KlassikNet: 101 Best Classical CDs
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101 Best Classical Music CDs:

(Elgar, Mahler, Strauss, Sibelius, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff)

ELGAR (1857-1934): Enigma Variations - Cello Concerto
Heinrich Schiff, cello
London Symphony Orchestra
Staatskapelle Dresden
Sir Colin Davis, Sir Neville Marriner, conductors

As in the literary works of Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), Edward Elgar's music glorifies the power and values of Victorian and Edwardian England. Influenced by the post-romantic aesthetic, the compositions on this disc express with poignant sincerity the ineluctable decline of the British Empire. If the languid and nostalgic atmosphere of James Ivory's Howards End or Remains of the Day moved you, this is a disc for you.

MAHLER (1860-1911): Symphony no 2 "Resurrection"
Sylvia McNair, Jard van Nes
Ernst-Senff Chor
Berliner Philharmoniker
Bernard Haitink, conductor

The Resurrection with its "Rise ye the dead" is the the most Catholic composition of the Jewish composer Gustav Mahler. It boasts several great interpretations: Walter/Sony Classical, Klemperer/EMI, Bernstein/DG - but the one that Bernard Haitink just made with the Berlin Philharmonic is reviting. Audiophiles will definitely get their money's worth. Play it loud - and to hell with the neighbors.

MAHLER (1860-1911): Symphony no 6 (+ Strauss: Metamorphosen)
New Philharmonia Orchestra
Sir John Barbirolli, conductor

Completed in 1904, Mahler's Sixth, with its boot noises and war sounds prefigures the butchery of World War I. Sir John Barbirolli's (1899-1970) recording gives you not just the Battle of Verdun, but above all the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Warn your neighbors.

R. STRAUSS (1864-1949): Don Juan - Till Eulenspiegel - Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life) - Also Sprach Zarathoustra - Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration) - Waltzes from Der Rosenkavalier.
Staatskapelle Dresden
Rudolf Kempe, conductor

The orchestral music of Richard Strauss is a surprising yet brilliant mix of Mozart and Wagner. A master of swooning elegance, his success was (and remains) enormous. Without Strauss, hollywood music wouldn't exist. The perfect Strauss orchestra the Dresden Staatskapelle reinvents, under the baton of Rudof Kempe, "wide-screen" music.

R. STRAUSS (1864-1949): Four Last Songs - Songs for Soprano and orchestra
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
George Szell, conductor

Strauss was the last of the Romantics. Composed in 1948, given its premiere in 1950 by Kirsten Flagstad and Wilhelm Furtwängler, the Four Last Songs are Strauss' testament and mark the end of an era. The german soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was in complete symbiosis with this soaring music, in total disregard of musical trends of the time.

SIBELIUS (1865-1957): Symphonies no 1 + 7
Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra
Carl von Garaguly, conductor
Berlin Classics

Jean Sibelius' music is one of the most visual there is. It traces blinding horizon lines and is striking by its leonine power. Recently rereleased on a budget-priced CD, it includes the first and last symphony of the Finnish composer who, for obscure reasons, destroyed the manuscript of his Eighth Symphony. This is the most astonishing Sibelius disc ever published.

SCRIABIN (1872-1915): Sonata-Fantasia no 2 - 24 Préludes - Poème Satanique - 3 Etudes op. 65 - Sonata no 10
Kun Woo Paik, piano

The work of a visionary mind, obsessed with the occult arts, Alexander Scriabin's music smells of sulfur. His own son-in-law Vladimir Sofronitzky, a notorious heroine addict, and Vladimir Horowitz, as mad as he was brilliant, had a privileged relationship with Scriabin's piano music. Every bit as stunning as his two illustrious predecessors, the Korean Kun Woo Paik distinguishes himself from them through his Zen perspective on this music.

RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943): Piano Concertos no 2 + 3
Byron Janis, piano
Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra
Antal Dorati, conductor

Sergei Rachmaninoff is a real case: a rather austere and depressed personality, he wrote music of shameless sensuality. Dark works full of irony, lush musicality and robust virtuosity, Rachmaninoff's Second and Third Piano Concertos always find an audience. While the second is particularly seductive and figures on the c.v. of any working pianist, the third piano concerto has always been reserved for only the most legendary pianistic talents. It requires the forces of a crack orchestra and a powerful chef. The joke amongst pianists attending a performance is: how many notes did he or she drop on the way through? American pianist Byron Janis not only plays them all, but takes you "surfing" from climax to climax with compelling insight and power.

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