Please suggest a few really good classical recordings

After a somewhat scary number of years attending all sorts of musical performances ranging from avant garde jazz to Broadway shows to folk to pop to rock & roll to zydeco in every conceivable venue, we finally had the great good fortune to experience the Cleveland Symphony at Severance Hall this past Saturday.

While we've enjoyed Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Holst, Ravel, Stravinsky, Strauss and Tchaikovsky recordings, we'd never had an opportunity to listen to a live orchestra before.  This particular performance was of Sibelius' 1st with Susanna Malkki conducting, so as authentic as could reasonably be expected.  We quickly realized that the classical recordings we have simply don't do the material justice.

I have some MFSL, MasterWorks and Deutche Grammaphon pressings along with a few CDs of classical music.  To my ears, none of them really compared very well with pressings by those companies or others (Sheffield and various Japanese houses) of acoustic jazz, folk or rock.  Having read several comments here indicating that most classical recordings are not as good as they could be, I now finally understand why.  The basis of comparison was simply not there before.

So, please suggest a few recordings that might be worthy of the material.  Vinyl would be preferable, but CD or SACD are also fine.  Stuff we know really well includes the Brandenburg Concertos, Beethoven's 9th, Holst's Planets and Stravinsky's Firebird.  Those would be easiest for us to really grasp what we've been missing, but finding a great recording or three is the priority.  Thanks in advance and we look forward to your suggestions!
Lets be honest here, recorded classical orchestral music will never approach, or equal live performances. Ever!  For me they are a learning opportunity both the music itself and performance standards and variations. Given that proviso, I totally enjoy them for what they are and listen often. 

Two recording of music not on your list but which I consider essential for mine (that of recordings which are both high quality, audio wise, and interesting music and performance:
1)Mahler Symphony #1 and Lieder by Zander on Telarc
2)Copland Symphony 3 etc on Reference Recording 

I have no problem with millercarbon's recommendation but the original vinyl or more recent (still about 25+ years ago) reissue on vinyl are much better than the CD. Much better.

Agree with Newbee; his suggestions are good ones as well.  For the Firebird, that Dorati recording is about as good as I have heard of the piece.  the SACD is good; you can save some money on the vinyl by looking for the Classic Records reissue (maybe Analog Productions has done this one as well).on vinyl; dynamics to die for.  For The Planets, there are a number of vinyl reissues of the Mehta/LA Philharmonic recording on Decca/London that are excellent; just don't expect the sound to match what you hear in the concert hall.
Among classical symphonic recordings of familiar and immediately likable pieces, what may be the best overall combination of sonics and performance that I have ever heard is a Chesky cd, number CD31, containing a performance of Dvorak’s "New World" Symphony with Jascha Horenstein conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It was originally engineered by the legendary Kenneth Wilkinson of Decca, and you would absolutely not believe that it was recorded in 1962!

Unfortunately this CD is long out of print, but you may be able to find used or unused copies on eBay or Amazon.

During the first minute or two of the recording there are one or two timpani strokes that are slightly distorted, presumably due to overload of the original tapes. But despite that minor issue, and assuming that your system can cleanly handle the very wide dynamic range, I cannot think of any recording that would fulfill your stated goal so incredibly well.

-- Al

For the Firebird, that Dorati recording is about as good as I have heard of the piece.

My suggestion was based purely on it being on your list and being a Hot Stamper. Now that rcprince chimed in let me expand on that.  

If you really are keen on getting a good recording, well the recording itself is only half the battle. You would not believe how much difference there is between copies of the same record. Try a Hot Stamper, you will still not believe it. I haven't tried any classical yet, but all the Hot Stampers I have are so much better than my other copies its not even fair to compare.
@almarg @rcprince @newbee 

Thank you all for your suggestions.  Have them noted down and will look to see what pops up at various resellers & Ebay.


I've had several copies of the same LPs by multiple artists that really show the difference the pressing machine can make, so often buy several of material I like.  Sometimes I give the less well-pressed copies away, sometimes save them for the album art.  I'll have to see what happens with this search and hope I'll be able to report back in the not too distant future.

Thanks again everyone!
Having been listening to them recently, I will add that the Reference Recordings SACDs of the Pittsburgh Symphony are very good, both musically and sonically, at least on the SACD layer.  I was particularly impressed by their new Shostakovich 5th recording (a few small interpretive surprises, but very impressive dynamics and clarity of instrumental lines), but the other recordings in the series are very good as well. 
I have a number of "Firebirds," including the Mercury recommended above.

The best performance I have is on LP with Stravinsky conducting Stravinsky on Columbia. I believe I have the whole series of the Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky, and they are all excellent performances.

The best Classical music being made today is made by the Swedish BIS label .
Their dynamic range is by far the best and , in a good system, can come very close to   "" you are there"" .
About 15 yrs ago, while picking vinyl in a thrift store, I encountered a man who said he had a lot of classical records to sell. I was just getting back into vinyl and so I looked. Long story short, I ended up buying about 800 albums, all classical. They were all in NM condition and had the markings on them showing that they had been in a library. Thus NM. Mostly all imports. Philips Denmark?, London UK Gramaphone,  Terlefunkin Mercury, I figured I might learn to like classical I bought them. Truth be told, he had nowhere to store them properly and so they were in the garage.. The moisture had not started doing its damage yet. But I know it would soon if I didn't rescue them. I like some of them but I'm really a classic rocker at heart. But I love to hear those who are knowledgeable , talk about the different renditions and  composers. Guess I'm weird that way.

BTW, I think it was audio asylum which had a thread listing the must have classical records. I have a print out of it. But I'm pretty sure it was 15 or so years ago. You may search there and see if it appears.