Your Favorite Classical Music Recordings

I've spent too much time reading reviews and buying stuff. I'd like to get back to the music which is the real reason I love this hobby. I'd like to hear what some of your favorite classical music recordings are. I enjoy all types of classical music from early medieval music to experiemental electronic music. I'm very open minded so long as it's good music. I enjoy classical music because of it's depth and complexity. There's so much to listen to and to listen for! I also love jazz, electronic, and alternative music, but classical is the most fun music to listen to on a good sound system (probably because it is mixed the least).

Please rate your favorite classical recordings based on the musicianship and performance as well as the quality of the recording as far as depth, sound stage, etc. If you have the time, please state the orchestra or ensemble, the label, and catalog number. I will start with several really great classical recordings I've picked up recently. Does anyone has a good recording of "The Planets" by Gustav Holst?

copy/past this if it helps:
Label/catalog #:

composer: Camille Saint-Seans
title: Le Carnival Des Animaux
label: Virgin Classics 7243 5 45603 2 3
bought from barnes & noble
Renaud Capucon
Gautier Capucon
Emmanuel Pahud
Paul Meyer
Musicianship is fantastic. This disc makes me feel like a kid again. There is a sweet innocence to the performances that are very engaging. Sonics are 9/10.

Composer:Ernesto Lecuona
Performer: Mario Sollazzo
(bought from
catalog# KHA004 (KHA is an Italian label)
album: La 32
If you love piano music this is a truly superb album. The sonics are 10/10 and the performances are so full of joy, humor, and pathos. Lecuona is the most famous Cuban composer and he was obviously no slouch b/c these compositions are incredibly complex and sophisticated.

composer: Rameau
album: Nais / Le Temple de la Gloire
label: Harmonia Mundi HMU 907121
(from barnes & noble)
Orchestra: Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
Conductor: Nicholas McGegan
Sonics 9.5 of 10. This disc beautifully captures all the splendor and simplicity of 17th century and 18th century France . The delicate trills, airy strings, and bouncy melodies are thoroughly engaging. One of my favorite classical discs. The music is presented in a wonderfully authentic mood and spirit that lacks any pretentious air often associated with this type of music.

Composers: Bach, Monteverdi, Scarlatti, Handel
Artist: Wendy Carlos
Album: The Well-Tempered Synthesizer
This is a must have for any audiophile who loves detail. If only to test out how sensitive your system is and how detailed sounds can be. These remastered performances really show off how much of a genius Bach was. The contrapuntal lines of The Well Tempered Klavier are reinvented with synthesizers. Each sound is so specific that it's obvious Wendy Carlos spent thousands of hours perfecting these sounds and tweaking the performance. Hollow, crisp, crunchy,punchy, boomy, bouncy,laser-light, ticky tacky, bubbly, fizzy, round, mellow, wet, and pneumatic are just some of the words that I can find describe the many wonderful sounds on this disc but in the end it is certianl stil music and indeed very musical. 10/10 sonics. 10/10 performance.
Rushton, Thanks for the reminder about the '"Best Recommendations" list. I looked at the first list for classical beginners and still consider it an excellent starting point. In the future I'll simply refer folks new to classical, and looking for general recommendation, there.

BTW, for your benefit at least, but also for anyone else including J_evege if he is up to Mahler, I must upgrade my Mahler 1 recommendation. Zander on TELARC. Excellent as it is, I think it is surpassed by, and perfectly balanced by, the preceeding rendition of Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen by Christopher Maltman. They really blend and compliment each other so well. I couldn't be more enthused. If you haven't already picked this up, do so and treat yourself to something really!!! special.
J_evege, your intentions are good. I understand.

But the problem with classical music is that it is an endless subject. Honestly I would not even know where to begin answering about what my favorite classical recordings are. There are at least 50 i can name.
If it was more specific to a certain composer, time period, or even a certain conductor/orchestra, it would be easier and even then it would come down to an individual preference. It would only serve as a guideline.

Newbee makes an excellent point in his first post. If you are interested in a particular piece, then the recommendations would follow. Also I agree with him on the assessment of classicstoday reviews. Example: I recently bought a Mahler set by Gary Bertini that they had rated the highest 10/10. I kind of like the set as far the performance is concerned but the recording quality is very far from being 10 grade. More like 6 I would say.

So if you refine your request and make it more specific, at least down to a certain style of composition, time period, scale(orchestral, instrumental, chamber), then it would be easier. I'd be glad to chime in.
Tell you what: I'll list some of my current favorites (subject to change without me noticing). And "current favorite" may mean something I bought years ago, but am enjoying again.

Rachmaninov piano concertos
Stephen Hough (Hyperion)
Natural sound; not in your face. Hough plays a lot like R.: very fluid, in complete control. Not flashy like, say, Horowitz.

Brahms Piano Trios
Angelich, Capucon, Capucon (Virgin)
Not as intense as some, but very moving and playful.
Nice acoustic, lots of air around players.

Brahms Piano Quintet
Prazak Qt. Ivan Klansky (Praga)
Excellent sound; lots of space, natural timbre
Very good playing

Mahler Sym. no. 9 ("number nine, number nine, .........")
Cincinnati Symphony (Telarc)
Great sound, lots of detail, but warm.
Cincy plays its ass off; my favorite ninth.

Brahms Symphony no. 4
German Symphony Orchestra Berlin (who dey?)
Kent Nagano (Harmonia Mundi)
Not a real intense 4th (like, say, Kleiber), but simply gorgeous playing and sound. Made me love this piece all over again.

Beethoven Piano Sonatas 21, 23, 26
Mari Kodama (Pentatone)
Best piano sound I've heard (that isn't live); full, rich, natural...
Excellent playing, but maybe not the last word...

Mahler Symphony no. 2
Ivan Fischer, Budapest (Channel Classics)
I may like the Andrew Litton/Dallas recorded sound (more back-of-the-hall, grander sounding) more than this one (more up-close), but the attention to detail of this performance!

Bach, Stokowsky's Transcriptions
Matthias Bamert, BBC Philharmonic
Volume I (1993), and II (2005) (Chandos)

Good, if not great, sound (2005 better). Heart-felt playing. These recordings prove that Bach's music was/is bigger than any one instrument.

So, there.

I also recommend Dutoit for the Planets. My son borrowed mine years ago and haven't seen it since. Saw this at the other day for five bucks.

Steve O.

copy/past this if it helps:
Label/catalog #:

Thanks so much for all of your responses. I like relaxing at the end of the day for an hour or so and investigating the recordings recommended here. I like going to or but if anyone else has suggestions where you can listen to excerpts I'd love to know. Although it doesn't really help to hear the first 30 seconds of a Mahler symphony! Ludimagis, thanks for introducing me to Archiv records and the recordings and music by Jordi Savall. I've enjoyed learning more about early music recordings.

SteveOtt, You seem to be a big fan of romantic music like Brahms and Mahler. These are two composers I have not yet had that magical "aha" moment with. I've found it tough to wrap my head around that big, heavy emotional sound. If there's one era of classical music I resist it the romantic era. It often sounds melodramatic to me. That said, I do love Liszt, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Bizet. I'd definitely like to get to know a Mahler symphony and the 9th seems like a very popular one. I realize that I've been bought a lot of smaller ensemble pieces like sonatas, etudes, solo works.

I will post some more recordings in the next few days.
Based on your comments about solo piano music I would suggest that you consider the following for exploration -

1)Brahms Intermezzi Op117 (etc) by Idit Biret on Naxos
2)Chopin Nocturnes by Ivan Moravec on Non-Such
3)Debussy Preludes by Paul Jacobs on Non-such (or Ogawa on BIS)
4)Liszt - Annees de perlerinage (especially Suisse Anne) by Lazar Berman on DG
5)Schumann - Fantasy in C. One of the most beautiful pieces for solo piano in the Catalog. Essential. Perahia does a good job on a CBS/Sony disc and includes a good version of Schuberts 'Wanderer Fantasy'. Combined they make this an excellent addition to your collection.

These recordings are all of a more reflective and beautifulgenre than they are 'barn storming'.

Have you explored any of the more modern composers music for solo piano, original or transcriptions?

For Bizet, something different to explore when you get bored with standard versions of Carmen, the Symphony in C, and L'Arlesienne. The Bizet-Shchedrin version of the Carmen Ballet performed by Schwartz and the LA Chamber Orchesta on EMI. This is Carmen without brass - a heresy perhaps, but a lovely, facinating version with a slightly modern flavor. Highly recommended if you have any sense of adventure.

Hope that helps you a bit.