250 greatest recordings of all time: chosen by 35 of the world's leading musicians

250 Greatest Recordings

Here we reveal the 250 greatest classical recordings, as selected for Gramophone by more than 30 leading musicians. Below, contributing editor and reviewer Rob Cowan muses on why artists and critics might choose differently...

"Do you play yourself?” There can’t be a music critic in the land who hasn’t at one time or another been asked that very question. As if it matters. Do crime novelists need to be criminals, or theatre critics playwrights? I pose the question because so often lay listeners assume that performers and critics hear music in the same way, and very often they don’t. Being a musician is not the same as being a performer: there are many competent amateur players who lack even an iota of musicianship, while attentive listeners who aren’t endowed with the technique or the coordination necessary to achieve an adequate performance often feel the music more acutely than those who actually play it. OK, this may sound high-handed to a fault, the defensive credo of a musically ungifted scribe, but search the back issues of Gramophone and you’ll find that virtually all the most perceptive commentary on music has been written by “musicians” who either don’t play, or if they do, don’t play in public.

Listening itself is an art, and when, as a music journalist or critic, you set out to interview performing musicians about repertoire or about other performers, you will very quickly be shown the door if your own musical intuition is found wanting. And a musician doesn’t need to agree with you on specific performers or recordings. The common ground that musical performers and critics share concerns the basic essentials of interpretative genius, not least a discernible musical personality, respect for – rather than slavish adherence to – the score, a musical sense of timing, a feeling for period and appropriate style and, more vital than anything, that indefinable quality that signals a symbiotic rapport between the performer and the composer. That’s an area where sensitive critics and musicians nearly always agree: you sense the glow of recognition at the mere idea of (to mention just a few of the miracles chosen by our artists) Schnabel’s or Furtwängler’s Beethoven, Fischer-Dieskau singing Schubert’s Winterreise or the Callas/de Sabata Tosca.

Some choices are rather telling, or at least they seem so to me. For example, Hilary Hahn opting for Jascha Heifetz’s earlier, pre-war recordings of Saint-Saëns and Sarasate showpieces rather than his more pungent, post-war versions. The reason I say that is because to my ears those Thirties 78s more approximate Hahn’s own predominantly lyrical style than Heifetz’s later recordings where intensity levels are pushed up a rung or two. And what of Jean-Efflam Bavouzet choosing Carlos Kleiber’s Tristan over, say, Furtwängler’s? Could that be something to do with the performance’s combination of rarefied atmosphere and textual transparency, edging Tristan just a little in the direction of Debussy’s Pelléas? Yefim Bronfman mentions Beethoven’s string quartets with the Budapest Quartet and, yes, there too I imagine parallels: tonal solidity, interpretative directness and an obvious respect for musical form. That’s one of the bonuses of talking to artists who are eager to share their responses to great recordings: you suddenly understand so much more about how their minds work, musically speaking, because by imagining those performances in your mind’s ear, you’re communing on a level beyond the reach of words.

But “musicians as critics” is also at times a rather complex issue. I’ve sometimes wondered whether when certain musicians review recordings, either privately or in print, they harbour an unconscious agenda, justifying their own technical weaknesses by promoting the idea of musicianship “that matters so much more than technique”. Which might explain the occasional oddball recommendation. No accusing fingers, I promise!

Past conversations with artists often have proved revealing: I recall Christopher Hogwood’s fascination for the recordings of Willem Mengelberg (Bernard Haitink’s was perhaps more to be expected), and Trevor Pinnock’s admiration for Beecham. This sensation of meaningful sharing is much the same as when critics talk to like-minded colleagues: the idea is to focus an authentic reaction. But where a performer incorporates those experiences into an interpretation, we have to write about them, though there are plenty of verbally eloquent musicians around – Alfred Brendel, for example. Which brings me to one final point; what artists experience when they read critics on their own performances and whether that in turn colours their attitude to the writings of those same critics on other performers. The old cliché about “it all being a matter of personal taste” still holds, but it’s our responsibility to express that “taste” in such a way that you will always know if it doesn’t correspond with your own. That’s surely the hub of a Gramophone review. Rob Cowan

The Jury

Julian Anderson composer; Marin Alsop conductor; Jean-Efflam Bavouzet pianist; Yefim Bronfman pianist; Iain Burnside pianist; Semyon Bychkov conductor; Sarah Chang violinist; Harry Christophers conductor; Natalie Clein cellist; Sarah Connolly mezzo-soprano; Imogen Cooper pianist; Joyce DiDonato mezzo-soprano; Julius Drake pianist; Thomas Dausgaard conductor; Alan Gilbert conductor; Hélène Grimaud pianist; Hilary Hahn violinist; Steven Isserlis cellist; Marc-André Hamelin pianist; Angela Hewitt pianist; Stephen Hough pianist; Alina Ibragimova violinist; Neeme Järvi conductor; Kirill Karabits conductor; Andrew Litton conductor; Anne Akiko Meyers violinist; Jonathan Nott conductor; Gianandrea Noseda conductor; Anne Sofie von Otter mezzo-soprano; Vasily Petrenko conductor; Peter Phillips conductor; Philippe Quint violinist; Stephen Rice conductor; Yevgeny Sudbin pianist; Mark Wigglesworth conductor; Elizabeth Watts soprano; David Zinman conductor

The Recordings

Albéniz Iberia

Alicia de Laroccha pf
Decca

As idiomatic as Albéniz performances get

 

L Andriessen Writing to Vermeer

Asko/Schönberg Ens / Reinbert de Leeuw

Nonesuch

Vermeer’s life, as told by Louis Andriessen

 

Atterberg Cello Concerto

Truls Mørk vc Norrlands Opera SO / Kristjan Järvi

BIS

Mørk and Järvi combine to dynamic effect

 

Bach Brandenburg Concertos

Musica Antiqua Köln / Reinhard Goebel

DG

Exciting Brandenburgs despite fierce competition

 

Bach Concerto for Two Violins and Strings, BWV1043

Yehudi Menuhin, George Enescu vns Paris SO / Pierre Monteux

Warner Classics

Warm-hearted readings from Menuhin and Enescu

 

Bach Orchestral Suites

English Concert / Trevor Pinnock
Archiv

Pinnock drives his English Concert to joyful heights

 

Bach Goldberg Variations (1955 recording)

Glenn Gould pf

Sony

The recording that launched Gould’s career

 

Bach Goldberg Variations (1981 recording)

Glenn Gould pf

Sony

Gould’s less showy Goldberg remake

 

Bach The Well-Tempered Clavier

Samuil Feinberg pf

Russian Disc

For some Bach devotees, Feinberg was the interpreter par excellence

 

Bach The Well-Tempered Clavier

Edwin Fischer pf

Warner Classics

This recording is justly regarded as a flowing, unforced classic

 

Bach The Well-Tempered Clavier

Andras Schiff pf

Decca

Schiff offers a more modern, characteristically intelligent and powerful account

 

Bach Organ Music

Helmut Walcha org

Archiv

Austere Bach from the great German organist

 

Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin

Gidon Kremer vn

ECM

Dazzling, continuously surprising playing from Gidon Kremer

 

Bach Cello Suites

Pablo Casals vc

Warner Classics

Casals magnificently made the case for these now much-recorded works

 

Bach Cello Suites

Steven Isserlis vc

Hyperion

Dance is the watchword for Isserlis’s joyful traversal, superbly played

 

Bach/Siloti Adagio from Toccata, Adagio & Fugue, BWV564

Pablo Casals vc

Naxos

The great Spanish cellist, deft and profound

 

Bach Mass in B minor

Vienna Boys’ Choir, Vienna Concentus Musicus / Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Warner

A characteristically individual view

 

Bach Mass in B minor

Sols; BBC Sym Chorus, New Philh Orch / Otto Klemperer

Warner Classics

A monumental and meticulous Mass recording

 

Bach St Matthew Passion

Monteverdi Choir; English Baroque Soloists / John Eliot Gardiner

Archiv

Theatricality and clarity combined

 

Bach St Matthew Passion

Sols; Collegium Vocale Ghent / Philippe Herreweghe

Harmonia Mundi

Herreweghe’s later recording is highly polished

 

Bartók Concerto for Orchestra

Budapest Fest Orch / Iván Fischer

Philips

Character and panache in a stunning recording

 

Bartók Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. Divertimento

COE / Nikolaus Harnoncourt

RCA

Harnoncourt’s Bartók eschews sentimentality

 

Bartók String Quartets

Emerson Qt

DG

High-powered, Gramophone Award-winning performances from the Emersons

 

Bartók String Quartets

Hagen Qt

DG

Adventure and rich imagination – one of the Hagen Quartet’s finest albums

 

Bartók Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

Sols incl Christa Ludwig, Walter Berry; LSO / István Kertész

Decca

Ludwig and Berry are superb leads – a classic

 

Beethoven Symphonies

COE / Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Teldec

Freshly conceived, Harnoncourt reinvents Beethoven for our age on period instruments

 

Beethoven Symphonies

Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen / Paavo Järvi

RCA

Big-boned yet lithe new cycle

 

Beethoven Symphonies

London Classical Plyrs / Roger Norrington

Erato

Revolutionary performances that still pack a punch

 

Beethoven Symphonies

Chicago SO / Georg Solti

Decca

Beethoven in all his fury and might, Solti-style, with the Chicago players in blazing form

 

Beethoven Symphony No 4

BPO / Wilhelm Furtwängler

Archipel

Beethoven as conceived by Furtwängler: leave your preconceptions at the door

 

Beethoven Symphony No 5

VPO / Wilhelm Furtwängler

DG

By turns incendiary and incandescent, this is a magnificent Fifth

 

Beethoven Symphonies Nos 5 & 7

VPO / Carlos Kleiber

DG

One of the all-time great recordings – Kleiber and the Vienna Philharmonic are electric

 

Beethoven Symphony No 9

NBC SO / Arturo Toscanini

RCA

More flexible than his reputation would suggest, and Toscanini’s NBC are irresistible

 

Beethoven Piano Concerto No 2

Arthur Rubinstein pf LPO / Daniel Barenboim

RCA

The LPO provide splendour to match Rubinstein

 

Beethoven Violin Concerto

David Oistrakh vn French Nat RSO / André Cluytens

Oistrakh is wonderful, all passion and heart

 

Beethoven Violin Concerto

Thomas Zehetmair vn Orch of the 18th Century / Frans Brüggen

Phillips

Zehetmair is forceful and nuanced on a great disc

 

Beethoven Triple Concerto

David Oistrakh vn Mstislav Rostropovich vc Sviatoslav Richter pf BPO / Herbert von Karajan

Warner Classics

Four legends together and they don’t disappoint

 

Beethoven Cello Sonatas

Pablo Casals vc Rudolf Serkin pf

Sony

Magical playing from two titans in perfect accord with each another

 

Beethoven Piano Trio No 7, ‘Archduke’, Op 97

Wilhelm Kempff pf Henryk Szeryng vn Pierre Fournier vc

DG

Searching, witty, perfectly shaped performances

 

Beethoven Middle String Quartets

Budapest Qt

Bridge

For years a natural first choice

 

Beethoven Late String Quartets

Budapest Qt

Bridge

Authoritative reading by an iconic ensemble

 

Beethoven Late String Quartets

Alban Berg Qt

Warner Classics

A divisive set – too beautiful, or the more moving for it?

 

Beethoven Piano Sonatas

Artur Schnabel pf

Nuova Era

Daring and decorum in equal measure in this landmark sonata cycle

 

Beethoven Piano Sonatas

Alfred Brendel pf

Decca

Characteristic insight and intelligence from Brendel, Beethoven as poetry

 

Beethoven Piano Sonatas Nos 12-14, Opp 26 & 27

Glenn Gould pf

Sony

Gould as ever is his own man, which is to say, a genius – to some

 

Beethoven Piano Sonata No 29, ‘Hammerklavier’, Op 106

Maurizio Pollini pf

DG

Pollini is a structural master – “One huge exhalation of creative breath”, said Gramophone

 

Berg Piano Sonata, Op 1

Glenn Gould pf

Sony

Gould’s unique take on Berg’s early work still fascinates today

 

Berlioz Roméo et Juliette

Boston SO / Seiji Ozawa

DG

Lovely singing enhances Seiji Ozawa’s showpiece conception

 

Berlioz Symphonie fantastique

RCO / Colin Davis

Pentatone

If it’s Berlioz, say many, it has to be Colin Davis!

 

Bernstein Mass

Absolute Ensemble; Lower Austria Tonkünstler Orch / Kristjan Järvi

Chandos

A thrilling account of Bernstein’s rediscovered Mass

 

Bernstein West Side Story – Symphonic Dances Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue

LAPO / Leonard Bernstein pf

DG

Fascinating rhythm in two iconic American scores

 

Bizet Carmen

Sols incl Marilyn Horne; Met Op, New York / Leonard Bernstein

DG

Carmen, Bernstein-style: swaggering, charismatic

 

Brahms Symphonies

BPO / Nikolaus Harnonourt

Teldec

Harnoncourt’s Brahms is idiomatic, though there’s plenty of fascinating musical exploration

 

Brahms Symphonies

Leningrad PO / Evgeny Mravinsky

Doremi

The legendary Russian maestro does Brahms

 

Brahms Symphony No 1

VPO / Carlo Maria Giulini

DG

Power and elegance go hand in hand with Giulini’s Brahms, with the VPO on terrific form

 

Brahms Symphony No 1

BPO / Wilhelm Furtwängler

Tahra

Incandescent, elemental playing from the Berliners under Furtwängler

 

Brahms Symphony No 3

VPO / Carlo Maria Giulini

DG

The great partnership of the Vienna Phil and Giulini caught at its finest

 

Brahms Symphony No 4. Haydn Variations

BPO / Claudio Abbado

DG

For many the Haydn Variations are the jewel here, richly characterised, superbly varied

 

Brahms Piano Concertos

Julius Katchen pf LSO / Pierre Monteux; János Ferencsik

Decca

Awesome virtuosity and highly sensitive playing

 

Brahms Piano Concerto No 1

Clifford Curzon pf LSO / George Szell

Decca

Soloist and conductor at their peaks, an old favourite

 

Brahms. Bruch Violin Concertos

Sarah Chang vn Dresden PO / Kurt Masur

Warner Classics

Old-school conductor meets brilliant young soloist

 

Brahms Violin Concerto

David Oistrakh vn Cleveland Orch / George Szell

Warner Classics

The king of violinists on scintillating form

 

Brahms Double Concerto

Wolfgang Schneiderhan vn János Starker vc Berlin RSO / Ferenc Fricsay

DG

A perfect partnership

 

Brahms Piano Quartets

Arthur Rubinstein pf Guarneri Qt

RCA

Rubinstein the veteran joins the young Guarneris

 

Brahms String Sextet No 2

Jascha Heifetz vn et al

RCA

Heifetz as ever is technically brilliant but wonderfully songful here, too

 

Brahms Rhapsodies, Op 79. Klavierstücke, Opp 117-119

Radu Lupu pf

Decca

Revelations pour over each other from one of the great Brahmsians of our day

 

Brahms Ein deutsches Requiem

Charlotte Margiono sop Rodney Gilfry bar Monteverdi Choir; ORR / John Eliot Gardiner

Decca

A heavenly reading from Gardiner

 

Brahms Ein deutsches Requiem

Elizabeth Schwarzkopf sop Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau bar Philh Chorus; Philh Orch / Otto Klemperer

Warner Classics

Juggernaut power in Klemperer’s famous recording

 

Britten String Quartets Nos 2 & 3

Amadeus Qt

Decca

The third quartet here was written for these players, and they play superbly

 

Britten Peter Grimes

Sols incl Jon Vickers; Royal Opera / Colin Davis

Philips

Britten hated Vickers’s Grimes, thousands loved it

 

Bruckner Symphonies

Staatskapelle Dresden / Eugen Jochum

Warner Classics

Highly charged, romantically intense Bruckner

 

Bruckner Symphony No 8

BPO / Herbert von Karajan

DG

Jochum’s Eighth is his weak point but Karajan’s radiates warmth and splendour

 

MA Charpentier La reniement de St Pierre

Les Arts Florissants / William Christie

Harmonia Mundi

Vivid performances of this rarely heard masterwork

 

Chopin Piano Sonata No 3, etc

Mikhail Pletnev pf

DG

Amazing playing and bold insights go hand in hand with Pletnev

 

Chopin Preludes

Alfred Cortot pf

Warner Classics

Scintillating expressiveness in a recording that is part of gramophone history

 

Debussy La mer

Cleveland Orch / Pierre Boulez

DG

There’s mystery as well as clarity in Boulez’s La mer recordings

 

Debussy Préludes

Krystian Zimerman pf

DG

There’s a compelling intensity of character to these dazzling performances

 

Debussy. Fauré Mélodies

Victoria de los Angeles sop

Warner Classics

The entirely musical and natural art of

De los Angeles caught in Debussy and Fauré

 

Debussy Pelléas et Mélisande

BPO / Herbert von Karajan

Warner Classics

Pelléas meets Wagner’s Tristan in this controversial (to some, overheated) reading

 

Dutilleux Orchestral Works

BBC Philharmonic / Yan Pascal Tortelier

Chandos

Tortelier commands the demands of Dutilleux

 

Dvořák Symphonies

LSO / István Kertész

Decca

By turns explosive and searchingly lyrical, Kertész’s is the classic Dvořák set

 

Dvořák Symphonies

Czech PO / Vaclav Neumann

Supraphon

Neumann’s rival to Kertész features terrific playing

 

Dvořák Piano Trio No 3

Beaux Arts Trio

Philips

Georgeously lyrical and integrated playing from the Beaux Arts Trio

 

Elgar Symphony No 1. Falstaff

LSO / Edward Elgar

Warner Classics

Restless, probing interpretations in the composer’s knowing hands

 

Elgar Violin Concerto. Cello Concerto

Yehudi Menuhin vn Beatrice Harrison vc

LSO; New SO / Edward Elgar

Warner Classics

Essential for Elgarians, two inspired performances

 

Elgar Enigma Variations

LSO / Pierre Monteux

Decca

Monteux’s famous Enigma with LSO forces still feels fresh and revealing

 

Elgar The Dream of Gerontius

Sols incl Janet Baker; Hallé Orch / John Barbirolli

Warner Classics

Janet Baker is magnificent in this moving Gerontius

 

Enescu Oedipe

Monte Carlo PO / Lawrence Foster

Warner Classics

A starry reclamation for Enescu’s epic opera

 

Falla El sombrero de tres picos

Philh Orch / Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos

Warner Classics

Theatricality abounds in this Spanish journey

 

Fauré Choral Works

Chorale Gabriel Fauré

Vox Unique (LP)

Fauré’s choral works reimagined for boys’ choir and organ

 

Franck Violin Sonata

Jacqueline du Pré vc Daniel Barenboim pf

Warner Classics

Intimate music-making from du Pré and Barenboim

 

Goldenthal Fire Water Paper: A Vietnam Oratorio

Pacific SO / Carl St Clair

Sony

A spectacular, heartfelt Vietnam memorial from Copland pupil Elliott Goldenthal

 

Grieg. Schumann Piano Concertos

Leon Fleisher pf Cleveland Orch / George Szell

Sony

For many, the finest accounts of these works

 

Handel Concerti grossi, Op 6

AAM / Andrew Manze

Harmonia Mundi

Alert, alive and light-footed, Manze and the players clearly have a ball

 

Haydn ‘Paris’ Symphonies

Tonkünstler Orchestra / Kristjan Järvi

Preiser

Rich-toned recordings from the Musikverein

 

P Henry Apocalypse de Jean

Philips (LP)

A fine example of the music of French electronic-school composer Pierre Henry

 

Humperdinck Hänsel und Gretel

Sols incl Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; Munich RO / Kurt Eichhorn

RCA

Brilliant playing in a set often unfairly overlooked

 

Janáček The Cunning Little Vixen

Sols incl Lucia Popp; VPO / Charles Mackerras

Decca

Mackerras is incomparable in this repertoire

 

Josquin Desprez Masses

A Sei Voci

Naïve

A Sei Voci explore Josquin for the Naïve label

 

Knussen Horn Concerto. Flourish with Fireworks, etc

Barry Tuckwell hn London Sinf / Oliver Knussen

DG

Bewitching music from composer Oliver Knussen

 

Kodály Cello Sonatas

János Starker vc

Delos

Kodály was a great János Starker admirer and the cellist here shows why

 

Korngold Between Two Worlds

Berlin RSO / John Mauceri

Decca

Korngold’s film score turned into a tone-poem and evocatively conducted by John Mauceri

 

Lassus Lamentations of Jeremiah

Ens Vocal Européen / Philippe Herreweghe

Harmonia Mundi

A fine display of intense, mesmeric contemplation

 

Liszt A Faust Symphony

Hans-Peter Blochwitz ten Budapest Fest Orch / Iván Fischer

Philips

Brilliantly alert, with a touch of Satanic wit

 

Liszt A Faust Symphony

Siegfried Jerusalem ten Chicago SO /

Georg Solti

Decca

Beauty, power, excitement and lyrical singing

 

Liszt Totentanz

Alfred Brendel pf LPO / Bernard Haitink

Philips

Brendel brings dignity and tension to Liszt

 

Mahler Symphonies

Israel PO, NYPO, LSO / Leonard Bernstein

Sony

Bernstein in earth-shaking form with the Israel Phil

 

Mahler Symphonies

Bavarian RSO / Rafael Kubelík

DG

Kubelík, one of the first and among the finest Mahler advocates

 

Mahler Symphonies Nos 1-4

NYPO / Leonard Bernstein

DG

Bernstein again, this time with the polish of the New York Philharmonic

 

Mahler Symphony No 4

Judith Raskin sop Cleveland Orch / George Szell

Sony

Deep feeling in one of Szell’s finest hours

 

Mahler Symphony No 4

San Francisco SO / Michael Tilson Thomas

SFS

A Bernstein pupil in dramatic vein and great sound

 

Mahler Symphony No 5

VPO / Leonard Bernstein

DG

Bernstein had to persuade the Austrians to love Mahler, with fabulous results

 

Mahler Symphony No 5

Bavarian RSO / Rafael Kubelík

Audite

Kubelík in the studio is great, live he’s even better

 

Mahler Symphony No 6

BPO / Claudio Abbado

DG

A deserving Gramophone Record of the Year

 

Mahler Symphony No 9

VPO / Simon Rattle

Warner Classics

Violent intensity and sweetness in Rattle’s Vienna Mahler Ninth

 

Mahler Symphony No 10

Bournemouth SO / Simon Rattle

Warner Classics

Passion and commitment in Rattle’s overpowering championing of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony

 

Mahler Lieder

Janet Baker mez Hallé Orch / John Barbirolli

Warner Classics

Includes the classic Rückert-Lieder recording

 

B Mantovani Le sette chiese

Ens Intercontemporain / Susanna Mälkki

Kairos

Mälkki’s showcase for the young French composer

 

Messiaen Turangalîla-Symphonie

Bastille Op Orch / Myung-Whun Chung

DG

Messiaen’s own favourite recording of this work

 

Messiaen Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus

Pierre-Laurent Aimard pf

Teldec

Music of devotion and playing of simply stunning virtuosity

 

Messiaen Saint François d’Assise

Sols incl José van Dam; Hallé Orch / Kent Nagano

DG

Messiaen’s only opera – and his magnum opus

 

Morricone Gabriel’s Oboe from The Mission

Virgin

Ennio Morricone’s seminal music from the 1986 Jeremy Irons film

 

Mozart Symphonies Nos 40 & 41

English Baroque Soloists / John Eliot Gardiner

Decca

Dramatic accounts of the last two symphonies

 

Mozart Piano Concertos Nos 20, 21, 25 & 27

Friedrich Gulda pf VPO / Claudio Abbado

DG

Impassioned advocacy of these popular concertos

 

Mozart Concerto for Two Pianos, K365

Geza Anda, Clara Haskil pfs Philh Orch / Alceo Galliera

Warner Classics

Two great players present a united front

 

Mozart Horn Concertos

Dennis Brain hn Philh Orch / Herbert von Karajan

Warner Classics

Flawless solo playing in the classic recording

 

Mozart Sonata for Two Pianos, K448

Radu Lupu, Murray Perahia pfs

Sony

Two great pianists, one great sonata captured at Snape Maltings

 

Mozart Requiem

Sols incl Stephan Schreckenberger; Le Concert des Nations / Jordi Savall

Astrée

Savall’s intimate reading of Mozart’s final work

 

Mozart Così fan tutte

Sols incl Elizabeth Schwarzkopf; Philh Orch / Karl Böhm

Warner Classics

Böhm’s finest Mozart opera set, with a dream cast

 

Mozart Don Giovanni

Sols incl Rodney Gilfry; English Baroque Soloists / John Eliot Gardiner

Archiv

An energetic interpretation, as compelling as any

 

Mozart Don Giovanni

Sols incl Joan Sutherland; Philh Orch / Carlo Maria Giulini

Warner Classics

Giulini’s Giovanni – grand and theatrical

 

Mozart Idomeneo

Sols incl Anne Sofie Von Otter; English Baroque Soloists / John Eliot Gardiner

Archiv

The most vital of Idomeneo recordings

 

Mozart Idomeneo

Sols incl Werner Hollweg; Zürich Op / Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Teldec

The 1781 version played for dramatic intensity

 

Mozart Le nozze di Figaro

Sols incl Bryn Terfel; English Baroque Soloists / John Eliot Gardiner

Archiv

A hugely enjoyable yet intimate Figaro

 

Mozart Le nozze di Figaro

Sols incl Simon Keenlyside; Concerto Köln / René Jacobs

Harmonia Mundi

Jacobs’s conducting is sparkling and mischievous

 

Mozart Le nozze di Figaro

Sols incl Kiri te Kanawa; LPO / Georg Solti

Decca

A starry cast bristles with theatricality

 

Mozart Die Zauberflöte

Vienna St Op / Georg Solti

Decca

Solti’s best-loved Mozart recording, a Zauberflöte to crown his career

 

Myaskovsky Symphonies

USSR State SO, Russian Federation SO / Evgeny Svetlanov

Warner Classics

Svetlanov rescued these symphonies from neglect

 

Muhly Mothertongue

Bedroom Community

The bright young thing’s genre-defying collection of miniatures

 

Nancarrow Studies for Player Piano

Wergo

As unique as they are unpredictable, these studies are revelatory ear-openers

 

Nørgård Symphony No 3

Danish Nat RSO / Leif Segerstam

Chandos

A modern masterpiece played with fire

 

Paganini 24 Caprices

Michael Rabin vn

Warner Classics

Every detail can be heard with razor-sharp clarity on this supreme disc

 

Pärt In principio

Estonian Philh Chbr Choir; Estonian Nat SO / Tõnu Kaljuste

ECM

Exhilaration, piety and lamentation mingle

 

Praetorius Mass for Christmas Morning

Gabrieli Consort / Paul McCreesh

Archiv

A powerful testament to the expression of faith

 

Prokofiev Symphonies

LSO / Valery Gergiev

Philips

The blazing live performances that won Gergiev his job at the helm of the LSO

 

Prokofiev Piano Concerto No 3

Martha Argerich pf Montreal SO / Charles Dutoit

Warner Classics

Argerich’s response is utterly personal and vivacious

 

Prokofiev Piano Concerto No 5. Piano Sonata No 8

Sviatoslav Richter pf Warsaw PO / Witold Rowicki

DG

Sizzling account of a difficult-to-pin-down concerto

 

Prokofiev Love for Three Oranges

Kirov Op / Valery Gergiev

Philips

An exciting live recording from Amsterdam, featuring a young Anna Netrebko

 

Puccini La bohème

Sols incl Luciano Pavarotti; BPO / Herbert von Karajan

Decca

A grand Bohème, with Pavarotti and Mirella Freni

 

Puccini Tosca

Sols incl Maria Callas; La Scala, Milan / Victor de Sabata

Warner Classics

One of the greatest achievements on record

 

Purcell Complete Anthems and Services

King’s Consort / Robert King

Hyperion

A fine recording, immaculately delivered, and boasting some exceptional soloists

 

Purcell Dido and Aeneas

Sols incl Sarah Connolly; OAE / Elizabeth Kenny, Steven Devine

Chandos

Connolly’s exquisitely sung Dido leads a great cast

 

Rachmaninov Symphony No 3

Philadelphia Orch / Sergei Rachmaninov

Pearl

The composer conducts his own work

 

Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances

St Petersburg PO / Mariss Jansons

Warner Classics

Glorious playing and wonderful, expansive conducting from a true podium master

 

Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances

Moscow PO / Kyrill Kondrashin

Melodiya

A Soviet-era recording full of vigour

 

Rachmaninov Piano Concertos

Zoltan Kocsis pf San Francisco SO / Edo de Waart

Philips

Fast, light, incisive – Kocsis is on top form

 

Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 3

Evgeny Kissin pf Boston SO / Seiji Ozawa

RCA

Phenomenal virtuosity from Kissin with Ozawa

 

Rachmaninov “Rachmaninov plays Rachmaninov”

Sergei Rachmaninov pf

RCA

The first virtuoso pianist-composer of the recording era: these discs remain fascinating

 

Rachmaninov Vespers

Robert Shaw Festival Singers / Robert Shaw

Telarc

Shaw coaxes great warmth from his singers

 

Rameau Une symphonie imaginaire

Les Musiciens du Louvre / Marc Minkowski

Archiv

A great Baroque conductor meets a great composer

 

Rautavaara Cantus Arcticus

Leipzig RSO / Max Pommer

Ondine

A compelling work that beautifully captures the Finnish composer’s evocative sound world

 

Ravel Piano Concerto for the Left Hand

Samson François pf Paris Conservatoire Orch / André Cluytens

Warner Classics

François plays with tremendous vitality and spirit

 

Ravel Daphnis et Chloé

Montreal SO / Charles Dutoit

Decca

Has Ravel’s score ever sounded quite as ravishing?

 

Ravel Shéhérazade

Régine Crespin sop SRO / Ernest Ansermet

Decca

Régine Crespin at her idiosyncratic, seductive best

 

Reich Different Trains

Kronos Qt

Nonesuch

Reich’s response to the tragic human cost of war is authoritatively performed

 

Reich Different Trains. Triple Quartet

Smith Qt

Signum

An equally moving response, the Smith players’ recording is paired with another minimalist classic

 

M Richter 24 Postcards in Full Colour

Sols incl Max Richter pf

FatCat Records

A conceptual exercise that created a work of surprising musical beauty using mobile ringtones

 

Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No 4

Alfred Cortot pf Paris Conservatoire Orch / Charles Munch

Naxos

Delicate poetry and an astonishing conclusion

 

Salonen Wing on Wing

Finnish RSO / Esa-Pekka Salonen

DG

Salonen’s celebration of architecture and nature – incorporating Frank Gehry’s voice

 

Schubert Symphonies Nos 5, 6, 8 & 9

Salzburg Camerata; Salzburg Mozarteum Orch / Sandor Végh

Capriccio

Collegiate music-making in Schubert

 

Schubert Symphony No 8

VPO / Carlos Kleiber

DG

Kleiber’s laser-like concentration brought to bear on Schubert’s Eighth

 

Schubert Symphony No 8

Leningrad PO / Evgeny Mravinsky

Melodiya

Showing why Mravinsky is one of the greats

 

Schubert Symphonies Nos 8 & 9

VPO, BPO / Wilhelm Furtwängler

Archipel

An archive alternative to the famous DG recording

 

Schubert Symphony No 9, ‘Great’

BPO / Wilhelm Furtwängler

DG 447 439-2GOR

Furtwängler pushes forwards with excitement but also with an awareness of the work’s architecture

 

Schubert String Quintet, D956

Orrea Pernel, Jacob Krachmalnick vns Karen Tuttle va Pablo Casals, Madeleine Foley vcs

Music & Arts

Exceptional lead-violin work

 

Schubert ‘Trout’ Quintet, D667

Clifford Curzon pf Members of the Vienna Octet

Decca

A “Trout” that’s bursting with character

 

Schubert ‘Trout’ Quintet, D667

Emil Gilels pf Amadeus Quartet

DG

Excellent balance between strings and piano, super-sensitive playing from Gilels

 

Schubert ‘Trout’ Quintet, D667

Hephzibah Menuhin pf Amadeus Quartet

Warner Classics

An individual reading from Hephzibah Menuhin

 

Schubert Complete Music for Piano Four Hands

Yaara Tal, Andreas Groethuysen pf

Sony

A splendidly clear yet atmospheric recording

 

Schubert Variations on an Original Theme, D813

Sviatoslav Richter, Benjamin Britten pf

Decca

A fascinating document of a live Britten recording

 

Schubert Fantasia, D940. Mozart: Sonata, K488

Radu Lupu, Murray Perahia pfs

Sony

Two pianists reveal the music’s innermost secrets

 

Schubert Schwanengesang

Peter Schreier ten András Schiff pf

Wigmore Hall Live

A legendary partnership is profoundly satisfying

 

Schubert Winterreise

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau bar Jörg Demus pf

DG

Fischer-Dieskau’s third recording of Winterreise

 

Schubert Winterreise

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau bar Gerald Moore pf

DG

A powerful portrayal from the great baritone

 

Schoenberg A Survivor from Warsaw

Gottfried Hornik narr VPO / Claudio Abbado

DG

Abbado harnesses the visceral impact of this work

 

Schumann Symphonies

ORR / John Eliot Gardiner

Archiv

A winning combination of scholarship and insight

 

Schumann Symphonies

Cleveland Orch / George Szell

Sony

Szell’s typically classical approach produces a full, natural orchestral sound

 

Schumann Collected Lieder

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau bar Christoph Eschenbach pf

DG

Fischer-Dieskau’s experience shows in every bar

 

Schumann Dichterliebe, Op 48

Ian Bostridge ten Julius Drake pf

Warner Classics

Bostridge interprets all these songs as much through the mind of the poet as the composer

 

Schumann Dichterliebe, Op 48

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau bar Christoph Eschenbach pf

DG

Fischer-Dieskau is the master of this repertoire

 

Scriabin Piano Works

Vladimir Sofronitsky

Philips

Sofronitsky was so associated with these works, he was even married to Scriabin’s daughter

 

Sheppard Church Music

The Sixteen / Harry Christophers

Hyperion

The Sixteen shed light on a neglected genius

 

Shostakovich Symphonies Nos 5-8, 10-12 & 15

Evgeny Mravinsky

Melodiya

Mravinsky premiered six Shostakovich symphonies and that frisson is conveyed here

 

Shostakovich Symphony No 7

St Petersburg PO / Yuri Temirkanov

RCA

A monumental recording from Temirkanov

 

Shostakovich Symphony No 14

Moscow CO / Rudolf Barshai

Russian Disc

Sombre symphony played with great force

 

Shostakovich Symphony No 15

Cleveland Orch / Kurt Sanderling

Elatus

Sanderling highlights Shostakovich’s dark intent

 

Shostakovich. Tchaikovsky Violin Concertos

David Oistrakh vn Philadelphia Orch / Eugene Ormandy, NYPO / Dimitri Mitropoulos

Sony

 

Shostakovich Violin Concerto No 1

David Oistrakh vn Leningrad PO /

Evgeny Mravinsky

RCA

Another intense Oistrakh Shostakovich No 1

 

Shostakovich String Quartet No 8

Borodin Qt

Melodiya

The Borodins’ no-nonsense, uninhibited approach suits this diverse work perfectly

 

Sibelius Symphony No 2

LSO / Colin Davis

RCA

Davis’s second Sibelius cycle yielded this utterly convincing and natural recording

 

Stockhausen Gesang der Jünglinge. Kontakte

Karlheinz Stockhausen elec

DG (LP)

The great rule-breaker in person

 

J Strauss II Die Fledermaus

Bavarian St Op / Carlos Kleiber

DG

Kleiber picked his operas carefully and this is a flamboyant treat

 

R Strauss Ein Heldenleben

BPO / Herbert von Karajan

DG

One of Karajan’s signature, and most refulgent, BPO recordings

 

R Strauss Vier letzte Lieder

Elizabeth Schwarzkopf sop Berlin Rad SO / George Szell

Warner Classics

For some, this recording will never be surpassed

 

R Strauss Vier letzte Lieder

Gundula Janowitz sop BPO / Herbert von Karajan

DG

Strong competition for the Schwarzkopf classic

 

R Strauss Der Rosenkavalier

Sols incl Gwyneth Jones; Bavarian Staatsoper Orch / Carlos Kleiber

DG DVD

An iconic Rosenkavalier from Carlos Kleiber

 

R Strauss Der Rosenkavalier

Sols incl Régine Crespin; VPO / Georg Solti

Decca

Solti knew Strauss and stamps his authority here

 

Stravinsky Symphonies

SRO / Ernest Ansermet

Decca

Lively, stylish and individual, Ansermet’s Stravinsky was always an event

 

Stravinsky The Firebird

CBSO / Simon Rattle

Warner Classics

Unbelievably intense power comes from Rattle’s attention to the tiniest details

 

Stravinsky The Rite of Spring

Cleveland Orch / Pierre Boulez

DG

Precision and seismic power from Boulez and the Cleveland Orchestra

 

Stravinsky The Rite of Spring

Kirov Orch / Valery Gergiev

Philips

Gergiev makes you listen anew and finds elemental fury

 

Tallis Church Music

Clerkes of Oxenford / David Wulstan

CfP

This album enshrines perhaps the finest Spem in alium on record

 

Tchaikovsky Symphonies Nos 4-6

LSO / Igor Markevitch

Philips

Superbly gripping Tchaikovsky from Markevitch and his London forces

 

Tchaikovsky Symphonies Nos 4-6

Leningrad PO / Evgeny Mravinsky

DG

Slavonically intense, sometimes at breakneck speeds – these are old favourites

 

Tchaikovsky Symphony No 6

VPO / Valery Gergiev

Philips

The Vienna strings are exceptional for Gergiev’s full-bodied Pathétique

 

Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1

Emil Gilels pf State Academic SO / Evgeny Svetlanov

Melodiya

A star pairing to reinvigorate a great warhorse

 

Tchaikovsky Mélodie, Op 42 No 3

Daniil Shafran vc Nina Musinian pf

Brilliant Classics

Discover a brilliant but often-overlooked cellist

 

Tchaikovsky The Queen of Spades

Kirov Op / Valery Gergiev

Philips

A marvellously consistent recording of this tricky but volcanic opera

 

Tubin Complete Symphonies. Kratt

Estonian Nat SO / Arvo Volmer

Alba

Impressive performances of an Estonian composer

 

Verdi Requiem

NBC SO / Arturo Toscanini

RCA

No one conjured the terror of the heavens in this work like Toscanini

 

Verdi Requiem

Sols incl Elisabeth Schwarzkopf; Philharmonic Orch / Carlo Maria Giulini

Warner Classics

A profoundly spiritual reading from Giulini

 

Verdi Don Carlo

Sols incl José Carreras, Mirella Freni; BPO / Herbert von Karajan

Warner Classics

The four-act version, with Karajan on fire

 

Verdi Rigoletto (Ponnelle film)

DG DVD

Pavarotti enjoys himself in Ponnelle’s sumptuous film, but Ingvar Wixell is a blistering Rigoletto

 

Verdi La traviata

Sols incl Ileana Cotrubas, Plácido Domingo; Bavarian St Op / Carlos Kleiber

DG

Textual cuts are the only blot on a moving Traviata

 

Victoria Requiem

Tallis Scholars / Peter Phillips

Gimell

A benchmark recording of the Victoria Requiem from Peter Phillips’s Tallis Scholars

 

Vivaldi The Four Seasons

Enrico Onofri vn Il Giardino Armonico / Paolo Grazzi

Teldec

A wonderfully evocative Four Seasons

 

Vivaldi The Four Seasons

Joseph Silverstein vn Boston SO / Seiji Ozawa

Telarc

One of the finest versions of this perennial work

 

WagnerDie Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Sols incl Domingo, Fischer-Dieskau, Deutsche Oper Orch / Eugen Jochum

DG 477 7559GOR4

Fischer-Dieskau is humane and moving as Hans Sachs

 

Wagner Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Staatsakapelle Dresden / Herbert von Karajan

Warner Classics

Karajan coaxes glorious sounds from his players

 

Wagner Parsifal

Sols incl Peter Hoffmann, Dunja Vejzovic, Kurt Moll; BPO / Herbert von Karajan

DG

Long-admired as a classic Parsifal

 

Wagner Der Ring des Nibelungen

Bayreuth Fest Orch / Joseph Keilberth

Testament

One of the great archive finds of recent years

 

Wagner Der Ring des Nibelungen

VPO / Georg Solti

Decca

A spectacular and dramatic interpretation, all Ring-lovers will want this in their collections

 

Wagner Tristan und Isolde

Sols incl Birgit Nilsson; Bayreuth Fest Orch / Karl Böhm

DG

Nilsson in incandescent form, live at Bayreuth

 

Wagner Tristan und Isolde

Staatskapelle Dresden / Carlos Kleiber

DG

Sleek conducting underpins a seductive Tristan

 

Wieniawski. Saint-Saëns. Sarasate Violin works

Jascha Heifetz vn LSO / Sir John Barbirolli

RCA

Wieniawski-champion Heifetz presents an ardent case

 

Wolf Spanisches Liederbuch

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf sop Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau bar Gerald Moore pf

DG

Features both singers at the peaks of their career

 

Xenakis Jonchaies

Luxembourg PO / Arturo Tamayo

Timpani

Committed performances from Tamayo’s Luxembourg forces

 

Ysaÿe Complete Violin Recordings

Eugène Ysaÿe vn

Sony

Ysaÿe playing his own recordings – a real collector’s item

 

BA Zimmermann Présence

Aloys Kontarsky pf Saschko Gawriloff vn

Siegfried Palm vc

DG

A penetrating look into the heart of this composer

 

BA Zimmermann Requiem für einen jungen Dichter

Sols; Holland Symphonia / Bernhard Kontarsky

Cybèle

An unsettling scream of an anti-war work

 

“The Art of Michael Rabin”

Michael Rabin vn

Warner Classics

A lovely collection celebrating the brilliant Heifetz protégé, beautifully recorded

 

“Hush”

Bobby McFerrin; Yo-Yo Ma

Sony Classical

The great cellist meets Bobby McFerrin in this fabulously unique album

 

“Live at Steinway Hall”

Cornelius Claudio Kreusch pf

Available to download

Hard-to-categorise improvisations by the German pianist

 

“Mad Scenes”

Maria Callas

Warner Classics (download only)

The unique Maria Callas caught at her most histrionically impressive

 

Music from the Eton Choirbook, Vol 2

Purcell Consort of Voices / Grayston Burgess

Argo (LP)

An uplifting example of the Consort at their best

 

“My Soul doth magnify the Lord”

St Paul’s Cathedral Choir / John Scott

Hyperion

A rich anthology presented with soul-stirring animation

 

“New Year’s Day Concerts 1989 & 1992”

VPO / Carlos Kleiber

Sony

Superb New Year’s Day concerts from Vienna under Carlos Kleiber

 

“Officium”

Jan Garbarek sax Hilliard Ens

ECM

Ancient chant meets jazz-style improvisation in this remarkable disc

 

“Signature”

Ensemble Organum / Marcel Pérès

Harmonia Mundi

A wonderfully compiled and performed medieval music survey

 

“Victor Recordings of 1919-1926”

Alfred Cortot pf

Pearl

Wit and imaginative richness from the inter-war years

This article originally appeared in the June 2010 issue of Gramophone

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