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Symphony suggestions, please

Jeff Matthews

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You could start with Pictures at an exhibition, but my personal favorites run to Tchaikovsky. Many of the percussion parts are standard audition material. Try his Fourth, it has blasting horns as well as great percussion. He was a master of orchestration, the music is accessible and just plain fun to crank. You might also be familiar with his 1812 Overture?

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I always recommend Carl Orff's Carmina Burana for these requests. The Shaw/Atlanta recording on Telarc (CD) is a good example. If you want to get a bit more out, give Stravinsky a whirl. For you, I'd suggest Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring). I don't have any "go to" recordings of this, and interpretations do vary. I think I have one somehwere in a pile of ole Igor himself conducting, in New York I think. I just picked up a very nice copy on Philips of the London Phil - an import from the Netherlands. Haven't listened yet, as I have to be in the mood for Stravinsky.

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Every one of the above recommendations is outstanding IMO. At first, I thought you literally meant "symphony," and, if so, I would suggest:

- The definitive 9 symphonies by Beethoven (especially the 5th, 7th, and 9th)

- The 4th, 5th and 6th (the last 3) symphonies by Tchaikovsky (especially the 4th)

- The Schubert 8th, "Unfinished" symphony

- The Mendelssohn 4th ("Italian"), 3rd ("Scottish") and 5th ("Reformation") symphonies (especially the 4th)

- The Saint-Saens "Organ" symphony, No. 3

There are many others, but I'd be hard-put to recommend specific ones among Mozart's 41 or Haydn's 104. Well, OK, the Mozart No. 38, the "Prague."

I think you should take some serious time to search on "Classical" in the OLD KLIPSCH FORUMS. There is a wealth of info and opinion there. To get there is a bit of a trip: first, click the link I just gave, then type "Classical" in the search box. One of my favorite is Classical LP Assistance Please started by Boomac. That and other threads that search brings up are chock-full of specific recording recommendations.

If you have an LP player (I don't remember), I'd suggest you do what GaryMD does: go to a nearby library or thrift shop that's giving away donated LPs, and look for promising ones that have a shiny, non-dusty look that says "rarely played."

CDs are much faster to pile up expenses, but used CDs might be a start. You might also concentrate on cheaper new CDs, such as the recent RCA "Living Stereo" re-issues, and these utterly outstanding recordings of yesteryear that cost less than $10 each:

Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3 on RCA played by the Boston Symphony conducted by Charles Munch;

Orff Carmina Burana played by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy

Also in that "Classical" search, when you're ready for it, take a look at the remarkable series of threads on "Classical Talk" posted by Wolfram (Dubai 2000).

EDIT: I suggest you try hooking up with someone who likes classical for some listening sessions.


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For the 'big' stuff I'd also include Bruckner: my first was No. 7,

No.8+9 are a must (IMO). Recordings for No.8 could/should(?) be Guilini

or the last Karajan (both with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on

DG). For No.9 (shorter than No.8 -i.e. a single disc-) I might also

choose Guilini (again DG) or the EMI Munich recording done by

Celibidache (my personal number one). No.7.....mhhh......I like the

recording done by Brno Walter (Sony / CBS on LP) or Karajan (again on

DG - though his eraly 1970s recording on EMI is meant to be good, too).

If you are reluctant to pay too much, I also like (all) of the Tintner

recordings on Naxos or Wandt on BMG.

If 'symphony' includes so-called symphonic poems, I'd also strongly

recommend works by Richard Strauss. Works to look out for: Also sprach

Zarathustra, Ein Heldenleben, 'Till Eulenspiegel, or his

'Alpensinfonie'. Most of those can be found on a two CD set done by

Karajan on DG (474 281-2) which also includes Strauss' famous 'Four

Last Songs' for soprano and orchestra - divine.


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Larry C. is the expert here.

Let me point out that he brought along some music to the pilgrimages to educate us musical knuckle heads. The center piece was Holttz "Planets" and the track of "Mars" the god of war.. All of it is good.

My favorite record lable is Telarc. You can't go wrong. Others are very good and I don't mean to say anything bad. However, if you want dramatic recordings of classical for rock and rollers who don't know what to buy, they are on that wavelength.

A 'must have' is Symphonic Star Trek. We've heard the themes on small speakers. So everyone knows the tunes but not the bombastic performance which the Cincinatti Pops puts down. There are interesting sound effects too. There are warnings about speaker damage. That should tell you something.

Another good one by the C.Pop and Telarc is Great Fantasy Adventures. All movie themes.

There is one sleeper which I like a lot. It is Songs of West Side Story on RCA. This is rap, jazz, and pop takes on Bernstein's modern classic. There is something in there for every taste. I didn't like all of it at first. It will grow on you.

- - -

Somewhat off topic. I borrowed two CD's from Chicago Public Library. One was Symphonic Yes. Pretty good. LSO, the Yes and top flight recording by Allen Parsons (Dark Side of the Moon, guy).

Then I put on the second. A Telarc of Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin. Gosh, made the Yes seem like light beer.

I hope you will investigate all this classical music. It is very much different than rock and pop. Like good books, there are nuances to be investigated on many repeated "readings". There is always something to be discovered.

I think it is a form of "mind food". Call that good company for an expanding mind.




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You've got more than enough suggestions already so I wont add to them. Beethoven's 9 symphonies have already been mentioned. If you want to start with the big ones (bang crash wasnt it?) try 3,5,7 and 9.

What you should find - even if you have no experience of classical music - is that many of the tunes are familiar. Advertizing ruthlessly plunders classical works for everything from soap powder to cars and in the middle of a piece you are listening to for the first time you will suddenly hear something and say - Hey - I know that.

Its kinda cool when it happens the first few times - after that it starts to wind you up when you realize that entire pieces of music have been ruined simply because you have heard them done to death. Probably the greatest sufferer of that is the Mendelssohn (the Wedding March) - it really is beautiful music but you cant listen to it without being distracted by the association.

No idea what made me rabbit on about this now - just grab a selection and start listening. Some things you will like right off the bat, some you will hate, and some you won't like now but they will grow on you.

Welcome to the path.

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Um, there are a number of experts around like Max, Wolfram, LeoK, Woodog, Stan Krajewski, and others that should come to mind (apologies for forgetting). And, many remember musical works very well once they're reminded of them.

I am listening right now to one of two favorite, late, great vocal works by Berlioz, neither one for a beginner and both on long-discontinued great recordings so I can't recommend any. Right now, it's La Damnation de Faust (Damnation of Faust). The other is his opera, Les Troyens (The Trojans). Both truly remarkable.

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Great recommendations all. If you want to stretch the definition some, and since you are a classic rocker anyway, check out various recordings by synth master Tomita. He has done several takes of different "popular" works and they are fantastic (such as Pictures at an Exhibition and The Planets). Listen late when there is quiet all around.

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Jeff, infering something of your tastes from past posts, (you like drums and bass) you might want to ease into the symphonic music with something transitional that has bass and drums included. I have a recommendation I think you just might like a lot.

Mahavishnu Orchestra APOCALYSE (1974 CBS Columbia)

This is a dynamic recording with some very loud passages, the orchestra sounds cool with the drums and bass on the bottom. The recording of the drums is perfect - up front, loud, and powerfull.
A review from the web:

Mahavishnu Orchestra | Columbia Records

By Walter Kolosky





Wow! This 1974 recording had a great pedigree. First, you had Beatles producer George Martin. Then Michael Tilson Thomas, the young and gifted classical conductor, waving his magic wand in front of the London Symphony Orchestra. Jazz violin superstar Jean Luc Ponty stepped up as part of a newly expanded Mahavishnu Orchestra, and the teenage bass phenom Ralphe Armstrong more than capably held down the bottom end. Gayle Moran, Chick Corea?s girlfriend, handled the keyboards and vocals, and Narada Michael Walden played drums. Last, of course, the guitar master Mahavishnu John McLaughlin, leading an Orchestra that was augmented by an impressive string section of its own. Producer Martin has stated in interviews that he considers this album to be one of the greatest he's ever produced. And that's saying a lot considering the landmark albums he produced for the Fab Four.

McLaughlin's compositional skills stand out on Apocalypse. Jean Luc Ponty made his debut with the Mahavishnu Orchestra on this album, and added energy to McLaughlin's inspired tunes. In a precious moment on ?Hymn to Him,? McLaughlin and Ponty achieve hyper stellar overdrive.

The true sleeper on this album is the opening ?Power of Love.? McLaughlin wields his acoustic guitar to front the LSO on this piece, a deliberate and uplifting tune. The remainder of the album features a highly charged McLaughlin. His electric playing is reminiscent of a finely tuned car engine: it purrs as smooth as a kitten, but can accelerate or stop abruptly when necessary. Ponty, McLaughlin?s original choice for the first Mahavishnu Orchestra, really excels on Apocalypse. Years later he would say he probably left this band too soon. One only has to hear his musical interaction with McLaughlin to quickly agree.

The album does have one low moment, the misinformed Smile of the Beyond. Despite some great playing on this tune, you have to suffer through a lengthy build-up and vocal section. If McLaughlin had shortened it by three minutes, it would be a classic!

The London Symphony Orchestra deserves recognition as well. Yes, I know these guys would play just about anything for a paycheck. There was even some complaining about a few arrogant string players. But they did take advantage of these compositions and the orchestral arrangements, in which McLaughlin was greatly aided by Michael Gibbs. Many times on recordings like thisby Emerson, Lake and Palmer for examplethe orchestra seems to be there for the effect only. In this case, the LSO had some really interesting things to say.

To perform this music live with a symphony orchestra was a nightmare. McLaughlin occasionally speaks upon the impossible technical requirements of the day, and in particular an unpleasant but eventually rewarding last minute experience with America?s Buffalo Symphony Orchestra.


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Thank you, all! That's quite a list. More than adequate for a start.

Man, Jeff's shortest thread ever. Where's meagain when we need her?

Being able to see as well as hear a performance can be really helpful. An especially good one to watch is a DVD with Barenboim (piano), Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Itzhak Perlman (violin), and the Berlin Philharmonic playing Beethoven's Triple Concerto. GaryMD has it on DVD. The performance is absolutely tops, and to see it is better yet. The CD of the same performance is EMI 5-55516-2.

Animusic has some fascinating animated representations of music. "AquaHarp" on Animusic 1 is close to classical, as I believe is "Cathedral Pictures" on Animusic 2.

Also see if there's a classical music FM station in your area, usually public radio or a college or university station, and give it a try.


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Beethoven's "Wellington's Victory" (Cannons! Rifle Fire! Pistols! Cavalry charges! and they perform it in crowded concert halls!)

Holst's "Suites for Military Band" (The Telarc recording has the "drumbeat that launched a thousand subwoofers.)

Holst's "The Planets"

Handel's "Music for the Royal Fireworks" (conveniently located on the same Telarc cd as the "Suites for Military Band.")

Copland - "Rodeo" ("Beef! It's what's for Dinner!")

Williams - if you can find it, the Zubin Mehta recording of "Star Wars." (Love the Cantina Band!)

Don't overlook the public library - they generally have a pretty broad selection.

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