Phenomenal Classical Recordings

I would like to get a few really great classical recordings in terms of both music and the actual production in either redbook or SACD. Any recommendations to get me going into classical?
This is a huge world of opportunity, Maineiac. Give us a hint: what have you heard that you've liked? Is there a composer you've heard whose music you like? Do you think you have a preference for chamber music, or orchestral music, or choral music? Are you comfortable listening to more challenging, sometime atonal, music? Or do you prefer something tonal and/or melodic?

Happy to help with some suggestions, but I'd like some sort of starting point to make this useful to you.
Rushton nailed it on the head. You need to give us a starting point. This is a huge repertoire you are dealing with.
I would like to be exposed to a cross section so I can learn as much as possible. I have enjoyed Mozart orchestral and concerto recordings. I am not very familiar with chamber music but would like to give it a try. As to my neophyte beginnings, melodic is most likely best. If you may be familiar with Secret Garden's awakening, that includes a violin and piano with orchestra, that is appealing. Thanks for the refinement of the question, I look forward to hearing your advice.
Now, you're talking. I will compile a list for you and will either post it here or email it to you. I'm sure there are many others who will do the same. You will be flooded 8^)
Is your pocket book big enough?
I'll do the same, but let's post the recommendations here for others also beginning to explore classical music.
gaudio can you post the recomendation here? thanks
One thing to consider, the RCA Living Stereo classical recordings are being released on SACD. These are acknowledged as being very good to exceptional analog based recordings. The best part is there are two LP's (read variety) on one SACD for $11.98 or less (try Tower). Probably the most popular one (of those released) is Mussorgsky-Pictures at an Exhibition. This piece is what got me going on classical many, many years ago (as done by Emerson, Lake and Palmer no less!). Mercury Living Presence classical recordings are also being released in SACD but they are little more pricey at $17.98. You're in for a real treat, just approach with an open mind.
The "old masters" of classical music are always a good place to start: Vivaldi, J.S. Bach, Haydn, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, etc. To expand your horizons, however, I suggest that you buy either or both of the following books, which will give you an excellent introduction to the major classical composers and the better recorded versions of their work:

1. Essential Canon of Classical Music, by David Dubal (North Point Press, 2001).

2. The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection, by Ted Libbey (Workman Publishing, 1999).

Both books are very readable and contain excellent information that will really enhance your understanding and enjoyment of the classical music repertoire.
Mozart is the most easily appreciated of classical composers, and a good place to start. If you jump into Mahler, or even some Beethoven, you might drown.

I used to enjoy some radio programs where the music, often several renditions by different performers, was accompanied by a lecture about the music, and comparing the different interpretations.
I just checked the acoustic sounds web site for RCA Living Stereo and they listed this hybrid SACD set for $110, would this be a comprehensive set to get going with? I noticed it listed one of pmotz's recos. I also will get the books mentioned by sdcampbell. It's backordered though.


Saint Saens: Symphony No.3 ''Organ'/Charles Munch'
Ravel: Daphnis Et Chloe/Charles Munch
R. Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra/Fritz Reiner
Bartok: Concerto For Orchestra/Fritz Reiner
Beethoven: Violin Concerto In D/ Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E Minor/Jascha Heifetz,violin/Charles Munch
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1/ Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2/Fritz Reiner
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition & Other Russian Showpieces/Fritz Reiner
Verdi & Puccini Arias/Leontyne Price
Chopin: Ballades/Arthur Rubinstein
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 ''Pathetique''/Pierre Monteux
Most of the set is good. Not all, unfortunately. Many of these recordings are by now considered as "classic". However, bearing the title of this thread as "phenomenal recordings", I would leave out the Beethoven/Mendelssohn (for recording quality, although the performance is great) and the Tchaikovsky's Pathetique (uninspired performance).
There's another remastered-to-Hybrid-SACD (albeit in stereo) Mussorgsky's Pictures that is in demo class and better than the RCA. It's the Mobile Fidelity version with Slatkin.

I will post a list soon. But for now, you can also browse Gramophone Recommended Recordings to keep you occupied. I generally agreed with this list about 75% of the times.

You may also want several of the newly remastered to Hybrid-SACD's by Mercury Living Presence. They are very special indeed.
How about a trip to your local library before you buy. Its a good inexpensive way to audition the suggestions.Also check out the bbc radio website .
Maineiac, here are some recommendations to pick through as starting points for beginning your exploratation of classical music. I’ve tried to list music that is both accessible and mainstream, and to recommend recordings that are both readily available and have excellent sound quality. This is not a definitive list by any stretch, but it can help you get started and it covers a wide variety musical genres and styles.

Sources/Starting Places...
As Lvk47 suggests, I also recommend that you start your exploration of classical music by borrowing some CDs from your local library, if they have some. Select some of the works recommended below or by others and try them out to see what you think of the music. You probably won’t find the specific performance recommended, but you’re likely to find **a** performance of any of these recommended pieces of music because they are all basic repertoire. Just remember that in classical music, different performances of the same music can sound very different and, in some cases, can either make or break the music for you.

Reference material for futher exploration...
…The Grammophone Recommended Recordings list (as suggested above by Gaudio_eek) once you get some sense of which composers you like
…The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection (as suggested above by Sdcampbell)

Orchestral recommendations...
Haydn: Symphony No. 94 “Surprise” and others, Colin Davis/Concertgebouw Orch, Philips

Mozart: Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter” Trevor Pinnock/ English Concert, Archiv

Mozart: Serenata notturna / Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Orpheus Chamber Orch, Deutsche Grammophon

Beethoven: Symphony No. 5, Carlos Kleiber/Berlin Philharmonic, Deutsche Grammophon

Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2, Andre Previn/London Symphony Orch, RCA (there is a later EMI recording by Previn which is very good, but I somewhat prefer the earlier RCA)

Holst: The Planets, Andre Previn/London Symphony Orchestra, EMI

Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, Marriner/ASMF, Brown -violin, Decca/Argo

Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition, Reiner/Chicago Symphony Orch, RCA

Sibelius, Sym 2, Barbirolli/RPO, Chesky #3

Stravinsky, Firebird, Dorati/LSO, Mercury 432012

Chamber music recommendations...
The following are a diverse offering of chamber music that would introduce you to a range of periods and musical idioms. Any listing could go on for pages and pages, but these are some selections that I enjoy and return to, and they are all “accessible” for someone just beginning to explore classical music.

Arturo Delmoni, “Songs My Mother Taught Me” (multiple works pieces for violin and piano, beautifully played) John Marks Records

Arturo Delmoni and Nathaniel Rosen, “Music for a Glass Bead Game,” (complimentary selections for violin and cello by Bach and Kodaly, very accessible, beautifully played and recorded) John Marks Records

Bach: Brandenburg Concertos, Pinnock/English Consort, Archiv (for period instruments); or Britten/English Chamber Orch, Decca (for modern instruments)

Handel: Water Music, Pinnock/English Concert, Archiv

Telemann: Tafelmusik (“Music for Table”) Brueggen/Leohnardt/Bylsma is my preferred set but there are other good ones. This one unfortunately is available only in a box set today.

Haydn: String Quartets (choose virtually any of them) The performances by the Kodaly Quartet on Naxos have been well received, but I haven’t heard them.

Schubert: Trout Quintet, C.Curzon (piano) and Members of the Vienna Octet, Decca; or The Festival Quartet, RCA (lots of other choices as well, but I like these two)

Beethoven: Archduke Trio, Kempff/Szeryng/Fournier –vc, Deutsche Gramophone (Polygram)

Debussy: Sonata for Violin and Piano; or Sonata for Cello and Piano

Franck: Sonata in A for Violin and Piano

Stravinsky: L'Histoire du Soldat – Suite, Chicago Pro Musica, Reference Recordings #17

Malcolm Arnold’s chamber music performed by the Nash Ensemble on Hyperion (for a change of pace with something more contemporary and with humor – I particularly enjoy the various fantasies for oboe and for bassoon.)
Chamber music suggestions added to last post.

Maineiac, do you need some recommendations for choral, piano or organ or will orchestral and chamber be a sufficient starting point?
WOW!! Thanks. This is more then enough to get me rolling. I really appreciate the help. It is always better to have a direction and a head start like this.
Good luck! Please come back and tell us what you've liked as you go down your path.
Although my schedule has been pretty hectic lately, I have purchased the Bach Brandenburg Concertos and have really enjoyed my listening sessions so far. I plan to hit it pretty hard here over the holidays.

The following should arrive any day now:

Arturo Delmoni Songs My Mother Taught Me
Igor Stravinsky: L'Histoire Du Soldat Suite
Johannes Somary Handel: Royal Fireworks Music/ The Water Music

Thanks for the input and guidance so far. A place to start is so important.
When you're ready for Mahler get the SACD releases by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra under Michael Tilson Thomas. Start with Symphony #1, because everyone loves that one.
I can verify that the Naxos CDs of Haydn's quartets are very good indeed. You can buy the whole 23 CD set for about $130, but if you just want to dip your toe in, I'd recommend the Op.9 (2,5,6) and Op.76 (1-3) which are great examples of his early and late style.

I'm an unabashed Romantic. I love the Romantic-and-later-period big-orchestra pieces. My favorite composer is Gustav Mahler but I love much of the music from mid-Beethoven* on. Perhaps my most-listened-too recording, however, is one of Gustav Holst's 'The Planets'. My absolute-favorite recording of it is by Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonc Orchestra (which many of us call the LPO), on EMI, CD #72435677492.

Enjoy your listening. I expect in a year or earlier you'll be able to say that you most love the music of a certain period...Baroque, Classical, Romantic, modern, etc. Then you'll start to hear and prefer certain performances of some pieces.

*--Ludwig didn't start writing anything for me until the 4th piano concerto and the 3rd symphony. His earlier stuff sounds too much like Mowart and Hayden...a little too neat and organized and not dramatic enough.
If you're a Beethoven nut, as I am, you have to try 2 CDs: Both the Penguin Guide and Gramophone recommend them in their highest category for both recording and performance. They are just stunners:
1. Beethoven's 5th and 7th Symphonies - Carlos Kleiber - DGG and also available on SACD
2. Beethoven 6th Symphony - SACD - Bruno Walter