1001 Classical Recordings You Must Hear Before You Die Hardcover – Feb 12 2008
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1001 Classical Recordings You Must Hear Before You Die
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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?)
The selection of recordings is very personal, indeed, and very arguable, which will prevent this book to ever get a 5 star recommendation. It is impossible to make everybody happy, but at least the "leading international critics" who made the selection had the courage to make the actual selection, and here it is ... you may agree, you may not, but at least is a good place to get the conversation started. For many of the recommendations, the authors provide with other three recommended recordings. I'd like to add that when it comes to selections of personal recordings, the choice is always very personal. Let's be fair and not destroy this publication because the selection is at times so far from our own personal tastes. This was published in 2007, so of course many outstanding recordings issued from 2007 until now are not here. For every CD recommended, you have the CD cover, genre, conductor, performers, year recorded, and label. Some CDs occupy one page, while others, half a page. There are many pages that are just beautiful pictures of composers or other images related to the recordings. This is that kind of book you want to show off while having friends over for coffee or tea. There is a short preface, and a short introduction, a title index (works), a glossary of music vocabulary, and a composer index. The book is organized in chronological order, and it contains sevent chapters: 1. Pre-1700; 2. 1700-1760; 3. 1761-1800; 4. 1801-1850; 5. 1851-1900; 6. 1901-1950; 7. 1951-Present.
Finally, a question of mine about the title of this book: should it be "hear" or "listen"? Is this a list of the recordings we should hear about, like someone having a conversation about the recording of Britten String Quartets by the Belcea Quartet and we agreeing about it as being an essential recording? Or is that particular recording one we should actually LISTEN to? In other words: "Have you heard about the Belcea Quartet recording of Britten String Quartets? Oh yes indeed! They say it's terrific! I have not listened to it, but yes, everybody agrees it is one of those recordings you should actually listen to."
I do recommend this book to all classical music fans, casual or hard core.
Thanks for reading, and happy LISTENING !!!
The real problem with the book is its limited range. The limit isn't on the breadth of the music covered, which is nicely varied (and really impressive in its recommendations for modern classical works). But the general tastes of the pool of reviewers are limited: as another Amazon reviewer notes, the contributors to the book are mostly British, and the choices of performances reflects that again and again. I do not think I am exaggerating very much when I say that my impression--after working through the entire volume--was that in the core symphonic repertory recommendations to recordings by Sir Adrian Boult, Sir Colin Davis, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Sir Simon Rattle, and to conductors who worked extensively in England like Klemperer, Haitink, and Abbado, practically equal the recommendations to all other conductors. Titans like Fritz Reiner and George Szell garner a couple of recommendations each (with warm appreciations, I hasten to add). Recommendations to recordings by American ensembles are relatively rare. I'm a great admirer of all of those English conductors, but the book would have benefited from a much wider range of reviewers, with less homogenous tastes. But if you can get it for $10 or so, I think it's well worth it for the stimulus it provides and for the striking illustrations.