"Das Bunte Leben" (Wassily Kandinsky)

Twelve Pieces of Classical Music, for Jim

The number twelve is a lie; I just wanted to hook you.

More than a year ago, my friend Jim asked what pieces I would recommend to someone who’s just starting to listen to classical music. I didn’t want to rely solely on my own opinions, so one night I discussed it with Leslie, Fran, and Henry over dinner (you don’t have to know who all these people are to follow the story — the point is, they like classical music too and I knew the list would be better with their input).

While Jim had suggested ten pieces as a round number, I think he knew that we wouldn’t be able to keep it to ten, and we didn’t. We came up with twelve, or fourteen, or fifteen, depending on how you count.

  • Mozart: Flute and Harp Concerto in C major

    Ernst Märzendorfer (conductor), Nicanor Zabaleta (harp), Karlheinz Zöller (flute), and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. (Record label: Deutsche Grammophon.)

  • Dvořák: Symphony No. 7

    István Kertész (conductor), London Symphony Orchestra. (Record label: Decca)

  • Beethoven: 5th, 6th, and 7th Symphonies

    5 & 7 with Carlos Kleiber (conductor) and the Vienna Philharmonic.

  • Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1

    Van Cliburn (pianist), Kirill Kondrashin (conductor). Or: Lang Lang (pianist) and Daniel Barenboim (conductor).

  • Bach: Chorale “Sheep May Safely Graze”

    Karl Richter (conductor), Munich Bach Choir.

  • Chopin: Préludes, opus 28

    Ivan Moravec (pianist).

  • Stravinsky: The Firebird

    Leonard Bernstein (conductor), New York Philharmonic.

  • Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5

    Mstislav Rostropovich (conductor), National Symphony Orchestra. (Record label: Deutsche Grammophon)

    However, an alternate here was Prokofiev’s “Romeo & Juliet” with either Rostropovich and the National Symphony Orchestra (1982) again, or Osmo Vänskä (conductor) and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra.

  • Mussorgsky (orchestral arrangement by Ravel): Pictures at an Exhibition

    Gustavo Dudamel (conductor), Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

    (But maybe add Sviatoslav Richter’s towering 1958 live performance of the original piano version of the piece in Sofia, Bulgaria.)

  • Vaughan-Williams: Serenade to Music

    Adrian Boult (conductor), London Philharmonic Orchestra.

  • Brahms: Symphony No. 1

    Wilhelm Furtwängler (conductor), North German Radio Symphony Orchestra (sometimes abbreviated as “NDR” because in German their name is “Norddeutscher Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester”).

    An alternate here was Mahler Symphony No. 1, with Klaus Tennstedt (conductor) and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

  • Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade

    Daniel Barenboim (conductor), Samuel Magad (violin), Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

And I had listed Puccini‘s opera “La Bohème” off in a corner of the paper where I was taking notes, though I’m not sure the group ever considered it. Well, hey: editorial privilege for the win! I’m mentioning it here. There’s a wonderful recording with Georg Solti (conductor), Placido Domingo (tenor), Montserrat Caballé (soprano), and many other wonderful singers. However, I haven’t listened to many recordings of that opera, so I don’t know what else is out there.

Enjoy, Jim!

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