The Basic Repertoire of Classical Music


Vivaldi – Opus 3


Vivaldi is of course known for the ‘Four Seasons’, the first 4 works of his Op. 8 ‘The Contest Between Harmony and Invention’. His other Opus collections have a lot to offer, and are well worth checking out.

The Op. 3 ‘L’Estro Armonico’ features 12 works for 1, 2 and 4 Violins. It is well-represented with many good recordings, but a few stand out. Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert hold the top honors. The 2 CD collections of these works has been discontinued, but have been repackaged in a 5CD super bargain set from DG Archiv with numerous other concertos for about the same price as the original 2 disc set. While the Op. 3 concertos are the draw here, the other works are given excellent period-instrument performances.

Christopher Hogwood and the Ancient Academy of Music offers a bonus of 6 Flute Concertos on their original-instrument DoubleDecca bargain set. If you want a modern instrument recording, Neville Marriner and the ASMF offer great baroque style plus four other concertos on their DoubleDecca set.

The Pinnock wins on sound quality by a little and on value, but the others have a great warm atmosphere too. You really cannot go wrong with any of these sets.










Tchaikovsky Box Set

Tch jarvi

BIS has released a box set of symphonies and other works by Neeme Jarvi and the Gothenburg SO. Formerly a 6CD set, it is now a download album, and at under $8 is a steal. While many listeners are familiar with Symphonies 4-6, and maybe No. 2 ‘Snow Maiden’, Symphonies 1 and 3 are well worth hearing. Add in some orchestral works, great BIS sound and solid performances, this is definitely a set to check out. 

Amazon MP3: 

iTunes Download:


99 Most Essential!


Get 99 Tracks for pennies a track! Get 100 tracks in our mega classical set!

If you have checked out the Amazon MP3 store lately, there have been a flood of these ‘mega’ classical sets. From collections on a theme to sets dedicated to one composer, these sets are put out by X5 and Cobra Entertainment, to name a few. Many of these recordings seem to come from the bargain CDs you used to find at grocery stores or at a department store. Remember Laserlight or Vox? To be honest, trying to track down the performer info would be a chore, and anyway, it misses the point of these collections:

You get a LOT of music for a little money.

Many of these collections run from $1.99 up to $7.99. The performances and sound vary,but when you can get all of the major works from Mendelssohn or Tchaikovsky, how can you refuse? To be honest, the performances are very good most of the time, and if there are a few bad ones, you are not really out anything.These sets are a great way to expand your musical collection, and the prices make it easy familiarize yourself with a lot of great classics for very little money. I wish these kind of sets were around when I got into classical music!iTunes also has some of these collections.

I’ll give some recommendations on particular sets later, but check out the links below to get started.

99 Most Essential at Amazon

99 Most Essential at iTunes




Perlman Jacket

Perlman ojc


The Itzhak Perman ‘Original Jacket Collection’ is a 10 CD set that was issued by Sony several years ago featuring a variety of Perlman’s recordings. Bach, Mozart, Prokofiev and Paganini are only a few of the composers represented here. This collection was a bit expensive at the time, and to be honest not one I was inclined to purchase at full price. Fortunately almost the entire set has been reissued in a bargain Sony import collection: ‘Itzhak Perlman Plays Concertos & Sonatas’. A cursory glance shows that a few works were not included to get everything onto 9 CDs, but at a substantially lower price. Of course you do not get the fancy artwork, etc as in the old set, but nonetheless a good value. As a bonus, iTunes has the ‘Original Jacket Collection’ version available for only $9.95. No booklet there, but a small price to pay for so much great music at such a good deal.

Most of the performances are very good. The opening disc is the 60th Anniversary celebration from Lincoln Center for Isaac Stern, with Perlman, Zukerman and Mehta with the NY Philharmonic [sans the Mozart on the 'Concertos' box set]. Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Brahms, Prokofiev and Lalo among others follow. All told, a nice collection and worth acquiring in the bargain box or as a download.


iTunes link:

Itzhak Perlman Plays Concertos & Sonatas at Amazon:

Perlman Original Jacket Collection at Amazon:


Brilliant Shostakovich

Shosh barshai


I will admit to owning way too much Shostakovich. Not only do I have the complete symphony sets by Kondrashin and Bernstein, all 15 symphonies have a CD by various conductors in my collection. Lately the rage has been to release bargain sets of older recordings, like the Toscanini or Rubinstein sets, or complete symphony sets at bargain download prices. Of course, buyer beware on some of the ‘Best 99 Tracks’ collections for a buck out there, but sometimes there are some really great bargains out there. The Brilliant Records release of Shostakovich’s 15 Symphonies by Rudolf Barshai and the WDR Sinfonieorchester is one such case. The CDs are a reasonable price, but the whole set for $9 in MP3 format is an offer too good to pass up.

Barshai had a connection with Shostakovich, so he is not some fly-by-nighter here [he premiered Symphony 14 if I remember correctly]. This set of performances may not be quite up to the most exciting releases of individual symphonies, but as a whole this is definitely a great set to have. The sound quality is fine and the playing is great. The interpretations are good, no fancy conducting here, but and enjoyable way to get a set of Shosh.


Amazon listing:

Shostakovich Symphonies on Rdio


Chopin Vox Box

Chopin vox box

Another great MP3 bargain set from Vox. These are excellent performances of Chopin’s most famous works. Simon, Klien and Moravec were top-drawer pianists in their time, and the playing can compare to any of the more famous names. Of course Rubinstein is the master of Chopin, and if you have his ‘Chopin Collection’ this set will duplicate many pieces, but there are many more tracks of other works. The sound quality is just fine, and since this collection is currently priced at 99 cents, it is a ‘must have’ purchase.

The Chopin Vox Box at Amazon:



More Bargain MP3 Albums

Bach haydn schubert sm

I just picked up 3 new MP3 box sets that are a fantastic bargain.The Bach Guild has once again released some essential bargain sets, along with one by Vox. The Big Haydn Box and the Big Schubert Box are full of some great performances and music for around a dollar. The Bach Complete Organ Works by Walter Kraft is over 15 hours of some great organ music. As usual the Bach Guild sets will probably work their way up to around $10 eventually [and still a bargain at that price], so now is the time to get them.

Big Haydn Box

Big Haydn Box

Bach Complete Organ Works


Bach At Bedtime

Bach at beditme

Philips released a “Set Your Life To Music” series in the mid 1990′s, along the lines of ‘Bach At Bedtime’, ‘Mozart For Meditation’ et al. I am usually not a big fan of the ‘greatest hits’ collections as a general rule, but the Philips sets are an exception. Sometimes you just want to listen to a selection of classical music, and these are actually nice compilations with good performances from the Philips catalog. Whoever compiled these sets did a great job, and there are no jarring jumps in styles, perfect for listening around the house, and to discover some works too.

I have had the ‘Debussy For Dreaming’ for years, and finally checked out some of the other releases recently. Some of these are real bargains, with CDs as low as $4-5 and MP3 albums similar.

I have made a Listmania list at Amazon of the current bargain releases:


Bigger Bach Box


The Bach Guild has released another Bach volume to celebrate the anniversary of their downloadable music sets. From the Vanguard vault, these 1950′s and 1960′s recordings are another treasure trove of classic performances. The set debuts for 99 cents as usual, and the Bach Guild and Amazon are also featuring some of their other Box Sets for the same price. These sets tend to increase in price to $8.99 over time, so now is the time to get these collections. For under 10 bucks, I figure you can get close to 100 hours of great classical music if you get the various albums, and kudos to the Bach Guild for putting these sets together.


Big Vivaldi and Handel Box

Big box vivaldi handel

The Bach Guild is hot on the heels of their last release the Handel Box with a 7 hour set of Vivaldi recordings. While not all of them may be of the ‘original instrument’ school, there is still a lot to like here. And as usual, it is only 99 cents for 138 tracks, but the price will rise shortly. The Handel is a bargain too right now.

Link to current Big Box sets at Amazon: