This is a really tough question, because none of these works has truly received an audiophile-grade recording. While I don't think you should ever trade off the performance for the sound, here are some suggestions:
If you are looking for an integral set, I'd go with Pletnev on Virgin, or Gilels on EMI. Mikhail Rudy on EMI with Janssons is pretty good, but not in the same league. NONE of these recordings would be considered audiophile. For the first only, best go with the Argerich/Kondrashin on Philips, which has recently been re-mastered. Otherwise, you can try the BIS recording (always good sound) or the two Telarcs (Watts or Guiterrez).
Brahms is equally hard. Again, Telarc has a good set under Mackerras, even if his notions about using a smaller orchestra are not necessarily "authentic" or backed up by an rigorous research. Berglund (Ondine) also uses a small orchestra and it sounds excellent. Other good choices, but again, not audiophile (still sound good, though) are: Bohm (Eloquence) and Klemperer (EMI). You'll be surprised.
Hard to recommend something that is not at least a good performance. What good is great sound if the performance is mediocre?
For the Tchaikovsky try Santiago Rodriguez with the Sofia Philharmonic, conducted by Emil Tabakov. It is an Elan CD #2228. It is a 1996 recording. Also comes with the Grieg and Liszt
You make many points I also will make, don't get hung up on audiophile quality sound, all these sound good enough, seek the stellar performances.
TCHAIKOVSKY Piano 1 - must agree with Libor here, the Argerich/Phillips live recording conducted by Kondrashin is 1st choice for me, Argerich gives defining performance with tremendous energy and passion, explosive finale.
Also like the Wild/Chesky version conducted by Fistoulari. For budget price CD the Glemser/Naxos is preferred by me over many full priced versions and offers tremendous value.
You can try Kleiber's version of Brahms 4th recently reissued under the DG Originals label. The performance is exemplary (my other versions are/were Walter/Sony, Abbado/DG and Bernstein/DG) and makes up for only having 40 minutes of music on a CD. Sound is "good" -- I can't say for sure I take performance over sonic qualities all the time -- but I'm sure it will be quite sufficient.
Ahh, this is good stuff to know. One of my favorite pieces is Tchaikowsky's Piano Concerto No.1. I also enjoy Rachmaninoff, Scriabin and Mussorgsky as well. Thanks.
For an offbeat rendition of Brahms 3rd and 4th Symphonies, which is actually quite good, is The Transylvania Philharmonic conducted by Erich Bengel.
BRAHMS Sym 3 & 4
I think the Kleiber/DG Originals version of Brahms 4th is really strong contender for best 4th available, the sound qulaity is definitley not audiophile, but performance has great stature and almost universally praised by everyone.
Newest Abbado/DG version of Brahms 3rd is "close" to the best available and features excellent sound quality, here you have your cake and get to eat it to.
Also of note Klemperer/EMI version of Brahms 1st must be heard (and owned) The Mackerras/Telarc complete set is not my favorite performance but one of the few good period instrument performances available
Thanks for the responses so far!
Of course, sound quality is not the only thing I am concerned with, but I factor it in when I consider something to be a good recording. After all, if it is difficult to hear accurate sound from the instruments, I find it harder to be moved by the performance. But perhaps this is a topic for another thread.
Thanks again for the suggestions to this point.
If you got for Argerichs version of Tchaikovsky First Concerto then I would suggest do not pursue the Argerich/Kondrashin performance but rather the Argerich/Abbado.
Romy the Cat
My recommendation for Brahms 3 & 4 Sym. in good sound:
Dresden Staatskapelle/Kurt Sanderling/Eurodisc (BMG Classics) - economical choice as well as this is a complete set of 1 - 4 on 3 disks for a paltry sum of $13 and performances are stupendous on all 4 sym, only negative being Sym. 3 is split across disk 2 and 3.
Tchaikovsky PC #1:
Sviatoslav Richter/Karel Ancerl/Czech PO/Supraphon - decent sound in mono, but no other performance comes close, certainly not Argerich. BTW, because CPO toiled under the iron curtain for so long,few westerners know their sound, but rest assured, they are a world class orchestra.
Emil Gilels/Fritz Reiner/CSO/RCA Living Stereo - if you must have a stereo recording, this is the one to get. Argerich/Abbado/BPO/DG is also supposed to be quite good, but haven't heard it.
Tchaikovsky PC 2 & 3:
Mikhail Pletnev/Vladimir Fedoseyev/Philharmonia/Virgin - not to everyone's taste, but I like it quite a bit. Perhaps not romantic enough for some taste.
Igor Zhukov/BMG/Melodiya (74321496122) 2CDs
Tchaikovsky Complete music for Piano and Orchestra -
haven't heard this myself, but people whose opinions I respect tell me Zhukov's PC 2 is the definitive version.
I have three Argerich Tchaikovsky PC 1 performances on CD:
Best sound will go to 1994 Abbado live performance with BPO, but whenever I compared the Kondrashin to the Abbado I always felt the Abbado was more relaxed vs the excitement generated by Kondrashin version. I was surprised when checking the timing on finale movements that Abbado was significantly faster at 6:18 vs 6:54 for Kondrashin, but the overall sense I get despite that is that Kondrashin is the more energetic version.
Also Abbado version has weak (but entertaining) coupling, with Kondrashin you get Rachmaninoff PC 3 and Dutoit version gives you Prokofiev PC 3, both are very substantial and well done couplings.
I also have the Pletnev/Virgin set which gives you Tchaikovsky PC 1,2,3 at very low price. Sound here is also very good, but I really don't listen much to PC 2,3.
As far as mono recordings, I don't own any. I'm sure there are Richter, Horowitz etc versions of PC 1 that surpass stereo versions......but I must have stereo.
I do own the Argerich/Kondrashin/Phillips, which I bought for Rachmaninoff PC 3. You are quite right that her performance is incindiary. However, for my taste, she sacrifices too much of the music for her admittedly awesome technical virtuosity.
IMHO, both Richter and Gilels use their virtuosity in support of the music, bringing out the emotional essence of this piece, especially Richter whose performance of the 3rd movement is hauntingly beautiful.
Don't let the fact that a recording is in mono dissuade you from listening to it. Richter's performance, especially, needs to be heard and is in very good sound. In fact, the piano on Richter's CD sound more like the real thing compared to Argerich's, which sounds distant and slightly tinny.
I did many years ago have the Horrowitz/RCA mono recording from 1943 conducted by Toscanini of Tchaikovsky PC 1, but I perhaps foolishly got rid of it since I thought the sound quality was too comprimised......kinda wish I still had it now for reference.
Both versions of the Horowitz/Toscanini Tchaikovsky (Broadcast and Studio)are available on CD. The sound isn't great but it is better than the LP transfer.
Yes, both of Horowitz/Toscanini CDs are pretty dismal sounding, but performance wise, Horowitz eclipses Argerich in the pyrotechnics (the 1943 slightly more so than 1941).
Both readily available at Tower and I assume other establishments.