The very best resource I know of is www.naxos.com
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Before I answer the question allow me to suggest these two books: 1. What to Listen For in Music,by Aaron Copland. 2. Building a cd Library, by Ted Libbey.(That may not be the exact title,but it's close.)
Here are some basic musics.
JS Bach,The Brandenburg Concerti
JS Bach, The Goldberg Variations
Mozart,Piano Concertos #21 and #23
Beethoven,Symphonies #6 and #5
Hayden,Opus 76 String Quartets
Stravinsky,Rite of Spring
Soon,you'll hear what appeals to you and you can add more as your preferences dictate.
Buy,rent something classical on lazer / dvd.Seeing; the visual helps some. I sort of cut my teeth on the great library available on lazer disc.Some,instead of the orchestra; have great scenery. Beethoven's 9th, Rachmaninoff (Herbert Von Karajan & Alexiss Wiesenberg) Piano #2 (not the 3)is one of the most melodic pieces ever written.(There are several of these melodies, within, that were recorded and made popular with a vocal.)The 2 mentioned and the 4 seasons are the 3 most popular pieces;for good reason.
Here are some good samplers:
DGG "An Die Musik" Das 4d-Konzert 445 809-2
unforturnatly, can't find the link
B&W Present the EMI Abbey Road Classical Collection BW003
Again, no link available
HDCD SAMPLER VOL l
Proprius 1994 Classical sampler
OPUS 3 TEST CD 4.1
Both the DGG and the B&W sampler are those "mainstream" classical selections like the RCA title, both with good sound quality.
The latter 3 are Hi-End quality samplers. The music selections are very enjoyable, not those "technical sound only" CDs.
If you don't mind some new music, then the Narada sampler "Discovery Narada" CD-9002E (no link) would be a nice try. (Not classical music)
J.S. Bach: Orchestral Transcriptions (by Stokowski) Chandos Chan 6532 [Robert Piker, Sydney Sym Orch]
Beethoven: symphony 9
Bizet: Suite from "Carmen"
IMP Classics PCD 905 [Rafael Fruhbeck De Burgos, London Sym Orch]
Haydn & Bocherini: Cello Concerto
Mendelssohn: "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
Mozart: Piano Concerto 20 & 21
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No.2
Respighi: Ancient Airs and Dances
Rodrigo: Concerto de Aranjuez
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No.1
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons
Try to get the exact version and CD because there are major differences between brands and productions (mastering).
If you need more, I'll try to post some more.
Sounds like a really grand compilation albumn, w/ some extrodinary performances.
It is very easy to recommend let's say the new Jewel Cd, Wow it's so Un-Jewel so different so Kewl. (Just a reference)
Classical Music is very hard to recommend, it may have to be sampled in baby steps w/ the type of cd you just purchased.
You will in time find yourself enjoying the trait that one conductor has added to the same rendition sampled from another.
Classical music collections are assembled gradually over time, I have never heard of anyone jumping in head first.
Once you find your taste it's very easy today not to make a purchase mistakes, w/ the aid of Real Player & Windows Media samplers.
It can be a wonderful enjoyable journey!
An interesting feature of classical music is that you can find many recordings of some of the great pieces, and compare the style of various performers. The variation of interpretations is remarkable, and I am talking of performances which all are good, by highly regarded musicians. For example: I have five or six recordings of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, and while I don't have time to listen to all of them at one sitting, I do enjoy playing just one movement several times as played by different artists, and reflecting on the different interpretations.
As you expand your experience with the music, pay attention to the performers. You will probably find one or more whose style pleases you more than others, and this should guide your purchases when you must choose from several recordings of a work with which you are unfamiliar.
PS: You can't go wrong with Mozart.
I really don't like compilations either, since they sound "fragmented" to me. If you like violin, you can't go wrong with one or both of the following discs performed by John Holloway: Unam Ceylam (Biber) or Unarum Fidium (Schmeltzer). I cannot stop listening to both...They sound absolutely superb on audiophile systems and are definately approachable for the beginner. An interesting "cross-over" recording to try might be Silk Road Journeys by Yo Yo Ma. Nice sonics with a dynamic range from very soft to briefly explosive and a somewhat improvisationary feel (same goes with the first two suggestions as well). Cheers.
In contrast to others, I feel that a good (emphasis good) complilation is wonderful means for introducing beginners to any musical genre. For classical, there are two fine recordings from the RCA Red Seal series: Romantic Violin and Romantic Cello. Don't let the title fool you, this is not shmaltzy stuff but rather classical music from the 'Romantic' period. Great perfomances from the likes of Perlman, Ma, Starker, Zukerman, etc. including excerpts from the works of Brahms, Dvorak, Saint Saens, Mendelssohn, Bruch, etc.
Has anyone here read the NPR guide to building a classical music collection ? I understand it provides a path into classical for those (like myself) who are not very broadly familiar with it. It always seemed like this book, plus the penguin guide might provide a good entry point to clasical, but I have not got around to buying the NPR guide.
SDT: Better than the NPR Guide, if you can find it, is "The Virgin Guide to Classical Music" by Jeremy J. Beadle. It takes things chronologically, rather than alphabetically by composer, and provides more historical context and less of the "the first movement begins with a lilting melody" stuff of the NPR Guide. Someone who knows little about classical music will learn more from the Virgin Guide. It also covers more works, and generally recommends more alternatives for each work, which can be helpful if your local shop isn't Tower.
The Virgin Guide is out of print, but used copies are currently available through bn.com, and probably Amazon as well.