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Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphonies 1-9

Performed by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Herbert von Karajan

Beethoven's symphonies form the core of his work. The most famous include No. 5, whose suspenseful opening has become a musical clich¾; No. 6, named "Pastoral" for capturing sounds of the country; and No. 9, the Choral Symphony. This is one of the most popular recordings, featuring what is currently the largest and most respected symphony in the world.

 

 

George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue

Performed by the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard Bernstein

This jazzy piano concerto is brilliantly performed and conducted by Leonard Bernstein. (The renowned composer, conductor, and pianist supposedly learned only three piano concertos: Rhapsody in Blue, Ravel's Concerto in G, and Shostakovich's Second Piano Concerto!) The piece opens with a racy clarinet solo and grows into an exciting yet bluesy piece for piano and large orchestra. One of the best-loved works ever, this is a must-have for any library.

 

 

Edvard Grieg: Peer Gynt Suites 1 & 2

Performed by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Herbert von Karajan

You would immediately recognize pieces such as Morning Mood and In the Hall of the Mountain King even if you did not know they were from these suites. Grieg wrote this music to go along with Ibsen's play about Peer Gynt, a wild youth in search of adventure. Each piece portrays episodes in his travels through the coast of Morocco, storms at sea, the Saharas, and Egypt. Grieg used Norwegian folk songs for inspiration, and was a strong nationalist composer.

 

 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphonies No. 40 & 41

Performed by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, conducted by Sir Neville Marriner

These last two of Mozart's forty-one symphonies are possibly his greatest. Written on a grander scale than his earlier symphonies, which were composed during his adolescence, they represent Mozart's mature style.

 

 

Maurice Ravel: Bolero

Performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Georg Solti

A single rhythmic theme drives this entire piece--beginning very quietly with sparse instrumentation, it is repeated…and repeated and repeated…different instruments add to the color, and variations allow the theme to evolve. This dance piece is another all-time favorite, and the CD also contains Debussy's famous La Mer (The Ocean--you guessed it, an impressionistic work!)

 

 

Antonio Vivaldi: The Four Seasons

Performed by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta

Each season is portrayed by a different violin concerto (a work for solo violin and orchestra), and each concerto on this CD is performed by a great violinist; Stern, Zuckerman, Mintz, and Perlman give virtuoso performances. Written in the Baroque Period, this piece remains one of the most popular works ever.

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*hint: check out the orchestra links above! Most of them are really well-designed and informative.