Telegraph – 100 best classical RecordingsPosted By: Lasse Nordgren
Added On: 16/02/11
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100 Best Classical Recordings
Daily telegraphs critics’ survey of the music no classical fan should be without
I have found 68 of these fine recordings in Spotify
I have taken one track/Album
Princess Margaret once described opera as fat people shouting at each other, which also seems a good description of my local Greggs. Opera, like Greggs, gets a lot of bad press. But contrary to popular belief, opera, like Greggs, isn’t that expensive, or very highfalutin, much of it being about as accessible as a strawberry tart. So tuck in.
1 Beethoven Fidelio (conductor Otto Klemperer) EMI
Beethoven’s opera is heart-stopping in the theatre but also a sublime, uplifting musical experience without that staging; not many operas convey as much of a message in ‘tone’ alone. Though the Fidelio discography is large, few recordings stand out as this one continues to, nearly half a century after it was first captured in stereo. Otto Klemperer’s lofty conducting evokes the transcendental spirit and Jon Vickers’s anguished Florestan is all suffering strength. With a great line-up also including Christa Ludwig and Gottlob Frick, this Fidelio is timeless.
2 Mozart Così fan tutte (conductor Bernard Haitink) EMI
Beneath its unruffled, Mediterranean surface, Mozart’s sublime yet cruel comedy comes to life in Bernard Haitink’s interpretation from Glyndebourne, with a cast including Carol Vaness and Claudio Desderi.
3 Mozart Die Zauberflöte (conductor Otto Klemperer)
The dialogue may be cut, but no CD collection should be without Mozart’s ‘opera for everybody’ or a cast that includes Lucia Popp’s Queen of the Night and Nicolai Gedda’s Tamino.
4 Puccini Tosca (conductor Victor de Sabata) EMI
The greatest of all Toscas, Maria Callas is captured at her legendary best, urged on by a distinguished cast and conducting of dramatic sweep.
5 Rossini La Cenerentola (conductor Riccardo Chailly)
From high spirits to deep pathos, La Cenerentola (‘Cinderella’) holds in perfect balance everything we love most about Rossini. The cast is led by an ebullient Cecilia Bartoli on her best form.
6 Strauss Der Rosenkavalier (conductor Erich Kleiber) Decca
Witty yet wistful, Erich Kleiber’s interpretation with the Vienna Philharmonic of Strauss’s masterpiece is a classic boasting a dream cast.
7 Tchaikovsky Eugene Onegin (conductor Semyon Bychkov) Philips
Russia’s greatest opera, amid strong competition, Tchaikovsky’s ‘lyric scenes’ have not been better served on disc than by the idiomatic conducting of Semyon Bychkov and a cast including Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s fresh-voiced Onegin.
8 Verdi Don Carlos (conductor Claudio Abbado) DG
The most epic yet most human of Verdi’s operas, Don Carlos exists in multiple versions, but this (in its original French) is one of the best and features Plácido Domingo in the title role.
9 Verdi Falstaff (conductor Herbert von Karajan) EMI
The richly detailed orchestration of Verdi’s final opera blazes out under Herbert von Karajan’s baton, and Tito Gobbi’s multifaceted Fat Knight leads a cast of singers that strike sparks off each other.
10 Wagner Der Ring des Nibelungen (conductor Daniel Barenboim) Warner
One of the greatest works of art ever conceived, Wagner’s Ring has been well served on disc, but this features Daniel Barenboim’s theatrically astute conducting, and a magnificent cast including John Tomlinson and Anne Evans.
Concertos involve one – or sometimes two or three – musicians facing off against the orchestra. Composers often tackle this form in one of two ways. They offer up a delicate, almost operatic interplay between the two factions, like in Mozart, or a down-and-dirty mud fight.
1 Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 4 (soloist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli) EMI
It was the legendary Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli’s recording that decisively changed the fortunes of Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto. Long considered the ugly duckling of Rachmaninov’s concerto output – a last and less than convincing grasp of Russian Romanticism composed at a time (1926) when the world had moved on – the work won its proper place in the wake of Michelangeli’s 1957 landmark recording. The Italian pianist coupled this with another unsurpassed interpretation, of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G.
2 Beethoven Piano Concertos Nos 3 and 4 (soloist Mitsuko Uchida) Philips
Even in a crowded field, Uchida’s performances stand out for their sense of drama.
3 Beethoven Violin Concerto (soloist Itzhak Perlman) EMI
The greatest of all violin concertos, Beethoven’s long work needs the breadth of vision that Perlman is able to supply.
4 Brahms Piano Concertos Nos 1 and 2 (soloist Leon Fleisher) Sony
Brahms’s epic piano concertos receive appropriately big and sweeping performances from Leon Fleisher and the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell.
5 Elgar Cello Concerto (soloist Jacqueline du Pré) EMI
Elgar’s masterpiece is also a monument to the passionate playing of Jacqueline du Pré.
6 Grieg and Schumann Piano Concertos (soloist Stephen Kovacevich) Philips
A great coupling, the A minor piano concertos of Grieg and Schumann are played with poetic brilliance by Kovacevich and the conductor Colin Davis.
7 Mozart Sinfonia Concertante, K 364 (soloists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman) DG
One of Mozart’s most sublime works, this double concerto for violin and viola inspires a lively musical conversation between two great string players.
8 Mozart Piano Concerto No 23 in A, K 488 (soloist Solomon) Testament
Recorded in the mid-Fifties, Solomon’s Mozart remains unsurpassed.
9 Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 2 (soloist Sviatoslav Richter) DG
Sviatoslav Richter’s almost mythical reputation in the West was made before he could travel beyond the Iron Curtain by this powerful 1959 recording with the Warsaw Philharmonic.
10 Sibelius Violin Concerto (soloist Leonidas Kavakos) BIS
Mixing technical bravura and poetic lyricism, Kavakos and the leading Sibelius conductor, Osmo Vänskä, play this concerto twice, as this fascinating disc includes the work’s even more demanding original version.
Only one instrument can survive on its own for long enough to sustain our interest and achieve any level of profundity: the piano. Composers have concurred and today it is the instrument with the largest repertoire.
1 Chopin Martha Argerich The Legendary 1965 Recording EMI
Only 24 when she was captured playing at Abbey Road, Argerich performs with such intensity that it scarcely feels like a studio recording. Her volcanic energy can leave you scrambling to keep up, but the Third Sonata is breathtaking in its spontaneity and the smaller works are richly imbued with Polish spirit.
2 Albéniz Iberia (Alicia de Larrocha) Decca
Albéniz’s masterpiece has never been served better on disc than by the authentically Spanish pianism of Alicia de Larrocha.
3 Bach Goldberg Variations (Glenn Gould) RCA
One of the greatest pianists of the 20th century, Glenn Gould devoted his first major recording to the Goldbergs, but the more introspective version, made in 1981, is widely considered to be his finest.
4 Bartók Romanian Folk Dances (Zoltán Kocsis) Philips
The folk roots of the composer’s work are encapsulated here as part of a dazzling all-Bartók recital by this brilliant Hungarian pianist.
5 Beethoven Hammerklavier Sonata (Rudolf Serkin) Sony
Rudolf Serkin’s Hammerklavier stands out for its prodigious power and introspection.
6 Brahms Klavierstücke Op 116-119 (Wilhelm Kempff) DG
A delectable distillation of Brahms’s late style.
7 Debussy Préludes Books 1 & 2 (Krystian Zimerman) DG
Debussy’s Préludes are brought into vivid, witty and poetic focus by the brilliant Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman.
8 Rachmaninov 24 Preludes (Vladimir Ashkenazy) Decca
Rich in their vein of Russian melancholy, the Preludes demand poetry and technical bravura, and receive both here.
9 Schubert Sonata in B flat, D 960 (Clifford Curzon) Decca [or Orfeo]
Schubert’s late masterwork is well served on disc, but no collection should be without the wondrous beauty of Curzon’s playing.
10 Schumann Fantasy in C (Sviatoslav Richter) EMI
Sviatoslav Richter illuminates the three contrasting movements of Schumann’s grand work, mixing luminosity of tone with virtuosity of touch.
EARLY AND BAROQUE
Much Baroque music (1600-1750), essentially posh pop – neat melodies over big basses – attracts sell-out crowds of hippies, organic food wholesalers and Sloanes. The audience is splashy and flashy, the get-up as attention-seeking as the shrill trills coming from the stage. Early music (dawn of man – 1600) draws in a more consistent and genuinely bearded sort who just want to space out to Gregorian chant.
1 Vivaldi The Four Seasons (Fabio Biondi, Europa Galante) Virgin Veritas
Biondi puts so much colour on the cheek of this over-exploited old thing that it comes out looking like Grayson Perry. With Biondi’s reimagining, an airing out of the textures, a rebalancing of the harmonies, Vivaldi’s musical mind is laid out for all to see.
2 John Dunstaple (Orlando Consort) Metronome
According to the liner notes, ‘Dunstaple was the most influential English composer outside England before the Beatles’. The Orlando Consort lay out Dunstaple’s easy lyricism and inventiveness in a way that realises the truth of this statement.
3 Josquin des Prez Missa Pange lingua (The Tallis Scholars) Gimell
Des Prez was Beethoven, Schoenberg and Stravinsky all rolled into one, developing and shaping new forms that became vital to the polyphonic progress of music. The Tallis Scholars carve out the mysteries of his masterpiece, the Missa Pange lingua, like master butchers.
4 Tallis Spem in Alium; Lamentations; Mass and Motets (Magnificat) Linn
This is Thomas Tallis at his most compelling. His famous kaleidoscopic 40-part motet, Spem in Alium, swoops and soars in the most deeply satisfying way possible.
5 Buxtehude Organ Works (René Saorgin) Harmonia Mundi
Harmonia Mundi’s clean, vivid recordings of Saorgin playing five baroque organs perfectly captures the power of these remarkable works.
6 Claudio Monteverdi L’Orfeo (Emmanuelle Haim, Le Concert D’Astree) Virgin Veritas
This is little more than a renaissance riot, lurching giddily from one excitable dance to another, passing by shadowy recitatives, sighing ariosi from a stellar cast, drum outbursts worthy of Varese and meaty ritornelli swathed in lavish orchestral ornamentation.
7 Purcell Dido and Aeneas (Andrew Parrott, Taverner Choir and Players) Chandos
A beautifully quiet recording, the first to be done on period instruments. The choir is stylish, the orchestra breezy. But Emma Kirkby’s Dido is the real draw; a more direct, subtle or affecting lament isn’t to be found on disc.
8 Bach Brandenburg Concertos (Trevor Pinnock, The English Concert) Archiv
This is pure, unadorned Bach, delicately presented, lightly inflected and left to speak for itself, which it does with unsurpassed eloquence.
9 Battista Pergolesi Stabat Mater (Rinaldo Alessandrini, Concerto Italiano) Naïve
This is a recording in which every last drop of musical juice has been squeezed from the score. As a result, the text, one of the most moving in the sacred canon, is more sharp and poignant than ever.
Choral music, with its penchant for extremes, organ accompaniments and intermittent hallelujahs, will drive your neighbours mad. Britain has always loved choral music, possibly because it allows us all to come together and have a sing-song with minimal contact.
1 Bach Mass in B Minor (Andrew Parrott, Taverner Consort and Players) Virgin Veritas
The issue of authenticity in classical music is a viper’s nest. Parrott’s 1985 recording came out at the height of the pitched battles between romantic traditionalists and the vanguard period performers. Mere mention of the words ‘period instruments’ would and did lead to spats; when Rattle brought the issue up on the phone to Karajan, the maestro hung up. Bravery was necessary then to record a performance of the Bach B Minor with an unheard of four-man choir who doubled as soloists. It worked, however. And how.
2 Bach St Matthew Passion (William Mengelberg, Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, Amsterdam Toonkunst Choir) Naxos Historical
Mengelberg’s hypnotic 1939 St Matthew Passion is a testament to how Bach was once performed. The result is a recording of such communal conviction, power and authenticity that, arguably, it reaches down into the spiritual heart of the work more deeply than any other.
3 Handel Messiah Pinnock (The English Concert and Choir) Archiv
This has been a critics’ favourite for nearly two decades for the spirited way the choral get-togethers explode into life. The soloists – Auger, von Otter, Chance and Tomlinson – are consistently fine.
4 Mozart Requiem (John Eliot Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists) Philips
This is a powerfully expressed performance, in which period authenticity is not allowed to dim argument or tone. In fact, the added tremulousness afforded the smaller ensemble is bracing, bolstering the fear at the heart of this work.
5 Schubert Complete Sacred Works (Wolfgang Sawallisch, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Choir) EMI Classics
There is something of the magic of the stumbled-upon local service about this recording. The playing and singing is, of course, in a different league but there is still the feeling that you are eavesdropping on something private and special.
6 Berlioz Requiem (Leonard Bernstein, Orchestra Nationale D’Ile de France, Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra) Sony
Listening to Berlioz’s Requiem, so dark, mysterious and vast, is like crawling around an ocean floor. Bernstein heightens these oceanic mysteries, exploring every nook and cranny of the enormous Madeleine church, in which he recorded the work, with his inimitable and enormous sound.
7 Mendelssohn Elijah (Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, New Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus) EMI Classics
De Burgos is acutely aware of the dramatic and dynamic demands of this fine, snaky bit of neo-Baroquery. But with Gwyneth Jones, Janet Baker, Nicolai Gedda and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as soloists, the final quartet becomes a particular highlight.
8 Brahms A German Requiem (Otto Klemperer, Philharmonia Orchestra and Choir) EMI Classics
Klemperer’s is not a fashionable recording, but it’s still the best. Things proceed slowly, organically and thickly, like some enormous lusty river about to spill out into the sea.
9 Rossini Petite Messe Solennelle (Marcus Creed, RIAS Kammerchor) Harmonia Mundi
Rossini’s Petite Messe is neither little, nor solemn, nor particularly liturgical, Napoleon III is reputed to have said. But it is a joy, particularly in this original version for two pianos and harmonium, in which Creed lets things burr along attractively.
10 Verdi Requiem (Carlo Maria Giulini, Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus) BBC Legends
Giulini’s annual performance of Verdi’s Requiem at the Royal Albert Hall through the Fifties and Sixties was a point of repeated pilgrimage. Here we get a remarkable glimpse of what all the fuss was about.
Anything that can be done within a chamber or small room – except singing, playing the piano or performing the Swanee whistle – chamber music attracts a quiet, pale, intensely earnest crowd. Possibly because, being intimate and discursive, chamber works can often be good substitutes for human company.
1 Beethoven Late String Quartets (Busch Quartet) EMI
For some, the quartets have become a religion, to be worshipped, not just listened to. The recorded shrine that most true believers return to again and again is the 60-year-old EMI set from the peerless Busch Quartet, whose lively tone balances the play and profundity that infect every bar of these five final works.
2 Bach Cello Suites (Pablo Casals) EMI
For 150 years, Bach’s cello suites – condemned for being dry – lay in obscurity. A teenage Casals found a copy in a second-hand shop and unveiled them to an astonished world. The recorded testimony – over 60 years old – is a modern miracle.
3 Bach Complete Violin Sonatas and Partitas (Nathan Milstein) EMI
Authority and rightness pervade this cycle of Bach partitas and sonatas. Milstein’s rendition of the epic chaconne is one of the great musical journeys.
4 Haydn Op 76 String Quartets (The Lindsays) ASV
Never has the musical natter between the four performers of a string quartet so joyously unfolded as in this classic recording from Britain’s finest string quartet. And what chit-chat. Haydn’s Opus 76 set – quiet, modest and tender – are right, royal charmers.
5 Beethoven Complete Violin Sonatas (Martha Argerich, Gidon Kremer) DG
Pairing Argerich and Kremer up for the Beethoven violin sonatas is like tossing a match into a box of firecrackers. Beethoven would surely have smacked his Viennese thighs with hearty approval at their brazenly hairy ride.
6 Schoenberg, Schubert Verklärte Nacht; String Quintet (Hollywood String Quartet) Testament
The luminous traversal of Schoenberg’s extraordinary late romantic see-saw sextet by America’s first and greatest string quartet – with two reserves from the Hollywood orchestras where they all earned their pay – is exquisite. Indeed, the composer was so impressed he agreed to do the liner notes.
7 Bartók Complete String Quartets (Tokyo String Quartet) DG
Bartók opened the string quartet up to the wilds in these six masterpieces; the players scratch, beat and slide their way through insistently feral terrain. The Tokyo Quartet deliver the perfect balance of measure and madness.
8 Elliott Carter String Quartets One to Five (Pacifica Quartet) Naxos
These five modernist spinning tops, compelling vortexes of ordered chaos and chaotic order, span five decades of the 101-year-old Carter’s epic career. The Pacifica Quartet’s intense renditions, recorded last year, are already a modern classic.
9 Mozart Complete String Quintets (Talich Quartet) Calliope
On top of the Talich’s perfectly judged music-making is a projected sound of unbelievable warmth and realism. So don’t leave the CD on while you’re out; you’ll think a string quartet has broken into your flat.
10 Brahms Schubert Piano Quintet Op 34; Piano Quintet ‘The Trout’ D 667 (Amadeus String Quartet, Clifford Curzon) BBC Legends
The palpable buzz of these joyously unchecked performances by two titans of the last century demonstrates exactly why live recordings are so often preferable to studio ones. Both performances have rarely been bettered.
Continental 20th-century classical music is mostly violent, knotted and raw. And it’s likely that, if you decide to buy any for a loved one, they’ll think you want to kill them.
1 Stravinsky Rite of Spring (Sir Simon Rattle, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra) EMI
Much is said of the Rite of Spring’s unpredictability, brutality and force, but little successful is ever done to effect it. How is a conductor to recover the Rite’s initial, terrifying blow – a blow that had crowds tumbling out of auditoriums all over Europe – in a world where such artistic volatility has become quite the convention? And how does one square the intricacies of the musical detail with the primal force of the whole? Rattle shows us how to slow the ritual down, carve it up and shine a light on every last savage detail.
2 Debussy La Mer (Serge Koussevitzky, Boston Symphony Orchestra) Pearl
There’s a salty taste to Koussevitzky’s Thirties recording, a gritty, dirty sting to the sonic wave that puts all competition to shame. No one gets even close to this sort of realism, which brings to life the hollow clang of metal hulls in port as well as the soaring swells of the open seas.
3 Charles Ives Symphony 2 (Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic) DG
Bernstein was a devoted musical patriot, making committed recordings of many of the great American symphonies of Harris, Piston, Schuman and Copland. This one, of Ives’s wistful, folk-filled Second, is arguably the finest.
4 Bartók Orchestral Masterworks (Sir Georg Solti, London Symphony Orchestra) Decca
Bartók was Solti’s piano teacher in the Thirties and, to the last, Solti reveals what a dutiful pupil he is, with a performance of Bartók’s orchestral works that adheres to the spirit and the letter of the score.
5 Dmitri Shostakovich Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (Mstislav Rostropovich, London Philharmonic Orchestra) EMI Classics
This brutish opera, one of the 20th century’s most compelling, on the consequences of a boring bourgeois life, brings musical royalty together, husband and wife team Vishnevskaya and Rostropovich, for a vivid performance.
6 Olivier Messiaen Vingts Regards sur l’Enfant Jesus (Yvonne Loriod) Erato
Messiaen and his wife, Yvonne Loriod, were the God-fearing sort; they had no discernible vices and owned one book – the Bible. The consequence is a very focused performance of Messiaen’s almost improperly vivid, sensuous and at times demonic work.
7 György Ligeti Études (Pierre-Laurent Aimard) Sony
‘Topsy-turvy’ doesn’t begin to describe the nature of these skittish, poly-rhythmical prowlers. They’re the études Chopin might have written if he’d lived in Timbuktu. Aimard’s renditions – energetic and precise – are without rival.
8 Louis Andriessen De Staat (Lucas Vis, Nederlands Blazers Ensemble) NBE Live
From Gregorian chant to bebop and back. This is the journey we take with Andriessen on his buzzy, brassy, politically underpinned modern, Minimalist masterpiece, performed with precision and guts by his fellow Dutchman.
9 Pierre Boulez Répons, Dialogue de L’Ombre Double (Boulez, Ensemble InterContemporain) 20/21 [DG]
Behind the po-faced complexity of Boulez’s music is a very French obsession with beauty and colour. Nowhere is this more true than in Répons, in which musical lines, mirrored and mangled by computers, tumble from trill to trill, like birds on a manic migratory journey.
Orchestral works – mainly symphonies and tone poems – are large public statements of musical faith that, forcing composers to think on a big and often boorish scale, aren’t for everybody all of the time. It is, however, the form in which every composer must make a mark.
1 Beethoven Symphonies 5 and 7 (Carlos Kleiber, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra) DG.
Rhythm lies at the heart of these two extraordinary symphonies. While the Seventh sees ‘the apotheosis of the dance’, in the words of Wagner, the Fifth sees the climax of the rhythmic motif, as the famous knock of fate is passed from one movement to another, the composer turning the idea again and again in his hands, moulding new shapes out of the primal clay. Kleiber unlocks the dynamism in the works like no one else.
2 Haydn Symphonies 93-104 (Sir Thomas Beecham, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra) EMI Classics
Two of music’s greatest pranksters, Haydn and Beecham, rollick through Haydn’s toe-tapping London symphonies as if in some Ealing Comedy. There’s wit and grace here to spare.
3 Mozart Complete Symphonies (Karl Böhm, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra) DG
Karl Böhm was a crowing Nazi who once stopped a rehearsal to watch Hitler’s 1923 beer hall putsch. His pioneering Mozart cycle, by contrast, is all self-effacing sophistication.
4 Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique (Zubin Mehta, London Philharmonic Orchestra) Apex
Berlioz’s only symphony is the first of the romantic era and arguably the most inspired; a love-driven, opiate-ridden flight of fancy. Indian conductor Zubin Mehta shapes and guides the winds to perfection.
5 Brahms Complete Symphonies (Kurt Sanderling, Dresden Staatskapelle) RCA Classics
Sanderling’s reading of Brahms is an unsentimental one and the symphonies are shot through with passion and pulse. The recording is vivid, the East Germans’ playing first-rate and the musical control masterful.
6 Tchaikovsky Symphonies 4, 5 and 6 (Evgeny Mravinsky, Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra) DG
These Russian recordings aren’t just overpowering, they’re terrifying; shifting pace with force and abandon, one moment tossing you out into the waves, the next gently washing you to shore.
7 Bruckner Complete Symphonies (Günter Wand, Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra) RCA Red Seal
Nothing less than the heavens are charted by Bruckner in these nine works. The trajectories of intergalactic objects can be heard in the fizz of the strings and roar of the brass lines that rain down on our ears.
8 Sibelius Complete Symphonies (Sir Anthony Collins, London Symphony Orchestra) Beulah
Collins had made his name composing scores for the RKO studios, earning three Oscar nominations, before Victor Olof invited him to record with the London Symphony Orchestra. The result was a Sibelius cycle that is yet to be bettered.
9 Strauss Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life), Also Sprach Zarathrustra (Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra) RCA Victor
Reiner’s partnership with RCA Victor in the Fifties was one of the greatest in recording history. On this disc, you’ll find the noblest and fleshiest musical incarnation of Strauss’s Hero ever recorded.
10 Mahler Symphony 9 (Claudio Abbado, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra) DG
Abbado’s live performance of Mahler 9 is a haunted, desperate thing which, from the first aborted climax to the washed-up final lines, reveals him to be someone who plumbs deeper into the soul of the work than any other conductor.
Either pastoral and free flowing or loud and brash, the music attracts adherents who are quite embarrassed by the existence of the other and try not to mingle.
1 Vaughan Williams Symphony 5 (Dona Nobis Pacem LPO/ BBCSO/ Vaughan Williams) Somm
Two rare examples of the composer conducting his own music. The symphony was recorded (off the air) at a Prom in 1952 when he was 80. He knew just how his music should sound and projects the great symphony’s darker moments as well as its radiance.
2 Elgar The Dream of Gerontius, Sea Pictures (Janet Baker, Richard Lewis, Kim Borg, Hallé Orch & Sheffield Philharmonic Choirs, LSO/Barbirolli) EMI
Notable for Janet Baker’s Angel and for her classic singing of Sea Pictures.
3 Elgar Symphony 2 and Short Pieces (BBCSO/Boult) EMI
Adrian Boult recorded this symphony several times but this, his first, made in 1944, is the best. The short pieces include Sospiri and his orchestration of Chopin’s Funeral March.
4 Elgar Violin Concerto (Yehudi Menuhin/LSO Elgar) EMI
Historic – made in 1932 when Menuhin was 16. It is still the most satisfying interpretation because of Elgar’s conducting.
5 Elgar and Vaughan Williams Barbirolli Conducts English Music for Strings (Sinfonia of London, New Philharmonia) EMI
The Elgar includes Serenade, Elegy and Introduction and Allegro; the VW, the Tallis Fantasia and Greensleeves. Wonderful playing.
6 Britten War Requiem (Galina Vishnevskaya, Peter Pears, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Bach and other Choirs, LSO/ Britten) Decca
A best-seller after the 1962 Coventry premiere and still a harrowing experience. This reissue has an indispensable recording of Britten rehearsing.
7 Delius Brigg Fair, Appalachia etc (LPO/Beecham) Naxos
Beecham had a magic touch with this music and these pre-1939 performances still cast a spell.
8 Turnage Twice Through the Heart, Hidden Love Song, In Torn Fields (Sarah Connolly, Gerald Finley, LPO Marin Alsop) LPO Live
Three gripping works by this contemporary composer. Connolly is spellbinding as the wife who kills her violent husband.
9 Finzi Dies Natalis (Toby Spence and Scottish Ensemble) Wigmore Hall Live
If Finzi had written nothing else this rapturous cantata, beautifully sung here, would ensure his immortality.
10 Tippett A Child of Our Time (Faye Robinson, Sarah Walker, Jon Garrison, John Cheek, CBSO & Chorus/Tippett) Collins
Moving and topical 1939 oratorio with negro spirituals as chorales. Tippett conducts and the soloists were his choice.
One fat person shouting in a small room. That’s how Princess Margaret might have described song. Songs sung in German are called lieder. In French, chansons. The song crowd’s natural habitat is the Wigmore Hall, in London.
1 Schubert Winterreise (Fischer-Dieskau/Gerald Moore) EMI
Perhaps the greatest of all song cycles, sung by a master at the peak of his power. Every changing mood of the traveller through the winter landscape – his despair, false hopes, elation, memories – is limned in subtle detail and gradations of vocal tone by the German baritone. Included in EMI’s Great Recordings of the Century series, this classic disc is one of dozens of this masterpiece, all with some claim on our attention, but this has it all.
2 Schubert, Wolf (Irmgard Seefried) BBC Legends
Rich selection by this unforgettable soprano who went to the heart of each song in this recital recorded live in London in 1962.
3 Schubert (Bernarda Fink) Harmonia Mundi
One of today’s outstanding mezzo-sopranos, Fink sings a selection of familiar and unfamiliar with superb insight and lustre of tone.
4 Schubert A Voyage of Discovery Hyperion
Twenty-six songs, with singers who include Felicity Lott, Peter Schreier, Thomas Hampson and many more, accompanied by Graham Johnson. A real treat.
5 Schubert (Lucia Popp) EMI
Sixteen lieder sung by the late Lucia Popp with Irwin Gage at the piano. Like Seefried, this soprano melts the heart with her artistic insights and her ability to make the best-known songs sound fresh.
6 Schumann, Brahms (Kathleen Ferrier) Naxos
Which collector could bear to be without the great English contralto’s performance of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und leben recorded not long before her early death in 1953? Also included are Brahms’s Four Serious Songs and Alto Rhapsody.
7. Strauss (Christine Brewer, Roger Vignoles) Hyperion
The American soprano, with Vignoles as her partner at the piano, contributes Volume 1 of the Complete Strauss Songs edition. Of the 19 tracks, some are rare items.
8 Wagner, Mahler (Kirsten Flagstad, Vienna Philharmonic) Decca
The Wesendonck Lieder and Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, in their orchestral versions, imperiously sung by the Norwegian soprano. The Wagner is conducted by Hans Knappertsbusch, the Mahler by Sir Adrian Boult.
9. Un Frisson Français (Susan Graham) Onyx
The American mezzo Graham sings chansons by 22 French composers from Berlioz to Ravel and others in a recital that covers a century of French song.
10 Brahms, Schumann (Lorraine Hunt Lieberson) Wigmore Hall Live
The artistry of this American mezzo, whose death aged 52 in 2006 is still profoundly mourned, lives on in this disc that captures the unforgettable magnetism of her personality as well as the unique timbre of her voice.