Classical fans, I need advice

I need a bit of advice. I've been listening to sample classical recordings (from tower records and amazon) for over 3 months trying to find a place to start. My interest began when I first became entranced by Alison Krauss + Union Station and Nickel Creek. I've gained a new appreciation for classical styles and the violin (fiddle?) in particular.

I listened to: Hilary Hahn - Bach: Violin Concertos on Deutsche Grammophon and enjoyed it. It wasn't too pretty, nor too symphonic. It's intimate and large at the same time. Maybe not quite as romantic as I might prefer but I honestly cannot say without hearing more. Keep in mind I'm not describing the performance here just the music. I'm thinking I will take the plunge with this Hybrid SACD.

Based on this can I be "profiled" and perhaps pointed in a direction? I know these works come from the Baroque period. I also read this in an amazon review "Shortly after Bach's time, the structure of a concerto changed from an ensemble piece for chamber musicians to a piece for soloist and full orchestra. Hence many recordings of these pieces are done by 'name' soloists and 'name' orchestras and lose their intimacy in the process. This recording does not; kudos to DG and Hahn for the choice of the thoroughly musical and consummately professional Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra for this disc." I really don't know if this is significant to my enjoyment of what i've heard but I thought I should mention it.

A few other notes about myself. Sound quality is of extreme importance to me. I simply cannot enjoy music on poor recordings. Something else, I really like the song from the Lord of the Rings soundtrack titled "Concerning Hobbits" composed by Howard Shore and performed by the New Zealand S.O. Again I'm not sure if this points me to a specific classical style or period but I figured I would mention it.

Any comments are appreciated

You have opened the door onto a very large and complex world of music. Congratulations on beginning this exploration! I, and I'm sure others, will be happy to offer you suggestions for some other classical music to explore. But, the range of choice is so vast, you may find it daunting to explore by purchasing recordings until you have a chance to do some more exploring to determine what monetary expeditures will bring you the most enjoyment.

Two suggestions:

1. If you have access to a public library with music CDs available to take out on loan, explore what the library has available to lend. (Most libraries in the U.S. have collections of classical music CDs you can choose from.)

2. If you have access to a radio station that plays classical music, spend some time listening to the music played there. Also, most radio stations will publish their programming schedule, so you can identify when the station is most likely to be playing the genre of classical music your interested in.

As to some specific recommendations, here are some thoughts for music of the Baroque period that you might explore as first steps in seeing what you like. Look for these at the library and just try some. If you want some suggestions for specific performances, I or others can give you some.

Music for strings and continuo --
~ Handel: Water Music
~ Albinoni: Adagio in g
~ Bach: Brandenburg Concertos
~ Vivaldi: The Four Seasons

Music for Violin --
~ Vivaldi: Violin Concerto in E (L'Amorosa)
(try Pinnock/English Consort, Simon Standage, on Archiv if you see it)
~ Buxtehude: Trio Sonatas for Violin, Viola and continuo
~ Corelli: Violin sonatas, or the Sonatas da Camera for string quartet
~ Handel: Trio Sonatas, for 2 violins and continuo

One specific CD recommendation I'll make is the CD "Glass Bead Game" with Arturo Delmoni (violin) and Nathaniel Rosen (cello) on John Marks Records, JMR 15. This marvelous CD contains music of Bach interspersed/contrasted with music of the 20th Century composer Zoltan Kodaly. I think you will like the Bach and be challenged, in a good way, by the Kodaly.

Good luck with your explorations!
This could be one of the great threads. I have been listening to classical music since I stumbled on WQXR at 14 years old. I guess thats a quarter century now, and I still feel as if there are so many more peices to hear....

However, if I had to choose one set of pieces for the proverbial desert island, I would get a complete set of the Mozart Piano concerti. There are 26, I have yet to tire of them.
I've been "into" classical music for some 55 years, mostly
of an orchestral nature---tonepoems, symphonies, concerti, etc.

Just as you mentioned, I also can't enjoy music that is poorly recorded. This has become increasingly a consideration as I've upgraded my music system.

Couple of years ago, I started listening to more chamber music than orchestral when I realized that---to my old ears at least--- a recorded performance of a small group is more "believable" than that of a full orchestra, given the confines of most listening rooms (mine is 24' X 17'). Since then, I have largely concentrated my purchasing and listening to recordings of small chamber groups--- string quartets, etc., and, in particular, piano trios (piano, cello, violin).

Which brings me to a couple of recommendations: (1)Anything by The Ahn Trio (they presently have four CDs), and (2) Hyperion's hybrid CD/SACD of The Florestan Trio performing piano trios of Faure', Debussy, and Ravel. Also give a listen to Dvorak's piano trios, Dumky and F Minor in particular, again by The Florestan Trio.

Funny you should mention Nickel Creek! In an effort to broaden my music horizons, I've started listening to bluegrass. I really enjoy well-recorded performances of small groups of acoustic instruments, strings especially.
I started with the several CDs by Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck, Joshua Bell, etc., then the group Hot Rize ("So Long of a Journey"), and most recently, Nickel Creek's two CDs, "This Side" being the latest. At the same time, I bought a two-CD
set of bluegrass interpretations of music of the group "Phish"---a wonderful recording.

I can't close this ramble without mentioning, and highly recommending, two CDs by The Be Good Tanyas, three lovely and talented ladies from Vancouver. Titles are "Blue Horse", and "Chinatown", and their music defies categorization!

I'm almost willing to bet that this aims you in some new directions! Happy listening!
Baroque Era
--Brandenburg Concertos,JS Bach
--Goldberg Variations,JS Bach
Classic Era
--Opus 76 String Quartets,Hayden
--Piano Concertos #21 and #23,Mozart
--Symphonies #5 and #6,Beethoven
--Trout Quintet,Schubert
--New World Symphony,Davorak
--Rite of Spring,Stravinsky
--La Mer,Debussy

There's a starter set. The post above about a library is great advice.

Classical music:

Schubert: late string quartets and cello quintet, perhaps the most sublime, intimate music there is. The Emerson String Quartet CD on DG is a fine recording and a tremendous performance.

Brahms: the two string sextets, and all the quintets, easy on the ears, easy to follow the logic or flow of the music. Raphael String Ensemble for the two string sextets, fantastic recording (Tony Faulkner producer) and superb performances. The quintets, Phillips has a great 2 for 1 CD of the all quintets.

If you like either of the above, then you can move on to Beethoven and Bartok for chamber music. If you can appreciate these two, then you can move onto Webern and Schnittke, both serial and freely atonal.

Speaking of bluegrass/c&w: my favorites are the real old timers like Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and the queen of old-time Western, Patsy Montana. The archtype of Western song is," I Want To Be A Cowboy's Sweeteart". It was recently in a DVD I saw, but cannot remember the name.

914Nut: I like the Ahn Trio, do you like the bad boy of classical music Nigel Kennedy? And if you like Faure, have you listened to Koechlin yet?
I haven't heard Hilary Hahn's new Bach disk yet, but you should also check out her very first recording, of Bach solo works. Another thing I'd look for is Vivaldi's Op. 3, L'estro armonico, a set of 12 concerti for one, two, or four violins. It was a favorite of Bach's.

I agree with the general suggestion to find ways to listen broadly. I tend to prefer the simple clean sound of a Hilary Hahn to the ornate emotiveness of a Joshua Bell. More generally, I'll take Baroque over 19th century Romantic any day. And like Jim, I spend a lot more time listening to chamber than orchestral. But that's just me, and everyone else's recommendations will be just them. Be venturesome, and you'll find lots of things to like.
I suggest that if you live in or near a city with a good orchestra, buy a season subscription and go listen to live music. There are too many audiophiles out there who don't have a clue as to what live accoustic music sounds like. How they go about building a satisfying audio system is beyond me. Guess that's why we have Audiogon. By the way, you might find out what kind of music appeals to you as well.

Habitual Carnegie Hall & Met Opera Attendee.
One of the finest small chamber groups on CD's is The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. They are leaderless but you would never know it! They record for DG. Since you seem to like simple, clean line, americana style music, I would suggest theat you listen to their recording of Copland's Applachian Spring (performed in its original version for 13 instruments). Another excellent disc by them is a recording featuring Wagner's Siegfried-Idyll and Sibelius' Valse Triste as well as some other small pieces which they have orchestrated down to chamber level. For somethiung a bit more modern, but along the same line is their recording of music by Kodaly and Suk titled Summer Evening. This is all very assessible music yet never boring. Highly recommended.

You are getting lots of good advice here! In your original post, you refer to works for soloist and full orchestra and repeat what you read on Amazon; namely, that many recordings of these pieces are done by 'name' soloists and 'name' orchestras and lose their intimacy in the process."

I agree with this, which is one reason that as I've upgraded my system, I find I'm listening to a LOT more jazz and chamber music. A friend of mine, when I mentioned this same phenomenon, said that recorded full orchestral music is much like a photograph of all the kids at school. "I think that must be Billy.... Isn't than Sally?" It's hard to hear the "pieces."

Give some Mozart quartets (esp. the Op. 76 ones) a listen as well as some Beethoven sonatas for piano and cello.

Happy listening.
There are some good suggestions in the previous posts, but as noted, classical music is very diverse. I've been listening to classical music for more than 40 years, and I'm still finding new "treasures".

Rather than add my own specific suggestions about "where to start", I'd prefer instead to give you some reading suggestions that I think will add greatly to your enjoyment of classical music. The list of three books I am about to recommend ranges from basic to more comprehensive treatments of classical music, but all are accessible to classical music "newbies". The following books are available from, and the prices I list are taken from Amazon's web site:

1. "The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music", by Tim Smith. Published in August, 2002. Price: $11.16.

2. "The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection: The 350 Essential Works", by Theodore Libbey. Published in Sept, 1999. Price: $11.17.

3. "The Essential Canon of Classical Music", by David Dubal. Published by North Point Press. Price: $14.00.

Classical music is an art form that becomes more enjoyable and meaningful as you learn about the composers, the types of classical compositions, the major styles, etc., so I encourage you to do some reading. If you decide to buy only one of these books, I suggest #2, "The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection". However, if you want to really "plunge in", then choose book #3.

The other suggestion I'll offer is to take advantage of the wonderful catalog of classical releases on the Naxos label. The list price for their CD's is $7.99 (and often on sale for $6.99), and their label offers a great way to listen to unfamiliar classical music while building a good CD library.
I'll take a slightly different approach then the above posters
and simply recommend one recording:

Given your description I am 100% sure you will love the
recent Murray Perahia Bach Keyboard Concertos release on
Sony Classiscal with the Academy of St Martins-in-the-fields
chamber ensemble. Sound quality is to die for. It's a DSD
recording and available on SACD. I have the RBCD version and
it's fabulous. Exactly the type of feel you describe for the
Hahn recording.
Wow! Thanks much for the response everyone. I enjoyed reading each and every one. I will be listening to samples of everything mentioned here over the weekend. If something jumps out and grabs me I will let you all know!

I was also going to say I will likely be ordering the Beethoven Violin Concerto. I'm trying to get the right one of these:

Beethoven, Mendelssohn: Violin Concertos / Heifetz, Munch, Boston SO - RCA Living Stereo CD

Beethoven: Violin Concerto / Heifetz, Munch, Boston SO - JVC XRCD

Beethoven: Violin Concerto, Romances / Mutter, Masur, NYPO - Deutsche Grammophon Hybrid SACD

Any Others? Im cautious of the XRCD because of bad experiences with them in the past. I've read about the RCA Living Stereo releases which are said to be superb. This one also has both the Beethoven and the Mendelssohn. Of course there is the DG Hybrid SACD also, I assume this and the RCA are safe bets. Might have to get both!

Nickel Creek is great! As much as I enjoy "This Side" I presently prefer their self titled release. I really hope they maintain their signature style as the years progress. I cant wait for more. In the unlikely event that you haven't looked into Alison Krauss, do yourself a favor and start with "Now That I've Found You". I now own everything she has released solo and with Union Station. The Hybrid SACD's are superb on both stereo layers. Haven't tried multi-channel yet.

Thanks again everyone!
Schubertmaniac--I'm familiar with Kennedy but I don't have any of his CDs. From what I've read, one would actually have to see him in a performance to realize he's, as you say, a "bad boy"---rather unconventional in concert attire, to say the least. In re: Koechlin--- I have his "The Bandor-Log", from "The Jungle Book", on a CD sampler---Delos label I think (?). Thanks for mentioning him! I have now listened to several bits of his on Tower Records' website and rest assured I will be buying some of his music very soon. I don't know why I've never listened before, because he's from the same school as Auric, Poulenc, Milhaud, Satie, etc., all of whom I enjoy. BTW---as a "Schubert maniac", I'm sure you're familiar with his Piano Trio in E Flat Major. I was particularly taken by Kubrick's use of the second movement in one of the formal garden scenes from his movie "Barry Lyndon". I'm not sure who did the soundtrack performance, but The Florestan Trio's performance on a Hyperion CD is as good as it gets, IMHO.

Vedric-- I agree with you regarding Nickel Creek's two CDs. "This Side" was the first I bought. I liked it enough to then buy the original "Nickel Creek", which I like even more. From what I've read, "This Side" is very much a "crossover" effort. It scares me that they may very well abandon their bluegrass roots, which would be a shame. I promise to give Alison Krauss a serious listen if you will reciprocate and try The Ahn Trio (Kenji Bunch's "Slow Dance" and "Swing Shift") and The Be Good Tanyas ("Keep It Light Enough To Travel"). OK?

This thread has been very enlightening. I'm always happy to be aimed in new and different musical directions. By the same token, I hope I can do the same for other poor souls afflicted with this high end curse (but what a "fun" curse it is, eh?).

Indeed it's fun and you have a deal sir! Also take a quick peek at who produced your Nickel Creek discs.
FYI, Vedric, Ms. Hahn herself has recorded a pretty creditable Beethoven. I can't say it's the "right" one, but then I don't think there's any such thing. And, no offense man, but who in hell has bad experiences with XRCDs???
Three of my highest recommendations:

Vivaldi, La Stravaganza (12 violin concertos) Rachel Podger
Arte Dei Suonatori Baroque Orchestra
Channel Classics CCS 19598

Beethoven, Violin Concerto, Mela Tenenbaum
Czech Philharmonic
Essay CD1076

Tchaikovsky-Glazunov Violin Concertos Maxim Vengerov
Violin Concerto in D major-Violin Concerto in A minor
Berliner Philharmonker
Teldec D112008

I own two XRCD's. The Eagles - Hell Freezes Over which is mostly fantastic sounding and a reference for redbook. It has some pronounced vocal sibilance but overall its a great disc.

My other XRCD is terrible. Dire Straits - Brother in Arms. It's thin with excessive treble. My Warner remaster of the same album is better in all respects.

The XRCD of Beethoven: Violin Concerto / Heifetz, Munch may indeed be great. My hesitation is because of the Dire Straits disc and the fact its only the 38 minute concerto. Other releases from DG and RCA have more to offer. However if its superior just let me know! As I mentioned sound quality is very important.
I'm aware of Alison Krauss's involvement in the production of both Nickel Creek CDs. This is good endorsement. Of equal importance is the fact that the great Doug Sax was responsible for the mastering of both recordings. Imaging and soundstaging are exemplary, IMO.
I agree with Bomarc that you might like Hahn's Beethoven Violin Concerto. For a historical version other than Heifitz (is Perlman in that category yet?!), there's Schneiderhan with Jochum conducting the Berlin Philharmonic (it's on DG).

That RCA Living Stereo CD of Heifetz playing Beethoven and Mendelssohn Violin Concerti is a great recording of a great performance. Some people dislike Heifetz's Mendelssohn (too fast), but I love the way he rips into the notes and yet infuses each note with such gorgeous tone and musicality, especially in the 3rd movement.

Matter of fact, you couldn't go wrong with his recording of Tchaikovsky and Brahms Violin Concerti also on RCA Living Stereo and Bruch's Violin concerto #1, Scottish Fantasy (also by Bruch) and Vieuxtemps' Violin Concerto #5 on RCA Victor.

BTW, IMHO, the "right" Beethoven Violin Concerto was recorded by David Oistrakh with Andre Cluytens conducting some French orchestra on Angel/Seraphim label. The only 2 problems are, I think it's out of print and sound quality is not that good (listenable but a bit of a tape hiss and there's a bit too much treble energy). But the performance is simply stunning. Oistrakh lives up to his grandiose reputation on this one.
I should clarify what I meant by the "right" Beethoven Violin concerto. The three I listed are simply labels known to me. Each has a reputation for quality sound. I figure my best chance to grow within the genre is to get the best recorded sound of works I think I may enjoy first. This will allow me to fully appreciate some of the more complex passages I'm sure to be bombarded with soon. From there I can later work backwards into finding performances I prefer. So when I said "right" I simply meant the best engineered disc. My mistake!
Vedric---Yesterday I took the plunge and bought a two-CD set of Alison Krauss+Union Station's live performance in Louisville. The music and recording quality are both great!
Thanks for nudging me in this direction.

I also bought another of the "Bluegrass Picks On...." series. I mentioned before the "Phish" version. This time it's Led Zeppelin. Never having paid much attention to original Phish stuff, I didn't recognize anything, but I remember lots of the LZ tracks from the heady days of their popularity. It's another very good recording.

I'm anxious to hear results of your end of the "dare", heh heh.

BTW---I just thought of another classical piece you might enjoy: Kurt Weill's "Dreigroschenoper Suite" (Three Penny Opera). I have several recordings, but my favorite is by The Chicago Pro Musica on Reference Recordings, the most recent version being in a two-CD set compiling, along with the Weill, music which used to occupy three separate CDs.
Included in the set is the suite from Stravinsky's "L'Histoire du Soldat", another of my longtime favorites (I still have the original Columbia mono LP of Stravinsky conducting).
With talk of audio quality and chamber music I must repeat my recommendation of Tacet series of DVD-A discs. (A German audiophile label).

In general, Mozart is the best classical composer to start with. He was the "Pop" composer of his day.

The idea of borrowing from a library and/or listening to classical radio programming is good. So too is going to live concerts, if you can do that.
A few clear things I've learned after all of your suggestions. I enjoy the weight, warmth (cello?) and body an orchestra can add to solo performances. I enjoy the dynamics between each in a concerto as long as the orchestra doesn't overpower the solo performance. This is not to say I don't enjoy the orchestra. I do very much so! It's just the piece itself I guess and the scale in which it was written, or the sound as a whole. I've began looking into double and triple concerti in an attempt to find a greater solo performance focus within an orchestra.

For example, I listened to Bach: The Art of the Fugue by The Emerson String Quartet. I really enjoyed this but missed the warmth, weight and body of an orchestra behind them. I know the piece isn't written for orchestra I'm just describing my experience. I have some clear directions now and I will continue to refer to this thread. I feel like I'm learning a new language. So many names, performances, styles, recording labels etc. etc!

I think you were on to something. The Bach piano concerti flow very much like the violin concerto. If I warm up to the piano in a solo role these will be my first choice.

The Be Good Tanyas, I am so frustrated with them. The music is absolutely wonderful!! I like everything I hear but.. the vocals! Most of the vocals are done in an alternative rock drawl I like to call "vocals on novocaine". I have the same problem with Bob Dylan although he isn't trying to sound like anyone other than himself. I may break myself of this hangup eventually though!

The Ahn Trio has some interesting material. I really like their Riders on the Storm! Swing Shift may take some time for me Jim. In all fairness I only listened to samples though. Not exactly an honest listen. I'm glad you enjoy the AK+US Live CD set. I should have recommended this to you before the "Now That I've Found You: A Collection". The Live set really is a full featured sample of AK and AK+US. I have this on DVD-Video and the Hybrid SACD set. Having owned the studio version of everything I can say the performance is great but perhaps a tiny bit cold at the start. Completely enjoyable and a first rate recording.

Back to the search..
Vedric--- I understand your frustration with TBGTs. As I indicated, their "Chinatown" was the first CD I bought, and it includes a libretto. I found this most useful in deciphering what was being sung, and particularly after I bought their other CD, "Blue Horse", which doesn't have a libretto. Perhaps I'm being naive about this, but I haven't once thought of their vocals as being affected. I simply chalked it up to maybe that's the way people talk in "their neck of the woods". (As a Tennesseean, I'll be the last to criticize one's dialect!!) I hope your frustration is not sufficient to preclude your actual purchase and extended audition of one of their recordings. But if it is... that's what makes the world go 'round, after all.

Your comment regarding your preference for a soloist or small group being backed by an orchestra strikes a similar chord with me, to wit: As much as I enjoy a string quartet, I many times feel something's missing, like little if any percussion, too much midrange, and insufficient bass, to put it in purely audio terms. I think this is the main reason I prefer piano trios, since a piano can sound like "an orchestra in a box", given the proper score and pianist. It can flesh out the presentation in the form of both percussion and bass.
The beauty part of the Ahn Trio (pun intended, since they are knockdown gorgeous ladies, in fact) is that, although classically-trained (Juilliard graduates), they delve into primarily modern music, most of which has been commissioned for them, in addition to older standard repertoire such as Haydn, Ravel, Dvorak, etc. They are a delight, IMVHO.
Hi Vedric,
When I was in the same spot as you back in the mid-1990's, I came upon a book called "Classical Music" by Phil Goulding which proved to be an invaluable tool for building a collection. It's written for the beginner, and it ranks the top 50 all-time composers (Bach is #1, Borodin is #50) and lists 5 essential compositions by each composer (Expanded lists are also included if you want more than 5 by a particular composer). With the help of this book I built a nice collection of music.
As for specific recommendations, I will throw out a couple of my all-time favorite orchestral pieces:

1) Petrushka - Stravinsky
2) Piano Concerto #5 - Beethoven
3) Christmas Oratorio - Bach
4) A German Requiem - Brahms
5) Slavonic Dances - Dvorak

To find the best loved performances of these and other works, reviews work great. To find the highest quality sound is more difficult. Sites like this one and work fairly well. Also, certain labels such as Chandos and Hyperion are oriented more towards audiophile recordings, so go with CDs on those labels when you have a choice.

Enjoy the journey!

vedric, another thing you might want to check out before spending to much on cd's is to take from the library a work like mozarts violin concertos and get 2 versions to compare: modern -vs- period piece performances. i spent a bundle when i first started only to later find out i loved period piece performance and have bought a lot of duplicate cds (which isn't necessarily a bad thing).. as you said you like cello, try haydns cello concerto in c. a version with awesome sound is steven isserlis with the chamber orch. of europe. i strongly agree with the advice previously given to use the library.. but i feel npr radio is the best place to get exposure, plus you can always find what was played on their web site. also..when i first got into this, like you, i only wanted the finest sounding DDD recordings (and still generally prefer them), but you will miss some of the greatest played classical music if you don't go the add recordings (pre 1980's).. good luck-- welcome aboard- you'll never look back