classical newbie

Can anyone recommend some recent great, essential classical cd/sacd recordings? I like vinyl but not for this. Multi-disc collections would be great too. I realize there are older threads about this but I would like the best digital versions. If that means the latest re-master, mix etc, great. If not, which are the must haves regardless of release date? Thanks.
I would get the period instrument Beethoven 9-symphony box set by conductor Jos Von Immerseel --- it is the greatest music ever written, is very well recorded and sounds simply stunningly good, and is exquisite in every way. Also, the 5 Beethoven piano concertos, again on period instruments by Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music is as well stunningly well recorded and is of great music performed impeccably. Bruckner's 8th Symphony by conductor Gunter Wand is as well extraordinary in performance and sound. Finally, a label to look at that uniformly has outstanding sound is BIS. Find a piece you like and see if the BIS label has a recording --- that is, if sonics are the primary concern.

If you want SACD, look for the Pentatone collection boxes.
There are several record labels known for high quality sound for Classical music; look for Decca, Naxos, Teldec, Telarc, Chesky (uses their own proprietary system for remastering great performances), Chandos, harmonia mundi (France) and Philips to name a few.

For essentials with outstanding sound, I highly recommend a Tchaikovsky collection of Symphonies 4, 5, 6 on Decca (Valery Gergiev/Vienna Philharmonic), "Berlioz: Orchestral Works"...Colin Davis/London Symphony on Philips (ADD) and includes "Symphonie fantastique."

Essentials also include Bach's "Brandenburg Concertos," Mozart's symphonies and concertos, anything Haydn, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Beethoven. The Amazon reviews are very helpful.

There are excellent sounding Beethoven box sets such as Daniel Barenboim/Staatskapelle Berlin on Warner, Zinman and the Zurich Tonhalle on Arte Nova... 2 very different interpretations of LvB. For Brahms, look at Guilini's "Brahms: The Complete Symphonies" on Newton Classics.
For the best in sonics look for Paavo Jarvi's Beethoven; SACD-DSD on RCA Red Seal.

Also if looking for great sounding SACD, there's Michael Tilson Thomas/San Francisco Symphony on their own label, SFS Media.
I was happy to see this thread topic because I have suddenly become drawn to classical music myself. I don't know if it is a product of aging like balding or thre disease du jour "low T".
Lowrider 57 thanks for the recommendations, but I didn't understand all of them. e.g.
"excellent sounding Beethoven box sets such as Daniel Barenboim/Staatskapelle Berlin on Warner, Zinman and the Zurich Tonhalle on Arte Nova... 2 very different interpretations of LvB."
Beethoven box sets of which music, I just ordered 2 version of the 9 symphonies in box sets. What is the LvB? Thanks for any replies.
Mechans...LvB is the great Ludwig van Beethoven. I see now it was not a very coherent statement, but I was saying that there are many affordable box sets containing all 9 symphonies. Many conductors will record the complete Beethoven Cycle with a particular orchestra; he may be the Principle Conductor of the orchestra or a Guest Conductor and the record label will package them into a box set.

Daniel Barenboim's style is a slow, romantic interpretation of Beethoven, whereas David Zinman performs Beethoven at faster tempi which closely resembles the way the composer intended the piece to be performed. (by using the tempo and metronome markings written into the score).

That's why I own about 10 different cycles of Beethoven; each conductor has his own interpretation, also some utilize a large orchestra, some use a small ensemble which is more historically accurate to the period in which it was written.
How are the Von Karajan LvB symphonies? Years ago I had #6 on DG vinyl that I thought was quite good but have not heard any others.
Rja... We had a long discussion a while back regarding which is the best Karajan/Beethoven cycle.

IMO and many others, the 1963 BPO cycle is the best, but it sounds like 1963.
There's the 1977 BPO cycle (ADD) which feature excellent performances, but it has that DG close-mic technique which I find a bit harsh sounding.
Lastly, there are the Vienna recordings (DDD, 1980s) which had such poor early digital sound that Karajan himself ordered that they be remastered and re-released. These have a good open sound and the Vienna plays very well, but as a whole, they are not as good as the first 2 cycles. (Karajan by this time was in his 70s). I like these remastered disks due to the unmistakable sound of the Vienna Philharmonic. I believe these are the only symphonies on CD that you can buy individually.

But now we have a remastered SACD box set of the 1963 Berlin cycle which is excellent.

Expensive, so I bought mine used and now it's the only Karajan LvB that I play. Needless to say, I'm a Karajan fan.

update...I see that there are now some single SACDs from the 1963 cycle; these are the ones to buy if you want a taste.
Doesn't anyone listen to solo or chamber music?

String quartets: Guarneri, Budapest or Julliard quartets playing Beethoven, Bartok, Brahms, Ravel, Debussy, Mozart, Shostakovich, Borodin, Tchaikovsky--you almost can't go wrong with any of those combinations.

The Borodin recordings will be older and inferior overall to the other two groups.

You have thrown down the guantlet. Yes, there are those here who listen to chamber music. To your suggestions I would add the Britten, Mendelssohn, Haydn, and Dvorak quartets, the Beethoven piano trios, the Brahms sextets-- shall I go on? Not sure I would start a novice out on the Debussy, Bartok or Borodin quartets, although Bartok 1 and 2 might be suitable.

Some modern ensembles to be considered--- The Pacifica and Belcea quartets are my two favorites among those still active. The Floristan trio has recently broken up, but they have a strong catalogue of modern recordings. I like their Beethoven trios a lot.

Then, there is the world of solo piano-----
Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra performed the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fritz Reiner.
String quartets/quintets on the Naxos label is an inexpensive way for a newbie to explore chamber music. High quality DDD Redbook.
Thanks to you all. I think I'm going to buy a 15 cd Colin Davis collection I just read about in sterophile. Also a 55 cd collection from Decca that was on Amazon. Then some from your suggestions, which i think will be a good start. Thanks again.
Sorry to be late but, maybe, for the future. A 63CD collection of the complete recordings by Fritz Reiner and the CSO on RCA. It is on sale now at Arkiv Music for about $150 +/-. A great place to start both for performances and some vintage & excellent recordings still highly prized, especially in the LP versions for the sonics.
George Solti and Chicago playing Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, Dance Suite and Music for Strings Percussion and Celeste. Excellent sound and interpretations.

George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra Playing Dvorak 7th, 8th and 9th Symphonies. Recorded in the late 50's early 60's probably on Ampex 3 track machines. Amazing presence and warmth but with detail. These are labeled "StereoRama" from Sony.

William Walton's Viola Concerto. Dont have a specific recording to recommend but this is great music.

Let's walk on the wild side:
Alban Berg's Lulu Suite Played by City of Birmingham/Simon Rattle. Sounds like Mozart on drugs.
Valentin Silvestrov's "Metamusik" and "Postludium". An excellent ECM Recording. Conducted by Dennis Russell Davies.
George Tsontakis Violin Cocerto #2 and other pieces Played by The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra conducted by Douglas Boyd.

thanks for your post--I would have added more suggestions but had time constraints. I plan to do so soon.

Meanwhile, my favorite current quartet is the Miro Quartet. I have their early Beethoven set and have heard them live. They are just my style, might be yours also.

For the OP, you might check out the Beaux Arts trio--a great piano trio with many recordings available.
If you have a way to stream music from the Internet to your system the best education you can get is with a subscription to for $5 a month. That gives you access to thousands of complete albums.

The bit rate is 320 kbps, nowhere near CD quality but very listenable through a decent DAC. For example, there are 40 full versions of Bach's Cello Suites, including many of the performances considered to be among the best.

It's just a fact that the music that moves you is very personal and following advice about it from others can be a time consuming and expensive proposition with limited payoff. Being able to sample and then follow the trail of what interests you through a site like MOG opens up a world of music that simply wasn't possible back when we saved for weeks or months to buy that one album we thought we might like.

Having said that, I will add something to the recommendations you've received here. As heretical as it is on a site like this, after 40-something years of listening to music I'm still not moved by the kind of full orchestra symphonies others find so compelling.

My first classical album was the Julian Bream recording of Bach's Lute Suites. That was more than 40 years ago and I haven't strayed far from there despite decades of listening. Bach's small-scale works, the Cello Suites, English, French and Italian Suites for piano/harpsichord, the Art of Fugue and many others seem to resonate for me in a way that most other music only approaches, with the possible exception of Buddy Miller.

I've also been fascinated by older music, Marin Marais, Tobias Hume, Mr. De Sainte Colombe Le Fils, Mr. Demachy, Fran├žois Couperin and others. Looking at the catalog of Jordi Savall's recordings is a great introduction to that world.

A couple of recordings that would serve as a great introduction are Martin Zeller's Six Suites A Violoncello Solo Senza Basso and Jeffrey Biegel's Bach on a Steinway. Both are beautifully performed and the recording quality is superb. Some will argue about the authenticity of listening to Bach's keyboard works on a modern piano but, man, it's just good music.
Beau Arts trio is an automatic but for me !
Listen to classical radio first.

You will then get guidance, before wasting money on music you do not care for.
Classical the hightest form?

I think so! And to my ear Bach is the greatest composer.

Can anyone recommend the best recordings of Bach's work?

Great to hear that you want to get into classical! There's a huge world of music out there, and if you get serious enough, you just might catch the collecting bug that we've all come down with.

If you are interested in the Decca 2: Analogue Sound, you may want to also consider the two Mercury Living Presence boxed sets out there. It's pretty hard to get the first one these days unless you pay a fortune, but the second one is still in circulation and can be had for about $125 for 55 CDs. Personally, I think that the second boxed set is superior to the first. These contain some quintessential recordings from the golden era of classical recordings.

The other set to consider is the RCA Living Stereo 63 CD set. Like the Mercury set, this also contains remastered issues of some of the classic RCA Living Stereo releases of the 1950s-60s in excellent sound.
Bach is my desert island composer. The well of great recordings and great performances is deep.

Glenn Gould's 1982 recording of The Goldberg Variations is a must have.
Anner Bylsma Violincello Piccolo playing Partita in E major BWV 1006
The masses conducted by Philippe Herrewghe--a very nice 4 CD set.
Mass in B minor conducted by Helmuth Rilling
The Art of Fugue played by Musica Antiqua Koln
Well Tempered Clavier played by Angela Hewitt

There are so many. A good way to hear a lot of BACH is to tune into and listen to the Bach fest that takes place in a very few weeks 24/7 Bach for the week between Christmas and New Years.
One more thing I would add about Bach. Most all of his music inspires me but it is his sacred music that I find most inspirational and inventive. He was truly connected to a higher power.
Thanks Jetrexpro!

Where would be the best place to find and buy those recordings?
I do alot of CD and vinyl shopping on amazon. Also many of these performances are available to listen to and research on Youtube.
I agree completely jetrexpro!

Any other suggestions/recs of the best recordings would be appreciated!
Jetrexpro -

Could you post a link to the 4 cd set of the Masses conducted by Philippe Herrewghe? I've been unable to find it on amazon. Thanks again!
This is the two CD set which contains only four of them:
BWV 233, 234 235 and 236. There are a bunch more of these great masses in my 4 CD set, but they are not showing up on Amazon. They should show up for sale at some point. In the mean time listen to all of them on YouTube.
Type "Philippe Herrewghe bach masses" in youtube search and a bunch of things come up including his recording of the mass in B minor.
Thanks again for the advice/suggestions Jetrexpro!

I found these on amazon. Are either of these the box set?

And if not which are the masses that are NOT included in your above recommendation so I know what to look for if I buy that 2 cd set.
jetrexpro -

Do you know if this recording would complete the set of Masses? Please forgive my ignorance.
HDtracks and eClassical have a bunch a well recorded works available for you to sample. You could download and burn to disc or buy the cd/sacd on Amazon.

Those are Cantatas. Here is the complete BWV list contained in the 4 CD set. And forgive me, some of these are actually cantatas. Looks like there are only 4 masses in this compilation.

BWV 131, 73, 105, 39, 93, 107 These are cantatas.
BWV 233, 234, 235, 236 These are the masses.
Thanks again, Jetrexpro! or 89.9FM if you are in the New York City listening area just announced the Bach Festival. This is from their website:

WKCR announces the annual Bach Festival 2013. For the ten-day period from December 21st through New Year's Eve at midnight, WKCR will dedicate all broadcasting to the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. This yearly marathon broadcast is a defining aspect of the WKCR philosophy and a hallmark of the winter season on New York radio. Please read more for a schedule detailing major works.

Cool! Thanks for posting!