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1001 Classical Recordings You Must Hear Before You Die [Hardcover]

Steven Isserlis , Matthew Rye


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 960 pages
  • Publisher: Universe (Feb. 12 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0789315831
  • ISBN-13: 978-0789315830
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 16.5 x 21.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 2 Kg
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #405,685 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
53 of 60 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Impossible project attractively presented March 22 2008
By MartinP - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book will no doubt be something different to every reader. The concept of listing 1,001 `greatest works of all times' in chronological order results in an absorbing compendium that can be a useful guide to newcomers, yet can also point experienced enthusiasts in the direction of unsuspected byways. Inevitably, the latter will take issue with some or many of the recommendations. Every work is given a brief historical outline, each entry concluding with a description of the merits of a `best performance'. Richly illustrated with a mix of promo-photography and historical images, as well as album covers, it invites repeated perusal and makes an excellent coffee-table item.

Not that there isn't ample room for debate, especially given the double hazard of selecting best works as well as best recordings of those works. Surely two entries for Wolfgang Rihm are an indulgence. And is Shostakovich's 11th symphony really one of the 1,001 greatest works of all time? (Or indeed Tchaikovsky's 1812?). Is Solti still the best option in Mahler 8 in the face of such blazing, magnificent, and much better recorded performances as those of Rattle, Sinopoli or Tennstedt? No later than the introduction the editor more or less shoots the entire project to rags with his repeated statements that, of course, it is all highly subjective. The process by which the works were selected is not revealed to the reader, except for the fact that the list was compiled by a single person, Matthew Rye himself. The team of reviewers is not quite as varied or international as the editor suggests; it represents, in fact, a sizeable chunk from the BBC Music Magazine's freelance staff, with a few lone representatives from America, Australia and Europe thrown in for good measure.
One wonders about criteria used, and their consistency. In the review for the Four Seasons the reviewer says that it is hard to choose between the many recordings, but that some criteria can be established nonetheless, one of them being that the work should be played on instruments and at the pitch Vivaldi knew, i.e., that it should be a period performance. Why that is so, he doesn't tell, and the same criterion doesn't seem to apply for works from other eras (or even many from the baroque itself), for the vast majority of recommendations for the classical and romantic periods favour staunchly traditional, even old-fashioned readings.

The recommendations are a curious mix of the predictable and the wayward. Once again the awful Klemperer recording of Mahler 2 is proclaimed top of the heap, a misjudgement that is somewhat redeemed by the sympathetic alternative suggestion of the first Kaplan version - and at the same time exacerbated by the inclusion of another highly overrated Mahler 2, that of Rattle. The inevitable Du Pré is there for the Elgar concerto, which makes me wonder, for I've heard better performances of that work. In fact quite a lot of the preferred recordings are of the "if it's old it's good" variety, with the 1943 Walton recording of Belshazzar's Feast as the most extreme example. It is this kind of recommendation that makes you wonder which audience this guide aims for. Surely, a recording that the reviewer himself qualifies as "rough" and lacking in detail, quite apart from being mono, is not a likely point of entry for classical music novices - more something for seasoned aficionados.
Also, this guide further perpetuates the myth of the 'extra edge that comes from a live performance', a notion popular among professional reviewers but one that I am quite sure wouldn't stand up to scientific scrutiny.
Those tired of the Rattle-ubiquity in the English music press will, however, find it refreshing that he's a rare occurrence in these pages. So are, relatively speaking, historically informed or authentic performances. Yet if the latter are recommended, the choice is often surprising. No McCreesh, Pinnock, Harnoncourt or Gardiner for the Messiah, but Jacobs, who got tepid reviews elsewhere. The Hannover Band for Haydn's Farewell is also an original choice.

In the end, if you are looking for the best recording of a particular work (assuming such a thing exists), I think you are best off checking your own priorities against as many opinions as you can find, not least those here on Amazon. This book adds just another bunch of such opinions, presented in an attractive format, and with some useful musicohistorical background. Nice, certainly, but not a must-have.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Colorful Introduction March 18 2011
By Wortley Clutterbuk - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It's an interesting way to present the works, and probably a valuable introduction to the world of classical music for someone who doesn't know where to start -- or someone who's trying to expand their musical horizons.

Some of the reviewers seem to take the "hear before you die" as an opportunity to recommend their favorite ("best") recording of a particular piece. Interestingly, some of the reviewers take it as an invitation to press upon you (as record collectors will do) a recording of the work "that you just have to hear." Recordings you may not want to put on every time you want to hear, say, Fauré's first violin sonata ("Despite a few wrong notes..."), or the Schubert B-flat Trio ("Recordings such as this preserve playing style now out of fashion...") -- but a recording that someone thinks you should hear, which is fun.

Nearly half the book is dedicated to 20th century works, which is an unexpected treat. Pre-classical music leans toward original instruments (you won't find Glenn Gould -- or any other pianist, for that matter -- recommended for Bach).

There are a few editing or production problems -- occasionally incorrect dates or artwork, and 40 or so pages that don't show up in the index (you'll have to write out your own index for most of the Schumann recommendations, for example). The book contains two indexes -- one by composer, one by title (which is somewhat useless -- with all the symphonies number 1 dutifully followed by all the symphonies number 2, etc.) but no index of performers. So if you happen to remember that there was recommendation of, say, an opera with Pavarotti, but don't remember the title or composer, well, you're in for a slog.

I listen to a lot of classical music. Often I'll find that I have ten recordings of a work...and this book points toward an 11th I'm not familiar with -- which is interesting, if sometimes nothing more than a difference in taste. If I want to a more thorough discussion of a work and various performances, I turn to Morin's Classical Music: A Listener's Companion (Third Ear/Backbeat). But this book, with it's pinpointed suggestions is manageable, and has introduced me toward more than one recording that I really love.

What's better than that?

(And come on, shouldn't everyone hear the "1812" once?)
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting But Flawed Effort March 7 2009
By Scott K. Colebank - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
First of all, two things regarding the presentation I did not care for. The typeface should have been a darker shade of black to make reading the text easier - and - I wish the recommended recordings had been simply listed by composer, rather than musical era. I found that the reviews, all the same length, invariably followed the same formula: most of each review just talked about the music, with the final paragraph actually discussing (briefly and in general terms) the recommended recording. Because this is a book about recommended RECORDINGS, I feel each review should have discussed why each recording was recommended specifically in more detail. I suspect the typical reader of a book like this is already familiar with many of the works mentioned. I did enjoy the occational photographs of the performers and composers as well as a small photo of the cover of each CD. Far more useful for building a classical CD collection, and interesting to read, is "Classical Music", edited by Alexander J. Morin (2002, Backbeat Books) for about the same price.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent entry into classical music, but some highly subjective recommended recordings Dec 15 2008
By J. Chang - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book has fantastic paintings and photos of composers, artists, and historical artifacts (e.g. opera program) that aren't readily available anywhere. So that and my opinion that this book provides a good run-down of significant classical music works made this book worth my money. Along with each work, the book recommends one (more for some works) recording of it as well. My quibble is that those recommended recordings seem to be very subjective. I would've preferred for the book to recommend recordings that are considered definitive, and thus more likely to be in print. For example, the recommended recording for Brahms Symphony No. 3 is one of Mariss Jansons', which is no longer available. I also dislike the book's cheesy title, but soon enough one learns to forget it.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun for collectors Dec 17 2008
By Ken Braithwaite - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Ever go through someone else's collection and discuss recordings? That's what this book is like. The pictures help.

And they do a really good job - recordings for all eras, not just the most recent, and good recommendations overall.

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