The Must have list for a Classical Neophyte....Trying to help expand the minds here.

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So if you could pick, say...a number of discs that represent the best of what classical has to offer, what would they be? ANd why those particular discs?? My little brother is away at Uni and is expressing an interest in classical music. As a Singer, much Of what I know and love is Choral, or Opera, but anyway, you have say... I dunno.. 20-30 CDs from which to give the boy an education. What and why? Looking for small format, large format, chamber, choral, early music, anything really. Feel free to expand the number of discs too.! Thank you classical experts!!!!

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Trouble is, TR, if you're looking for the "best", it isn't often the sort of thing that is immediately likable to any given individual. For example, I started (like many people) with Romantic music, because that is the classical format with which most people are acquainted, because most film scores to this day are essentially offshoots of the 19th century Romantic tradition. It took me a long time to "get" Bach, but when I did, it absorbed a substantial proportion of my listening.

If I had to propose a list of music's towering masterpieces, it may look like this:

Monteverdi: 1610 Vespers

Bach: B Minor Mass and St. Matthew Passion

Handel: Messiah

the big Mozart Masses

Beethoven: Symphonies 3,5 and 9, Piano Concerto 4 and Missa Solemnis.

To me, these represent high points in the history of music. Monteverdi spanned the gap between Renaissance and Baroque in what was then a very daring fashion. The B Minor is essentially a compendium of all Bach knew about choral composition. St. Matt. is a wonderfully sombre retelling of the Passion story, even if Bach did nick the big tune (from Hassler). Messiah wasn't Handel's first oratorio, but certainly the most loved. The big Mozart masses are wonderful products of a sublime genius. And Beethoven changed the world of music forever and paved the way for the Romantics. As Haydn said on hearing the Eroica, "From this moment, everything is different".

To those I would add as must-haves a Brandenburgs, a Goldbergs, the violin concertos of Brahms and Sibelius, some of Tchaikovsky's ballet music and his Symphony 5. (I'm sure I'll think of more).

However, many folk will not be keen on some of those, because the musical language is not what we're used to. In addition, there are many wonders to be found in the chamber and operatic repertoire, but there are people more versed in those than I. And I really am not keen on most more modern "classical" stuff.

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I would go for a selection of very easy-to-get-into music, with a decent range, and plenty of good tunes, so:

Orchestral - Dvorak Symphony 9, Beethoven Symphonies 5 & 7, Tchakovsky 1812 Overture & Violin Concerto, Mozart Symphonies 38-41, Elgar Cello Concerto, Bach Brandenburg Concertos, Mahler Das Lied von der Erde

Chamber - Mozart & Brahms Clarinet Quartets, Schubert Death & the Maiden Quartet

Instrumental - Bach Goldberg Variations (on piano) & Cello Suites, a Debussy piano selection

Opera & Ballet - Mozart Marriage of Figaro, Tchaikovsky Ballet Music, Verdi Traviata

Contemporary - Tavener Akathist of Thanksgiving, Part Tabula Rasa

Early - Hildegard von Bingen Feather on the Breath of God

While this may not be the 'best' classical music, pretty much everything there is very approachable, so for someone looking to get into classical it would be an easy start and is reasonably broad.

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Just had a quick look on Amazon, and have a few comments:

  • Consistently, the top-selling classical music on Amazon is utter shit - random song selections by 'big names' that are designed to appeal to deaf grannies. Pay no attention to the charts.
  • Classical music is dirt cheap. You can pick up genuinely good CDs for 3-4 quid.
  • The reviews are usually quite good on Amazon. If something has more than half a dozen reviews and still averages 5 stars, it's probably a decent recording worth getting.
  • The categorisation on Amazon is awful - go into 'instrumental' and you might expect to get music with a single instrument. No. You'll get stuff that is mostly, but not completely, without vocals.

Don't buy too much at once - I wouldn't go for more than about ten discs or so to start with, and then add more according to taste...

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Good call on Dvorak 9, Adam - wonderfully tuneful, and of course slanted to American tastes, even though there isn't a single American tune in there.

I'd rate Tchaikovsky's Marche Slave ahead of the 1812 (both use the Czarist national anthem). I have a marvellous old vinyl version from Stanley Black in which the windows visibly bend outwards at the climax.


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Good suggestions so far!

I'd also throw in:

Bach Sonatas and partitas for solo violin - the Grumiaux set on Philips because I love the sound of his Guarneri and it's a good price;

Debussy, Ravel and Faure string quartets - Quatuor Ebene on Virgin, good intro to this repertoire, even though I often prefer other performances as the Ebenes get a bit muscular at times. A very good bargain Faure and Ravel is the Ad Libitum Quartet on Naxos;

The Tallis Scholars disc of Allegri's Miserere, Mundy's Vox Patris Caelestis and Palestrina's Missa Papa Marcelli - a good intro to renaissance polyphony;

a selection of Sibelius symphonies - I've listening to the Segerstam/Helsinki set quite a lot, good recordings;

I have to put a plug in for something English, so Boult's Vaughn Williams Symphonies 3 & 5, which are my fave VW symphonies, good performances and available cheaply.

On the Debussy piano front, I'd suggest the recent Bavouzet set on Chandos, which is all round rather excellent.

Brandenburgs: English Concert on DG if you want full "authenticist" performance and instrumentation, but for a neophyte The English Chamber Orchestra on Philips may be better, as it is a "period"-informed performance, but modern instruments.

Beethoven symphonies: 5 & 7 has to be the Carlos Kleiber on DG; don't forget 9 - the recent Vanska/Minnesota set are good.

Elgar `Cello Concerto - well, the obvious reco is Jacqueline du Pre, but if a somewaht less over-wroought performance is wanted try Tortelier.

For Schubert's Death and the Maiden, the Quartetto Italiano are good and reliable, but I tend to prefer The Lindsays, who are more volatile and really power into the introduction, or the recent Jerusalem Quartet.

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For the complete symphonies you can get this Blomstedt box for peanuts:


Triple concerto:


Piano Concerto 5:


Violin Concerto:


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The Deutsche Grammophon box set 111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon is excellent. Real variety, all good recordings. 55 CDs though, and not cheap.

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I don't know much about the range of classical music discussed by the obviously knowledgeable folks above me, but I do know a few that I really like:

These are great for starters in my humble opinion.

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