voices to support his thesis. Troyanos and Horne have a better grasp of Broadway style than Te Kanawa and Carreras, and the dramatic impact of the material is not as well-served as its music, but this recording is likely to be remembered as a landmark in the history of one of the greatest works of American musical theater.
RAVEL -- "Complete Songs." Teresa Berganza, Felicity Lott, Mady Mespl,e, Jessye Norman, Gabriel Bacquier, Jose van Damm (Angel 4D3X-3965, two cassettes with booklet). Ravel's songs have hardly been neglected, but never before have they been presented in one package performed by such a rich variety of high-quality voices.
BACH -- "Suites for Unaccompanied Cello (Complete)." Janos Starker, cello (Sefel SEFD300, 3 LPs). Starker brings to this great, austere music exactly what it requires: deep thought matured through years of close acquaintance, and a technique so flawless it does not have to try to be spectacular.
HANDEL -- "Messiah." Edith Mathis, James Bowman, Claes Hahnsjo, Tom Krause; University of Maryland Chorus; Cathedral Choral Society; Smithsonian Concerto Grosso, Antal Dorati conducting (Pro Arte 232, 2 LPs with booklet). Recorded live in Washington Cathedral with a large chorus and an enormous orchestra of original instruments, this performance combines the charms of authenticity with the impact of a larger-than-life interpretation.