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Classical music aficionados - educate me


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#1 of 42 OFFLINE   Brian E

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Posted May 19 2003 - 03:36 PM

I find my self wanting to start exploring classical music more.

What I have...

Beethoven Symphonies No.4 & No.5 / Edgemont Overture
New York Philharmonic - Leonard Bernstein
Sony Classical - Bernstein Century series - SMK 63079

Beethoven Symphonies No.6 & No.8 / King Stephen Overture
New York Philharmonic - Leonard Bernstein
Sony Classical - Bernstein Century series - SMK 60557

...I don't know if these are considered good performances or poor. Holst's The Planets has been recommended to me and that's what got this search started. I figured if I'm going to explore I'm not going to do it with just one work.

What I'm looking for is some guidance. Every time I start looking at titles I get lost. There must be hundreds of CDs out there for each work by each composer. Each conducted by someone different & performed by a different orchestra. I don't know what's good & what's crap.

Some things I'd like to check out...
Holst's The Planets
Some Wagner
Some Dvorak
Some Bach
Some Mozart
Some Vivaldi
Some Mahler
Some Tchaikovsky
and whatever else I haven't thought of Posted Image

What I don't want is stuff like...
Boffing to Bach
Making it to Mozart
and that type of stuff.

I tried that route a few years ago and decided it's not the way for me to pursue it.

Not looking for just Symphonies, but also Concerto's and stuff. I can't tell you much of what I like. While I like all of what I have right now I probably like the 5th the best. It's got nice string & horn parts. Bold and powerful. Hot & energetic.

If someone would be so kind as to point me in a direction that would be great.

I should mention that I have both BMG & Colombia House memberships to finish up so if anyone knows of anything to be had there so much the better.

Thanks In Advance.
~Brian

#2 of 42 OFFLINE   David W Johnson

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Posted May 19 2003 - 04:38 PM

Holst: The Planets Suite
Currently, my favorite rendition of this piece is on the Chandos label with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Alexander Gibson. CHAN 7082.

Also worthy of note, is the Complete Tone Poems of Jean Sibelius, also performed by the Scottish National Orchestra under Gibson's baton. CHAN 8395/6

Another good version of the Planets Suite is Bernstein conducting the NY Philharmonic on CBS Records, "Great Performances" series of reissues. MYK 37226

James Levine and the Chicago Symphony also does The Planets justice on a Deutsche Grammophon CD. 429 730-2

Black Dog Opera Library (part of EMI Classics) releases several excellent recordings of opera which are packaged with excellent hardcover books which include the complete libretto with annotations, critical historical commentary, and a complete performance of the opera on 2 CDs. The performances are terrific and the price is entirely reasonable. For your Mozart fix, pick up The Magic Flute.

There are several excellent recordings of Mozart's Requiem. I feel that Claudio Abbado and the Berliner Philharmoniker is one of the more tasteful renditions of the piece. Deutsche Grammophon CD 289 463 181-2

Pierre Boulez and the Cleveland Orchestra handles Berlioz's Symphonie Fantasique quite well on a Deutsche Grammophon CD 453 432-2

The DVD Box-set of Wagner's complete Ring cycle, conducted by Pierre Boulez at the Bayreuth Festival is a terrific bargain. It's probably more opera than you would ever want to see, but it's definitive Wagner.

Dan Laurin playing Vivaldi's Recorder Concertos is one of the most beautiful CDs I have ever heard of Vivaldi's (or any composer's) music. This CD receives one of my highest rankings and highest recommendations! BIS #635

Dvorak's Cello Concerto (along with all of the other concertos in this set, especially the Elgar Cello Concerto) performed by the late Jacqueline du Pré on the 3 CD set, "Favourite Cello Concertos" is a must-have. Angel Records - #63283

Mahler's symphonies are each monumental works of art. I recommend starting your Mahler collection with the complete symphonies conducted by Bernstein with the NY Phil. Sony - #89499 After absorbing these symphonies, search for other complete sets and pick and choose your conductors for each symphony. Great fun, and a hell of a workout for your audio system!

Tchaikovsky's 5th and 6th Symphonies are two of my favorite works in the orchestral repertoire. I'm still searching for a recorded version of these symphonies that do the works justice.

Bach's Complete Unaccompanied Cello Suites performed by Mstislav Rostropovich is truly masterful. This boxed set will reward your ears with countless hours of repeated listenings. EMI Classics - #55363

Well, that about covers everything you requested.
Holst's The Planets
Some Wagner
Some Dvorak
Some Bach
Some Mozart
Some Vivaldi
Some Mahler
Some Tchaikovsky
and even a bit of Sibelius, Elgar and Berlioz.

Beware of becoming the collecting classical music enthusiast! Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny!

Happy hunting. Feel free to ask for more advice!

David W Johnson
"...If someone asks you if you're a god, you say YES!!!"

#3 of 42 OFFLINE   Dennis Nicholls

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Posted May 20 2003 - 05:32 AM

How into "hi fi" are you? There are many superior older recordings that are very cheap but may not measure up to this week's SACD recordings. It would help if you make this preference known.

There aren't any web sites I know that cover comparative reviews - you need to go buy the approx. 1600 (!!)page "The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs" by Ivan March, Edward Greenfield, and Robert Layton. It's a very pricy paperback (about $18) but will save you money as you won't buy "clunkers". The most recent version is dated from 2001 ("2002 Edition") and there is a 2002/2003 "Yearbook" with updates.

Posted Image

Getting boxed sets of budget recordings can give you excellent value. As an example, many consider the Istvan Kertesz/London Sym. Orch. set of the complete Dvorak nine symphonies to be a classic both in terms of performance and recording (even though recorded 40 years ago). You can get this 6-CD set on the London budget label for $38 new from an Amazon affiliate.

Posted Image

Also do a search on this forum because this question comes up monthly.
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#4 of 42 OFFLINE   Dennis Nicholls

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Posted May 20 2003 - 06:32 AM

Also you left off Brahms. He has the highest "hit to junk" ratio of any composer. Get a copy of his violin concerto. There are a lot of good performances from Anne-Sophie Mutter, Itzhak Perlman, Henryk Szeryng, and other worthies.

Posted Image

This Szeryng/Dorati/LSO performance on Mercury should be really good, although the Szeryng performance I've owned was with Fritz Reiner/Chicago.
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#5 of 42 OFFLINE   Brian E

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Posted May 20 2003 - 07:10 AM

Quote:
How into "hi fi" are you?
Just plain old CD's are what I'm looking for at this point, no DVD-A or SACD yet.


Quote:
Also do a search on this forum because this question comes up monthly.
Did a search before posting. Didn't find that many threads. The ones I did seemed to get off track pretty quickly and only left me with more questions.


Quote:
Also you left off Brahms.
I'm sure I left off a lot more than that Posted Image It seems quite easy to accumulate a very large collection. Right now I'm just trying to get a start.


Quote:
There are a lot of good performances from Anne-Sophie Mutter, Itzhak Perlman, Henryk Szeryng, and other worthies.
I guess this is the info I'm most looking for. Generally accepted great conductors/orchestras of a particular composers works. If such a thing exists.


There are a few titles I'm looking at on Columbia House & BMG. Perhaps I'll post the works & conductor/orchestra here for opinion.


Thanks
~Brian

#6 of 42 OFFLINE   Gary->dee

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Posted May 20 2003 - 09:06 AM

Although you didn't mention these composers I'd like to recommend them. The following are CDs I think no classical music lover should be without. They represent what I feel are the best recordings of these pieces:


Posted Image
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade

Posted Image
Ravel: Rapsodie Espagnole

The best recording of The Planets I've heard...
Posted Image
Holst: The Planets

#7 of 42 OFFLINE   Brian E

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Posted May 20 2003 - 10:54 AM

Ok, I've got a list of a dozen titles from the BMG club. If any of you are familiar with these particular ones I'd love some comments.

Tchaikovsky, Myaskovsky: Violin Concertos
Kirov Orchestra / Valery Gergiev
Label: Philips
http://www.bmgmusic.....roductId=49608

Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherezade
Kirov Orchestra / Valery Gergiev
Label: Philips
http://www.bmgmusic.....roductId=48536

Vivaldi, The Four Seasons
Gil Shaham/Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
Label: DG
http://www.bmgmusic.....roductId=17105

Furtwängler, Symphony No. 2
Daniel Barenboim/Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Label: Teldec
http://www.bmgmusic.....roductId=42001

Dvorák, The 9 Symphonies
Istvan Kertész/London Symphony Orchestra
Label: London
http://www.bmgmusic.....roductId=10369

Holst/Matthews, The Planets & Pluto
Mark Elder/Hallé Orchestra
Label: Hyperion
http://www.bmgmusic.....roductId=38732

Holst, The Planets; R. Strauss, Also Sprach Zarathustra
William Steinberg conducts Boston Symphony Orchestra
Label: DG Originals
http://www.bmgmusic.....roductId=38321

Mozart, Horn Concertos
Philharmonia Orch/Karajan - Dennis Brain
Label: EMI Classics
http://www.bmgmusic.....roductId=25737

Mozart, The Five Violin Concertos
Itzhak Perlman, James Levine and the Vienna Phil.
Label: DG
http://www.bmgmusic.....roductId=18279

Penguin Classics-Bach, Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1-4
English Chamber Orch./Benjamin Britten
Label: London
http://www.bmgmusic.....roductId=29143

The Bernstein Century; Mahler, Symphony No. 3
NY Phil/Bernstein
Label: Sony Classical
http://www.bmgmusic.....roductId=34303

Mozart, Symphonies Nos. 35-41
Karl Böhm/Berlin Philharmonic
Label: DG Originals
http://www.bmgmusic.....roductId=20085


I'm writing down every suggestion made in this thread for future trys, but thought since I need to buy one from BMG (& will then get 4 free) to complete my membership this would be a great way to do it, if I can find 5 decent discs that is.

Dennis, I'll look for a copy of the Penguin Guide at the used book shop when I go later this week (also going to look for used CDs there). If they don't have it I'll look for a new copy. Thanks for mentioning it. I'd heard of it, but didn't know exactly what it gave you.
~Brian

#8 of 42 OFFLINE   ManW_TheUncool

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Posted May 20 2003 - 12:01 PM

Yes, I second that high recommendation of the Penguide Guide to greatly help newbies explore classical CDs Posted Image even though not everyone will agree w/ their seemingly, British-centric tastes. I also highly recommend using this following site as a free guide to all the essentials and such:

http://www.classical.net/ Posted Image

That site plus revisions of the Penguin Guide were the primary resources (besides visiting forums like rec.music.classical.recordings, etc) I used in building my appreciation for classical music and my "modest" CD collection. Actually, IIRC, the content for that site originated from a huge, regularly updated post maintained by the site owner way back in the late 80's when I was still in college and usenet was THE main source of info on the net. Posted Image

Anyway, you seem to have left out Beethoven, even though you mentioned an interest in different versions of his symphonies, and also Rachmaninov and Mendelssohn.

Personally, if I were you, I'd start out w/ the following few composers and branch out from there:

Beethoven (end of Classical period)
Mozart (Classical period)
Bach (Baroque period)
Mendelssohn (beginning of Romantic period)
Rachmaninov (neo-Romantic)
Tchaikovsky (late-Romantic)

These alone will occupy more than enough of your time and $$$ (and shelf space) for a long time, especially the first three, who are generally considered the most important/essential of the entire canon.

I would start out w/ some of their symphonies (odd #-ed Beethoven and late Mozart) and serenades (late Mozart) and concertos (all 3, especially for violin if you generally prefer that over piano). With concertos, you should probably also add Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. You should also look into chamber pieces like Bach's Cello Suite as suggested, the more famous piano sonatas from Beethoven and Mozart, some violin sonatas, and some string quartets.

I would stay away from opera at first unless you've somehow already developed a casual appreciation for it. When I first started, I couldn't understand why people love opera. So for a long time, I only owned Mozart's Magic Flute. But years later, after I exhausted much of the essentials (and not-quite-so-essentials), I finally developed an appreciation for it.

Anyway, enjoy your great new journey down the musical past... Posted Image Posted Image

_Man_

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"Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things..." (St. Paul)

#9 of 42 OFFLINE   Sathyan

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Posted May 20 2003 - 01:03 PM

I'm going to list some specific pieces I consider essential. My classical collection is mostly on LP & cassette so some performances may not be available on CD

Before the pieces, here are some performers to look for:

Violinists: Kreisler, Heifetz, Stern, Menhuin, Perlman. Kreisler and Heifetz were the best but recording tech was bad then. Of current young performers I like Bell, Kennedy, Chang Midori and Hahn.

Cello: Ma, Casals, Du Pre, Rostro...

Orchestras:
1. Berlin Philharmonic Orch.
2. Vienna Phil
3. Concertegebouw Amsterdam
4. HAlle
5. London Sym
6. Montreal
7. Chicago
8. Cleveland Orch
9. SF Sym (w/MTT)
10. Philadelphia


Labels: Chesky, Deutsche Grammophon, RCA Red Label (LP), RCA Victor, Philips, Telarc, EMI Classics, Chandos, Naxos
Avoid Laserlight like the plague. The only tolerable off-brand is Naxos (it provides an excellent value).




Conductors: Karajan, Klemperer, Abaddo, Szell, Bernstein, Reiner, Fiedler, mehta, Ormandy, Solti, Furtwangler

Holst's - The Planets (Bernstein)
Some Wagner - Ring Cycle (Boulez), Tristan und Isolde
Some Dvorak - Sym. 8 & 9 (on hybrid SACD with Ivan Fischer), cello conc. (Ma)
Some Bach - Bach Works for Solo Violin (on HDCD with Lara St. John); Cello suites (Rostro.); double violin concerto (Perlman, Zukerman)
Some Mozart - sym. 25 & 41 (get these on Naxos)
Some Vivaldi - 4 seasons (Stern), trumpet conc.
Some Mahler - Sym. #3 & 6 (SACD, SF Sym)
Some Tchaikovsky - violin concerto (Perlman), Sym. # 6
and even a bit of Sibelius - Finlandia, violin conc.
, Elgar - cello concerto (du Pre), Enigma (London Sym w Slatkin)
and Berlioz - Sym. Fantastique (on DG)

I could add many more but will limit my self to one: My favorite symphony composer Bruckner. Get his Sym. #4 & 8 (BPO/HvK)

Also listen to the 1948(?) movie Humouresque; that's Stern playing the soundtrack

A warning about BMG music service: Some of their discs are labelled "mfg. for BMG"; these are audibly inferior to the original label's pressings


#10 of 42 OFFLINE   Ken Stuart

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Posted May 20 2003 - 03:57 PM

You should listen to Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi as performed by:

- Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert

and/or

- Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music

and/or

- Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque

all of whom perform these works in the style and spirit of the times in which they were originally composed and performed. It makes a significant difference.

Highly Recommended is:

- Handel's Complete Water Music (esp by Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert)

- Bach's Brandenburg Concertos (either Hogwood or Pinnock)

- Vivaldi's Four Seasons (any of the three)

PS The Pinnock "Water Music" is one of my Desert Island Discs...

#11 of 42 OFFLINE   Brian E

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Posted May 20 2003 - 04:00 PM

Quote:
I also highly recommend using this following site as a free guide to all the essentials and such:

http://www.classical.net/

Thanks, I'm off to have a look now.


Quote:
A warning about BMG music service: Some of their discs are labelled "mfg. for BMG"; these are audibly inferior to the original label's pressings

It's interesting that you mentioned that. I've seen this come up from time to time, but it's always dismissed by folks as an "old wives tale". Have you compared titles side by side before? I'd be interested to read your results it you have. I can't imagine BMG actually doing anything to the masters to change the audio. How exactly are they inferior?
~Brian

#12 of 42 OFFLINE   Tomoko Noguchi

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Posted May 21 2003 - 02:35 AM

When I lived in the US, I bought from BMG club with Mgf by BMG discs. It is absolutely not true that they sound worse. Whoever says that doesn't know what they speak of. Compared many with the store bought. They are the same in sound.

#13 of 42 OFFLINE   Jack Briggs

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Posted May 21 2003 - 07:23 AM

I hope readers are aware of the value of original-pressing Mercury Living Presence recordings (especially those with Antal Dorati). Dennis is aware, I bet!

#14 of 42 OFFLINE   DavidAMallett

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Posted May 21 2003 - 08:11 AM

OK, you probably aren't going to want to hear this, but listen anyway.

While CD at 16/44.1 is just ducky for rock or electrically generated music, it simply doesn't work for classical or stuff with lots of harmonic information above the "brick cieling." I am going to keep this short and use personal experience rather than a bunch of specs and stuff. Take it or leave it...

I am a 53 year old recording engineer and hear very little above 12k. OTOH, I can spot a CD in seconds when acoustic music is reproduced, regardless of the quality of the player or system. A lot of the music just isn't there. It doesn't sound bad, it just sounds like low calorie ice cream tastes...something is just missing.

If you don't want to spring for DVD-A or SACD, grab a turntable and a few LP's. I won't make a recommendation, but I use one up in my home theater system for which I paid 25.00 with a Stanton 681EEE cartridge at an estate sale. There isn't a CD player made that can touch it. LP's can be had for 1.00 at many places, and at that price you can throw them away if they suck. I'd also strongly recommend a DBX 1BX III dynamic (or better) range expander if you like what your hear from the turntable but want to get rid of that inter-track noise and improve the punch. Get'em on Ebay for 85-120.00 regularly.

Now, to avoid the flames: I've nothing against CD. Great medium for many, if not most, things. DVD-A and SACD are far closer to analog for things that have real nuance and range. LP is a great medium but suffers from limited dynamic range. However, that can be fixed with a judiciously used DBX.

However you listen to classical music, you will come away better for it.

Best regards,
Dave
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#15 of 42 OFFLINE   Dennis Nicholls

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Posted May 21 2003 - 08:49 AM

Jack,
Yeah, what's going to get me to buy into SACD is the upcoming release of the Mercury disks with Dorati in the SACD format. I'm starting to look into the combo. DVD-V/SACD/DVD-A players.
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#16 of 42 OFFLINE   Daniel Baseman

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Posted May 21 2003 - 09:24 AM

As if you didn't have enough suggestions already....

The Saint-Saens piano concertos on Hyperion - Stephen Hough, are MARVELOUS.

The Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies on Philips - Ivan Fischer

Mendelssohn Violin Concerto/Brahms Double Concerto on Teldec - Perlman/Ma/Barenboim

Just a couple of Romantic suggestions.

D

#17 of 42 OFFLINE   Brian E

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Posted May 21 2003 - 09:52 AM

Dave, I have a very good turntable (Rega Planar 3) and I do plan on picking up a bunch of vinyl. The local used book store sells most vinyl for .50 to $3.00 so I'll load up. It is hard however to bring my tt along in the car or to the office. I have 8-10 hours a day to listen at work. So I'll definately be picking up a ton of vinyl, but I'm not as concerned with getting burned on a $1 record as I am a $10 or $15 CD.

As for SACD/DVD-A I do plan to get one, but would like them to do a good combo player that gets everything right and does bass management without having to buy an ICBM. Maybe someday. I was looking at either a Pioneer 45A or 47Ai, but everything I've read says I'll still need to get an ICBM.
~Brian

#18 of 42 OFFLINE   DavidAMallett

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Posted May 21 2003 - 10:01 AM

Outstanding. Hard to argue with the Rega.

You might consider the DBX. I don't EQ, mix, transcode, or do ANYTHING to my recordings. But I've been using DBX machines with my turntables since the 117 back in 1974, and there are precious few LP's I listen without it. Perhaps 200 gram direct to disc.

One other bit of advice about classical. Just because you don't like one performance doesn't mean you don't like the piece. A good (though some would argue semi-classical) example is "Rhapsody in Blue." It's been butchered more than almost anything, from syrupy 100 piece orchestras taking 25:00 to harmonica. My favorite recording of it is a 1928 recording on 78 (I have an Empire for 78's) with Gershwin at the piano and the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Awesome. I've about 400 78's from Edisons to Elvis (Sun) and some of them sound better than CD's.

Have fun!

Dave
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#19 of 42 OFFLINE   ManW_TheUncool

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Posted May 21 2003 - 10:14 AM

How much does a Rega Planar 3 go for these days? Honestly, I have never listened to classical music on vinyl although I did consider getting a turntable like the Rega way back when -- at the time, it was considered a good entry level audiophile turntable. Don't think I'll try to get into that game now, especially w/ DVD-A/SACD making some in-roads.

_Man_

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#20 of 42 OFFLINE   DavidAMallett

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Posted May 21 2003 - 10:37 AM

Let me repeat. I have 25.00 into my Sony P-4300 and Stanton 681EEE, and it sounds better than any CD player, as good as all but the very finest SACD and DVD-A.

I record at 24/196 so I've the material to make that statement.

Granted, in the back I've a far superior turntable, arm and cartridge...but the difference is only notable for critical listening.

LP playback is by far the biggest bargain in audio today.

The vast majority of all music issued in the 20th century is on those discs, and only a little of that will ever be available in new formats...and then it may be the victim of a transporter accident. I've never neard even a 78 transferred to CD that sounded even close to the original.

Dave
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Well, I only have two ears.


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