The Essential Classical Recordings: 100 CDs for Todays Listener
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My purpose here is modest: I would like to put forth some strategies for building a library of great music and make some particular recommendations. Readers who would like to add any of their own are encouraged to do so in the comments. One last caveat: I am hopelessly out of date technologically, so I still buy CDs and listen to them in my car or on my home stereo. As a kid, I used 8-track tapes, then cassette tapes, and I considered it cool in high school to listen to LPs when CDs had taken over, long before LPs became fashionable again.
So I have a strong disposition to want to handle physical objects on which music is recorded. Nevertheless, downloadable MP3s and online services make easy work of many of my recommendations. Again, these are just suggestions. The important thing is to make an effort to find what you like or what intrigues you and then take that as a point of departure for your exploration.
Those who are interested in Gregorian chant will find recommended recordings in this LifeSite article. For an especially beautiful polyphony recording, see this article. Hildegard of Bingen is not the strange proto-feminist that some modern authors make her out to be. Her visions may be symbolically riotous, but her original music is some of the most peaceful and prayerful ever composed, as heard in the recordings of Sequentia. Again, these will lead to others worth knowing about.
In the compass of a short article, I will not attempt to go through all the periods of music, as that would swell this article to three times its size. Perhaps another time…. Yet I cannot resist recommending some of my favorite modern works from the 20 th and 21 st centuries. You can sample all these pieces at YouTube first before committing to them. We all stand to benefit from broadening and deepening our listening habits and thus our ongoing musical formation. I hope you will take this article as a gentle provocation to do so.
Mozart died at the age of 35, and although Bach was 65 at his death, he had also been building organs, hiring and firing orchestras, teaching choir boys, giving music lessons, and spending an inordinate amount of time dealing with the obtuse town council and church board in Leipzig. Such monumental artistic accomplishments, my friends, are what genius actually means, and they back up the conviction that there is something nearly miraculous, and certainly divinely bestowed, in these towering figures — all the more reason to get to know their music.
Most of the performances are fine, unless you are ready to move into the connoisseur category. A friend alerted me to Dr.
It may be found here. With that in mind we set ourselves a few rules. In the long run it is more expensive.
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Another rule was not to include box sets. Each recording included in this list, and each composer, deserves at least the focus and concentration that goes with listening specifically to one album.
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Especially the Rachmaninoff, effectively embellished in the Oscar-winning film Shine , feels like a rush of blood to the head and the Argentinian pianist plays it to the hilt. One of the most beautiful recordings of the last decade, French pianist Alexandre Tharaud picks keyboard works which Johann Sebastian Bach transcribed from, or emulated, concertos of Italian composers, including Vivaldi. Today he might be accused of plagiarism or parody, but really he created impossibly attractive and original masterpieces that Tharaud performs with uncommon sensitivity and charm on a modern Steinway grand piano.
With his penury, very early death of syphilis and life-time neglect, Schubert set the standard for all properly romantic composers to come. His musical standards are even higher.
Eine kleine Nachtmusik is perhaps the epitome of that, but the more sophisticated symphonies or the Overture to the opera The Marriage of Figaro are just as easily embraced. Especially in performances like those of George Szell who managed timelessly alert, quicksilver readings half a century ago, when many other conductors were drudging through Mozart like syrup. Antonio Vivaldi can be fun, but also mindlessly boring.
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We skip the much treaded seasonal territory in favor of a just-about ideal single-disc collection of splendid and thankfully lesser-known Vivaldi concertos. One where the two outsized egos met to great results—hardly a given.
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Its sweeping, tuneful, lyrical ways set the standard for subsequent attempts in the genre. Tchaikovsky looks back to Mozart for his variations, and comes up with classically styled romance in variation form. The genius of Joseph Haydn is hiding in plain sight: Everyone acknowledges his greatness, importance, wit; his ingenious and ever original ways.
For all practical purposes Haydn invented the genres that still dominate classical music: The symphony, the string quartet, the piano trio, the keyboard sonata. For good measure he threw in several operas and hundreds of Scottish song arrangements.