Having created this site years ago to help new and casual listeners to classical music navigate the numerous versions of works available, I never got around to creating a basic list of some works and performances. Basic Rep: Pass One hopes to fix that, followed by Pass Two and so on. Each Pass list works in a good classical collection, along with a performance, and each list will progressively delve deeper into the catalog. The list is a personal preference, but all the records provided me with a lot of listening enjoyment. All links go to Amazon unless stated differently.
Before we begin:
Gunter Wand Great Recordings
Here is a great box of the complete Symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner and Schubert, along with some essential classical works. It comes in a nice LP size box and accompanying booklet.As a whole this is about the best ‘Starter’ box you can get at a reasonable price. See my review here.
Karajan Symphony Collection
Complete Symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner [worth the price of admission right there], Mendelssohn, Schumann and Tchaikovsky, along with late Mozart and Haydn symphonies. Really a remarkable set, and at a dirt-cheap price. I am sure there is no real booklet here, but at this price not a big deal.
The Vanguard and Vox labels from the 1960’s has been compiling large ‘Boxes’ of downloadable albums with 100s of tracks, usually for 99 cents each up to a few dollars. As a way to see if you like a composer, this is something I would have loved to have back when I started listening to classical music. Even if you just find a few tracks you like it is well worth purchasing these collections. See albums here.
Bach: Brandenburg Concertos / Orchestral Suites / works
Trevor Pinnock / English Concert – the first period performances reference edition
Barber: Adagio for Strings, Vaughan Williams: Tallis Fantasia, etc.
Slatkin / St. Louis SO – stunning sound and performances
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 / Symphony No. 7
Kleiber / Vienna Philharmonic – A classic recording of the 5th
Chopin: Piano Concertos No. 1 and 2
Rubinstein / Skrowaczewski, Wallenstein – essential classic performance
If you like Chopin, the Rubinstein box is the way to go. Includes the above concertos and 10 CDs of solo piano from his later years at a bargain price. Highly recommended.
Copland: Appalachian Spring / Rode / Billy The Kid
Bernstein / New York Phil – Older recordings but the best performances, period.
Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue / An American in Paris / Concerto in F
Bernstein / New York Phil / Previn [ in the concerto]
Bernstein conducts and plays these American classics.
Handel: Water Music / Fireworks Music
Pinnock / English Concert – Original instruments performances finally on one CD.
Mendelssohn: Midsummer’s Night Dream / Symphony No. 3
Maag / London SO – Classic recording of Dream and a great No. 3.
Mozart: Symphony No. 40 and 41
Bernstein / Vienna Phil – I have many many recordings of these works and this recording is the best.
Vivaldi: Four Seasons / Albinoni / Pachelbel
Munchinger / Stuttgart Chamber Orch – Munchinger was the first to record the Seasons in the 1950’s and this later version is not quite ‘original instruments’ but it is still my favorite.