- Series: New York Times Essential Library
- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Times Books; 1 edition (August 2, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805070702
- ISBN-13: 978-0805070705
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,644,207 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The New York Times Essential Library: Classical Music: A Critic's Guide to the 100 Most Important Recordings Paperback – August 2, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
It's always a tricky task to pick a list with as sweeping a title as this, but Kozinn, a music critic for the New York Times, has done a sterling job. Not only does he write concisely and informatively about the works in hand, offering an excellent potted history of the composer and his composition, but Kozinn also sets forth sound reasons why he has chosen the recording he has—and in most cases he offers recommended alternatives, too. His list contains most of the expected big guns in classical masterpieces, but with an unusually extended list of contemporary works as well—25% of the pieces he cites were written in the 20th century: Britten and Glass and Reich, of course, but also such lesser-known figures as Milton Babbitt and Gregorio Paniagua. In performance, he has soft spots for the work of Leonard Bernstein and George Szell, but also for Pierre Boulez as a conductor, and is a great admirer of Columbia's composer-as-conductor series featuring Stravinsky and Copland. Best of all—and to keep the arguments flowing—he offers at the end a list of another 100 discs almost as essential—and hints at many more. It's a treasure trove for record collectors—though they should be aware that Kozinn's choices do notinclude opera.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In introducing this volume of the New York Times Essential Library, Kozinn notes the quixotic nature of choosing the top 100 classical music recordings. Unlike jazz or rock, classical music is an interpretive and re-creational art. There is only one Kind of Blue; other recordings of its exact program don't diminish its definitiveness, for jazz is essentially individualistic and improvisatory. But, to cite Kozinn's example, the "definitive" recording of Bach's sonatas and partitas for solo violin can be Nathan Milstein's for the 1970s, Gidon Kremer's for the '80s, and Christian Tetzlaff's now; and none ever displaces the others. Kozinn's strategy for dealing with the fact that very different interpretations of the same music are equally "valid" is to opt generally for more recent recordings and to note often, within the context of appraising the pieces at hand and their composers, other fine versions of particular scores. Historically, Kozinn's selections span from the twelfth-century sacred songs of Hildegard of Bingen to masterpieces by a dozen living composers. An excellent book of its kind. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top customer reviews
I thought that Kozinn was a little heavy on Leonard Bernstein performances but, other than that I have few criticisms of his recommendations. Given that this is a New York Times book, I cannot say that I'm terribly surprised to the numerous allusions to Bernstein. But the chief point here is that nothing less than top-notch performances are recommended.
The reader intially gets 100 detailed recommendations and then Kozinn gives us a second 100 preferred CDs which were initially shaved from the top contenders. There's some terrific information about the composers in those first 100 essays and that is the strength of the book, given that it otherwise deteriorates as time goes on and as aggressive recording companies like Naxos continue to turn out numerous updated classical recordings.
What does this book do for you? Chiefly, it gets the newer listeners to classical music buying some historic and quality performances rather than wasting money on marginal ones. Secondarily, one garners some useful biographical information about the composers and the respective conductors.
This book is definitely worthwhile reading for the classical music lover and it's a good value.
I looked to this guide for an informed opinion of if someone were starting from scratch, what albums would give a listener a satisfying balanaced collection of classical music for all occasions. I hoped it would help me assess the quality of my collection so far and give me some interesting ideas of where to go next.
It failed miserably. There is way too much emphasis on obscure composers and lesser known performers. Regardless of hobby collections, there are always some obscurists and elitists, but such hobbyists hardly do justice to the quest to define "essential."
In evaluating classical music, obviously there is no absolute best performance of Beethoven's "Piano Concerto #5" for instance. There are plenty of great choices. There are some that by virtue of record company hype or the reputation of a marquee performer, conductor, or orchestra get a lot of attention despite missing the quest for excellence completely.
I'm a listener who loves piano sonatas. Haydn and Schubert have scored many. Cut to the chase. Which are the best? Who's the best pianist? Look at all those symphonies Mozart and Haydn penned. I can't buy all of them. Which ones count? I love romantic piano concertos, aside from the big names, are there some others? I found Saint Saens, for instance, very satisfying.
I would love to see a critic be able to first identify the essential works by composer and then recommend top performances based on the collector's needs and desires. Some listeners must have superb, realstic, state-of-the-art sound quality. As such, this listener would never be interested in old monophonic recordings no matter how great a Toscanini or Furtwangler Beethoven performance could be. Some want descent sound, but the best performance is primary. Some are guided by budget concerns.
That gives a casual fan a lot to sort through to find satisfying results. A good reviewer then should be able to guide the listener through the world of options to find satisfactory results.
Price, and "latest and greatest" thinking does not mean success. Expensive CD's are those by the big name stars, big world-class city orchestras, and a big hype machine. There are plenty of lesser known high quality recordings, but finding them is not so easy. Naxos is a relatively new label that hit the jackpot by opening shop soon after the fall of the Iron Curtain and having plenty of available talent not well-known but incredibly talented kept from the world stage by their communist governments. All Naxos single CD's are less than $10.00. Deutche Grammophon offers its "Originals" series. These are incredible performances from their pre-digital days.
Anyone new to classical music, the casual listener, or the classical music fan who had a great vinyl collection now looking to upgrade to digital will find none of the advice given above. I picture myself visiting a friend who'd show me these albums as the classical albums on his shelf, I'd ask, "Hey dude, you got some really rare stuff here. Cut to the chase, for a guy who likes pretty much all the normal stuff, what are three or four of these albums a regular guy like me would like?"
Sadly, The New York Times is an exercise of ivory tower pinheads writing for ivory tower pinheads. Having looked through the book, I found nothing that said, "Wow, I want to check that one out!" I did not find any reviews of works I already have that might make me want to hear a fresh approach to that beloved work, a different version with something new to offer. (I'm a fellow with six versions of Beethoven's 9th, each has its own appeal!)
For that purpose, The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection : The 350 Essential Works is far superior. There's something for everyone there with good solid advice for the nervous novice.
The great thing about shopping for classical music today is vendors like Amazon provide the ability for you to sample works before you buy. Many times, a little clip of a composition gives the listener just enough to decide if the selection is worthwhile.
Maybe someday I write my own guide. "A Casual Listener's Guide..." It looks like my comments above reviewing someone else's work is a halfway decent start!