Classical music for $100

by on January 1, 2011 at 7:22 am in Music | Permalink

Enda asks:

Loyal MR reader and consumer of alternative/indie/rock music here. If someone asked me for a broad introduction to the best of the genre with a budget of $100, my personal recommendation would be to purchase Sgt Pepper (The Beatles), skip most of the next two decades, Doolittle (Pixies), OK Computer (Radiohead), Pinkerton (Weezer), Siamese Dream (Smashing Pumpkins), Loveless (My Bloody Valentine), Is This It (The Strokes), Songs for the Deaf (Queens of the Stone Age) and Funeral (Arcade Fire).I have a $100 budget for an introduction to classical music and an essentially blank canvas. Your recommendations?

I'll price this by the CDs rather than the MP3s:

1. Start with a box of the Beethoven symphonies, either Gardiner or van Karajan cost only $20.  (For $43 the Klemperer set offers the piano concerti as well.) 

2. The Bach Brandenburg Concerti; the Pinnock set is basically $20 with the Suites thrown in.  Or get the Alessandrini set for $26.
 
  
4. Never buy an inferior recording simply because it is cheaper.  In the long run it is more expensive.

5. Mozart, symphonies 40 and 41 and other late symphonies, $15.

That brings us to about $68. For the rest I would draw from Dvorak's New World Symphony, Schubert (Symphony 9 or Trout Quintet, with superb pairings on both CDs), assorted ChopinBeethoven piano sonatas, or Monteverdi, or Philip Glass Songs from the Trilogy.  In general, try whichever pieces might have personal meaning to you; for instance if you liked the movie Black Swan, buy Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake (by either Previn or Pletnev) I've focused on the most accessible pieces, but if you wish to skip ahead Schubert's String Quintet is better than the Trout, Op.31, etc.

Peter January 1, 2011 at 3:46 am

Incomplete without the Bach Celloe Suites!

Matt January 1, 2011 at 4:12 am

Tyler, Years ago, when I was on a strict budget, you recommended Naxos recordings, but none of your recommendations here are from that label. Have your views re Naxos changed? Also, I think a neophyte would enjoy The classic Van Cliburn performances of the Tchaikovsky and Raxhmaninoff piano concerti. It was, I think, my first classical CD and it is still among my favorites.
http://www.amazon.com/Tchaikovsky-Piano-Concerto-

Happy New Year!

matt January 1, 2011 at 4:58 am

is Enda a teenager and/or buying music from the mall?

Christian Bjoernskov January 1, 2011 at 5:13 am

My first recommendation would be the Brahms D Minor piano concerto. The only problem is the US price ($16) of the Helene Grimaud recording.

The Man Without Fear January 1, 2011 at 5:51 am

Spotify has all of the above.

Tim Keese January 1, 2011 at 5:55 am

1. Berlioz – Symphonie Fantastique;
2. Mahler – Symphony #2;
3. Stravinsky – Rite of Spring

mrshl January 1, 2011 at 6:01 am

I know very little about classical, and so very much appreciate the $100 intro.

But for you folks who have already perhaps heard of the freaking Beatles, I recommend jettisoning Sgt. Peppers and making some room for Pavement's Wowee Zowee, The Replacements' Tim, and/or Camper Van Beethoven's Key Lime Pie.

John Townsend January 1, 2011 at 6:28 am

I'm an amateur choral singer and would make sure to include some or all of the following: Bach's St. Matthew Passion (called by someone the greatest work of art-in any medium!- of all time); Bach's B-Minor Mass; Handel's Messiah – natch; Verdi Requiem; Mahler's Eighth; Mendelssohn's Elijah; Haydn's Creation; Mozart Requiem; Faure Requiem (?)

Jonathan January 1, 2011 at 7:13 am

See how quickly the recommendations grow? I agree you're short of choral work in the basic recs (other than the Beethoven 9th, of course) but no one else has mentioned the Brahms German Requiem (go with Gardiner).

Bill January 1, 2011 at 8:09 am

You're totally off your rocker if you don't include Gould's "Well Tempered Clavier". As for Goldberg — why not consider Simone Dinerstein? For choral music, you can BWV 51 with Teresa Stitch-Randall for about $2 if you look hard enough

jn January 1, 2011 at 8:18 am

Personally I was thrilled at the IDEA of the Zenph. Hearing it in reality was a disappointment. The only word I could think of was Pallid.

As modern recreations go, I prefer the Telarc rerecording of the Rachmaninoff piano rolls to the soulless Zenphs.

Virtually no recordings sound good on headphones. If they're optimized for that, so much the worse.

dearieme January 1, 2011 at 9:06 am

It doesn't take much. When I was a fresher, my new chums snared me into classical music with:

Mozart – Eine Kleine Nachtmusik; The Horn Concertos

Beethoven – Fur Elise; The Sixth Symphony.

Lord January 1, 2011 at 9:11 am

There is no reason to pay anything. Just scour Wikipedia and Youtube for performances. You can go far wider and sample most anything.

Sebastian January 1, 2011 at 9:32 am

Many "beginners" find opera hard to listen to on recordings – so that's maybe not such a good idea. If opera, I think starting with Wagner and late Verdi is almost certain buzz-kill – if opera, I'd agree that earlier Verdi and Puccini are great, as well as some da Ponte Mozart, especially Figaro.
But I do agree with the lack of solo concertos, which I have found many newcomers to enjoy a lot.
For me a good start would include any of the following:
Tchaik – Violin (Oistrach or Heifetz)
Grieg, Tchaik, and Schumann – Piano (I have found many recordings of this wonderful, maybe I just don't know enough about piano…)
Elgar – Cello (du Pre)
Vivaldi – Four Seasons (yeah, I know, but it's still wonderful music – go with Il Giardino Armonico and nothing else)
Mozart – Klarinett (Sabine Meyer, probably)

I realize these are all a bit stuffy for regular concert goers, but they're still amazing, amazing music and people with less exposure will love them.

I'd be tempted to disagree with Karajan for Mozart symphonies. I'd go with Marriner and Academy of St. Martins in stead: http://www.amazon.com/Mozart-Last-Symphonies-Wolf
minor quibble, though.

I believe Tyler has linked to free download pre-1960s recordings of classical music before – I've used that a lot and enjoyed it tremendously.

John Townsend January 1, 2011 at 10:20 am

I certainly do not agree that purchasing a recording by an "inferior" performer is a waste of money. For example, I have sung Mahler's 8th 7 times on concert and know it almost by heart. I also own 3 recordings, and a very good one features a choral group from San Antonio I believe. Cost me about 7 bucks and it's terrfic.

Gyan January 1, 2011 at 10:50 am

I'd skip the Il Giardino Armonico for the Vivaldi. Too idiosyncratically colored. Nice if you want offbeat performances; for standard but excellent treatment, check out Europa Galante.

andy January 1, 2011 at 11:54 am

I wouldn't recommend the big symphonias, nor the operas. Goldberg Variations are great, from piano music rachmaninov is great – the concertos, paganini's variations, preludes (I have some recording from Gavrilov and Richter and it's great). Handel's harpsichord's suites are great. Chopin is great… Mozart piano concertos…

Dvorak's new world symphony, american quartet and quintet are great pieces, though many people don't appreciate the quartet sound. What about some concertos – Mendelssohn e-minor violin concerto, Bach's double violin concerto. Mozart's violin concertos (there's a recording with Anne Sophie Mutter, very nice).

Or Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez and Fantasia para un gentilhombre – Pepe Romero and St.Martin in the Fields.

musicnerd January 1, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Fun exercise! Others: Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, Petrushka, Firebird, and Apollo ALL on a single $12 set in fabulous performances led by Simon Rattle. Amazing! http://tinyurl.com/352sx9x
Beethoven: really Gardiner or the aged Klemperer? Great beethovenistas at best, but both could do better (see JEG's Eroica film, at Netflix, and hear some of the mid-1950s Klemperer). If you really want to push – to $120 for the list – you could go for Minnesota/ Vanska Beethoven set, now under $40 for the hybrid super-SACD DSD set. You'll hear instruments you didn't know were in the score, sounding as if you were in the hall with them, and in performances in which every note is alive and meaningful.

Rory Sutherland January 1, 2011 at 6:56 pm

For opera the perfect candidate is The Magic Flute. Most opera is best consumed in a live performance; yet so puerile and ridiculous is the plot of TMF that it actually gains value through being heard and not seen. Anyone disagree?

nancy January 2, 2011 at 12:37 am

Lovely, but you neglected choral, lieder and organ… sigh. Elly Ameling has a lovely recording of Schubert and Schumann lieder that I think a beginner might like. I've listened to that album more times than any other I own. It's really lovely and accessible.

I second Sebastian on the Elgar Cello Concerto and the Mozart Clarinet Concerto (Sabine Meyer is wonderful at anything, really). I'd also put in a good word for the Copland Clarinet Concerto.

dg January 2, 2011 at 3:03 pm

It would seem to me that when recommending a starter collection to a novice to classical music, one should at least try to present works that the person is likely to enjoy rather than an overview of the canon from Monteverdi to Schoenberg. Chances are that such a collection will do more to turn off a developing interest than to encourage it.

Enda seems to have a pretty esoteric taste in contemporary music, focused more on lyric than complex musicianship. Consequently, I would recommend that he explore Debussy, Ravel and Holst, plus a smattering of the major Beethoven symphonies to see where his taste begins to lean before I would be comfortable helping his build the starter library.

BintheD January 3, 2011 at 3:58 am

Tyler,

Since we are on the topic of classical music, I just wanted to thank you for suggesting Fuertwangler's 1942 recording of Beethoven's 9th. Currently my favorite and most listened to album on my iTunes!

Zach January 3, 2011 at 10:44 am

As someone with (for lack of a better term) relatively encyclopedic knowledge of "popular" music who has started listening to mountains of classical music in the last six months, I can recommend the following as what has really drawn me in as a neophyte:

- A good set of Beethoven symphonies. I started with the Vanska set, supplemented with Kleiber's 5/7.
- Mackerras' Mozart Symphonies 38-41 with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra
- Dvorak's Cello Concerto in B Minor by Rostropovich and von Karajan.
- Pinnock's Brandenberg Concertos, the same set Tyler linked to in the first post
- Beethoven's Piano Concertos. I started with the Mackerras/Pizarro/SCO set of the last three, but now I like the Kissin/Davis set more.
- Bach's Mass in B Minor, specifically the one on Linn Records this year with the Dunedin Consort

For opera, the Rene Jacob's releases of the Mozart/Da Ponte operas (and the Magic Flute) are essential. I never though I would like opera, but I probably listen to Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro more than anything else these days.

My list is biased towards new, "audiophile" releases, but that's what it took for classical music to finally "click" with me. I use headphones a lot and I was used to clean studio recordings of most music, so years ago when I would randomly download classical music I would be turned off by tape hiss and other recording noise. Now that I have some basic familiarity with what I like and my favorite works, sound quality matters less and I'm more willing to seek out older recordings.

miles jacob January 4, 2011 at 1:57 am

With classical music as with most arts the great talents are separated from the sea of mediocrity reasonably well but specific artists and works achieve "canon" status mostly arbitrarily.

I don't really enjoy Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Dvorak, or Sibelius

But I love Bach, Telemann, Rameau, Schumann, Brahms, Mahler, Bartok, Stravinsky and Hindemith

and much by Handel, Weber, Rossini, Ravel, Reger, Orff, Holst, Strauss, Varese, Britten, Prokofiev, Webern, and Shostakovich

jfl January 7, 2011 at 9:49 am

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