First off, I gotta say that the criteria you mention to earmark your decisions are pretty right on. But if you don’t know nuthin’, a good place to start is with record label, as the best labels usually have both the best ears and the financial reach to capture the most compelling artists in performance. London/Decca, DG and EMI Angel are all good places to begin your journey.
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deciding which album to stream or buyThe performers of course! The rest is secondary (not that a good recording isn't welcome!)That said, edcyn above is right: traditionally, big companies have the means to capture the most compelling artists...
quality of the recordingDynamics, the frequency extension, correct soundstage, clarity and timbre
Not all performers are equally good in all repertoire. Your favorite Wagnerian soprano may sound silly singing Handel. Frequently recorded Conductors made many records that didn’t suit their strengths—think Karajan’s Debussy “Das Mer”.
Pianists that excel in Bach and Beethoven may sound lost in Bartok.
Streaming , or You Tube, is a great help because you can sample before buying
I agree with mahler123--after playing with them the past week, Idagio and Primephonics are a great way to sample recordings for good performances as well as sonics. I also admit to being influenced to a large degree by the record label when I look for recordings of music I want to add to my collection--there are plenty of threads about which ones we prefer for classical music.
As for the orchestral labels, I have found the San Francisco Symphony recordings to be quite good, both sonically and musically. I would expect the Berlin Philharmonic label to offer excellent performances, I'll have to listen to the streaming to see how the recording quality holds up. The LSO Live discs are good in SACD, but I'm not a big fan of the acoustic they record in, seems fairly dead to me. However, as they are live performances, occasionally you get those special moments when things just gel in a way that you don't often get in studio recordings, so I tend to buy them in hopes of finding those moments.
I check the Daily Deals on eClassical (a download source owned by BIS Recordings). It is a great way to get good-sounding and well performed repertoire. Any downloads can be refunded, if you don’t like them, within 30 days. So risk free. And BIS recordings tend to have better sonics than most others. For sound and performance, their Bach Cantata series is outstanding. The disc of Schubert Male Choruses is breathtaking -- I prefer it in both sound and performance to the Shaw version on Telarc. And so on....
I also subscribe to Classics Today, an online review source that helps me decide what to try. As with audio reviews, I don’t like everything they recommend, but I often listen on Qobuz to see what I think.
I specifically don’t care about Harry Pearson’s favorites. I am more interested in timbre than spatial effects and not interested in blockbusters. And I want NEW recordings, not endless reissues, though some old things (e.g. Bernstein’s Haydn) are musts.
Forgot to mention, if you still like hard copy magazines, BBC Music is a good read, with reviews of new CD releases each month that focus on performance as well as sonics; as you hear some of the CDs reviewed, you will get an idea of which reviewer's tastes most closely resemble yours. Plus it has the BBC 3 radio schedule, for those of us who listen to it on internet radio. And as a bonus, they have a CD with each issue, usually well-recorded and performed. I have been introduced to a lot of music I would not have heard through those CDs.