Classical Music - building a collection (a start)

When starting with classical music and collecting it is always difficult to know where to start, which of the 50 recordings of a certain composition should one get? Artistically and sound quality wise, what is “the best” or probably one of the best.

I thought sharing covers might be a good idea, so I started with some great recordings of stuff that will probably tickle the tastebuds of many and be an audio revelation. Some are rather old, but in the correct remastering they sound incredible and really exciting. So this is a start, more will follow. Please join in.


Thanks! There is so much classical music available that it can be overwhelming for someone like me that has little to no practical experience with this genre. I’ve found that certain music labels can typically be reliable indicators of good quality recordings.

I will hunt some of these down from this list and give them a listening session. I’ll report back my impressions and I look forward to your updates.

Happy New Year!

Sorry if these are slightly more esoteric but both are stunning recordings which have provided me with much pleasure:




Agree 100% on the Mahler 3rd recording. Brilliant!

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I’d like to give a general shout-out to ALL the Mercury Living Presence albums. In the 1950s and 1960s, MLP produced some of the finest engineered recordings ever made. This was due in no small part to the long lived partnership of engineers Bob Fine and Robert Eberentz. The consistent sound quality across albums is simply remarkable, particularly so of ones with full symphonies.

This is not to say that the performances are the finest the world has to offer. Some albums are from the wind ensemble at Eastman-Rochester, and band music may not be your cup of tea.

Check them out.


@Squeezemenicely Thanks for this!

Ged, thanks for the article link. I agree very much with the piece of advice to listen to BBC Radio 3 - it’s still the best way (for me) to discover new (classical) music, with the added bonus of the complete BBC Proms broadcasts each year.

Also found this:

And this:

I can recommend “Classical Music for Dummies” very much.
It offers very interesting content, and is written in a humoristic way.

Available on Amazon (used) for less than 2$ - a no-brainer.

If you are interested, I have put 2 files in Dropbox:

  1. Top 120 Classical symphonies.(excel-sheet)
  2. Klara Top 100 2016.doc (word document) - this is a list of the ‘best’ classical tracks chosen by the listeners of the Belgian Classical Music broadcaster: KLARA.
    You can find both files here:

I will them there for 2 weeks as of today (12 Januari 2020)

I used to check stuff in the Penguin record guides

I used the Ivan March Long Player Record Library in Blackpool and the CD equivalent

You got 4 LPs a week , you picked a lot of stuff in the catalog and after that what you got was almost random, like Xmas every week

Over 2018 and 2019 I made my way through the Deutsche Grammophon DG111 collection. Thanks to the magic of Roon, I ordered each composition in chronological order and listened from the 13th through to the 20th century. (This was proper listening - mostly headphones, not doing anything else but reading about the compositions, composer, and performers in Roon - it was really great!).

As I went I came across compositions I liked, composers I liked, and performers I liked. I dug a bit deeper in to each, and quickly found that a very few number of labels seemed to consistently have brilliant recordings of brilliant performers. Obviously starting from DG makes this biased, but Deutsche Grammophon / Archiv recordings are consistently brilliant.

Mercury Living Presence are old recordings, but amazingly well done (I came across these after seeking out various recordings of Bach’s Cello Suites - and the Mercury recordings of Janos Starker are excellent).

Alpha Productions are very good and more modern recordings, often with very contemporary interpretations of compositions.

Decca had a lot of great performers in the mid-late 20th century, but I wouldn’t rate their recordings as good as DG / Mercury.

RCA Living Stereo don’t seem to pop as often, but have some excellent recordings from the first half of the 20th century.

Finally, I’m quite a piano fan so I’d also add ECM to the mix - they’re primarily a jazz label, but with Andras Schiff and Keith Jarrett on the label they have my favourite recordings of Bach’s Well Tempered Klavier (by Jarrett), and Schiff’s recording of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas (and I’ll add Alexei Lubinov’s recording of Debussy’s preludes also on ECM!).

Sorry that got a bit long!

TLDR: You could only listen to DG and you’ll have an amazing experience of classical recordings. DG111 is a brilliant introduction to the full spectrum of classical.

Nic, what a great idea!

Yes, I’ve listened to that as well.

One point that comes out in your post is that, in classical, which recording you select is important, perhaps more important than with most genres that have fewer covers of the same composition.

Absolutely true, once you start getting in to things. There’s pieces of music where the wrong recording/performance makes it uninteresting, or the right recording/performance makes it amazing. Bach’s Cello Suites have been recorded hundreds (probably thousands!) of times. But listening to Casals or Starker is like listening to a completely different piece compared to all other recordings.

I’ve recently started making my way through Blue Note 75, and one thing I’m realising (and finding annoying!) with it is that I know I’m missing out on lots of great music - just because it wasn’t recorded on Blue Note. So the upside of classical is that if a composition is worth listening to, it’s probably on DG, Mercury, Decca, or RCA. Of course the downside is you might need to do a lot of listening to one piece to find the one.

If you are into piano try


They are well represented on Tidal

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