Looking for the right recording of a classical work can be a daunting task. For example, we looked for the Mozart Requiem on a large on-line CD retailer and found 134 different recordings, including 10 by the Vienna Philharmonic alone. Amongst the multitude of choices are some fabulous performances, but there are also many that will disappoint.
We think the best way to help you is to present you with a very small number of recordings of each work (often just one), hand-picked from the best sources of recommendation that we can find. Of course, the choice is a personal one – but you can be sure that anything you see in our CD finder has been recommended by experts from highly reputable sources. Here are some notes on each of them.
BBC Radio 3 "Building a Library"
The majority of the recommendations come from what is (in our opinion) the most authoritative source of all: BBC Radio 3’s “Building a Library” section of their “CD Review” programme, broadcast on Saturday mornings. The Radio 3 presenters take a particular work and go through a large selection of the available recordings in tremendous depth. Apart from helping you choose, listening to the programme teaches you an enormous amount about the work being reviewed. We think “Building a Library” is a wonderful resource. Click here to go to the Radio 3 CD Review web site.
Gramophone Good CD and Download Guide
This is probably the best known and best respected set of CD reviews published in print. The coverage is much broader than either the Building a Library archive or the Cassell book, with over 3000 CDs reviewed. It's a reliable source of reviews for many lesser known works that are not covered by the other sources, and contains background information on a number of topics in addition to the reviews. Click here for the relevant page of the Gramophone website. We've used the 2007 edition.
1001 Classical Recordings you must hear before you die
Published by Cassell Illustrated in 2007, this volume picks a selection of only the very best, and gives a page or two on each work. The critics are all well-respected, including several of the same reviewers as "Building a library". If you want a reference work which looks only at the cream, and you prefer reading a brief page to listening to a long radio programme, this is a great resource. Cassell can be found on the website of their parent company, Octopus Books.
And the rest...
We have taken some recommendations from other published sources, and we have also slipped in a few of our personal favourites: we’re not music critics, so we’ve only done this in a very small number of cases where we’re extremely confident of our choice! You'll see most of these in our "Top CDs" page.
We are very proud of our “Find a CD” system, which brings you a list of recordings with high quality recommendations from the BBC and others in a way that is exceptionally easy to search, and then allows you immediate purchase via Amazon (for physical CDs) or via one of our download partners. At time of writing, we have excellent coverage of opera and are rapidly increasing our coverage of other music.
A particularly important feature is the link between the “Find a CD” and “Find a Concert” pages. If you find a CD and the work is being played live somewhere, a single click will take you to a list of the live performances, many of which can be booked from the site. Similarly, if you use “Find a concert” and come across a work which is in our CD database, a single click will show you the recommended recordings.
Some of the Building a Library recommendations date back several years. In the time that has passed, record labels have brought out the same recordings with different album numbers and sometimes with different couplings or even remastered. In some cases, the record label has been changed because of a company takeover. We have done our best to find CDs which are currently available and, as far as we can tell, are the same recording that was originally reviewed - but we almost certainly haven't been perfect in every case.
In similar vein, some of the information about CDs for sale on Amazon.com is incomplete. We think we've got the right CD in almost all cases, but there's the occasional one which is hard to know (for example, which of Rachel Podger's two recordings of the Bach violin partitas) and where we've made an arbitrary decision.