Naxos is an excellent and cost effective method of exploring classical music. However, the quality of the performances and the recording vary from poor/poor to excellent/excellent and everything in between. There is no substitute for taking you time and reading the reviews on any piece of music you want to purchase - careful initial selection will eliminate the need to replace a previous purchase (eventually, you may want alternate performances, but equally good ones.) Other excellent labels include Telarc, Hyperion, BIS, Dorian, Delos, Chandos, EMI, Virgin, Philips, some RCA and Sony. Supraphone for Czech music is fine. None of these are budget labels, except for the major's when they reissue older popular performances which can be quite good. But, ultimately, there is no substitute for a bit of research 1st.
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And not just reviews....it might help if you read a general book on classical music to get your bearings. It's a vast field (as you recognize) and slicing it by record label is too arbitrary a way to do it IMO. Naxos has lots of great stuff for sure, bunches of it are historical performances which, if sound quality is a criteria, would not suite your needs. Good Luck
If sound quality is your #1 priority, don't limit yourself to only one label--Naxos or any other. Read reviews: magazines, reviews on Auudiogon or other websites (including sites that sell CDs), post questions as to what recordings are best, etc. There's no shortcut, unfortunately, since any label has its share of excellent recordings AND its share of dogs.
I have a couple of suggestions for you. For more information about classical music and classical composers, there are two good books that you should buy and use as references:
1. "The Essential Canon of Classical Music", by David Dubal, North Point Press, 2001. A very good introduction to most of the major composers, by stylistic period, with suggestions for their best works.
2. "The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection", by Ted Libbey, Workman Publishing, 2nd Edition, 1999.
Both of these books are relatively inexpensive, and can be purchased from Amazon.com.
My second suggestion regards the Naxos label. About 18 months or so ago, I made a lengthy post here on A-gon that listed the Naxos releases that have received the most critical acclaim. Here is the link to that thread:
Good listening to you!
I am not an expert on Naxos, although I've heard a number of their CDs. Overall, I think the recording quality competitive with major labels--at a much lower price. In addition, I have yet to hear a Naxos CD that is totally unlistenable--something that I cannot say about major labels. However, their quality is not as good as the best audiophile labels. In addition, the performers tend to be people you never heard of--although this may not matter that much. (I've heard the argument that in today's world, almost everyone sounds pretty much the same.)
I agree with the others who talk about doing research. One source is _Gramophone_. This is a British magazine, but much of what gets released there is released here. I think Penguin publishes (or used to publish) comprehensive books that gave summary reviews of currently available recordings.
One recording company that I'd like to mention is Harmonia Mundi. They do mostly baroque, but they do it quite well--both performances and sound quality.
Public libraries often have a good CD collection--which may include some audiophile recordings. This would be a way to hear a variety of CDs without paying anything. Two warnings--the discs may be in poor condition (they often need a cleaning, and they often look like they've been tossed through a gravel pit). Then, there may be many old CDs from the early days of digital, which may be best avoided.
If exploring through Naxos, one nice thing is they print a very well organized and complete catalog that includes the ratings given to their recordings by some popular publications -- Penguin guide, Gramophone, etc. Don't know how easy it is to find, but I picked up a copy for free at a record store a year ago.
Naxos is a fine label, made great by not grabbing every last cent. You can build your whole library as you wish from them. And when some music lifts you from your mud, you can after a dozen listenings, look for another performance, doing your diligent research. I am sticking out my chin here for all to swat, pummel or pound. Naxos is crusial to preserve the culture. And I agree with the other guys that reading is alimentary and cheap. So read as you listen to Naxos. The really good thing is that the scope is s big and you should relax into it. I hope you like libraries; cause they speed you on your way to slow contemplation. I defend Naxos above all comers in value and taste.
Naxos is a good way to get familiar with the subject with no serious investments, but I think you can find more very interesting, performed not in a usual way, recordings in relatively smaller labels, such as Dorian or Telarc, than in Sony or Philips, where, IMHO, quality of performance and recording is hardly predictable. Check speciality audio stores.
Naxos can be OK,not always the best performers.You can get very good buys by joining BMG,they do carry high end labels such as Hyperion,telarc,emi,etc.The best source I have found for classical cd/sacd/dvd is Music Arkiv not cheap but reliable and the most comprehensive.Some of the best sound quality I have found on a Arts&music label they reasonably priced and have superb baroque performers sound quality is excellent on their 24/98 editions.
http://www.theclassicalstation.org is an fm and internet music provider. If you link through to their "today's music" listing,they list the albums,labels,and catalog numbers. When you hear something you like,you can look it up.
I've heard Naxos recordings where I did not agree with the interpretations but,on balance,they are a fine label.
Enjoy your immersion into art music.(Piston's definition)
To answer your original question I would not recommend building classical collection of "only" Naxos Cds, you must do research and mix and match labels/artists. Also some composers are not well represented in current Naxos collection.
There are many many choices for popular works at all price levels and performance levels from many labels......sometimes you can get the excellent performance at budget price. A perfect example it the recent Tintner/Naxos complete Bruckner symphony set, great sound/performance/price, highest recommendation!
The sound quality of Naxos CD's now is usually very good and competes with full price offerings, however most of the best conductors/artists have contracts with major label like DG/Sony/EMI/Phillips/London etc. Fortunately the major labels have released older recordings at mid and budget price sets which are often great buys for building classic CD collection for beginners.
To sum up I own many Naxos Cds which are very good, but I think you should research getting buget/mid priced sets from major labels with name performers as primary source of classical Cds for beginner. I do sometimes buy new recordings at full price, but there are so many older quality recordings at reduced price if you do some research.
Nobody beats Naxos for value, and it's a great way to hear a lot of music at a reasonable price. Yes, performance and recording quality are all over the map (though the same can be said for all but a handful of lablels). But if you're just getting into classical, my advice is not to worry too much about performance and recording quality. You're not really ready to judge the former, and you can learn a lot about music from less-than-ideal recordings, just as you can learn a lot about music listening on less-than-high-end equipment.
Naxos often pays an absolute pittance to their artists - some guitarists I know personally have gotten as little as $1500 for a solo cd, with no royalties. Its a real Barnum & Bailey type exploitation outfit in a lot of ways. Best thing to do is try to buy the cd's directly from the artist's website.
Most guitarsits on Naxos (particularly the younger ones) are as good if not better than the big names but there are a few duffers as well.