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A List of All-Time Great Recordings

John Quinn

What a challenge! The compilation of this list has been fascinating and frustrating in almost equal measure. The frustration has sprung from the necessary decisions about what provisional choices should be culled in order to reduce the list to manageable proportions. The fascination has stemmed from the process of asking myself, critically, which works – and, in most cases, which performances of them – are really essential to me.
In the end I have approached the task from the standpoint of compiling a list which I could, if asked, offer to a neophyte collector. It includes many of the core works of the repertoire, spiced up with a few more recherché choices. Inevitably, the list is driven by personal taste so it is dominated by vocal, choral and orchestral music. That, I’m afraid, represents my own listening tastes and habits, for better or worse.
It has been a struggle to restrict the list to manageable proportions and there have been some notable casualties along the way as the original list has been whittled down. The casualties include: Bach’s Christmas Oratorio; and Rosalyn Turek in Das Wohltemperierte Clavier; Handley’s cycle of the Bax symphonies; Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (Georg Kulenkampff’); Brahms’s Violin Concerto (Ginette Neveu); Dvořák’s Eighth symphony; Elgar’s Cello Concerto and Second symphony; Mendelssohn’s Elias (Sawallisch); and Michelangeli’s incomparable reading of the Ravel G major Piano Concerto. In addition, choice between competing versions has sometimes been difficult, not least in works such as Mahler’s Fifth and the Vier letzte Lieder of Strauss.
Readers will notice a bias towards certain composers – Berlioz, Elgar and Mahler in particular. There’s also a bias towards certain artists whose work I’ve found particularly satisfying and/or stimulating over the years. With that latter point in mind I have deliberately restricted myself. I could have recommended happily Gardiner’s recordings of either of the Bach passions, for example, or his ongoing cycle of the cantatas but it would have been unbalanced to have had in the list even more recordings of Bach or by Gardiner.
So, with all those caveats here is my list. I hope that any collectors who have not yet heard any of these particular recordings and are prompted to do so as a result of scanning this list will derive as much pleasure from these great performances as I have done over some four decades of collecting firstly LPs and, more recently, CDs.

J S Bach Mass in B minor Monteverdi Choir/English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner DG Archiv 4155142

J S Bach Cantatas Lorraine Hunt Lieberson/Orchestra of Emmanuel Music/Craig Smith Nonesuch 79692 2

Beethoven Symphonies 1-9 Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Philharmonia/Sir Charles Mackerras. Hyperion CDS 44301/5

Beethoven Symphonies 5 & 7 Vienna PO/Carlos Kleiber DG 447 4002

Beethoven Piano Concertos 4 & 5 Emil Gilels/Philharmonia/Leopold Ludwig Testament SBT 1095

Beethoven Missa Solemnis Concertgebow O/Leonard Bernstein DG 413 7802

Berlioz Grand Messe des Morts London SO/Sir Colin Davis Philips 416 2832

Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique Concertgebouw O/Colin Davis Philips 411 4252

Berlioz Te Deum European Community YO/Claudio Abbado DG 410 6962

Brahms Symphonies 1-4 Berliner Philharmoniker/Rudolf Kempe Testament SBT 3054

Brahms Piano Concertos 1 & 2 Emil Gilels, Berlin PO/Eugen Jochum DG 4191582
Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem Monteverdi Choir, Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique/John Eliot Gardiner Philips 432 140 2
Britten War Requiem London SO & Ch/Benjamin Britten Decca 414 383 2
Bruckner Symphony 4 Vienna PO/Karl Böhm. Decca 411 581 2
Bruckner Symphony 7 Berlin PO/Gunter Wand RCA Red Seal 74321 687162

Bruckner Symphony 8 Vienna PO/Herbert von Karajan DG 427 611 2
Debussy La Mer, Nocturnes & other orchestral works Concertgebouw O/Bernard Haitink Philips 438 742 2
Delius Orchestral works Royal PO/Sir Thomas Beecham EMI CDS 7475098
Elgar Symphony 1 Hallé O/Sir John Barbirolli BBC Legends BBCL41062
Elgar Violin Concerto Nigel Kennedy/London PO Orchestra/Vernon Handley EMI CDC 747210 2
Elgar The Dream of Gerontius Hallé Ch & O/Sir John Barbirolli EMI CMS 7631852
Elgar The Kingdom London PO & Ch/Sir Adrian Boult EMI CDS 7493812

Elgar/Vaughan Williams English string musicSinfonia of London/Sir John Barbirolli EMI 7475372 (currently available on EMI 5672402)

Fauré/Duruflé Requiems Corydon Singers/MatthewBest Hyperion CDA67070
Finzi Cello & Clarinet Concertos Yo Yo Ma, Royal PO, John Denham, New PO/Vernon Handley Lyrita SRCD236

Gershwin Porgy and Bess London PO/Sir Simon Rattle EMI CDS 7495682
Handel Israel in Egypt Monteverdi Ch, English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner Philips 4321102
Handel Messiah English Consort/Trevor Pinnock DG Archiv 4236302
Haydn The Creation Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood L’Oiseau-Lyre 4303972
Howells Hymnus Paradisi Bach Ch, New Philharmonia/Sir David Willcocks EMI CDM 7633722
Kern Showboat London Sinfonietta/John McGlinn EMI Angel 4910828
Janáček Glagolitic Mass Czech PO/Sir Charles Mackerras Supraphon 33C37 7448
Janáček Sinfonietta, Taras Bulba Vienna PO/Sir Charles Mackerras Decca 4101382

Peter Lieberson Neruda Songs Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Boston SO/James Levine Nonesuch 7 5597 99542
MacMillan Seven Last Words from the Cross Polyphony/Stephen Layton Hyperion CDA67460
Mahler Symphony 2 CBSO/Simon Rattle EMI CDS 7479628

Mahler Symphony 3 New York PO/Leonard Bernstein Sony SM2K 61831

Mahler Symphony 5 New Philharmonia/Sir John Barbirolli EMI 5669102

Mahler Symphony 8 Chicago SO/Sir Georg Solti Decca 414 493 2
Mahler Symphony 9 Berlin PO/Sir John Barbirolli EMI CDM 7631152

Mahler Symphony 9 Berlin PO/Sir Simon Rattle EMI 512282

Mahler Das Lied von der Erde BBC Northern SO/Jascha Horenstein BBC Legends BBCL40422
Messiaen Turangalîla Symphony Toronto SO/Seiji Ozawa RCA 82876 594182
Prokofiev Scenes from Romeo and Juliet Czech PO/Karel Ančerl Supraphon SU 3676-2 011
Rachmaninov Symphony 2 London SO/André Previn EMI CDC 7471592
Ravel Daphnis et Chloé London SO/Pierre Monteux Decca 425 9562
Schubert Hyperion Song Edition Soloists, Graham Johnson
Shostakovich Symphony 8 Leningrad PO/Yevgeny Mravinsky BBC Legends BBCL40022

Shostakovich Symphony 10 Czech PO/Karel Ančerl. DG 4636662
Stenhammar Symphony 2 Stockholm PO/Stig Westerberg Caprice CAP21151
R Strauss Ein Heldenleben Staatskapelle Dresden/Rudolf Kempe EMI CDM 7691712
R Strauss Vier letzte Lieder Soile Isokoski/Berlin RSO/Marek Janowski Ondine ODE9822
R Strauss Der Rosenkavalier Philharmonia O/Herbert von Karajan EMI 7493542
Tchaikovsky Symphonies 4-6 Leningrad PO/Yevgeny Mravinsky DG 4197452
Tchaikovsky Francesca da Rimini, Hamlet Stadium SO of New York/Leopold Stokowski dell’Arte CDDA 9006
Vaughan Williams Symphonies 1-9 Sir Adrian Boult EMI 5739242
Vaughan Williams Job London PO/Vernon Handley EMI Eminence CD-EMX 9506
Vaughan Williams London Symphony, Symphony 8 Hallé O/Sir John Barbirolli EMI CDM 7641972
Vaughan Williams Symphonies 4 & 5 BBC SO/composer, Hallé O/John Barbirolli Dutton CDAX8011
Vaughan Williams The Pilgrim’s Progress John Noble, London PO/Sir Adrian Boult EMI CMS 7642122
Verdi  Requiem, Quattro Pezzi Sacri Philharmonia O/Carlo Maria Giulini EMI CDS 7472578
Walton  Symphony 1 London SO/Andre Previn BMG 74321 925752
Walton  Belshazzar’s Feast London SO/Andre Previn EMI 7647232


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