Ten must-have recordings….

Vftp regular Travis asked for my list of the top 10 recordings every musician should have. I chose to include non-classical and to focus on recordings that are not only great listening experiences, but that have something unique to teach us  about the art of performance. This is not a list of pieces you should know, but of performances I find it interesting to study again and again, year after year. Next year or next week, the list will change, but all these are well worth having…

I’m officially calling on all regular readers to issue their own lists, either in the comments or on their own blogs. If you post on another blog let me know so we can link to you.

1- Artur Rubinstein- Music of France. The most colorful, effortless, elegant, sophisticated piano playing imaginable. Genius 

2- Sarah Vaghan- Live from Japan. Some of the best recorded vocal performances of all time. Sarah had an unparalleled mastery of ever kind of color, nuance and could sing in every part of her range with infinite softness and control or unbelievable power. A recording to love and to study.  

3- Jimi Hendrix- Band of Gypsies. The best recorded performance of the only true genius in rock n roll history. Funkier and more direct than his earlier studio albums with the Experience. “Machine Gun” is his masterpiece and is painfully more relevant than ever. 

4- Miles Davis- Four and More. My first encounter with this album, and the drumming of the then-17-year-old Tony Williams changed my life. From the moment I dropped the needle to the end of side 2, I could hardly move. It sounds like the band is inventing a whole new art form onstage in front of the microphones, and they were. 

5- Takacs Quartet- Bartok String Quartets (first version on Hungaraton). Soulful, intense, idiomatic and polished performances of the most important chamber works of the 20th C.  

6- Bernstein/Berlin Philharmonic- Mahler Symphony no. 9. Lenny could go farther into the abyss than any other conductor on his best days. This is about as powerful as performances come. Any of LBs M9s are like a masterclass in mojo- nobody can push an orchestra farther…

7- Karajan/Berlin Philharmonic- Bruckner Symphony no. 9. The album that launched my love affair with Bruckner. 

8- Rostropovich/ Oistrakh/Ormandy/Philadelphia Orchestra- Shostakovich First Cello and Violin Concerti. Originally issued separately, these are the definitive performances of these two astounding pieces. This is what its all about- new music played at the highest possible level by the musicians it was written for. Both concertos are now so popular its easy to forget this was new music not long ago at all. Perfect orchestra playing from Philly- balanced, intense and full of texture and depth. 

9- Borodin Quartet- Shostakovich String Quartets. Like the above, this is an invaluable document of great music from musicians who worked intimately with the composer. Which set? The original with Dubinsky now re-released on Chandos, the classic EMI set with Koppelman or the unfinished set on Virgin? Get them all! 

10- Queen- A Night at the Opera. Call me crazy, but this is the ultimate studio rock album- even more musically impressive and sophisticated than Sgt Pepper or Dark Side of the Moon…. Incredible singing and vocal arrangements and amazing guitar playing from Brian May. 

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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3 comments on “Ten must-have recordings….”

  1. Kenneth Woods

    Hi Anna

    Great list!

    My Desert Island list would look rather different, because I’d be much more focused on having the pieces I couldn’t live without rather than the performances. I couldn’t live without the Beethoven symphonies, but I still haven’t heard a fully satisfying recording of any of them!

    Hope all’s well there


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