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25 Essential Classical Albums


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I've previously already posted my 25 Essential Jazz albums on my blog (https://musicophilesblog.com/category/music/jazz/25-essential-jazz-albums/).

 

A reader has now asked me to do the same for my 25 Essential Classical albums. Part I has just been published:

 

https://musicophilesblog.com/2017/01/20/musicophiles-25-essential-classical-music-albums-part-i/

 

What do you guys think?

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Much appreciated. I don't have that many modern recordings (i.e. digital) so those are of particular interest to me. One additional source for one of your selections - the Richter, Leinsdorf Brahms PC2. That is highdeftapetransfers.com. They offer hirez files in different formats. They have both the Richter and the Gilels with Reiner. The Richter (I would list Richter rather than Leinsdorf in your section on where to find) was ripped to DXD352 and the Gilels was ripped to DSD256. Both come from 15ips 2 track tapes. They also have the Fleisher Szell Brahms PC1 ripped to DXD352. It comes from a 4 track stereo tape. I have both the Richter and Gilels, and played through my DAC at the highest rez (DSD256) they sound super. I don't have the Fleisher in digital, only the original Epic gold label record.

 

Can't argue with any of your choices of works. Hard to limit to 25. Beethoven's G major Piano Concerto would be on my list. Looking forward to your next list.

 

Larry

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Much appreciated. I don't have that many modern recordings (i.e. digital) so those are of particular interest to me. One additional source for one of your selections - the Richter, Leinsdorf Brahms PC2. That is highdeftapetransfers.com. They offer hirez files in different formats. They have both the Richter and the Gilels with Reiner. The Richter (I would list Richter rather than Leinsdorf in your section on where to find) was ripped to DXD352 and the Gilels was ripped to DSD256. Both come from 15ips 2 track tapes. They also have the Fleisher Szell Brahms PC1 ripped to DXD352. It comes from a 4 track stereo tape. I have both the Richter and Gilels, and played through my DAC at the highest rez (DSD256) they sound super. I don't have the Fleisher in digital, only the original Epic gold label record.

 

Can't argue with any of your choices of works. Hard to limit to 25. Beethoven's G major Piano Concerto would be on my list. Looking forward to your next list.

 

Larry

 

Thanks Larry, I'll check out the transfers you mention. The regular digital versions I have sound ok, and RCA was a good source, so I'm sure there's room for improvement.

 

No. 4 is my favorite Beethoven concerto as well. It was a close call.

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I had a look at the first installment and found it to be interesting. However, limiting it to 25 albums means that it is more about your favorites than what might be essential to anyone else.

 

You mentioned have a hard drive full of music as a modern version of desert island disks. A few years ago, I picked subset of my music collection, made mp3 copies and stored them on an iPod. That ~30 GB collection was intended to give me access to the works I would want to hear in our car. Instead of 10-20 performances of a work, the iPod has one or two. I didn't pick my favorite performance for everything. I tried to have some variety in performers.

 

Making that iPod collection and using it for years gave me some insight about making a list of favorites. For many works, there are a number of recordings that I can be happy listening to. For fewer works, I find one performance to be head and shoulders above the rest. The Fleisher/Szell Brahms PC 1 is such a recording.

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I had a look at the first installment and found it to be interesting. However, limiting it to 25 albums means that it is more about your favorites than what might be essential to anyone else.

You're spot on, it is a very subjective selection. I've struggled mentally since the beginning of my blog on how subjective vs. objective my writing should be. I settled on subjective, for several reasons: I'm neither musicologist nor professional musician. My entire training is 25 year of love of the subject. I've accumulated quite a bit of knowledge during these 25 years, but truly judging why Mozart for example is a better composer than let's say Ferdinand Ries, I simply couldn't. All I can say is that Ries bores me much more easily than Mozart.

 

So back to the question on how do you do a truly essential list? As I said, all of these albums are essential to me personally, but I still personally think every one of these albums would be a very worthwile addition to any music lovers music library, and that's in the end what I'm trying to achieve with my blog, share music I love.

 

The project you did with your 30GB Ipod is an interesting one. It is certainly a fascinating approach (although these days it would be easier if the desert island happens to have broadband internet and Qobuz or Tidal...).

 

Maybe I could develop something similar, not as a VERY LONG blog post, but as a reference library of the e.g. top 3 versions of each classical work (or at least each I care about enough). Nice idea!

 

P.S. Glad we share the passion for Fleisher/Szell.

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I am a big fan of some of the Golden Age of Stereo legendary recordings. Great recordings and performances. RCA Living Stereo, Mercury, Everest etc.. Also a tremendous bargain in boxed sets.

 

Also I really hope some of the Russian Romantics show up in the second half!


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I've previously already posted my 25 Essential Jazz albums on my blog (https://musicophilesblog.com/category/music/jazz/25-essential-jazz-albums/).

 

A reader has now asked me to do the same for my 25 Essential Classical albums. Part I has just been published:

 

https://musicophilesblog.com/2017/01/20/musicophiles-25-essential-classical-music-albums-part-i/

 

What do you guys think?

 

I think this is a great post. I like classical but don't really know it the way I know other genres. Generally I just fire up a curated playlist. Next time I will sample some of your list, thanks!

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OK, so here is my personal preference, take it FWIW. Try playing any of these tracks in an Auro 3D setup using the Auro 3D upmixer. It puts you in the 10th row center seat. I almost feel like the conductor. Two speakers alone simply cannot do an orchestra justice IMO:

 

Auro-3D Music Upmix Demo with StormAudio ISP 3D.16 Elite Pre/Pro at CES 2017 - AVSForum.com

 

 

If you want to take it up another notch try streaming via qello.com using a projector while you listen.

 

https://qello.com/browse?cat=genre&orderby=Classical

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Making my way through the classical list. As for the jazz, hard to pick 25 but, on any 25 list I would put together, I would include my fav jazz guitar album Midnight Blue by Kenny Burrell, my fav jazz vocal album John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman and the overlooked Duke Ellington Live at Newport, the 2 cd set from Sony which actually has the live performance, not the original studio cuts with lI've crowd noise added.

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Making my way through the classical list. As for the jazz, hard to pick 25 but, on any 25 list I would put together, I would include my fav jazz guitar album Midnight Blue by Kenny Burrell, my fav jazz vocal album John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman and the overlooked Duke Ellington Live at Newport, the 2 cd set from Sony which actually has the live performance, not the original studio cuts with lI've crowd noise added.

 

Check out Duke Ellington at Newport on concertvault.com (along with many other great newport concerts)

 

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra Newport Jazz Festival Newport, RI Jul 5, 1968

 

http://www.concertvault.com/search.html?t=Duke+Ellington&tb=0

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My comments in bold type.

 

My entire training is 25 year of love of the subject.

 

I'm not a musician at all. My listening goes back to the mid-60s.

 

I've accumulated quite a bit of knowledge during these 25 years, but truly judging why Mozart for example is a better composer than let's say Ferdinand Ries, I simply couldn't. All I can say is that Ries bores me much more easily than Mozart.

 

My criteria for evaluating something that I've heard are "Did I enjoy listening to the recording and will I want to listen to it again?"

 

I evaluate composers, works and performances on that basis.

 

So back to the question on how do you do a truly essential list? As I said, all of these albums are essential to me personally, but I still personally think every one of these albums would be a very worthwile addition to any music lovers music library, and that's in the end what I'm trying to achieve with my blog, share music I love.

 

I'd suggest that the works are essential and particular performances are less so. Introducing newcomers to composer and works so that they can begin to explore seems to me to be a better service than telling them which "best" recordings to buy.

 

Now that subscription services are an option, such an approach seems very relevant.

 

The project you did with your 30GB Ipod is an interesting one. It is certainly a fascinating approach (although these days it would be easier if the desert island happens to have broadband internet and Qobuz or Tidal...).

 

Well, I wanted to have access to the works that were "essential" to me on a portable device. I had ripped my CD collection to Flac files tagged just the way I wanted. I had custom views in JRiver that let me browse and select music just the way that I wanted. No portable player would allow me to duplicate that. No portable player could store my entire collection of Flac files. A refurbished 80 GB iPod with a tiny hard drive seemed the best choice. I selected some classical works and performances, glued the movements together in the right order, made mp3 files and populated the tags in a way different from the way the Flac files were tagged. Jazz and other genres were easier. I selected favorite tracks from albums and copied those. It was all a practical problem solving exercise.

 

After I started using the iPod, I discovered that in a context where listening to music isn't the main activity, too many choices are a drawback.

 

 

Maybe I could develop something similar, not as a VERY LONG blog post, but as a reference library of the e.g. top 3 versions of each classical work (or at least each I care about enough). Nice idea!

 

Stereophile and other magazines like High Fidelity and Stereo Review used to have a building a library article with an exploration of available recordings of a single work. That might be a good way to do your top 3 recordings project in installments.

 

P.S. Glad we share the passion for Fleisher/Szell.

 

There is a box set of the Fleisher/Szell Beethoven and Brahms Concertos. (and the Mozart PC 25.) I would put that on an essentials list.

 

There is a 2004 remastering of the Fleisher/Szell Grieg and Schumann concertos on a Sony Essential Classics CD that makes those performances much more listenable. They are now my favorites.

 

 

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My comments in bold type.

 

Great comments!

 

Let me just respond to one of them: works vs versions/recordings: absolutely, work comes first, version/recording second. My list was compiled based on how much I like the work exclusively.

 

That said, while I write about my favorite works; I may as well share my favorite version as well.

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A lot of your very personal preferences in this list and not much that would be essential to anyone else.

 

I agree it is a very personal list, as is the rest of my blog, but I'd like to hear more which of these recommendations you'd disagree with.

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I thought maybe you erred on the side of safe recordings as opposed to favoring less doctored reissues of great performances. Perhaps due to a younger set of ears and probably ones more accustomed to discerning between studio magic and feeling instead of hearing the natural rhythms of the players. A small difference currently. Also DG/Decca are hardly the source for new talent or, dare I say, great in house sound anytime in recent memory. BSO/Andris leased content providing stark contrast here.

 

Call me a hypocrite for not believing the best violinists in the world are all impeccably attractive and marketable women with great characteral features or piano players their male counterparts.

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I agree it is a very personal list, as is the rest of my blog, but I'd like to hear more which of these recommendations you'd disagree with.

 

I think the word "essential" does not describe your list. The list seems the year end lists that Stereophile and other magazines used to do with each writer's favorites of the year.

 

I don't want to beat you over the head about it but here are two questions.

 

To me, essential means something that I really don't want to be without. Is having a particular Bruckner Sym. No. 4 recording more important than having a good recording of Beethoven's 3rd, 6th or 9th symphonies? Is having your favorite recording of the Schumann 3rd and 4th more important than having a good recording of Dvorak's 8th or 9th symphonies?

 

I'm quite struck by all you didn't consider essential.

 

I browsed Martin Bookspan's "101 Masterpieces..." as a basis for comparison. Choosing 101 works gives more room but that limit still requires arbitrary choices.

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I thought maybe you erred on the side of safe recordings as opposed to favoring less doctored reissues of great performances. Perhaps due to a younger set of ears and probably ones more accustomed to discerning between studio magic and feeling instead of hearing the natural rhythms of the players. A small difference currently. Also DG/Decca are hardly the source for new talent or, dare I say, great in house sound anytime in recent memory. BSO/Andris leased content providing stark contrast here.

 

Call me a hypocrite for not believing the best violinists in the world are all impeccably attractive and marketable women with great characteral features or piano players their male counterparts.

While I do unterstand your comment to a point, I'd much rather discuss specific recordings and not just general tendencies.

 

Let me quickly answer your general point: while I've recommended recordings from the 1940s (Furtwängler) to the current decade, I have a certain favor for more recent recordings. This however really hasn't a lot to do with recording technique (some of the 1950s and 60s recordings can sound fantastic, and better than some overproduced current ones).

 

The reason why I often prefer more recent recordings is the huge influence that historically informed performance has had in the last 3 decades, which went well further than baroque and early music where they started. I simply prefer the lighter and more transparent sound of playing with less vibrato, gut strings, or all the other new tendencies introduced and now adopted by many conductors and orchestras.

 

This is a fundamental question of taste (I'll leave the right or wrong to the musicologists, as unfortunately sadly enough nobody ever bothered to put Mozart into a recording studio). A friend of mine loves his Bach by Karl Richter and cannot stand the anemic sound to his ears of a Philippe Herreweghe, for me it is this other way round.

 

This is as far as I can comment generically.

 

However, I'd much more appreciate discussions around individual recommendations, as I really cannot see where I've preferred the "attractive and marketable" in my selection, or favored DG and Decca over others.

 

Let's take Rafal Blechacz for example, one of my DG albums. He's probably the total opposite of the piano poster boy, he is one of the most introvert artists I've seen. That said, I had the pleasure of hearing Pollini, Zimerman, and Blechacz play live once in one week, and Blechacz concerto was the one that I still remember most.

 

The only case that may fall into the "attractive and marketable woman" category (and I really don't think in these terms) in my list of 25 albums I see is Janine Jansen. But before you judge her by the looks, really listen to her album. She is a truly outstanding artist. And I very much like Chailly's approach with the Gewandhaus (which was Mendelssohn's own orchestra!).

 

Again, it is a subjective choice, but I've spent quite some time in carefully choosing the albums I chose. I'm happy to discuss every single choice, but find it more helpful focusing on individual selections and comparing it to specific alternatives.

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I think the word "essential" does not describe your list. The list seems the year end lists that Stereophile and other magazines used to do with each writer's favorites of the year.

 

I don't want to beat you over the head about it but here are two questions.

 

To me, essential means something that I really don't want to be without. Is having a particular Bruckner Sym. No. 4 recording more important than having a good recording of Beethoven's 3rd, 6th or 9th symphonies? Is having your favorite recording of the Schumann 3rd and 4th more important than having a good recording of Dvorak's 8th or 9th symphonies?

 

I'm quite struck by all you didn't consider essential.

 

I browsed Martin Bookspan's "101 Masterpieces..." as a basis for comparison. Choosing 101 works gives more room but that limit still requires arbitrary choices.

 

You have a valid point. I've called this "Musicophile's essential" to indicate these are the albums essential to me, but the title can be misleading.

 

And while writing the blog post, I noticed that 25 really is a very short list.

 

I may expand the list to 50 in the near future.

 

But to give one concrete answer, yes, I'd always chose the Rhenish over the New World. But that's maybe because I listened too much to Dvorak's 9th (or whatever number it has these days) that I have a certain feeling of fatigue with it.

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While I do unterstand your comment to a point, I'd much rather discuss specific recordings and not just general tendencies.

 

Let me quickly answer your general point: while I've recommended recordings from the 1940s (Furtwängler) to the current decade, I have a certain favor for more recent recordings. This however really hasn't a lot to do with recording technique (some of the 1950s and 60s recordings can sound fantastic, and better than some overproduced current ones).

 

The reason why I often prefer more recent recordings is the huge influence that historically informed performance has had in the last 3 decades, which went well further than baroque and early music where they started. I simply prefer the lighter and more transparent sound of playing with less vibrato, gut strings, or all the other new tendencies introduced and now adopted by many conductors and orchestras.

 

This is a fundamental question of taste (I'll leave the right or wrong to the musicologists, as unfortunately sadly enough nobody ever bothered to put Mozart into a recording studio). A friend of mine loves his Bach by Karl Richter and cannot stand the anemic sound to his ears of a Philippe Herreweghe, for me it is this other way round.

 

This is as far as I can comment generically.

 

However, I'd much more appreciate discussions around individual recommendations, as I really cannot see where I've preferred the "attractive and marketable" in my selection, or favored DG and Decca over others.

 

Let's take Rafal Blechacz for example, one of my DG albums. He's probably the total opposite of the piano poster boy, he is one of the most introvert artists I've seen. That said, I had the pleasure of hearing Pollini, Zimerman, and Blechacz play live once in one week, and Blechacz concerto was the one that I still remember most.

 

The only case that may fall into the "attractive and marketable woman" category (and I really don't think in these terms) in my list of 25 albums I see is Janine Jansen. But before you judge her by the looks, really listen to her album. She is a truly outstanding artist. And I very much like Chailly's approach with the Gewandhaus (which was Mendelssohn's own orchestra!).

 

Again, it is a subjective choice, but I've spent quite some time in carefully choosing the albums I chose. I'm happy to discuss every single choice, but find it more helpful focusing on individual selections and comparing it to specific alternatives.

 

+1

 

Well said.

 

Even if others appear not to be, I, for one, am very grateful for the time and thought you put into these articles as well as the other valuable content on your blog.

 

Keep up the good work!

Sometimes it's like someone took a knife, baby
Edgy and dull and cut a six inch valley
Through the middle of my skull

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