Earlier this year, a listener wrote to us to ask advice on building her collection of classical music recordings. I recently re-discovered her letter and my response when going through my older email. In case it might be useful to any of our listeners/readers out there, I’m posting my response, with a few additions. If you have any other advice or further questions, be sure to leave a comment below.
Trust your ears. It’s more important that you have recordings that you enjoy than those that some critic has told you are objectively “good.” Some places like Amazon
give you the opportunity to listen to a small snippet of the music before you purchase it, but that only gives you a partial picture of what you are getting.
When you hear something on the radio or in a concert, try to take note of the composers’ and performers’ names. Sometimes, what you’re drawn to is the piece of music, sometimes it’s the person performing or conducting.
If you want to buy a recording music you’ve heard on Classical Music with Jim Lange
, visit our playlist website
and note the record label name and album number. You can then find the recording online through ArkivMusic
or take that information to a music store, where they should be able to help you find or order that album. If you have other questions about the recording or have trouble finding it on our playlist, we’re always happy to answer your questions. Our email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you do want some resources to get started, here are some of the places I look (and listen):
* Gramophone Magazine
Reviews, monthly top ten recordings list and a monthly “editor’s choice” top pick. They also present Gramophone Music awards each year. (free registration required to access some of the online material).
Online store that specializes in classical music recordings (including re-releasing out of print recordings), they have lists of featured new releases
* The New York Times
publishes year-end lists of their favorite classical albums, with explanations. Each critic gets a separate list. Check out their favorites from last year
* The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection
by Ted Libbey
I still haven’t gotten around to reading this book, but I should be soon! Ted Libbey is a well-liked commenter on classical music. The book is available from the NPR Shop
* NPR’s website has a list of essential classical music CDs compiled by Ted Libbey
There are many good recordings on this list, but it's also an example of disagreeing with an expert's list. Libbey selects Murray Perahia’s recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, while there are a few I’d choose first: Glenn Gould’s recordings
and Simone Dinnerstein’s recent recording
* Norman Lebrecht
’s controversial (and very gossipy) book The Life and Death of Classical Music
includes a list with descriptions of what he calls the 100 best and the 20 worst classical recordings (if nothing else, it is very entertaining reading).
* I often find performers I like from Performance Today
(which we air weekdays from 9am to 11am). The show broadcasts concert recordings, so I mostly can’t obtain those exact recordings on CD, but if I enjoy their “live” performances on the radio, I try to find any recordings with that artist.
* If you don’t want to build a physical library, there are several online subscription classical music library services where you can stream music (if you have a decent internet connection). Different services have different policies and collection limitations. Also, with most of these services you are paying for access to the recordings: when you stop subscribing, you don’t have any music that you own. The three most popular online classical music library services so far are: Naxos Music Library
, and Alexander Street Press’ Classical Music Library
So follow your ears, take note of what you like, and don’t be afraid to explore! Also, be sure to let me know how it goes