People frequently ask me — as often as once or twice a month — whether I can recommend some essential classical CDs. I recently wrote up a casual list to answer such requests. What it is not: 1) a carved-in-granite list of Supreme Recordings of the Ages; 2) a burning-house list of records I could not live without; 3) an endorsement of the view that recordings are the best way to get to know this kind of music. (Topic for another time: classical music went into cultural decline at around the time recordings became available. The only way to keep the art alive is to go to concerts.) Rather, it's simply a starting-point for a collection. In the next couple of months, I’ll explain each selection in detail, comparing my choices with Allan Kozinn’s in his forthcoming book New York Times Essential Library: Classical Music. I’ll put together a separate opera list at some point, and also a 20th-century compilation. I've favored cheaper discs, and the entire package would run you $150.
2. Schubert’s String Quintet (Alban Berg Quartet, EMI label).
3. Stravinsky’s Petrushka and Rite of Spring (Pierre Boulez conducting, Sony label).
5. Bach’s Goldberg Variations (Glenn Gould, Sony label).
6. Puccini's Tosca (Maria Callas et al, EMI label).
7. Monteverdi et al: Lamenti (Anne Sofie von Otter, DG label).
8. Copland, Ives, Gershwin & Barber: Bernstein's America (Bernstein conducting, DG label).
9. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (Il Giardino Armonico, Teldec label).
10. Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time (Tashi, RCA label).
My article "Listen To This," which ran in the New Yorker in February, explains why the Leonard Bernstein recording of the Eroica heads the list. If you think you could do without the Bernstein lecture, get Klemperer instead.