There’s a great wide world of classical music out there. Where do you start? We have many customers who love music but want some help diving into the classics. We sell most of these boxes in the store.
The following are my choices. Most of the following were chosen for a combination of great performance and outstanding sound quality. There are some highly recommended older recordings because they happen to sound pretty good even by today’s standards, and I thought the performances were unsurpassed.
At the head of the class is Beethoven’s cycle of 32 piano sonatas. No matter what else you have, you have to own one box of all 32!
I’m a piano lover first and foremost. As a bad classical pianist myself, I appreciate the nuances of the greats! My favorite pianist is Wilhelm Kempff because of his fantastic touch- his playing is always beautiful and intriguing. His Schubert is unsurpassed. His Beethoven is at the head of a distinguished class. But Kempff didn’t record in the digital era. Many of his benchmark recordings are even in mono. I didn’t recommend any (well, OK, I recommended one!) of the monos here. Kempff recorded most of his work with DG. DG has a unique piano SOUND that I love. It is clear and light, instead of thicker and more muddled. When you listen to a Steinway D (the concert grand nine footer) you notice the beautifully clear singing tone of the instrument, not rumbling. The bass register is clean and taut, not smeared. While you can hear some tape hiss (yup, they had a big old open reel deck spinning away back then!) from the Kempff 60s/70s era, it’s no problem to these ears. I find a charm to this era of recording that’s difficult (but not impossible) to achieve today, even though today’s technology is superior. Having said that, Maurizio Pollini records for DG today, and his albums are a delight. They’ve maintained that DG sound without the hiss, and his playing is crisp and clear!
Among my favorite pianists today are Pollini and Emanuel Ax, who is the Kempff of our time. That is, he’s a pianist who has more than great speed and athleticism. He brings out the magic of tender thought and touch perhaps better than anyone else out there today. We can’t pass on mentioning Mitsuko Uchida whose deft touch is unsurpassed.
Then we have the Super Virtuosos (redundant as that is!) Marc Andre Hamelin and Evgeny Kissin. Their skills leave the audience gasping in wonder. What I just heard…. Was that even possible?!
Hyperion has excelled as a label. I’d have to say its offerings for the new millennium are the best sounding of all! With a great roster of pianists, Marc Andre Hamelin, Steven Hough, Angela Hewitt & Nicolai Demidenko among many, the label is a treasure trove of wonderful music with audiophile sound.
The quality of most of today’s recordings is outstanding! Hence if you’re looking for a particular work, like the Grieg piano concerto for example, you could select a classic 70s performance by Kovacevich, or a new EMI by Andsnes. The Andsnes has much superior fidelity. Both performances are first rate. Sorry to the opera fans- can’t help with those. We’ll update this list from time to time.
For you vinyl lovers… we don’t stock vinyl. But I would refer you to my friends at Watson’s in England (watsonrecords.co.uk). Further, they tend to be strong in the offerings you read about in Gramophone Magazine- that are often available in Europe- not in the USA.
Dave Holmes – updated 7-12-13
This is a great find for us piano lovers! In late 2007 Grammophone raved it and was right on the money! Charles-Valentin Alkan was a contemporary of Liszt. He was a pianist who didn’t play much in public. But when he did, he was considered close to Liszt, the ultimate virtuoso. This disc (Hyperion CDS67569) by Marc-Andre Hamelin features Alkan’s “Concerto for Solo Piano.” At almost 50 minutes long, it’s a wonderfully engaging work! He also has half a dozen shorter pieces by Alkan that might be considered encores. He died when a bookcase fell on him at 75!
The Naxos (8505178) box of five CDs for about $25 is a bargain. It contains all nine symphonies. Arnold died in late 2006 and he was quite the enigmatic fellow and wrote movie music as well. He married twice, had three children, was out on the streets as an alcoholic and lived his final years with a man who took care of him and managed his career.
Bach literally wrote the book on what a number of instruments could do. He managed being creative AND getting it down on paper- which had to require unbelievable discipline. While he accomplished more than any composer before him, Bach still found time to marry twice, have 20 children and get hauled off to jail once for disorderly conduct!
Unaccompanied Violin Sonatas & Partitas
These are marvelous, involving works showing the whole range of feeling of the violin. My favorite version of this two CD box is by Milstein (DG 457 701) for about $24. Julia Fischer is getting rave reviews for her new SACD offering on PentaTone (PTC 5186 072) for about $30.
Unaccompanied Cello Suites
These are done by all the cellists- Rostropovich and Ma are the big names. They’re wonderful. I like the Gendron (Philips 442 293) box of two CDs for about $15. Another excellent deal is probably the Schiff on EMI (5741792, 2 for $14), digitally mastered. Another great DDD contender is the Tortelier set on EMI (562879-2). These are works you can have on while you’re doing things around the house and you find yourself lured into them. If you’re after the most soulful playing I’d recommend the 1961 version by Pierre Fournier (DG’s Archiv 449 711 $18).
A fresh new DDD set by Steven Isserlis (Hyperion CDA67541-2) is earning buzz as the best of ‘em all!
Hahn/Kahane combine on a new DG (DG B0000986) release of delightful concertos. Hilary Hahn is among the finest violinists in the world- in her early 20s!
3 CDs on DG 463756 by Von K do it all!
Angela Hewitt is considered something of a Bach specialist. She records on an Italian, Fazioli piano that has a bit sharper flavor than the ubiquitous Steinway. She records on Hyperion which features among the finest piano sounds available. The concertos are on Hyp 67607 (2 CDs).
Murray Perahia has a nice 5 CD box (Sony 87890) with all 6 concertos and the English Suites.
Angela Hewitt on Hyperion 67451-2 offers the best sounding version I’ve heard!
Angela Hewitt on Hyperion 67121-2 offers the cleanest sounding version available!
Angela Hewitt on Hyperion 67305 has a fairly new, highly regarded version.
Angela Hewitt plays the partitas on Hyp 67191-2- a fantastic survey.
Andres Schiff has a terrific double disc set covering this important turf. Decca Originals 475-8234-2. Schiff recorded these DDD in the early 90s. Nice sound and Schiff was, and is, still in his prime! He’s one of the few pianists who travels with his own piano to be sure he’s at the top of his game!
Angela Hewitt continues her Bach specialty with Hyp 67310.
The unquestioned master of organ literature is Bach. Peter Hurford and London (444-410) combine for a magnificent 17CD box that covers all the bases. Truly a collector’s must and well worth the $200.
Concerto for Orchestra
There are a number of fine recordings of this work, but I’m going to recommend James Levine with the CSO (DG 429747). I’m a big Levine fan and it’s an excellent DDD recording. What pushes it to the top for me is that it is paired with Music for Strongs, Percussion & Celestia.
Boulez has a nice DDD recording of this impressive work! DG 447-747.
Music For Strings, Percussion & Celestia
Coupled with Concerto for Orchestra, this pairing is not as strident as Bartok usually sounds to me. Von K and DG (463 640-2) make this sound less modern and grundgy than you often hear it.
Vernon Handley has a fresh new box of all seven symphonies with some other Bax goodies. Bax is a very civilized English composer! (Chandos 10122) 5cds $55.
My favorite composer, LVB was a piece of work. By all accounts he was an irascible SOB. He grew up with an alcoholic father who came home drunk and forced him to practice the piano at all hours. Old dad wanted Ludwig to be another Mozart child prodigy, even fibbing about his age as he showed him off. Though he was good, there was only one Mozart. Only Mendelssohn was competitive at a young age.
By his teenage years LVB was taking care of his two younger brothers and got custody of them as dad was pushed out of the picture. It’s a miracle LVB survived all this and became a magnificent pianist- a fearsome competitor at the keyboard. There are stories of his challenging and embarrassing other piano players in both public and private forums. He had a disdain for royalty and boldly commented there were many princes, but only one Beethoven!
LVB continued to write prodigiously as he grew into deafness. He only slowed for a while when he became obsessed in a court battle to gain custody of his brother’s son- from his brother’s widow! LVB was mostly cantankerous and combative despite writing some of the most beautiful music the world has heard! Why?
A big reason is… we’ve learned when he died, a visitor cut some of his hair as a keepsake. He taped it between pieces of glass for security. It traveled through many hands over the next 170 years. In about 2000 a forensic study was done on some of the strands and it was determined he had enormous levels of lead poisoning. He was a chronic drinker of alcohol from lead containers. As he drank he just got sicker and lived virtually his whole adult life with indigestion. You’d be cranky too! He died at 57 shaking his fist at the heavens from his death bed in a thunder storm.
This is solo piano music at its best! LVB wrote 32 sonatas. It’s the bible of classical piano music. You have to have at least one box set of all 32. Life isn’t complete without one! I own about ten and can make a good case for each. But, when you want the best sound and playing, several come to mind. The leader is a brand new 10 CD Box on Harmonia Mundi (290-1902) for $95 by Paul Lewis. Reviewers liken it to Kempff’s sensitivity- with state of the art fidelity!
Richard Goode (Nonesuch 7559 79328, 10 CDs $90), Alfred Brendel (Philips 446909, 10 CDs $160), Steven Kovacevich (EMI 62700, 9 CDs $90) and Daniel Barenboim (DG 463-127, 9CDs, $65). You can’t lose with any of these!
But the more I listen to this grand music, the more I’m drawn to Wilhelm Kempff. His stereo version (DG 429-306, $60 ish) in the early 60s has a delicate playing like no other. The sound is uniquely Kempff. The same sound is heard on the Schubert box of sonatas mentioned below. While some young turks pound the piano harder, musically & emotionally, I find Kempff in a class above the rest!
I’ve read here or there that some folks prefer Kempff’s mono recordings of the 50s. I don’t. While the playing is equally thoughtful, the sound is more “clangourous.” It sounds fine on a Tivoli Model 2 system but through your nice hifi gear you’ll like the sound of the stereo box quite a bit more.
A CD that is considered by many as THE finest single disc of LVB’s sonatas is a classic Rubinstein, playing several of the finest (#8, $14, #23, #26) with electric results, RCA 09026 63056 $12. Rubinstein is often thought of as a Chopin specialist, but if you listen to this disc you’ll know he can play everything well.
While the Rubinstein above is a bit more type A, there is an outstanding subset of Brendel’s big 90s DDD box mentioned above. On the Decca Originals label you can get one CD with sonatas, 8/14/23/26 (475-75559). The complete collector in me says buy the big box, but if you want a single disc to cover the most ground with DDD sound and Brendel’s scholarly approach, this is it!
If you want a greater taste of the “named” sonatas, Ashkenazy has a wonderful double disc box on London (452-952) for about $17. You get the seven most popular sonatas at a great price with excellent sound.
Another box of impeccable playing is the Alfred Brendel Philips Duo (ADD, 438730) double set of some of the most famous sonatas. Hence if you’re after the “hits” of the sonatas- this is a good choice, especially because it includes #15 (Pastorale) and #17 (Tempest). Sometimes these aren’t included in the hits discs- and they’re two of my favorites!
For bargain hunters I highly recommend the Naxos discs by Jando or Vladar. They don’t have the superstar names of Goode, Brendel & Uchida, but they play wonderfully and are available at about $9 a pop.
A recent killer taste of Beethoven #18 & #7 is by Ingrid Fliter, VAIA 1250. Her playing is so clean and clear that it’s striking. It is packaged with Chopin Waltzes. I can’t wait to hear more of Ingrid!
As far as the sonatas go, they tend to fall in groups. The first batch of 1-7 are all very nice, clean, clever and enjoyable. The first masterpiece is #8. the Pathetique. The next group would be 9-13. Again, all are good and at 11,12 & 13, the genius is apparent.
#14 is the Moonlight- the most popular of any piano sonata ever written. #15 is the Pastorale, a beautiful introspective work. Movement #2 of #15 is among my favorites of the piano literature. #16 is crisp and clean, setting the stage for #17, The Tempest, a true favorite. The lively, percussive action of the Tempest are great fun through your nice hifi! Things are good through #20. But #21 is the Waldstein, another masterpiece by any measure. William Backhaus blew the critics away with an accomplished performance of the Waldstein at age 13! At #22 LVB took a bit of a rest, only to bring the house down with #23, the Appassionata. Movement #3 of the Appassionata is often the measure of a pianist’s athleticism! #24-28 are thicker and thoughtful.
#29, the Hammerklavier, is the grand daddy of them all. The first two movements I find very accessible. After that he has more to say than I can absorb! The final three are unique from all the earlier ones, #32’s second movement sounding like stride piano to come 100 years later!
Also worthy of note is a new box of all 32 by Paul Lewis. Gramophone calls him the “heavyweight champ” of LVB 2010. It has nice sound and Lewis is a Brendel influenced, tremendous player. The Kempff stereo box is till my favorite. But the sound of the new Lewis box is far superior.
These are my favorite piano/orchestra discs on the planet. These works have been done by all the big names over the years, but once again, you have to get a box containing all five concertos- which boils down to three CDs. There are now many premium choices: New offerings by Paul Lewis (Harmonia Mundi 902053), Richard Goode (Nonesuch 480508) & Evgeni Kissin (EMI 06311), Maurizio Pollini (DG 439770) have landed and… it’s impossible to say which is the “best.”
Prior premium versions: Zimerman/Bernstein (DG 435-467 $50 phenomenal DG DDD clarity), Brendel-Rattle box (Philips 462-781, about $50, rich and round sounding), Perahia/Haitink box (Sony S3K 44575, about $35) sounds cleaner and leaner, Ashkenazy/Cleveland (London 421-718, 3CDs for about $35).
RCA has just released a fantastic box under its Complete Collections series. You get Emmanuel Ax with Previn & Mehta, playing all 5 concertos and the Choral Fantasy for a steal (RCA 55703, 3 CDs with a super 72p booklet for $17!). It was recorded digitally in the mid 80s and sounds full and warm- a great DEAL!
DG has just released a fantastic recording of Lang Lang playing concertos 1&4 with Chris Eschenbach and the Orchestra of Paris. The recording is so immediate- so clear! Lang Lang and the orchestra are outstanding. His articulation is outstanding. Just run 2:45 into movement three of concerto #1 to hear what I mean!
This music deserves all the attention it can get!
Again, you need the box of 5 CDs containing all 9 symphonies. My clear favorite is the Rattle set on EMI, 557445 for about $50. As a bargain however, you simply can’t beat the new Naxos White Box for $40 (Naxos 8.508007). It features 8 CDs, all 9 symphonies and all 5 piano concertos! Solti recorded the whole set with the Chicago CSO. They stand test of time but I would buy the Rattle.
There’s a new bargain version well worth buying! The Arte Nova label has some real gems at affordable pricing. David Zinman with the Tonhalle Orch of Zurich has a wonderful 5CD (AN 65410) set of all nine symphonies for about $30!
If you’re a piano enthusiast as I am, you can even buy the mighty LVB transcribed by Liszt- played on solo piano! I have a version by Cyprien Katsaris (Teldec 60865,4CDs $39). Also just out is one by Scherbakov (Naxos 8.505219, 5CDs $36).
LVB’s cello sonatas feature cello and piano- a great duo! They’ve been played by everybody, but the sound and performance combine make me recommend a new winner- Alfred Brendel and son Adrian have just released the best version I’ve heard! It’s a double Philips, 395802 for $35. The warmth and balance are simply the best I’ve heard! The Harrell/Ashkenazy box (Double Decca 466 733) of two CDs for under $20 remains a very good deal. A classic performance that doesn’t sound quite as good but has incredible life is the Richter/Rostropovich pairing (Phil Duo 442565 $17). And for posterity’s sake there is the husband wife team of Jacqueline du Pre and her husband Daniel Barenboim (EMI 73332m 2 CDs $15). This was recorded live in 1976. You hear some audience coughing and the sound won’t compete with the top two above- but I enjoy playing this from time to time because of WHO played it!
This is a beautiful combination of instruments written with beauty and passion. The Beaux Arts Trio is my favorite group, Philips 468-411, 5CDs for $40.
There is a new single disc offering LVB’s violin concerto AND the Kreutzer sonata. Isabelle Faust plays violin with the Prague Phil on the concerto, and with Alexander Melnikov on piano in the Kreutzer (Harmonia Mundi 901944). The fidelity of the Faust is the best out there. The speed of her playing mixed with the hifi- makes this the best choice.
This interplay of violin and piano are spritely and uplifting. These 10 sonatas are great works and I recommend the Oistrakh/Oborin box (Philips 468-406) for 4 CDs for about $28 as a budget choice. The upper crust, however, is the box by Pires/Dumay, DG 47495-2 (3 for about $44). It’s a much more recent digital master with outstanding sound.
I’ll let one 50s mono recommendation slip into the list! Wolfgang Schneiderhahn and Wilhelm Kempff play my favorite interpretation of these works on DG. Play this one on your Tivoli system and you’ll love it. Played through your fancy hifi… no.
My two favorite works for violin & piano are Beethoven’s #5 “Spring” and #9 “Kreutzer.” We have a monumental, classic recording by Wilhelm Kempff & Yehudi Menuhin (DG Universal B0002921-02, $9). It was recorded in stereo in 1970 and has a wonderful warm sound.
Many folks feel this is the most deeply felt music ever written. My favorite box is a DDD mid 90s set by the Emerson Quartet (DG 447-075, 7 CDs, $115). A classic, less expensive version by the Quartet Italiano (Philips 454 062), 10 CDs for about $70 is outstanding too. This is music you should play when you’re in the mood to pay attention. You won’t do it justice to just have it on while you’re cleaning the kitchen.
LVB wrote one violin concerto, no box this time! My favorite performance is by Schneiderhan (DG 477 403). It was done in 1960 or so and sounds good. A newer version by Hilary Hahn (Sony SK60584) would be a great choice too.
Brahms started his career as an incredibly talented pianist. Within his first five opus numbers are his three piano sonatas- which are all magnificent! All that by age 20- stunningly remarkable! His relationship with the Schumanns- you simply couldn’t make up. There are stories of his acrobatic antics for the Schumann children bordering on circus level talent.
As he got older he drank, quit practicing (leaving Clara Schumann despondent) and became a grouchy old goat, once leaving a party saying, “If there is anyone here I haven’t insulted, I apologize.”
Solo Piano Works
You can get Brahms complete solo piano works by Katchen (London 455247). Katchen died young at 42 and was considered one of the finest pianists on the scene, getting more attention every day. A customer ordered this box from me in the 90s. I hadn’t heard it before. It has become one of my most treasured boxes! Even Brahms first opus #, his first sonata, is amazing. If you don’t know Brahms the pianist, you need to get acquainted! This Katchen box has six CDs for about $45!
Naxos has just released all Brahms’ solo piano works WITH his two piano concertos. The 12 CD box by Idil Biret (Naxos 8.501201) is a steal at about $60! Biret was Kempff’s premier student and the lineage is apparent.
If you’re not aware of Brahms solo piano music, it’s time to jump on board. This formidable body of work reveals one treasure after another!
The more I listen to Brahms’ three piano sonatas, the more impressed I am by his precocity! The first two are his first two published works, Opus 1 &2. Listen to #1 and realize that a 19 yr old kid wrote it!
The story goes that Brahms knocked on Robert Schumann’s (composer & critic) door. Schumann’s 8 year old daughter answered and let him right in. As she went to fetch her father Brahms began to sweat bullets realizing he was actually about to meet the great composer. Schumann politely greeted Brahms. Brahms asked if he could share his first work with Schumann who agreed to hear it. After just twenty seconds at the piano Schumann went running from the room without a word. Brahms stopped, scared spitless that the world’s most influential critic had hated his start. Brahms got up and was about to walk out the door but the daughter told him to wait. Brahms heard Schumann call to his concert pianist wife Clara, “Clara, you must come here this genius at once!” The rest is quite a story! But it all started here with opus 1.
Numbers 1 & 2 you should buy by Idil Biret (Naxos 8.550351, $9). Number 3 has been recorded by many big names but I recommend the Emanuel Ax on Sony (SK 45933) for about $12.
Number 3 is one of my favorites by ANYBODY. It is a five movement work with some very thick chords but I know you’ll love it! I find a lot of thick chord texture, by Rachmaninov among others, just too much to interpret for my meager brain. But Brahms 3- about 35 minutes of grand piano glory! Buy the Ax (Sony SK45933) and be amazed! New to my collection is Stephen Hough’s Hyperion CDA 67237. The sound is state of the art! I can’t say he’s better than Ax, nobody is, but the Hyperion sound is tops.
A new discovery to me (issued 2003) is the Evgeny Kissin recording on RCA (63886). Kissin’s virtuosity is nothing short of mind blowing! It shows on this, sonata #3 and the Hungarian Rhapsodies. Ya wanna hear incredible chops on the piano?! Check out the Hung Rhapsodies on this disc, especially #1, #2 & 6. Just amazing!
This ethnic piano music is very spritely! Biret’s Naxos (8.553140) makes it clearly affordable. The Kissin sampling of five of the dances is stupendous- mated with sonata #3- see above paragraph.
I like the Harnoncourt box of three CDs (Teldec 0630-13136) for about $40. It contains Brahms’ four wonderful symphonies and a few other goodies. There’s a terrific repackage-reissue-remaster by Bernstein on DG (474930-2), a 5 pack for $35. DG is going through the archives and creating boxes from individual performances, called the Collectors Editions. There are number of terrific new ones- like this!
It’s tough to beat the classic Heifetz, paired with LVB’s, CSO & Reiner (RCA 09026-61742, $15). But Hilary Hahn’s relatively new Sony, SK 89649($15) is DDD and has cleaner sound! The more I listen to violin concertos, the more I love the Brahms. His energetic third movement with the Bartok touch (before and better than Bartok!) is amazing!
One of the best versions of these thickly textured concertos has just come out. Emanuel Ax plays #1 with James Levine and the CSO. On the second disc he plays #2 with Barnard Haitink and the BSO. It’s a fairly price double disc (Sony 03510) and my top choice now. The throw ins on this CD include two of my favorite Brahms pieces- the Rhasodies!
Brendel (Philips 446925, $15) and Abbado pair on this CD with both piano concertos. It’s DDD so it has the sonic edge. Some folks still like the old Gilels, (DG 447446 $12). The Gilels has that DG sound that is so beautiful.
Michelangeli plays them exquisitely on DG 457-762.
Piano Quartet #1- a new exciting recording with Argerich/Kremer/ Bahmet & Maisky. (DG 289 463 700, $15) is paired with the Schumann piano/violin/cello fantasy.
Brahms’ writing for cello and piano is right up there with LVB! He has three gorgeous works that feature the cello in all its splendor. His Op 38, 99 & 108 (cello subbing for violin) are warm and lush. My favorite recording is of Yo Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax (Sony Sk48191). The sound is good but the music is even better! Ma & Ax are a great tandem. They don’t compete for attention. The cello leads, the piano follows. This says a lot for Ax, obviously a team player and a virtuoso of very high order!
Matthies & Kohn share duties on a crisp clean recording of these fascinating works! (Naxos 8553140). All 21 are played!
Listen to this fine double disc of Brahms’ complete writings for the duo by Milwaukee’s own Frank Almond! (Boolean 01). I’ve found a classic version I love as well. Recorded in 1961-62 is an early stereo recording that has been remastered. Wolfgang Schneiderhan plays violin, Carl Seemann plays piano (DG 463-653).
Violin Concertos & Scottish Fantasy
You can get the 3 concertos and Scottish Fantasy on one terrific double CD. Philips Duo 462-167 with Salvatore Accardo playing- wonderful value for about $16. Bruch complained that all anyone wanted his permission to play was Concerto #1. When you hear this set you’ll see his point. They’re all first rate!
New and wonderful is Sarah Chang playing the Bruch G minor and Brahms (EMI)- a wonderful pairing!
Bruckner is an acquired taste. I suggest the Naxos eleven CD box (Nax 8501101) because it is a great deal at under $50 and you’ll enjoy the music. For this price, you might as well have them all!
Angela Hewitt plays 18 solo piano pieces of this French composer who lived roughly in the same time frame as Tchaikovsky. Marvellously recorded on Hyperion, CDA67515.
He left Poland (to Paris) as a talented teenager, never to return. His pianistic talents were remarkable. He played lightly and beautifully- he was the opposite of Beethoven and other showmen at the keyboard. He wrote mostly music to show beauty. His Preludes were Bach-like in representing all the keys and colors of the piano. He spent much of his adulthood with a female novelist, Georg Sand. He performed publicly very little- although whenever he did, there were nothing but raves. He died of TB at 37 and spent most of his life sick. Just imagine what might more he might have done in good health and old age?!
A vast array has been done on a thirteen CD box (London 443 738) by Ashkenazy. Recorded from the late 70s to mid 80s, you can cover many vital bases for a bargain at about $80. This is not just a good set because of the quantity. Ashkenazy is a warm and masterful player that Chopin would be happy with! A nice surprise near the end is Ashkenazy playing Chopin’s piano duet with his son! The sound on the Decca London boxes clean and direct- very impressive!
While I’m touting Ashkenazy… you have to marvel at this man’s talent! In this box he has recorded over 13 hours of Chopin. He’s recorded almost everything LVB & Schumann too. He’s recorded most Rach & Brahms. And in his older age he’s hitting Bach. The man is positively amazing and every value box he has under Decca or London is a bargain!
Another consideration of the big picture is Idil Biret’s 15 CD box on Naxos, 8.501501. It’s a complete set with excellent sound. Biret is outstanding!
Many top performers have recorded both of these concertos. I would choose the Zimerman DG 459684 which features Zimerman as conductor as well. Another wonderful version from 1965 features Samson Francois, EMI 67261. Yundi Li (DG B0008236-02) has just released the best sounding version of concerto #1 (along with Liszt’s #1) out there!
There’s a new find (for me!) that I prefer to the traditional piano above. Emanuel Ax (Sony SK60771) plays an 1851 Erard piano with original instruments orchestra. The combination is close to what would have been heard in the day and I prefer Ax’s playing.
Fine piano music by Perahia, (Sony SK61885) single CD that won Gramophone’s CD of the year 2003 in its category.
Ballades & Scherzos
We have a new winner in this category! The Stephen Hough (Hyperion CDA 67456) CD of 2003 is the best I’ve heard. You just can’t beat incredible sound quality with great playing- to appreciated the nuances of a marvelous pianist!
Rubinstein- nobody does Chopin better! (RCA 9026 63045) It’s an older master so you’ll eat a little hiss to appreciate the incredible Rubinstein.
There’s a new remastered release by Emanuel Ax, a double including the Ballades (Sony 6981852, 2 for $12)- not to miss! Ax has a patient temperament that befits the Ballades. Ah, to be a virtuoso but not have to show it off all the time! Ax is always in command.
Krystian Zimerman (DG 423-090) has a well respected issue of this music. The sound is DG all the way- crystal clear and Zimerman is a virtuoso of the highest order that has a magical touch with these works! His version of the Fantasy is a marvelous 14 minute throw in!
An embarrassment of riches continues with the great Pollini DG Recording (DG 289 459 683). The Pollini recording is ten years newer than Zimerman’s. The sound is BIGGER, more like row A than H.
Cello & Piano
Who said Chopin was only a piano man?! There are some gorgeous works for cello & piano on a new disc from Trulis Mork and Kathyryn Scott (Virgin 3 857842).
Idil Biret (Naxos 8.550536) handles these beautiful works masterfully at a good price! A more powerful player is Evgeny Kissin who (RCA 63535). His versions are more forceful and in your face- not contemplative. Kissin’s CD is especially worth having because it mates the Preludes with the sonata #2.
Recordings of Chopin’s sonatas have come out in droves lately. Sonatas 2&3 are simply magnificent. It seems all the top pianists are recording them now. I’m happy to report there are many good offerings. My favorite is hot off the presses by Marc Andre Hamelin (Hyperion CDA67706). Hamelin is playing both #2 & #3. The sound and playing are as good as I’ve heard. If you’re not aware of Hyperion, make an effort to try some of their discs. You’ll be won over!
The mighty Maurizio Pollini has a new #2 out (DG B0011939). These are two of the finest versions ever- and they came out within a month or so of each other!
Sonata #2 is one of the most emotional and probing works ever written for piano! It is also known as the Funeral March. Well, the Funeral March is movement #3, about 9 minutes long. The sonata is a 4 movement work of great feeling. If you’ve had someone you care about die recently, playing this sonata is like rubbing the bruise. You’ll feel it, but you’ll be glad you did. This is the kind of work you need to hear in solitude to appreciate its transporting nature. Wait till you get your family out of the house, or at least out of the music room. Lock up 25 minutes for yourself. Turn off the phones, the TV, don’t pay any attention if the house is burning down. This work demands 100% of your attention!
We shouldn’t forget the 2005 recording by Nelson Freire (Decca B0004410-02, $16). The fidelity and playing are excellent. This work is also in the Ashkenazy box listed above so you can get it within that package as well. While sonata #1, op 4, is an early work, don’t miss it. Movement #2 is especially unique. Try to play this sucker with your hands jumping all over- yet remaining so musical!
Another good version is within Andsnes’ set (Virgin 2x 5 61616-2 $15) which incorporates all three of Chopin’s sonatas. Another new version I enjoy is by Helene Grimaud on (DG B0004048-2) sounds very good and is paired with Rachmaninov’s sonata #2 and two Chopin short works. This one is probably the most widely available.
We can’t overlook Kissin’s 2000 recording (RCA 63535) with the Preludes. Kissin is the ultimate powerful, virtuoso.
The best DEAL of the bunch would be all three sonatas on one CD by Idil Biret (Naxos 8.550363). Biret is terrific too!
Customer Greg and I seem to be competing to see who can own the most versions of sonata #2. I never get tired of it. I own about 15 versions. But Greg has left me in the weeds- he’s got over 25!
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor lived from 1875-1912. There weren’t many black classical composers in that day. He wrote a wonderful violin concerto that has a very romantic “American” (despite being British) flavor. He sent the score to the US in 1912 but it sank with the Titanic, so he had to send another copy! Lyrita (SRCD.317) has issued a wonderful recording of this work with Lorraine McAslan on violin. There are two other nice, 7-9 minute works on this disc, along with a work by Julius Harrison, a contemporary of C-T’s.
Fanfare For The Common Man
This along with Rodeo and other Copland treats is done by Dorati (London/Decca 430705, single for about $11)- crisp and ambient concert hall sound. Fanfare is about as classically American as you get!
Violin Sonata & Concerto
Joshua Bell (violin) and Jeremy Denk (piano) are a true interacting team. Bell has the big name but they are equal partners in music. It doesn’t matter if you hear them playing “pretty” like Grieg, or rough like Prokofiev.
Here (Sony 88060) they play Corigliano’s sonata with delight. The disc also features a very new violin concerto featured in the film “The Red Violin.”
Homage to Debussy by Eric Himy. Centaur 2968, is Himy’s latest recording in his “Homage to” series. Recorded on the big Steingraber-Phoenix piano, this disc features favorites, Prelude to Afternoon of a Fawn, & many others.
The best box of all nine is by Kubelick (DG 463 158), six CDs for about $40. Another good deal is the six CD box by Gunzenhauser (Nax 8506010) for about $30.
If you don’t want the whole box try Sym 8&9 by Kubelick (DG447-412, $12). It sounds very nice on the very well done and natural sounding “DG Originals” series.
Jacqueline DuPre has one of the most famous recordings in all of classical music on her EMI 562886 release of 1965. DuPre’s teachers would tell her to quit moving so much, don’t play so volcanically. Luckily, she didn’t listen!
Hilary Hahn is marvelous in a current DG (B0003026 $16) recording. It also features Ralph Vaughn Williams’ incredibly sensitive “The Lark Ascending.” Wonderful DG sound and Hahn playing! I bought the CD for the Elgar. But I listen to “The Lark” more than the Elgar. At this point I’ll buy anything Hilary puts out. But The Lark is a gem not to miss!
Gershwin wrote a legit classical piano concerto! He debuted it himself in 1925. The version I recommend is by Helene Grimaud on Erato 0630. Grimaud is a great technician and does Gershwin proud!
Born in 1991, this young man is compared with Mozart and Mendelssohn for “young genius” tag. His first recording is of his Symphony #5. It’s good- quite enjoyable with something to say. I want to encourage folks to support Greenberg and discover him early. With all the nonsense going on it the world today it’s amazing to have a historical prodigy in our midst! Sony 81802.
It’s one of the best piano concertos ever written. I suggest the Andsnes/Jansons (EMI 7243 5575622) paired with the Schumann. Over the years I’ve heard many other versions. The Kovacevich of the mid 60s is a classic. But given the superior clarity of the Andsnes, buy it.
Complete Solo Piano Works
Grieg is also adept at the shorter form of solo piano music and has some wonderful pieces in an RCA reissued box. Played by Oppitz, these 7 CDs sell for about $40 (RCA 60391-2) and incorporate the entire range of his solo works.
This classically beautiful orchestral work is conducted by Karajan and paired with Sibelius’ Finlandia: DG 439-010.
Haydn invented the sonata form. He was a prolific writer. He did it while managing orchestra personnel, keeping track of instruments, teaching and being in a tumultuous marriage! Buy the McCabe box (London 443 785) of twelve for about $75. You’ll find one treasure after another. While not “thrilling” a la LVB, these are well worth your investment.
If you don’t want the big box above, there are a couple of strong recommendations for a taste of Haydn’s sonatas. Emanuel Ax plays four of the best on Sony SK53635 for about $12. It’s a sparklingly clean piano presentation of Haydn’s work played sensitively. There is a fine double CD by Schiff (Teldec 17141 $28) playing 9 sonatas and a Fantasy. Schiff feels these sonatas are unfairly ignored and believes they should be performed frequently. This double disc is convincing!
Complete Piano Trios
The Beaux Arts Trio is in fine form on this nine CD box (Philips 454098) for about $60. I’m a fan of chamber music and the piano trio in particular. Haydn wrote extensively for the combination, to our delight. When you consider he was in charge of the orchestra’s instruments, personnel and giving private lessons, it’s staggering how much he was able to write down! And we know a number of his compositions were lost in major fires.
Violin Concertos/Cello Concertos
This double CD package (Philips Duo 438797) for about $15 features Accardo and Walevska covering this classic territory.
The London Symphonies are often considered among Haydn’s finest. They’re all here by Jochum on DG 474 364, 5CDs for about $38.
Haydn wrote 104 symphonies. I don’t think you need them all, but London has a box if you do. In Haydn’s day he was not only a composer, but he had to run the court orchestra. That included the business end of the orchestra, the personnel challenges and keeping the instruments organized and in a proper condition to play. We know at least some of his work was lost in a horrific fire. No wonder they called him “Papa Haydn.”
A contemporary of Chopin & Mendelssohn, Henselt’s piano concerto is a fun ride. Hamelin (Hyperion CDA 66717) records this technically challenging piece. In his hands it doesn’t sound challenging! Kinda like Schumann.
A classical tour through the galaxy. Planets covers the whole range of dynamics! Dutoit conducts on Decca 476-17242.
Janacek’s Sinfonietta is paired with a mean version of Holst’s Planets. Simon Rattle conducts a fiery version of both works on EMI 7-64740.
Shaham/Previn/LSO (DG439 886) have a fine recording with the Barber. The Korngold isn’t generally considered up there with Beethoven/Brahms/Tchaikovsky- but it’s well worth hearing.
Most musicologists feel Liszt must have been the greatest pianist whoever lived. He practiced up to 14 hours per day. His technique was ground breaking. Most of his own music was written to display his immense talent. He literally created the recital- going on stage with only a piano turned sideways to the audience. In fact, he had two pianos facing each other on stage so each side of the audience could see his hands! He was the first “rock star” riding to the concert in a carriage, squiring the ladies and handing white gloves to an assistant before striding to the piano. He must have been as fine a showman as he was a pianist!
There was more to him than show, however. His ability not only to create music, but to rework other music (like transcribing LVB’s 9 symphonies for piano, or orchestrating Schubert’s Wanderer for orchestra) revealed a unique understanding for the process of writing music. As he aged he became a generous supporter of younger talent.
He did, however, have peculiar moments. He thought about entering the priesthood. He left Hungary as a child and lived his life in France. He was invited to Hungary to receive a national award in his 20s and addressed Hungarians about patriotism- in French- because he couldn’t speak Hungarian!
Liszt was perhaps the best pianist who ever lived. His works are shown off beautifully by Bolet on a nine CD box (Decca 467801) for about $60- a real bargain! The sound is top notch and Bolet, a Cuban national, became a Liszt specialist. If you haven’t heard “Totentanz” you should. This is lower register piano playing at its most prodigious!
Eric Himy (Centaur 2969) has released (2008) a nice array of Liszt works (Homage to Liszt), recorded on the super sized Steingraber Phoenix piano. It’s worth getting to hear Liszt’s works on the fullest sounding piano! Himy delivers as he did with Homage to Schumann!
The 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies
These works are full of fun and showin’ off! Number two, among many, is a thrilling work to hear performed. Roberto Szidon proves he’s up for the athletics and excitement. This is a blast- a 2CD (DG 453 034) set for about $16. If you want the ultimate master of Liszt fireworks, I would give the nod to Gyorgy Cziffra who has a mid 70s recording (EMI 67555, $11) of the abridged HRs.
New to the party is Marc Andre-Hamelin’s LIszt (Hyperion CDA-66874). He plays three of the Hungarian Rhapsodies among other Liszt goodies on this CD. You’ll never hear more virtuoso playing on any CD! In addition to playing two of the Rhapsodies straight, he puts his own spin on the most famous of them all, #2. If you want to be blown away by what human being can do with a piano, look no further. Hamelin and LIszt are the perfect pairing!
Liszt wrote one of the biggest and toughest sonatas. Zimerman on DG 431780 is among the best. Brendel on Decca Originals 475-8247-2 is a classic as well. It is also included in the wonderful Bolet box listed above.
We have to include the magnificent Earl Wild (Ivory Classics 72001) in our Liszt survey!
Yundi Li has just recorded a (DG B0008236-02) fantastic disc- featuring the first piano concertos of Liszt & Chopin. As always the DG sound (with Andrew Davis and the Philadelphia Orch) is top notch!
Zimmerman/Ozawa/BSO (DG423571) combine for a classic account of these works, concertos 1&2!
I’m a little later to the Mahler party, but I view him as kinda/sorta like LVB. He has ten symphonies. So many are so good that, again, you should buy the box of ten for about $70. I like the Solti CSO box (London 430 804).
A great new set by Chailly (Decca 475 6686 offers 12 CDs $90) and the whole cycle. It’s very clean and beautifully done. For the DDD sound.
Earl Wild (Chesky AD001) plays Medtner’s much unheard piano music. A worthy addition to your collection of Russian piano composers!
Almost Mozart like, Mendelssohn was a precocious talent and composer. He died at 38 after living much of his adulthood in poor health. Like Chopin… we have to be sad so much was left unwritten!
This terrific six CD set (Naxos 8506011) for about $30 gives you all four symphonies and the 13 string symphonies. I’m appreciating Mendelssohn more in my old age so I think the box is the great deal. A little higher end box containing the five symphonies and seven overtures is a wonderful four CD box on DG (471-467) by Abbado and the LSO for about $28. Or, get the popular 3&4 on DG 449743.
His two piano concertos are finely done by Thibaudet and Blomstedt (Decca 289 468 600-2, $15). Thibaudet is an immensely talented pianist who has been through Milwaukee several times.
New in 2010 is a wonderful recording (Sony 52192) featuring three of the top musicians in the world. With Emanual Ax on piano, Yo Yo Ma on cello and Itzhak Perlman on violin- you couldn’t go wrong! Here, they have recorded Mendelssohn’s two Piano Trios. Both are beautiful works in the spirit of Beethoven and Schubert. Highly recommended!
Concerto For Violin, Piano & Strings
A real steal ($9) is the concerto for violin, piano and strings- on Naxos 8.553844
Mendelssohn Rarities (Decca 465-5277) by Roberto Prosseda is a nice find! It is a wonderful disc of 4 Sonatas, 3 Etudes and two fugues. All are very pleasant and new to me. I haven’t known much of Mendelssohn’s solo piano work. I’ll look for more.
Hilary Hahn (Sony SK-89921) does a masterful job on one of the most beautiful violin concertos ever written. The M gets right down to business- introducing the gorgeous melody right away. Most concertos provide several minutes of lead in before they get to the heart of the matter. Not the M! Hahn’s recording is paired with the Shostakovich- a modern yet listenable concerto.
Mozart was the ultimate child prodigy. Virtually from the time he could walk he could play the piano and violin. He and his several year older sister were dragged around Europe like a circus act by their enterprising, violin playing & composing father. Act though it was, there was no BS, Mozart was a genius both in terms of his musicianship and composing. While many composers (LVB/Chopin) composed from perspiration (with many cross outs and corrections), Mozart (like Schubert) composed from inspiration. The music just flowed with relatively few changes. Sounds like the movie Amadeus was far more right than wrong. What a colorful character!
Mozart wrote 18. You have to buy the whole box- you’ll be delighted with these clean works. Choice one is the box of five by Uchida (Philips 468-356) for about $40. A less expensive alternative is a great 70s set by Eschenbach (DG 463-137) for about $37.
New and getting special attention is the Maria Joao Pires (DG 477-5200, 6 CDs).
Mozart wrote 27. I have a new favorite box of these masterful works. Murray Perahia has a 12 CD box (Sony 82876872302 for about $75). It has a little warmer, fuller sound than my former benchmark, the Uchida/Tate (9 CDs, Philips 438-207 for about $110).
Another classic box now packaged very affordably is the Ashkenazy (Decca 442 727, 10 CDs for about $50) set. His playing is more powerful than the gentler Uchida readings above. Or, consider one of a couple great single discs including just two concertos to get your appetite whetted! Pollini’s (DG 413-7932) #19 #23 are as good as it gets. A fun alternative is a classic by Mozart expert Clara Haskill, #19 & 27, DG 449722.
All five are done effortlessly by Perlman/Levine, DG 445 535 (2 pack, $20). A smoother alternative is the Grumiaux (Philips Duo 438-323, 2 pack $15). A new one offering the best fidelity is Anne Sophie Mutter (DG 477-6318, 4CDs). Mutter is something of a Mozart & LVB specialist- though she can play anything. This is my favorite Mozart package!
Mozart pairs violin and piano as only LVB did. This box of four CDs (DG 463 749) by Perlman/Barenboim is a gem at under $30. There is a new, premium issue by Mitsuko Uchida and Mark Steinberg (Philips 4756200). It sets new standards for this work!
Also new is a wonderful, sparklingly clear disc by Hilary Hahn and Natalie Zhu (DG 4771-02, $16). It has incredibly clear DG sound and features four of the sonatas. If you want the sound of a violinist and pianist IN your living room, here’s the CD to buy!
Mozart is known broadly for his symphonic beauty above all else. This Trevor Pinnock grand eleven CD box (Archiv 471 666) for about $70 is a great bargain for these works.
Karl Bohm also has an unabridged box (DG 453-231, 10CDs, $150) you will like!
DG 463648: A harp concerto written by Mozart. Need I say more?
Mussorgsky is my favorite Russian composer next to Tchaikovsky. He was known to drink heavily (only lived to 42!) and not be devoted to the CRAFT of writing music. He turned out some amazing works for a slougher!
Pictures: Symphonic: Kuchar (Naxos 8555924) is an inexpensive, excellent choice. There’s a new release to get on this great old classic! Tugan Sokhiev (Naïve V5068) conducts a stirring version coupled with a marvelous Tchaikovsky Sym #4. It has great sound and verve!
Pictures for Piano: Kissin (RCA 09026-63884) with stunning fidelity and less rushed than usually heard. Pictures was written for piano and I prefer it to the orchestrated version you typically hear on the radio.
Night On Bald Mountain:
What a fun ride! It’s a dynamic orchestra fireball lasting 11 minutes. Naxos 8.555924- paired with Pictures is a good version on CD.
Naxos Piano Roll CDs
Made from playing on the Welte-Mignon piano recording system. These are great sounding CDs featuring the best players of the early 1900s. For any classical piano lover, these are musts!
8110677: Vol 1, 1905-1927
8110678: Vol 2, 1905-1915
8110679: Vol 3, 1905-1926
Blomstedt with the SF SO has a terrific 4-CD package (Decca 289 460 985 & 988) of these fine symphonies.
I’m not a big choral fan but for this I can make an exception. Plasson on EMI 5 57197-2.
What Liszt was to the piano, Paganini was to the violin. His fiery skills literally scared people into thinking he was the devil before them. He was not only a virtuoso of the highest order on violin, but a terrific composer for it as well!
Accardo recorded a beautiful six CD box for DG (463-754) for about $45. It’s a great value and has a very warm sonic character!
Brand new on DG is Hilary Hahn (477-6232) playing concerto #1 with Oue & the Swedish Radio SO. I saw her do this in Milwaukee and it was great. It features great playing and sound quality!
Violin Concerto #1
The new Hilary Hahn( DG B0007188) is masterful! Not only is the Paganini #1 a great concerto, she plays Spohr’s (contemporary of Beethoven) #8 with convincing results!
Symphony #1, The Classical
This is the only “unmodern” Prokofiev symphony. I don’t care for the modern abrasive style. I like #1 however and gladly recommend Von K’s (DG437-253) recording. It is DDD and if you agree with my general musical taste, you’ll enjoy this!
Piano Concerto #3
I’ve got all five piano concertos in a nicely priced box by Ashkenazy (Double Decca 452-588). It’s a good value but concerto #3 is the only one that whips me up. Ashekenazy is terrific so you can’t lose with the Decca double. But if you just want #3 I suggest Argerich (DG 447-438). This one stands on its own!
At 6-6” in 1900 Rachmanioff was an enigmatic man. He was a giant, and highly regarded as a pianist. Yet his early orchestral works were not well received and he was full of self doubt. His confidence grew as his music became more accepted. His reputation became equal composer-pianist throughout his life. He became friends with Vladimir Horowitz who became a trusted champion of his piano works.
Piano Concertos 1&2
This new offering from Zimerman (DG 459-643, $15) is getting raves! Just like the Liszt concertos, Zimerman is widely respected!
Piano Concerto #2
Helene Grimaud & Ashkenazy (Telded 857384376) make this among the few times I’m not begging you to buy an entire box!
Piano Concertos 1-4
Stephen Hough and the Dallas SO have just produced an outstanding box of all four concertos- quite fresh and ground breaking to have them all here with this level of playing and sound! The double disc set runs about $38 (Hyperion 67501-2). As a complete survey, buy the Hough.
Naxos White Box
This $27, five CD box is a steal of a deal. It includes all the Rach symphonies and piano concertos! Pianist Glemser is outstanding. Orchestras from Ireland and Poland play beautifully.
Naxos Complete Solo Piano Box
This grand box (Naxos 8.501005) includes all of Rachmaninov’s solo piano music and piano concertos. You get ten CDs for about $60, played by Idil Biret.
I recommend the Argerich (DG447438) for your intro to these “winding” concertos.
Solo Piano Works
A recent issue on the Gemini (EMI discount 86061) label features Ravel’s complete solo works (2 CD box, $12) by highly touted French pianist Jean Phillipe Collard at a cheap price!
I’m not an opera fan, but I much enjoy these overtures. There is a very fine recording on DG (431 653) by Abbado and t he Chamber Orch of Europe. The sound is clear and immediate. The disc features seven overtures- most you’ll recognize from commercials! It’s fun to hear the great Billy Tell start like a violin sonata!
Saint-Seans wrote five piano concertos. Number two is considered truly top shelf material. I think the body stands tall as a group and encourage you to buy all five on a double CD (EMI 86245) by Collard-Previn. It’s DDD and bargain priced. If you don’t know the Saint-Seans piano concertos, you’ll really enjoy meeting them!
Another fine version of all 5 concerti is by Pascal Roge (London 443-865) with three different orchestras. This has been re-released in 2010 and is worth chasing down.
Symphony #3 “Organ Symphony”
This is a great ride. It’s an impressive melding of organ and orchestra. The best ever? Probably! I recommend Simon Preston & James Levine (DG419-617). The other work on this disc is well worth owning too, Duka’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice- hardly a throw in!
Violin Concertos- All Three
This was a great find for me! St. Saens violin concerto #3 is highly regarded. It is so good that I thought I’d track down the first two. I finally found them all on a CD by Hyperion (67074) who consistently has great sound. I’m happy to encounter violinist Philippe Graffin and the BBC Scottish SO. This is a very pleasant disc with typical, outstanding Hyperion sound. Highly recommended.
Music for Violin & Piano #3
Tianwa Yand & Markus Hadulla (Naxos 8.570893) give us the gypsy flavor with excellent fidelity!
Schubert was among the most natural of composers. He wrote hundreds of songs. He wrote 9 symphonies. He wrote hundreds of piano works. He died young at 29 of syphilis.
Schubert’s works are routinely beautiful. They’re works you can love on first hearing. His adult lifestyle was almost nomadic, living with this or that friend, often without even a piano at his disposal. Where all this music came from, only heaven knows! He detested the show off, pounding pianists of his day and took pride in his own beautiful touch on the piano. He was one of LVB’s pall bearers and died just two years later himself. In one of music’s most amazing facts, he wrote his last three piano sonatas, D958/959 &960 in his last year of life. His piano works were practically unpublished during his life. The great pianist Artur Schnabel gets credit for “discovering” and playing them to great public adoration in the early 1900s.
Thicker than Mozart, competitive with the mighty LVB, Schubert’s sonatas are NOT to miss!
New to the Schubert piano category is a marvelous box by Uchida (Phil 410402, 8CDs for about $60). It has all the major sonatas, Moments Musicaux and impromptus. Called “Uchida Plays Schubert,” it’s a grand addition to the classical piano catalog.
A classic box is Wilhelm Kempff’s seven CD wonder (stereo, DG 463766). It’s a super buy for about $45. Snare this to appreciate my buddy Kempff! A great contemporary version of Schubert’s three most famous sonatas is available from Perahia on Sony 87706, two CDs for about $24. The Perahia has better fidelity and masterful playing as well.
New to the Schubert offerings are releases by perhaps the best pianist of them all today, Leif Ove Andsnes. The D960 is the last of Schubert’s sonatas. Most people feel it’s his best. There’s no need to debate it. But my favorite is D959. The second movement of D959 is perhaps the most introspective, haunting classical piano music you’ll ever encounter. If you have a heart, you owe it to yourself to hear Andsnes play it! (EMI 5572662 for about $16). While nobody outpoints Kempff, the limited fidelity of his 60s recordings can stand between you and the piano. Pollini’s DDD D959 (DG 471-3562) is a great single disc to consider too.
These are meaty works, not trifles! I love ‘em! Most of the top pianists have done them, but I’ll recommend the digital set by Brendel, Philips 422237 ($15).
Piano Fantasy-The Wanderer
The Wanderer is a about 25 min long and could be dubbed a sonata if you ask me- a grand piano work! Perahia has a great version (Sony MK42124) for about $12 that includes the beautiful Schumann Fantasy. Brendel is solid with sonata #21, D960, Philips 422062 for $15. Another goodie is the Pollini (DG 447451). I like Lang Lang’s live at Carnegie (DG 474-820, $20) two pack which includes this great work. But the snobby reviewers don’t. I think they’re jealous he’s so darn good at such a young age. He’s a little heavy on the Stevie Wonderisms when you see him, but he’s a dynamic player!
Always consider the amazing Kissin (DG 445 562) who mates The Wanderer with popular Schubert Lieder, the Brahms Fantasy and Lisze Hung Rhap #12 for swashbuckling fun!
After a couple of years of ordering from the web, I finally got Kempff’s version (DG 459-186). It’s the most clever of the bunch. Kempff’s decisions and beauty put him in a league of his own!
Four Hand Piano
If you love piano as I do, you’ll love it times two! There are two double packages worth buying to cover the turf. Christoph Eschenback and Justus Frantz on EMI double forte (569770 & 569764) provide four CDs in the two sets, playing sensitive music, marches- the full gamut of Schubert’s incomparable four hand compositions.
The Trout Quintet and Death and the Maiden are two of the most loved chamber works by any composer. Get them both on one DG 449746!
Harnoncourt has a four CD box (Teldec 4509 91184) for about $50 that has the whole set!
These are beautiful works from the Romantic period that have grown to the top of my list! These selected jewels are done on seven CDs by Ashkenazy (Decca 470915) for about $50. Great set!
If you truly love classical piano music as I do, you owe it to yourself to invest time in getting to know Schumann. One masterpiece after another springs out of this box- which is among my favorites of any composer!
A little earlier version is from the late 60s/early 70s from my buddy Kempff. DG 471-312 (4CDs, $42). It’s got that gorgeous piano sound and the touch of the master. The Ashkenazy has better fidelity, but you still might consider Kempff. His interpretations remain my favorites. Disc after disc Kempff unravels my favorite Schumann jewels: 1) Papillons & Carnaval 2) Symphonic Etudes & Kreisleriena 3)Fantasie, Arabeske, Humoreske, Blunte Blatter 4) Night Visions, Forest Scenes, Sonata #2.
I recommend the Andsnes/Jansons (EMI 7243 5575622) paired with the Grieg.
The Carnival and Papillons are both tremendous solo piano works, comprised of a number of small pieces. They are not to be missed by us deep thinking piano lovers! I suggest Marc-Andre Hamelin’s Hyperion 67120, $16.
This new disc is likely to be the best sounding piano disc you have yet purchased! Recorded on the new Steingraeber Phoenix piano, the sound is weighty and convincing. I’m a huge Schumann fan. The Carnival is a majestic work you can’t help but love. The Arabesque is wonderful. The Symphonic Etudes are monumental variations- about 18 brief and incredibly clever compositions. I’m happy to make the acquaintance of Eric Himy in this marvelous, unrushed, beautifully rich sounding recording (Centaur CRC 2858).
This (EMI 7243 555484) duo set of CDs for about $30 is a fine live recording of Schumann’s chamber works.
I don’t know how this happens. Within a month of each other, two of the finest recordings of one of Schumann’s most fascinating works are released. How the record companies chose 2010 to jump on the Op 6 bandwagon…? Anyway, since both are stellar recordings they have to be mentioned here. Angela Hewitt ( Hyperion CDA67780) plays her Fazioli piano in this most exquisite recording. You’ll hear Kinderszenen, Davidsbundlertanze and Sonata #2. You get three jewels in stellar sound by a magnificent pianist! The other option is by Mitsuko Uchida (Decca 478-2280). Uchida pairs “David” with Schumann’s Fantasy- a piano work of great emotion, second to none in the repertoire. This is part of Decca’s Prestige Edition with luxury packaging and a second CD where Uchida is interviewed about Schumann.
Yet another stunningly great Schumann piano work! I recommend the impressive Alberto Reyes (VAIA 1273-2). It is a double CD featuring Kinderszenen and the marvelous Fantasy. Reyes was a UN interpreter for 30+ years. Now he interprets Schumann, Chopin and others!
A beautiful work! My favorite version is a new offering by Marc-Andre Hamelin (Hyperion 67166 $16). The sound is crisp and clear. The disc also features Schumann’s Sonata #2 and the Symphonic Etudes. The Fantasy is often packaged with the Schubert Wanderer, above. Try the digital Perahia on CBS (MK 42124 $12). For the DG flavor there’s the ever great Pollini (ADD: DG 447 451) coupled with the Schubert Wanderer. Some critics feel the magesty of this disc eclipse all others. And then there’s newer DDD Pollini (DG471-3582) with better fidelity yet.
There’s a new Angela Hewitt recording on a Fazioli piano to die for. Hyperion discs (CDA67618) are always great sounding and this is one of the best.. Schumann wrote two terrific sonatas, this is #1 with the Humoreske.
Piano sonata #2 is actually more famous than #1. It is a magnificent work with a finale emulating Schumann going mad. It’s a very rewarding work to sink your teeth into. I recommend Hamelin on Hyperion 67166. New to me is piano sonata #3, paired with #1 by Nikolai Demidenko (Hyperion CDH55300). It has outstanding Hyperion sound and I’m pleased to have met the Schumann #3, a work that’s new to me.
Schumann wrote three. You can get all three on one Naxos (8.570151) CD for under $10. The Fine Arts quartet does these wonderful works justice at a price so low we should be embarrassed not to pay more!
Four terrific symphonies fit nicely on to two CDs. There are a number of good choices. But I think you should buy a 3 CD set by Eliot Gardiner on DG, 457-591. This has the four symphonies and more! Schumann revised #4 ten years after his first effort. Both versions are in this box. There is also an unfinished symphony, overture/scherzo/finale and a beautiful Four Horn Concerto!
Scriabin is a piano based composer whose music sounds a lot like Rachmaninoff. Get the Yevgeny Sudbin (BIS SACD1568) disc which features a variety of interesting piano works. Even though it is listed as SACD it has a hybrid layer.
This eleven CD box (Naxos 8501102) bring you all 15 symphonies for about $50!
This five CD box (Naxos 8505179) with Sakari covers all 7 symphonies and Kullervo for under $30!
A reissue on RCA of the 7 symphonies by Collin Davis and the LSO has received raves. It’s a 7 CD box for about $40 (RCA 55706). The DG (457-748) by Von K featuring #s 4-7 is among the most beloved of these works.
This is a great work! It’s on the short list of grade A+ concertos. I have a new favorite, recorded on DG (B0010858) by Hilary Hahn and Salonen. The sound is marvelous. Her playing is simply as beautiful as it gets. It’s new in 2008, just go buy it! The Sibelius is partnered with the Schoenberg.
A previous version I enjoy is by Gil Shaham (DG 437 540). He plays it wonderfully and it is paired with another of the best concertos- the Tchaikovsky. It has a lively, immediate DG sound and Shaham is comfortable with the pyrotechnics!
This two CD set (Philips Duo 438350) for about $15 is a bargain- Haitink and LSO playing these renowned works! Or, get the DG mated with some works by Falla, DG 447414.
Firebird For Piano
What a find! This $6 CD by Idil Biret is a must for us piano nuts! It twists, it turns, it gets dissonant but doesn’t go too far! Naxos 8555999
Symphonies & Piano Concertos
This box (Naxos 8507002) of seven CDs for about $30 is quite the deal! You cover a lot of important territory here with Glemser & Antoni Wit. The symphonies are warm and rich. These Naxos white boxes don’t disappoint. While the musicians and orchestras don’t have the “names” that DG and Philips hire, they’re terrific. This Tchaikovsky box will sell you on the entire Naxos White Box program! If you want to hear classical music at its most exciting, check out symphony #4, movement #4. If it doesn’t appeal to you, you won’t like the classics! A new package is the RCA Complete Collections (RCA 82876-55781, 6CDs $40) series. Yuri Temirkanov has recorded (DDD in the 90s) all the symphonies with the Royal Philharmonic.
The set with the pedigree is by Mravinsky on DG (419-745). Done in the early 60s you get respectable sound but state of the art playing!
There’s a great new version of #4- coupled with Pictures at An Exhibition, by Tugan Sokhieve (Naïve V5068)!
I strongly recommend Bernstein’s DG, DDD recording of the 6th with the NY Phil. This was Tchaikovsky’s last symphony. He died about a week after it was debuted. Movement #4 of this symphony features the most gorgeous string flavor you’ll experience anywhere!
This is in my top 3 favorite concertos- along with the LVB & Brahms. To think when this was written- it was considered off the wall and simply unplayable!! Hilary Hahn has a smashingly wonderful recording on DG (B0014698). It is paired with a concerto written by Jenifer Higdon FOR HILARY. What a nice combo. The Tchaikovsky is a wonderful titanic work and the Higdon is a modern concerto without the pain and suffering of modern works!
Milstein (DG 453142) has an excellent Tchaikovsky with the Mendelssohn.
I just want the suites, not the entire ballets! DG 449726.
The Boult Box (EMI 573924) has eight CDs for about $50, a terrific reading of all VW symphonies. A new discovery is the reissue of all the symphonies by Previn, RCA 55708 (6cds for about $35).
I’m new to this wonderful world of violin concerti. Viewtemps wrote 7. This CD features #s 5-7, with #5 being my favorite. There is top notch sound by Misha Keylin on Naxos 8557016 for about $10.
Rachel Podger (Channel classics CCS 19598) has a new recording of these dozen string concerti that are killer! Two CDs for about $18.
While says Saint Seans wrote the most popular Organ Symphony, there are other good ones too! Jane Parker Smith plays the daylights out of the organ of St. Marien Basilika Kevelaer. Avie AV2144.
When solo violin works, it works magic. Bach has no peer. His Sonatas and Partitas are nothing short of inspired genius. Anybody who likes the classics should own a version of the Bach solo violin works. You should have his cello suites too, but I digress.
Eugene Ysaye was a virtuoso violinist and composer (1858-1931) who dedicated six solo violin sonatas to various composers and violinists. A new disc (Warner Classics 2564-68385-5) features young violinist Rachel Kolly D’Alba. The sound is excellent and the works are very technically demanding. Yet it is musical, not “noise for violin.” Nobody wrote long soulful lines like Bach. But I think you’ll like Ysaye! I’m pleased to have discovered these compositions!
Brahms Vn/Pno: Boolean 01
Debut: DG 447430: What a fine array of interesting pieces to start her career!
LVB Cto 2&3: DG 339802: Nice DG recording of #2 & #3- warm and full
Chopin Cto 1&2: EMI 56798
Chopin 1& Liszt 1: DG 449719
Prok #3/Ravel Cto in G: DG 447438: She may play the best Prok #3!
Rach#3/Tchai: Phil 446673: The Tchaik is among the finest!
Schumann Kinder/Kriesler: DG 410653: Fine touch on Shumann’s work for Clara.
LVB: Complete Cello Sonatas with Ma: CBS 42446: Classic version of LVB cello
LVB 5 Piano ctos: RCA 55703: Reissue of DDD 80s recording at bargain price
Brahms Sonata 2 &Fantasies: Sony 69284: here’s fine recording of the fantabulous #2.
Brahms Sonata 3: Sony 45933: perhaps the best recording of #3, among my favorites!
Brahms Cello Ma: Sony 48191
Brahms: Piano Concertos 1&2: Sony 03510-2
Chopin Ballades etc: Sony 72554: among the more thoughtful renditions- Ax doesn’t pound!
Haydn Ctos: Sony 48383: nice to have clean recordings of Haydn concertos
Haydn Sonatas: 29/31/34/35/49: Sony 89363: Haydn wrote about 60 sonatas
Haydn Sonatas: 32/47/53/59: Sony 53635: If you don’t want them all,
Haydn Sonatas: 33/38/58/60: Sony 92766: try these 3 discs- the most popular!
Beethoven/Mend Ctos: Sony 89505
Kreisler: Decca 444409
Sibelius/Goldmark: Sony 65949
Tchaik/Wieniawski/Brahms/Schumann (2) Decca B0004204
LVB: 5 Ctos Rattle, Phil 462781: Legendary performance for warmth and “humanity”
LVB Cello with son Adrian: Phil 395802: The best version out there of these grand works!
LVB Favorite Sonatas: Phil Duo 438730: 70s ADD- good sound, prime Brendel, magnific!
LVB 32 Digital: Phil 446909: 90s DDD box of all 32. More of a good thing!
Schubert Dig Impromptus: Phil 422237: within a small class of the best- my favorite version!
Schubert 3CD Vox: 3041: classic, early Brendel- acceptable sound, early stereo
Vox Box: Brilliant 93761: 35 CDs, Brendel’s entire Vox recording library! Young Brendel with
Surprisingly good sound for about $120!
LVB 4/5: Audite 95459: Marvellous craftsmanship
Brahms Cto 1: Lon/Dec 466376: most feel it’s among the finest #1s!
The Berlin Concert: Telarc CD-80715
The Goldberg Variations: Telcarc CD-80692
Brahms Cello Sonatas: EMI 62758
Chopin/Frank w piano: EMI 63184
Dvorak/Schumann EMI 62805
Elgar: EMI 62887: The most volcanic cello concerto on record even though it’s 60s ADD!
Haydn Ctos: EMI 47614
St. Sns: Teldec 85340
Fournier: 6CDs: DG 477593: full array of DG recordings by the most thoughtful of cellists
Hahn, Hilary: Now recording for DG- Hahn is recording the classic catalog in DDD- doesn’t get better!
Visit hilaryhahn.com for a great website!
Bach Concertos: DG 098602: Simply put, Hilary is my favorite violinist!
Bach Solo: Sony 62793: at 17 Hahn plays solo Bach to… perfection?!
Barber/Meyer Ctos: Sony SK89029: classic Barber- world premier of Meyer!
LVB: Sony 60584
Brahms/Strav: Sony 88649
Elgar: DG 302602
Mendelssohn/Shostakovich: Sony 89921
Mozart: Vn/Pf Zhu: DG 47702: There’s no better violin piano recording/interplay!
Paganini #1 & Spohr #8: DG 7188
Sibelius Violin Concerto: DG B0010858
Tchaikovsky-Higdon DG B0014698
At Home: DG 427772
Beet Sonatas: RCA 60375
Horo In Moscow: DG 419499
Magic of Horo: DG 474334 (2)
Portrait: CBS 44797
Rediscovered: RCA 50749 (2)
Live & Unedited Return Concert: CBS 93023 (2)
New Piano Album: Hyperion CDA67043: Hough has several discs with quite varied and wonderful programming choices! Track 2 for ex, expands Schubert’s MM3 to great proportions!
LVB Ctos 4/5: DG 447402: ADD, still competitive with any LVB concerto recordings- DG Orig!
LVB Sonatas 8,14,21,23: DG 447404: In Japan they called Kempff “Beethoven’s Viceroy!
LVB Late Sonatas(2) : 453010: Ever witty and crafty- the best playing the best!
LVB Cello Piano with Fournier: DG 453013: two veteran masters in classic form!
LVB 32 Sonatas stereo: DG 429306: If you can only have one LVB box, this is it!
LVB Vn/Piano, Spring/Kreutzer: Universal 292102: LVB’s 2 most pop sonatas! 2 legends!
LVB Complete VnPf Men: I: DG 459433
LVB Complete VNPf Men: II DG 459436
BBC: 4085 Live Brahms: to play Brahms son#3 live takes real courage & Kempff loved mics!
BBC: 4045 Live Bach/LVB/Schubert
BBC: 4114 Live Schumann: Even in old age Kempff was masterly
Brahms Fantasies +: DG 473249
Mozart Ctos: 8/23/24: DG 457759: There’s not much Kempff/Mozart recorded- this is precious!
Mozart Sonatas+Fant: DG 477-5907: a jewel from DG’s 1962 archives- released in 2006!
Schubert Complete Sonatas: DG 463766: Simply indispensable recordings!
Schubert Impromptus: DG 459412: Masterly Kempff touch on introspective works.
Schumann Solo Works: DG 471312: My favorite Schumann- you’ll love Schumann-Kempff!
Steinway Legends: DG-B0007434: Worth it for Liszt Legends alone- magnificent piano touch!
Ma, Yo Yo
Bach Complete Suites: CBS 37867
Dvorak: CBS 42206
Great Concertos (2) CBS 44562
Schubert: Trout + Sony 92757
Schumann Cello Cto: Sony SK92757
Great Vn Ctos: DG 453142
Mozart Complete: Phil: 464660
Mutter, Anne Sophie
LVB: DG 471349
4 CD: LVB/Brahms/Bruch/Mend 415565
Mozart Complete (2) 507802
Great Concertos: (2) DG 447427: covers the best with impeccable playing
Bach Solo: EMI 76811
LVB: Kreutzer/Spring with Ashk: Decca 410554: Quick and strong with a great partner.
LVB Triple With Ma/Barren: EMI 55516: What a great triple!
LVB: Vn Cto: EMI 66952
Brahms double with Ma/Mend: Teldec 15870
Brahms 3 Vn/Pf sonatas Barren: Sony 45819
Elgar Vn Cto DG 445564
Lalo Vn Cto: DG445549
Mozart (5) Cts: DG 445535
Mozart Vn/Pf sonatas Barren: DG 120402
Paganini: Caprices EMI 67257
Sarasate: DG 423063: wonderful fun with the gypsy touch
Vivaldi: 4 Seasons & Ctos EMI 64333
Chopin: Ballades & Fantasie: DG 289 459 683
Liszt: Sonata +: DG 427-322
Schubert/Schumann: Wanderer/Fantasie: DG 447 451
LVB/Moz 5: DG 447 403: A somewhat unheralded, magnificent violinist!
DG 474425: Guitar virtuoso
Barber/Korngold: DG 439886
Devil’s Dance: DG 463483: Fireworks a la violin.
Dvorak for 2: DG 449820
Glazunov: DG 457064
Mend/Bruch: DG 427656
Paganini for 2: DG 437837: with all the chops, Shaham makes it sound easy.
Pag/Sn Sns: DG 429786
Schubert for 2: DG 471568
Sibelius/Tchaik: DG 437540: 2 of my favorite Vn Ctos with unsurpassed playing!
Vn Romances: DG 449923
Wieniawski: DG 431815
Hyperion makes a huge library of music. The sound of its CDs, piano in particular, is about as good as it gets! Marc Andre Hamelin, Angela Hewitt and Stephen Hough are three of the best pianists performing today and all record on Hyperion! Their CDs run a couple of bucks more than most, and are worth it!
Deutsche Grammophon Originals Series
Are you old enough to remember mono LPs? Do you remember how exciting it was to learn that a new STEREO recording would be coming out? It was thrilling to think, not only is a great work coming out in stereo, but it would be by a musician under the DG umbrella. You could be sure the artist and recording would be top shelf. It was an exciting time!
DG has gone into the archives and REMASTERED some of the greatest recordings of all time. They are being reissued now on CD under the banner of The Originals at discount pricing, about $11-12ea. We stock a fair number of them.
Here are a few examples you should consider trying. Martha Argerich’s “Debut” CD. Martha has become one of the most loved pianists of our time. Her “Debut” disc has a great selection of music, the playing is fantastic, the sound is excellent. Wilhelm Kempff played the Beethoven piano concertos #4&5. To this day this disc is recommended among the top performances of these works! Also, Nathan Milstein recorded a 2 CD set of Bach solo sonatas & partitas.
DG has a grand history of music it is going through and continues to release new CD offerings that were once the industry buzz on LP. A recent find was a recording of my buddy Kempff playing Mozart solo works in the early 60s. What a treat to have them resurface in 2006!
Whether you buy them from us or elsewhere, you gotta try some. Let me know how you like them! Dave
Mercury Living Presence SACDs
Bach Cello Suites: Starker: 470-6442-8 MSA 2
Berlioz: Sym Fant: 475-6622-9 MSA
Dvorak/Tchaik Cello: 475-6608 3 MSA
Enesco-Liszt: 475-6185-9 MSA
Mussorgsky: Pictures 475-6620-5 MSA
Rimsky Kors: Sheherazade 475-6194 1 MSA
Tchaik Nutcracker: 475-6623-6 MSA
RCA Living Stereo SACDs
Bartok Cto/Orch & Perc: 82876613902
Beethoven/Mend Vn Ctos: Heifetz: 82876613912
Brahms Pno Cto #1 Rub: 8287663782
Brass & Percuss: 82876613902
Chopin: Ballades & Scherzos: Rub: 82876613962
Dvorak: New World Sym Reiner: 82876663762
Gershwin: Amer In Paris +: 82876613932
HiFi Fiedler: 82876678952
Mussorgsky: Pictures Pno & Orch: 82876613942
Ravel: Daphnis et Chloe: 82876613882
Rimsky Kors: Sheherazade: 82876663772
Sn Sns Sym #3: 82876613872
Sibelius/Glaz Vn Ctos Heifetz: 82876663722
Strauss: Also Sprach+ : 82876613892
Tchaikovsky & Brahms Vn Ctos, Heifetz: 82876678960
Tchaikovsky Sym 6: 82876613972