Roon Music Blog: Classical Community Conversations

Lately I’ve been reflecting on one of life’s greatest paradoxes: that classical music can be intimidating. It only takes a few moments of sitting with the thought for the absurdity of it to bleed through. It’s like saying ‘I saw the most terrifying field of sunflowers the other day’….someone might think you had suffered a head injury and call for help. Yet, some of us have experienced hesitancy when first approaching, or revisiting, classical music. Fortunately, Roon cures that reluctance and makes exploration a pleasure.

You lot are uncommonly knowledgeable across an incredible range of musical forms. They’re all on display in the What Are We Listening To threads here in Community. Some of you know classical music particularly well, and you love to talk about it! Many of the descriptions that accompany your listening choices are simply radiant in their perception and appreciation. Your suggestions stimulate interest and with a streaming service integrated in Roon they’re all right there waiting at the end of a search. It’s really that easy! It’s still somewhat stupefyingly unimaginable, to those of us who were hanging around music stores 30 or more years ago, that music can be found and heard so effortlessly… it feels like science fiction for music heads. The next thing you know you’ll have added 160 definitive classical music albums to your Roon library. And, without even a twinge of hesitation.

My Roon classical journey was jump-started with an RCA Red Seal discovery: Gregor Piatigorsky’s Dvorak; Walton: Cello Concertos. It’s a lively conversation between Piatigorsky and the Orchestra; the cello and the symphony exchange voices in vibrant repartee. A listener doesn’t have to be fluent in classical music to know there’s something special happening on this recording.

Gregor Piatigorsky

TIDAL: https://tidal.com/browse/album/4918900
Qobuz: Open Qobuz

From there, Roon recommended a handful of other RCA Living Stereo and Red Seal classics. I selected one that featured Jascha Heifetz performing Violin Concertos by Sibelius, Prokofiev, and Glazunov. It’s absolutely stunning to me that Roon made it so easy to find an album as remarkable as this one. I can’t imagine being able to accomplish this so seamlessly anywhere else but in Roon. This album is packed with imagination and drama, richly painted as sound. I’ve listened to it nearly everyday since I added it.

Jascha Heifetz

TIDAL: https://tidal.com/browse/album/62707810
Qobuz: Open Qobuz

My most recent find required no effort at all. It was shared by a community member, @Sjaak_Damen, in response to last month’s Roon Rediscoveries story. It’s a Philips collection by Mitsuko Uchida, Mozart: The Piano Sonatas. Sjaak recalled an evening years ago when he returned home to find his Hi-Fi and modest collection of discs stolen, including this one. And how, despite auditioning several collections of Mozart’s Piano Sonatas over a number of years, none exhibited the same zest or excitement demonstrated by the Uchida set. His longing went unsatiated until he was able to secure another copy of this specific collection. It only takes listening to a few pieces on this set to understand why.

Immediately thereafter @Christian_Schock, affirmed the brilliance of Uchida’s performance. An instant bond was formed between two people who have likely never met, but are simpatico in their deep appreciation of Uchida’s musicianship. This is how friendships are born. Any album that sparks a connection like that has a place in my library.

Mitsuko Uchida

TIDAL: https://tidal.com/browse/album/4717063
Qobuz: Open Qobuz

That’s Roon, everyday. I get to be part of that, and you know what I’m talking about. In Roon you’ll discover the Community vibe of a great record store and all the inventory you could ever want, right under your fingertips. Each great album and accompanying conversation leads the way to another. The music never stops.

So, while we have you, what Classical performances do we need to hear?! This music is too good to go unheard! Many of you know it well and love it, help us to know it and love it too. Tell us here, and we’ll share your recommendations in our upcoming listener-curated playlists.

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For the last part of the classical music journey, I was already able to participate through the community. It will certainly continue.

Gregor Piatigorsky’s Dvorak; Walton: Cello Concertos starts convincingly for me as a beginner / student. The second album is also bookmarked.

I appreciate the recommendations of Andreas_Philipp1. He has been very busy again just this past week and has brought his recommendations in large numbers.

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I agree @Uwe_Albrecht!

@Andreas_Philipp1 is always laser accurate with his Classical recommendations. I could build an entire Roon Listeners playlist just by using his suggestions!

I’m happy to hear that you’re enjoying the Gregor Piatigorsky! I keep going back to that one again and again. It’s a wonderful performance.

I followed the clues in the Popular Releases, Recommended, and Similar albums in the footer of the Album page to find more. Roon makes it so easy to uncover other classical gems.

Please post others that you find here. I’d love to discuss your discoveries!

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Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge has been of one my most favourite pieces over the last 50 years. I first heard it on a DECCA LP recorded by the English Chamber Orchestra in 1968 and that has continued to be my first choice until I came upon the version recorded by the Sinfonia of London: http://open.qobuz.com/album/mmpmgzw6ujgkb
This recording captures the dynamism of the piece and displays it in beautiful tones. Well worth a listen at volume on your best Roon endpoint device.

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Not much of a classical expert myself but always curious so I tried my hand with this article.

Recently I was looking up records from the “Lost Recordings” series by the French label Fondamenta, which specialises in live recordings of lost performances (mostly classical and jazz) , and stumbled onto Emil Gilels’ The Unreleased Recitals at the Concertgebouw which clocks in at nearly six hours. I knew nothing of him but this has been in constant rotation the past few weeks. Absolutely gorgeous solo piano with excellent quality sound.

https://open.qobuz.com/album/q8vb9d2epjpha

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I haven’t found any inspiration in Qobuz playlists. I like orchestral music such as tone poems, and composers such as Delius, Ravel (orchestral), Sibelius, Vaughan Williams, Alan Hovhaness, Bechara El-Khoury, David Diamond, Debussy (orchestral), Graeme Koehne, Jón Leifs, Lars-Erik Larsson and Peter Sculthorpe.

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As I was reading this blog entry, and came across the word Dvorak, it reminded me that I had little interest in classical music until I was visiting some friends many decades ago, when I was 21 years of age, and they played a recording of Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor. I fell in love with it, and that started my classical journey. It quickly expanded to include a large collection of records, then CDs. Those are gone now; I’m fully digital after changing countries from Canada to Brasil years ago reinforced the difficulty of lugging a physical collection around and buying more. I enjoy most kinds of music, with the exception of heavy metal, and I’m now nearing 70. I still make time to listen to and discover classical. And it all started with Dvorak.

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It’s amazing how many of these comments highlight cello concertos as an introduction into the Classical world. My first real Classical experience (on LP) was the Elgar Cello Concerto, played by Jacqueline du Pre and conducted by Barbirolli. This is an incredibly emotional performance, and has the additional pathos of du Pre’s tragic illness and death from multiple sclerosis, which ended her career at only 28. Despite this, her recorded performances became legendary, especially the Elgar concerto. The other work on the CD is also by Elgar - the song cycle “Sea Pictures”, sung by Janet Baker, who became one of the best known English opera and recital singers in the 1960s and 70s. Altogether, a fabulous performance and one that everyone should hear at least once.

https://www.qobuz.com/ie-en/album/elgar-cello-concerto-sea-pictures-jacqueline-du-pre-janet-baker-barbirolli/5099996593257
https://tidal.com/browse/album/3327696

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It’s a brilliant album. One of my introductions to the more emotional side of music as opposed to “big” orchestral works.

As said in Frasier:-

  • Niles : Dad’s so set in his ways.

Frasier : Well, we all are, at some point in our lives. Remember when you used to think the 1812 Overture was a great piece of classical music?

Niles : Was I ever that young?

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Yeah, the du Pré Elgar CC is a knock your socks off performance. There are other great performances, but that one’s the benchmark.

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Some more Classical recommendations to provide variety - solo piano, choral and soprano vocal. I first heard most of this music on cassette whilst living in an isolated town in Southern Africa, during some of the darkest moments that the country endured - so this is strongly recommended for those seeking peace and sanity in difficult moments. You can enjoy it without the wow and flutter that I had to tolerate!

Anyone who has enjoyed Mitsuko Uchida’s Mozart sonatas will probably love the Alfred Brendel performance of these Haydn piano sonatas. When first released, this won several awards, and one of the reviewers noted that, ‘‘The perceptiveness and musicality of his playing may well be a revelation even to those who know that Haydn’s keyboard sonatas, still shamefully neglected, are every bit as good as Mozart’s’’. In short, great music played by a great pianist.
https://play.qobuz.com/album/0002894166432

Most people know Bruckner as the composer of massive, monumental symphonies. Of course they are wonderful, but his Motets are wonders in miniature - worth hearing just for the amazing choral textures. I am recommending a recent Pentatone recording which also includes choral works by Michael Haydn, the younger brother of Franz Joseph Haydn.
https://www.qobuz.com/dk-en/album/anton-bruckner-michael-haydn-motets-philipp-ahmann-mdr-rundfunkchor-leipzig/exfxt5dx2y8qa

My final recommendation is for a superlative performance of Richard Strauss’ last work - his Four Last Songs, sung by Jessye Norman. I was never an opera fan, or even enjoyed soprano vocals, before I heard this. I was completely bowled over - this is incredible singing which manages to reach the same emotional depths as Du Pre’s Elgar, and combines an autumnal quality with an uplifting and optimistic spirituality. Try it for yourself - you may find, like me, that Wagner’s Ring is your next challenge after this!
https://www.qobuz.com/dk-en/album/richard-strauss-four-last-songs-6-orchestral-songs-jessye-norman-gewandhausorchester-leipzig-kurt-masur/0002894110522

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Not a great classic background so my first introduction to Pictures At An Exhibition was the ELP prog version.

Now I love this version.

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The cello has a very wide appeal, well beyond classical music aficionados (the “2Cellos” YouTube channel has more than 5.8 million subscribers!). My theory about why this has has to do with the cello’s tonal range: a tenor instrument, it spans almost all of the human vocal range, so it feels very familiar and comfortable to listen to. The cello sounds like human speech!

If I were going to introduce someone to the classical cello repertoire, I would probably do so historically and begin (more or less arbitrarily), with:

  1. Vivaldi. He composed 27 concertos for cello over his lifetime. They are not as frequently heard as others of his string concertos, but they are, for me, some of loveliest of his compositions for solo instruments and orchestra. Here is a recent recording of some of them performed beautifully by Ophélie Gaillard and Pulcinella.
    RoonShareImage-637702302195895140

  2. Bach, of course. Bach never wrote concerted music for cello, but his six suites for solo cello (1717-1723) are bedrocks of the cello repertoire. As cellist Steven Isserlis has recently noted (he has a new book out on the Bach suites), more than any other pieces for cello, these suites speak individually to the listener, each one of the six with a very distinctive voice ranging over major and minor keys. There are dozen of great recordings, on both modern and Baroque cello. Here are two favorites, very different in approach and character:
    On Baroque cello:
    RoonShareImage-637702302755210440
    On modern cello:
    RoonShareImage-637702647974363470

  3. Haydn, father of the modern string quartet and symphony, wrote a limited amount of music expressly for the cello. His two cello concertos, very different from one another, were composed in 1765 and 1783, a span over which Haydn’s music emerged as a template for future developments by Mozart and then Beethoven. This is a pioneering recording (early 1980s) on “period” instruments by Christopher Hogwood and cellist Christophe Coin:
    RoonShareImage-637702303170978710

  4. Beethoven wrote 5 sonatas for cello and keyboard, between 1796 and 1815. I don’t know if they are the first, but they are certainly the most well known compositions in which the cello and piano are given equal weight. And they are magnificent, performed/recorded by nearly every major cellist in his or her lifetime at least once. Here is an early 1960s recording by Mstislav Rostropovich and Sviatoslav Richter (on discs 4 and 5 of this Decca set):
    RoonShareImage-637699997557173050

  5. Jumping ahead a bit (Dvorak and Walton have already been mentioned here…and there is also Grieg), Benjamin Britten wrote three pieces for solo cello (1964-1971) dedicated to Rostropovich, who gave them their first performances. But my favorite recording is that by cellist Pieter Wispelwey (2001, his second recording of the pieces), who digs “deeper” into this dark, probing music more than any one else I’ve heard:
    RoonShareImage-637702302982787920

  6. I’m throwing in this release from cellist Christian-Pierre La Marca because it just won Gramophone magazine’s 2021 award for best recording in the Concept Album category. It’s a thrillingly played and recorded wide-ranging survey of music for cello (originally composed or adapted), beginning with Baroque works for viola da gamba and ending with the McCartney, Lennon song “Yesterday.” Highly recommended!
    RoonShareImage-637702307715601380

Enjoy!!

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Thank you all so much for these recommendations! I look forward to queueing them up. I had forgotten about ELP’s Pictures at An Exhibition @ged_hickman.

I’ve got that one going now. looking forward to comparing it to the other performance you shared. :+1: :loud_sound:

Sometimes the decision is hard, is it the Germany corner, the community of classical music lovers or rediscovering…

Thanks for all these fantastic recommendations - several of the recordings are new to me, but they are all inspirational.

Alongside the instrumental theme, I thought it might be worth highlighting some leading conductors and soloists who have enhanced the Classical world.

This morning, I heard of the death of Bernard Haitink, a Dutch conductor of refinement and grace, who led the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra for 27 years and held conducting positions in London, Chicago and Boston. He had a long career which encompassed most of the classical repertoire. Going through my collection, I wanted to share a few highlights with this group. All his recordings are worth hearing and some were exceptional.
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My first Mozart opera recording, and still one of my favourites.
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Really impressive playing and recording
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The ELP album got me in deep s**t, I bought it the weekend my sister got married and seemed to have interest in it than other proceedings

My journey started within a few weeks of my 18th birthday, I got to university met 3 guys interested in playing Bridge . I was elected as the no 4 trainee. All games were accompanied by classical music

These guys were fairly experienced for 18 year olds so Mahler, Beethoven Bach etc. I soon got hooked.

My real advance was Ivan March’s Long Playing Record Library which was a mail rental service. You chose a large number of albums for them to pick from. Every week 3 LP’s turned up , to be returned in 4 days. It was like Xmas every week.

I used the Penguin Stereo Record Guide, Ivan March being one of the authors - sadly no more, to guide my choices.

Once I started work the buying began , hardware and media.

I also rushed out every month to buy Gramophone

4 of my fave albums are mentioned above , Brendel Haydn , Uchida Mozart , du Pre Elgar and ELP Pictures ( my tastes are somewhat catholic) feature above. I have since broke the bank many times on my quest for more media :smiling_imp:

If I added one to the list it’s the Alfred Brendel Complete Philips Recordings, but I will think of a more select group as this thread progresses , great idea @jamie

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