Here are some that are pleasant and easy for a beginner
(I was in the same situation a few years ago)
BEETHOVEN - "THE PASTORAL" 6TH SYM.
J S Bach - The Orchestral Suites
Handel - Water Music
Mozart - any of his symphonies
Tchaikovsky - Nutcracker Suite
Those are not recordings. They are pieces of music, all of which have been recorded many times. As for the Mozart symphonies, I would restrict beginners to #29 and later.
Dvorak, do not forget this guy!! ..and for starters with curious ears Stravinsky and Prokofiev is a must....have fun!
Orchestral or chamber, old or new, fast or slow, voices or no voices?
Some recommendations from my collection...all should be easily found.
1) Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. Chicago Symphony/Reiner. RCA Living Stereo.
2) Vaughan Williams - Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, Barber - Adagio for Strings et al. Saint Louis Symphony/Slatkin. Telarc.
3) Mozart - Requiem. Arnold Scheonberg Choir/Harnoncourt. Deutsche Harmonia Mundi.
4) Soundtrack - Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Composed by Howard Shore.
5) Beethoven String Quartets. Alban Berg Quartet. EMI Classics.
1-Rachmaninov Concerto No.2 Evgeny Kissin- RCA Victor Red Seal
2-Barber & Meyer Violin Concertos- Hilary Hahn-Sony.
3-Essential Verdi- 2cd's of Various artists (the worlds best!)Decca.
4-Elgar-Pomp & Circumstance Marches Symphonies 1 & 2- Virgin Classics.
5-Beethoven-Triple Concerto Mutter/Yo Yo Ma/Zeltser/Karajan-Deutsche Grammophon.
Rachmaninoff plays Rachmaninoff - concerti !!! He makes all other great pianists sound like children... It's simply a great Russian poetry...
Rubinstein plays Chopin
Romantic music of Spain - Janos Starker (cellist)
Heifets ( any recording )
Maria Callas ( mad scenes )
Thrift store vinyl is a good gateway into classical music. You can often get great stuff for practically nothing. If you don't have a turntable, it's a good excuse to get one. Classical sounds better on vinyl anyway IMO.
Issac Stern's recording of Mendelssohn's Concerto in E Minor for Violin and Orchestra and Beethoven's Two Romances with the Boston Symphony (conducted by Seiji Ozawa) is one of my favorites that I discovered that way.
I'm sure you'll get plenty of "serious" recommendations from this thread, but Wendy (formerly Walter) Carlos' Switched on Bach (Bach performed on Moog synthesizers) is great fun.
Jordi Savall performing Orlando Gibbon's "Fantasias for Viols"
Its tough getting into classical because of the bewildering number on Composers, compositions, and interpretations. One way to get started is to do some internet listening to a good station. There are many, but my favorite is WCLV. I tend to point people to recordings of music that I consider to be close to flawless in both interpretation and recording quality. Here goes with my top five list.
1.Schubert Rosemunde Quartet by the Belcea Quartet on EMI. My favorite classical recording, bar none. The Belcea is vastly underrated.
2.Hilary Hahn Brahms violin concerto on Sony. Paired with the Stravinski. Both just great performances of great music, and quite nice recording quality.
3. Stravinski, The Rite of Spring on Deutche Grammophone. Salonen and the LA Philharmonic
4. Beethoven 9th symphony, on Bis by Osmo Vanska. If you don't love this there is not much hope.
5. Dvorak Cello concerto by Queyras on Harmonia Mundi. A wonderful recording and performance of the best cello concerto ever written. Enjoy.
I would suggest the following :
1. Handel water Musick Harmonia Mundi HMU 7010
2. Corroboree , Antil , OASD 7603, my favourite
3. Ein Straussfest , Erich Kunzel Telarc DG 10098
4. Le Cid, Massenet, HMV Greensleeve, ESD 7040 - cheap and good. value for money
5. The Planets, Holst, Zubin Mehta, CS 6734, cheap and good
and many more
The Ring. Wagner. Solti. VPO. Decca.
Bruckner #8. von Karajan. VPO. DG.
Beethoven Symphonies. Barenboim. BSK. Teldec.
Mahler Symphonies. Bernstein. VPO. DG.
Beethoven Piano Sonata. Kovacevich. EMI.
Look at Classicstoday website for good reviews. For a magazine, consider Fanfare. Also, look at Google group rec.music.classical.recordings.
So much good stuff, so little time. Good luck.
I'll contribute one this round, but keep in mind I love Jazz and classical equally:
Bach's Goldberg Variations - Jacques Loussier Trio
My recommendation is for you to go to Naxos.com and pay the nominal $19.95 for an annual subscription to listen to their entire catalog on-line. There you can listen to thousands of recordings from the most popular (Beethoven, Bach etc..) to the most obscure. Explore to your hearts content and find out what type of music turns you on. When you find a piece you really like, buy a few recordings to get a taste of the range of interpretations.
1) Don't worry if you don't "get" a certain composer. Move on to what interests you. Some composers won't click for you at all (I've never liked Scriabin for example). Others may take some time. There is more than enough variety out there. When I started listening to classical music in college I could not get into Bach and wondered what all the fuss was about. Now (many years later) I think he is at the pinacle of human creativity with Shakespeare.
2) In the beginning, you probably should start with recordings that sound good. Many will try to steer you right away to recordings in the 1930's - 1950's by famous conductors like Furtwangler, Toscanini, Walter and the like - even if they are often tapes of poor radio broadcasts. Don't worry - get to know the piece first. Soon enough you will develop affinities for certain conductors.
3) Go listen to live concerts if you can. Reproduced sound is no substitute for the real thing.
4) Because of the length and number of things going on in a classical piece, it generally takes the newbie several listens before they get comfortible with the architecture of a piece. Just sit back the first few times and soak up the sounds. Don't try to absorb everything at once.
Good luck - it's a great journey you are embarking on.
Good recommendations from Sibelius, above.
Would agree Byegolly but if you are going to listen to the Goldberg variations you should really go for Glenn Gould, who literally made a career out of them. He's got one set of 1950's recordings, and another done in the 80's. They are available in the same boxed set. It's also a good introduction for the novitiate to be able to compare recordings of this master of the piano at different stages of his professional maturity.
"Would agree Byegolly but if you are going to listen to the Goldberg variations you should really go for Glenn Gould.."
I need to hear more Glenn Gould. What little I have heard was very good indeed. On the subject of special, how about the DG recording of "Horowitz in Moscow"? How that virtuoso loved Romanticism!