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Must-have classical music

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Hello, I am thinking of sampling some classical music to make a change from my usual rock/blues/swing genres. About the only classical music I know is 'Fur Elise'!


Can anyone recommend some iconic 'must-have' classical music performances as a good introduction to the genre?


Preferably on CD as my paltry download limit precludes any form of music download other than the occasional lossy iTunes track!





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Hi Peter - I am not the biggest fan of Classical music myself but I have discovered two recording that I can't live without. They are both from Reference Recordings and sound absolutely spectacular as well.


Eiji Oue (Minnesota Orchestra) - Bolero!: Orchestral Fireworks [RR-92]


Eiji Oue (Minnesota Orchestra) - COPLAND 100 [RR-93]






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Try this for a wide range in age and instruments and should give you an idea what you like. Generally great sound, but focus on great music. I own these specific recordings, substitute at your own risk except the four marked with [*] where no substitutions should be made.


Vivaldi: 4 Seasons (Sparf, Drottningholm) - BIS

Bach: English Suites (Andra Schiff) - Decca

Mozart: Piano Concerto #20++ (Curzon) - Decca

Mozart: Clarinet Concerto (King, ECO, Tate) - Hyperion

Beethoven: Symph #5+7 (Kleiber) - DG (also as SACD) [*]

Beethoven: Rasumovsky Quartets (Borodin Q) - EMI

Verdi: Requiem (Atlanta, Shaw) - Telarc

Brahms/Tchaikovsky: Violin Concertos (Heifetz) - RCA (also on SACD) [*]

Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos #1-4 (Ashkenazy) - Decca

Elgar: Cello Concerto and Sea Pictures (duPre, Barbirolli) - EMI [*]

Puccini: Tosca (Callas, diStefano, de Sabata) - EMI [*]


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Mozartrules' entire list is excellent (would you expect anything less from that handle? :) ), and I would definitely endorse the Vivaldi 4 Seasons and the Beethoven Symphony #7 (the 5th is the classic of course, but the 7th really rocks), especially if we're talking about starting with the basics as you say.


I might add, again, for your base starting-out library:

Mozart Symphonies #40 and 41

Beethoven Piano Concertos #1 and 4 (although they are all great)

Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition and Night on Bald Mountain (can frequently be found on the same disc)

Bach Organ works esp. the Toccata and Fugue in D minor (crank this one). There's an old E. Power Biggs recording that is amazing.


These are considered "war horses" by many, but are all lots of fun and a great foundation for your library. Great to hear of your interest in classical. This is something that I think you'll be able to enjoy more and more and for the rest of your life.


BTW, Mozartrules, Mozart is incredible, but Beethoven is my guy. The original rocker. :)





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Thanks for the great replies everyone, that is exactly what I am looking for!


Chris, is there any way of ripping/playing the full 20 bit quality HDCD files on a Mac (I realise that if you don't have an HDCD equipped player it reverts to 16 bit CD quality but if I am paying for the extra quality I want to access it!)




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  • 2 weeks later...

A good introduction to classical music would be the two Walt Disney movies, "Fantasia" and "Fantasia 2000". After you watched the movies, turn off the TV and just listen to the music. This will expose you to a variety of composers and styles of classical music, although mostly symphonic. These pieces of music are, for the most part, abbreviated versions, but long enough to get a good feel of each piece.


I was introduced to classical music when I was eight years old. My family went to see "Fantasia" at the theaters and I was instantly hooked. This was back in the 1960s. Volcanoes, dinosaurs, mythical creatures from Geek mythology, fairies, and a mountain that turned into a giant demon who torments naked souls! WOW! What more could an eight year old boy want!


I pestered my dad to buy the soundtrack which I played over and over. When I was in my early teens, some of the first albums I purchased were the full-length versions of the music from "Fantasia". Today I have over 700 albums of classical music in my collection and about 80% of the music I buy these days are classical.


Give it a try.





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Well I have ordered some Bach (Toccata & Fugue E. Power Biggs), and some Beethoven (Symphony Nos 5, 7 Kleiber VPO and No 9 Haitink LSO) to 'dip my toes in the water' so to speak, per the recommendations in this thread.


I also bought a Brian Setzer CD 'Wolfgang's Big Night Out' which has some well-known classical pieces but with a big-band modern interpretation as a bit of a bridge between rock and classical (got to ease into these things you know!)


Innertuber, although I haven't heard much classical music, I think it is safe to say I will still find rock music my favourite style as that is what I heard most during my formative years, and while tastes do change, I think that period has a lifelong influence!



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Excellent Peter, good to hear you took the plunge, or the "dip" as you said. As I mentioned, you might crank the opening Tocatta of the Bach as it's a real grabber. You'll wake the neighbors with this one. It's an older recording, but the quality is very good for back then, and the performance is astonishing, which is the important part. Keep in mind that it's one guy using both hands and both feet. I'd also be interested in your opinion of the Beethoven 7 recording that mozartrules recommended, as I'm always on the lookout for "reference" recordings of my faves.


I too am probably more influenced by rock than any other genre. Nothing like a good AC/DC (a nod to you there in Oz) or ZZ Top rocker to get the blood going. I always say, though, that I like anything that's done well, with some artistry and joy involved. So, enjoy!





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Tim, re my opinion on the Beethoven/Kleiber recording:


Firstly I don't have another recording to compare it to, and secondly, being a classical neophyte, I wouldn't know a good from a bad performance, so I am sorry but I can't be much help to you there!

Perhaps mozartrules can highlight the things that make this a 'reference recording'?



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If I look in iTunes, I have 2651 'songs' in Classical, all ripped as lossless, for a total of 62 GB of classical music. I'm not trying to brag, but just letting you know what can happen when you start seriously getting into classical music.


Some other suggestions I'd make for beginners (to add to those already mentioned):


1. Rimsky-Korsakov, 'Scheherazade', Chicago Symphony Orchestra / Fritz Reiner

2. Mussorgsky, 'Pictures at an Exhibition', ditto

3. Strauss, various Strauss waltzes, Wiener Philharmoniker / Fritz Reiner

4. Vivaldi, 'La Stravaganza', Rachel Podger / Arte Dei Suanatori

5. Ravel, 'Bolero, La Valse' etc, Boston Symphony Orchestra / Charles Munch

6. Part, 'Fratres', Hungarian State Opera Orchestra

7. Handel, 'Water Music', Boston Baroque / Martin Pearlman

8. Reich, 'Music for 18 Musicians', Steve Reich & Musicians

9. Glass, 'Symphony No. 2', Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra

10. Gerswhin, 'American in Paris, Rhapsody in Blue', etc,


MacBook Pro -> AppleTV ->Rotel RSP-1570 -> Martin Logan Electromotion[br]MacBook Pro -> Icon HDP -> AKG K701[br]Apple Lossless all the way

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My two cents on this, others have listed good pieces, but try these.


1 WAGNAR-The Ring of the Nibelung

2 WIDOR -Tocata from symphony No 5

3 TOLGA KASHIF - The Queen Symphony

4 RODRIGO- Concerto de Aranjuez

5 TCHAIKOVSKY - !812 overture

6 AARON COPLAND - Fanfare for a common man.

7 STRAUSS- Also sprach Zarathustra, op. 30


Heres a good link for you:





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  • 2 weeks later...

For mozartrules or anyone else who might see this...


Last night we went to see the Charlotte Symphony do the Mahler 1st and it was amazing. I was already familiar with it, so knew what to expect, but it exceeded expectations. Wow. Tears in the eyes at the finale. Anyway, can anyone suggest their favorite recording of this, performance-wise? I have Solti and the Chicago which I like a lot, but I'm going to buy this for some family members to enjoy and thought I'd inquire. Thanks.





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Two composers missing from the lists that must be heard and can always be appreciated (melodic, emotive, evocative) are Berlioz and Dvorak.


For Berlioz try Romeo and Juliet conducted by either Colin Davis or John Eliot Gardiner (Philips) or Te Deum conducted by Claudio Abbado. (DG)


For Dvorak try the last 3 symphonies as conducted by Colin Davis. (Philips)




NSW Australia


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I can humbly point out these as well:


Bach, Solo and Double Violin Concertos, Andrew Manze, Harmonia Mundi

(Also If you can find: Conc. for Oboe and Violin and strings in C minor)


Bach, Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major, BWV564 (second movement), Herrick, Hyperion (CD includes the other more popular BWV565 as well)


Schubert, Symphony 8, Bernstein, DG


Mozart, Requim, Marriner, Philips


Mozart, Great Mass in C minor, Marriner, Philips


Barber, Adagio for Strings / Satie, Gymnopedie 1 & 3 / Faure, Pavane – Slatkin, Telarc


Ravel, Pavane, La Valse


Tchaikovsky, Symphony 1


Tchaikovsky, Sleeping Beauty


Movie: Tous les matins du monde (soundtrack is available as well)


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You'll have all of the classical music buffs coming out of the woodwork with this one Peter. I probably have about 6-700 CDS (a small collection) which I'm slowly digitising and enjoying rediscovering as I do so. The main thing is to listen widely - and just to find things you enjoy. You have had some good suggestions so far. Here are some more at random:

Vivaldi: L'estro armonico - Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music

Handel: Messiah - Dunedin Consort - CD or download from Linn - it's a wonderful recording

The Devil's Trill - Palladians - also Cd or download from Linn - another corker!

Beethoven Symphonies - the Kleiber version of No. 7 is a recognised classic of course - however a newer version of the symphonies you may enjoy is conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (I may cause some controversy with that recommendation!)

The suggestion of the soundtrack to Tous Les Matins du monde is a good one I think, the french baroque can be a fertile ground for someone who enjoys rock or jazz, as it really swings: try some Lully or Rameau for example. The spanish baroque too is worth a try - have a listen to some of Jordi Savall and Hesperion XX(I)'s recordings on Astree - Auvidis and you'll see what I mean.

Other music I can't live without is the Melos Quartet's recording of the Debussy and Ravel String Quartet; Martha Argerich's Ravel piano concerto in G; and that's without even starting into cello music or vocal or opera....


But then of course for a change of mood, being from Oz, I might switch to Nick Cave, Ed Kuepper or Hunters and Collectors ; )...


Enjoy your musical journey, wherever it leads you!





Melbourne, Australia

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  • 1 year later...

I'm so glad you are interested in classical music. I, myself is not new to it (although I am not a pro, I don’t even play an instrument, it's embarrassing). I love classical music, and I always found it a pity that only few people have found access to classical music and the great joy it can bring to our lives.

That's why I have recently written an article on how to enable "newbies" an easy access to it. I posted it on my blog and would very much appreciate your comments and ideas on how to make it even easier for beginners to get to know classical music.


A Guide to Enjoy Classical Music


Would be great to hear from you!


Thank you,




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  • 3 months later...

You can pick up some great pointers by listening to classical music stations as well. My personal favorite being KMFA in Austin. They will play a lot of stuff and they always tell you what they are playing. :)http://www.kmfa.org


Also, look into some "Jazz" stuff, which can and often does border straight into classical. Philip Glass, Claudette Stone, Dave Brubeck, etc. Great stuff! You can find a lot of this stuff available for free (legally I mean!) over the web. http://www.claudettestone.com/ http://www.philipglass.com/ http://www.davebrubeck.com/live/


Also, look into the web sites like Magnatune- they have stuff by new artists that are not signed to labels. The cost of the music is very reasonable. I found a a great Album there by Harlan Williams, _The Glass Desert_. It's some really interesting guitar music. http://www.magnatune.com/artists/harlan_williams


Finally, don't forget to browse around on iTunes, and download ant free classical tracks they have up there!






Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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