he purpose of the Penguin Guide to the 1000 Finest Classical Recordings is succinctly stated in the Introduction. It provides "a new approach to advise readers as to the most desirable recordings available." A bit later, they say:
"Although our coverage is wide, this survey is in no way intended to be a balanced one. But all the recordings listed and recommended are indispensable to one or all of us, and we hope our readers will find our comments to be a guide to their discovery and acquisition."
This Guide recommends recordings the authors find indispensable, not me or other readers. So, it is not the same as the other Penguin Guides to recorded classical music. But, the Penguin Guides do give the views of several people, not just one, and so reflects a variety of tastes. I think this helps account for the popularity of the Penguin Guides. The main objections to the Penguin Guides are basically three, and can easily be answered:
1) The objector does not agree with many of the recommendation. But then, neither do I. Tastes differ and it is not reasonable to suppose everyone will like the same recordings.
2) The Guides are not comprehensive. Of course, this is scarcely possible nowadays, and this edition does not pretend to be comprehensive.
3) The Guides are too oriented towards British readers. Well, that's what you might expect from a British publication. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the authors try to accommodate American and other readers, too.
As far as I am concerned, while the objections are factually true, they are not justify a poor rating. It seems to me that the Guide does what it was intended to do.
This edition includes some new features. There is a Forward giving a summary history of recording technology. There is a short essay on Ballet Music and also essays providing timelines for key composers and opera. Nothing too deep, but these features are probably useful to some readers.
The listings include entries listing some anthologies of recordings by some famous conductors, singers, and instrumentalists. A few are Ansermet, Beecham, Fistoulari, Furtwaengler, von Karajan, Bartoli, Callas, Fischer-Dieskau, Pavarotti, Peter Pears, Julius Katchen, Dinu Lipatti, and Ruggiero Ricci. The selection here is quite haphazard, I think, and a Guide to such anthologies might be a good idea.
There are some recordings that seem to me to be notable omissions some of which they have rated very highly in the past. They do not recommend any recordings of Brahms' Hungarian Dances, not even Bogar on Naxos, nor any recordings of the orchestral versions of six of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies, for which I would include the classic Dorati versions and the new Fagen recording on Naxos. For Smetana's Ma Vlast, they list Kubelik but not Antoni Wit. They leave out Sir Thomas Beecham's wonderful recording of Puccini's La Boheme with De los Angeles, Amara, Bjoerling, Merrill and Tozzi.
I am sure many will prefer some other recordings to the ones in the Guide. Reiner's recording of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition is very good, but I would put Karajan's 1966 recording as its equal, and I prefer Ansermet's to either one. Reiner's recording of Respighi's Pines and Fountains is very fine, but I would much rather listen to Dutoit's splendid recording with the Montreal Symphony.
They recommend Heifetz's recordings of the Beethoven and Brahms Violin Concertos. The Brahms is great, but surely he took the Beethoven way too fast. Recordings of the Beethoven VC by Francescatti and a number of others seem to me to be much better musically.
They recommend the complete Mozart Symphonies conducted by Jeffrey Tate. I haven't heard all of them, but I have heard most of the late ones, and they leave me cold. I like Pinnock's HIP set very much, and a number of separate recordings by Colin Davis, Leibowitz, Krips, and Casals.
However, the Penguin Guide can hardly take account of my own preferences. As far as I can tell, the recommendations are generally outstanding recordings, so one is unlikely to go far wrong in buying some of them. It seems to me that this Guide substantially achieves its objectives. It will be useful to a lot of people. Accordingly, I think it deserves a top rating.