absolutely essential recordings

edited May 2008 in Classical
Hi gang, the autist formerly known as "bklynd" here,

So I'm not normally one to focus on performers. I usually want to hear a specific composer or piece and so I'll often scoop up some unknown recording and not worry about it too much. Also, since I'm such a new music dork there is often only one recording of the thing I want.

However, especially when I see Nereffid's brilliant distillation of all the critical journalism he reads, I feel like I should be paying more attention to the truly great performances.

So, here's the query - what are your choices for absolutely essential recordings? Great pieces, great performance, and (ideally) good recording. Important enough that you would foist them on anybody who likes classical music.

I only own a few that seem that canonic:

Mauizio Pollini playing the Chopin Etudes, Op. 28 (Deutsche Grammophon, 1975)
Radu Lupu playing Brahms Intermezzi, Rhapsodies, and Klavierstucke (Decca, 1987)
Pierre-Laurent Aimard playing Ligeti etudes etc. (Sony, 1996)

Most of my collection is good stuff, to be sure, but I always figure that there would be some other alternative, something that is considered better, or that the recording is in a field that is open to debate. I'm looking for the discs (or downloads?) that you would brandish and confidently say, "this is it!"


  • edited May 2008
    Like you, I focus much more on composers and works than on performers. In general I try to get versions of something until I find a version I really like; then I'm usually satisfied. There are a few exceptions for my favorite music, though.

    Rubinstein's Chopin is still the definitive version, at least to me. Perhaps not so much for etudes, but for nocturnes and waltzes and probably polonaises, yes

    He's controversial, but many would say that Gould's Bach is almost all essential - especially the Goldbergs (both versions). I enjoy his WTC rendering

    I love Pollini's version of the first three Beethoven sonatas. But you, for some odd reason, are not a Beethoven guy.

    I can think of lots of versions of things I like, but I'm not really into the whole 'definitive version' thing.
  • I suppose I should begin with "Snake! I thought you were dead!" but if I might be permitted an Irishism, I'll just go with "Is it yourself that's in it?"

    The thing I find with "canonical" recordings is that I buy them and then the canon changes. Fr'instance I got Lydia Mordkovitch's Chandos recording of Shostakovich's violin concertos on the basis of it getting a Gramophone award and top mention in the 2003 Gramophone Guide. And I really like it. But since then every review of a Shostakovich violin concerto has completely failed to mention this one as a contender. So "canonical" only gets you so far. There's relatively few pieces of music I care enough about to warrant getting a second recording as long as I've got one that satisfies me. As long as I feel I'm hearing the general essence of the music, I'm not going to worry about whether the performer has got the last inch of poetry out of it.

    I think too that the higher up you go in terms of what's standard repertoire, the harder it is for a "canonical" recording to exist, at least in the sense of one recording being The Best. The more crowded the field, the more opinions there'll be. You're on safer ground with something like Aimard's Ligeti, where there's less competition. Critics find it easier to accept that something is excellent if they don't have much to compare it with. This is something I'm discovering as I plod through the creation of a proper Nereffid's Guide. There will eventually be some sort of "eMusic canon" and most of it won't be the standard repertoire.
  • I guess you are right, getting someone to say "you need X, Y, and Z," with no other criteria other than "canonicness" is going to be difficult.

    I suppose if I really want to pursue great performances I should pick pieces I really like (like WTC) and just acquire a few versions.

    Which reminds me of a spin-off question, which I'll post separately....
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