Classical Music: the Best of the Best

I’m looking to expand my classical library. I have several hundred pieces, but most are rather generic – large collections of music recorded by orchestras and conductors I’ve never heard of.

So just for the hell of it I Googled “Greatest Classical Recordings” and looked at the first 5 lists that came up. There was one single album that all 5 had in common – Beethoven’s Symphonies No. 5 & 7, conducted by Carlos Kleiber and performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

I bought it, and it is indeed magnificent. And now I’d like to start collecting the very best recordings of the very best of the music.

Suggestions? Are there any good online reviewers of the genre who compare recordings of the same music against each other?

Also, what is the difference between a Symphony Orchestra and a Philharmonic Orchestra? :slight_smile:

The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection: the 350 Essential Works.

You’re welcome. :wink:

BBC Classical Music Magazine just published a list of the 50 greatest recordings of all time. But you have to actually buy the magazine to see it. A teaser from their website:

I’ll bet the Callas/Puccini is her 1953 (monophonic) recording of Tosca. You can find excerpts of a live performance on YouTube.

I believe this is the list, here!

Leopold Stokowski conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade

That BBC list is both strange and yet the rest of it toes to the conventional wisdom. There’s Britten conducting his War Requiem at No.3 (?); Elgar’s Cello Concerto by du Pre at 6 (expected in a British mag); no recording of Beethoven’s 9th qualified (!!!); an obscure Janacek opera at 13 and another at 40; no major work of Schubert qualified; usual suspect Vivaldi is missing altogether, as is Dvorak, alongwith Haydn, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Bruckner, Prokofiev and Stravinsky. An odd and premature single entry for Shostakovich. No Mozart symphonies. Very odd list indeed.

Or, you could go with Cecil’s answer.

People tend to love the Romantic warhorses when getting into classical music. Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony and Smetana’s “Der Moldau” would be great additions! The Second Rachmaninoff piano concerto. A collection of Puccini arias.

If any of these sound appealing, let me know and I can think of some specific recordings! :slight_smile:

I’ve made my second purchase, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, performed by Sir George Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The wasn’t on any of these lists, but then again, Beethoven’s 9th wasn’t on any of them either. So I did some research for the best recording of this particular symphony, and I didn’t find any great degree of unanimity. There were quite a lot of people who advocated for performances recorded back in the 50s and even earlier, but I decided I wanted a more recent recording using better equipment and techniques. This fit the bill.

It is spectacular!

I have never gone wrong with any of the CDs issued in the Penguin Classic Music series (this is one example).

There is also a Penguin Guide (book) for classical recordings covering lots of recommendations which some people swear by (or at).

For most any piece of “classical” music that features a full chorus, look for the recording conducted by Robert Shaw. Damned near impossible to go wrong.