Clueless In Classical

I have a very limited range of classical music in my collection and I’m looking to add more so if any of you Classical fans can help with recommendations I would appreciate your guidance.

I’m not looking for massive bombastic productions but more focused on Cello, Violin, Quartet type work. Something that can help relax in the evening. It can be vinyl or CD but no limited editions that cost a fortune.

Thanks for you help Pete


You may want to check out the Classical Music Thread found here:

The classical music thread

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You will get plenty of recommendations, but if you like strings, I would start with the Bach Cello Suites (Pablo Casals or perhaps the newer Stephen Isserlis recording), Vivaldi’s violin concertos with Venice Baroque and Giuliano Carmignola, the Bach Brandenburg Concertos with The Academy of St. Martin-In-The-Fields and Neville Mariner, some Ralph Vaughan Williams (Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis and The Lark Ascending, and Andre Previn and Richard Hickox have some great recordings), the Beethoven Late String Quartets with Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic, and perhaps the Mozart Symphonies with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Charles Mackerras. Maybe some Corelli concerti grossi (Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields).

I would pretty quickly add the Beethoven Symphonies (honestly, start with No. 5 with Carlos Kleiber/Vienna and No. 7 by Bernstein/Boston and No. 3 by Karajan/Berlin, and then go from there based on your taste). Then maybe the Tchaikovsky violin concerto and Serenade for Strings (Bernstein/NY), and Tchaikovsky Symphonies 4-6 (Mravinsky/Leningrad).

Happy listening!


Thank you for that introduction :+1:

That’s a great start thank you maison00

I think that you need to start with something gentle, so I would recommend anything by the greatest musical genius that was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Start with, for example, his String Quintets - the definitive version would be the set on Philips led by the great Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux.

If you’re looking for something on a smaller scale, then try Mozart’s Piano Sonatas. The Japanese pianist Mitsuko Uchida made a wonderful complete set for the Philips label, but there are many others available.

Mozart wrote sublime opera music. If forced to pick just one Mozart opera recording, I would suggest the very early stereo Decca set of ‘The Marriage Of Figaro’ conducted in Vienna in the mid-1950s by the great Erich Kleiber.

These are just a few suggestions. I strongly urge you to start devoting three hours or so of your life every Saturday morning to the wonderful Record Review programme, broadcast on BBC Radio 3 from 9:00AM. I’ve been listening to this since my University days over 40 years ago. The programme reviews new Classical Music LP record and CD releases, and includes a one-hour segment at 10:30 called Building A Library, in which a distinguished academic musician listens to all available recordings of a particular piece of music, and chooses his/her favourite recording.

THat’s just a few ideas as a starter. Get used to listening to Radio 3 every day, it is one of our nation’s treasures.

I shall be happy, as will other Members, to give more specific advice about individual pieces of music and individual musicians whenever you have questions.

I’ll shut up now and have a cup of tea!


Just to add re Record Review, there is also an extensive library of podcasts of previous editions of Building a Library on their website.

And a suggestion for non bombastic orchestral music which is worth a listen for its sheer joie de vivre - Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony. Short and fun.


Plenty of good recommendations so far, but if I can add to the embarrassment of riches above with some targeted at the exact instruments you mention:

  • Elgar’s Cello concerto is a stone-cold classic and the EMI Barbirolli/Jacqueline du Pre recording from the mid-60s has rarely been bettered.
  • For violin music, in the unlikely event you’re not already familiar with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons do get that. Decades of being used as telephone call centre hold music has dimmed neither its beauty nor genius. Loads of great recordings, but my money would go on Tafelmusik/Lamon on Sony Classical.
  • As for string quartets, you can’t go far wrong with Hadyn’s or Mozart’s.



Right, so I’ve had my cup of tea. Just one further suggestion, which is, whatever else you do, rush out and buy a recording of the second symphony by Ralph Vaughan Williams, his ’ A London Symphony’, one of the greatest ever symphonies written by a British composer.

Sir John Barbirolli made a wonderful recording of it with The Philharmonia orchestra (I’m not sure which orchestra actually) in the 1960s, available on EMI.

The original version of A London Symphony was criticised for being too long, so Vaughan Williams cut the piece substantially. The late Richard Hickox restored those cuts for his recording with the London Symphony Orchestra (appropriately, you might think) on the Chandos label. It’s a state-of-the-art recording, and I always feel rather cheated now when I hear the truncated standard version of the piece.


I can highly recommend Rob Cowan’s Classical 1000 book. It’s getting on in age now, and not sure when the last edition was published, but still very relevant and helpful.


The Penguin Guides are a good reference, to try to sort out which ‘version’ to go for. This assumes you know which work you are looking for. Which you probably don’t… hmmm.

Penguin also do a Guide to the 1000 Finest Classical Recordings, which is probably a better starting point… :thinking:

PS. You don’t really need the latest version of these guides. Classical music has been around for a while…!!


Start with the warhorses and a few less warhorsey pieces !..

Handel : Water Music/Royal Fireworks

Haydn : London Symphonies
Cello Concerti

Mozart : Symphonies 40 and 41
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
Late Piano Concerti No.s 20 to 27
Magic flute (Bohm’s highlights disc is a good starter)

Beethoven : Symphonies 3, 5, 6, 7 and 9.
Piano Concertos 4 & 5
Violin Concerto
Piano sonatas Moonlight, Tempest, Walstein, Apassionata
Archduke Piano Trio

Mendelssohn : Violin Concerto

Schubert : Impromptus
Piano Sonata No. 21
Last 4 quartets

Chopin : Anything really (but I recommend his ballads and Scherzi)

Dvorak : Symphony No. 9
Cello Concerto

Tchaikovsky : Symphonies 4 to 6
Violin Concerto
Ballet music (Swan Lake, Nutcracker etc.)
Piano Trio

Rachmaninov : Piano Concerto No. 2

Elgar : Cello Concerto

That’s just off the top of my head. Apologies if I have missed obvious other pieces.

Performers are not so important at the early stage of listening. Just get to know the pieces and then later, there are websites/forums that can lead you to the special performances.

Stuff by Schumann and Brahms and a lot of chamber music is a bit more challenging for the beginner so can wait till later ! So can early music and 20th century atonal !

Have a good listen and work out what floats your boat. You won’t like all types of classical I don’t think. That’s normal. Find you areas of interest. But never be frightened to experiment outside your comfort zone - you may adore Josquin Du Prez or Schoenberg !


That’s still a lot… for a beginner… :thinking:

Try this more limited list, based on my own collecting and interests.

In no particular order…

Vivaldi - Four Seasons
Mozart - Clarinet Concerto
Holst - The Planets
Stravinsky - Rite of Spring
Dvorak - 9th Symphony
Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition
Bach - Orchestral Suites
Elgar - Cello Concerto
Handel - Water Music


You only have one life :grin:

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Contrary to some advice in previous suggestions I would recommend avoiding radio 3 at all costs. If you want to enjoy your listening why not start by finding out what you like by listening to an unpretentious radio station such as via the internet. Not only do they play a wide variety of what might be described as popular classical tracks but they also confine announcements to information describing them ( albeit in French or German/Swiss). Once you have established your personal preferences its quite easy to get suggestions, here or elsewhere, on the finest recordings available of any particular composition.

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Forum rules don’t permit links but trust me, if nothing else, buy Klaus Tennstedt conducting Beethoven III Eroica 1994 EMI Classics CD, no longer in CD production but one available for £3.99 on a certain auction site. And will sound stunning on your CD555.

Beyond that just listen to R3 whenever you can.



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My list is intended as a starter pack for beginners to Classical Music.

Of course, they cannot digest it all at once. It must be done slowly, over a period of time. But the world of Classical music is very wide, and the OP needs to have a basic grasp of many of its elements in order to know who/what he likes.

After listening to my list, he will know, to a large degree, what he likes.
A short list teaches him very little.

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It is, with the greatest respect, utter nonsense to describe Radio 3 as ‘pretentious’. Nothing could be further from the truth. Its presenters are all knowledgeable and (as far as it’s possible to tell from their manner on air) decent human beings.

I have had cause over the years to contact Petroc Trelawny and Andrew Macgregor privately by email, and both sent friendly and helpful replies, and even read out my messages over the air.

But do feel free to listen to whatever Swiss or other radio channels as you prefer.


Well I’m sure Radio Swiss is good but R3 is not in anyway at all pretentious it’s informative, entertaining and eclectic.


Many good suggestions above.

There are several ways to start listening to classical music,

You can dip in and out putting a work in your listening and let it wash over you.

R3 is a good place to start for more concentrated listening to a wide variety of composers and works

Or the hair shirt method You can devote yourself to classical entirely for a period of time

If I may make a suggestion choose a work eg Mozart Eine Kline Nachtmusik or Vivaldi “Four Seasons” and devote exclusive listening to it everyday for say a week and really listen to it. Then move on to something else from the suggestions above. Rinse and repeat
Enjoy the journey

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