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Classical 101

The 168 Best Classical Music Recordings

David Adam Beloff
Chances are one of your favorite recordings will be conducted by JoAnn Falletta

Top 10 lists abound this time of year. Top 10 news stories, films, trends. So I thought, why stop with just ten? Why not 20? Or 50? Or...well, see the title.

The 168 Best Classical Music Recordings is a follow up to a similar column from 2009.

The updated version tries to help us break out of our musical rut. If you like 19th-century Viennese music, the label Marco Polo released a series of recordings - first of everything Johann Strauss, Jr. wrote.

They followed that with everything by the rest of the Strauss family, then other contemporaries of the Strauss family. In the early '90s, Sony Classical issued a 100-release series, (119 total discs), of re-mastered recordings by the New York Philharmonic with Leonard Bernstein conducting in support of H.R.H.

The Prince Of Wales Charities Trust.  Each recording had two water colors painted by Prince Charles. They contained great music, but half the fun is hearing different interpretations of the same piece with discussion of the relative merits of each. I recall some years ago hearing a the scherzo from the 4th Symphony by Anton Bruckner that was over 4 minutes longer than any I'd ever heard. Repeats? No. Just a painfully slow tempo which sucked the life out of the music.

Here's how it SHOULD sound, in my humble opinion.


As I read this list, I was pleased to find that the author went beyond simply listing recordings in some subjective order and saying, "This is the best." Writer Ivan Hewett establishes a few ground rules. Among them:

Variety is the Spice of LifeNames don’t MatterBuy British, and Names to Avoid.

Under the heading of Variety is the Spice of Life, Hewitt writes, "No single conductor or performer is good at everything. Buying up the works of only one maestro is silly, so don’t do it – or mention you ever did it."

Under Names don't Matter, he says, "Note down all the most obvious choices – for conductors: Karajan, Ashkenazy and Levine; for piano, Kissin and Lang Lang – and throw everything you have by them away. There are exceptions (Karajan’s opera) but by and large these strutting maestros have bought space in your brains by being shrewd, not musical – though the two can go together (Bernstein)."

Just a couple of examples of this witty, thought-provoking, and well-thought-out look at the massive amount of music we group under the classical music umbrella. It's fun reading I highly recommend.

The 168 Best Classical Music Recordings