8 December 2011

How to start buying classical music

So you want to get into classical music and you're interested in buying something but you have no idea where to start. This is exactly where I was a couple of years ago. I did grow up in a household where we had some classical CDs but I had no idea where to start because although I kind of figured out what composers I wanted, there's still the problem of what recording to get, there are so many! I imagine that I'm not the only one who struggled with this, and so I thought I would provide a little guide (this is all obviously just my opinion).

1. If you are not used to listening to old LPs or anything else that's slightly scratchy make sure you buy relatively new recordings. You don't want to ruin the enjoyment of music by buying something that has noise in the background or the like. I do have some old recordings that are my absolute favourites, but when you're just starting to get to know pieces I really think it's best to avoid them, get new crisp recordings instead.

2. More expensive isn't necessarily better. One of the cheapest classical music labels is Naxos and their recordings are generally pretty decent. I don't think many Naxos recordings are considered definitive but they're not bad by any means. For example, I have a recording of Bartók's violin concertos on Naxos, played by György Pauk that I absolutely adore, and the Liverpool Philarmonic with chief conductor Vasily Petrenko have good recordings of Shostakovich symphonies as well. Especially if you don't know a piece that well, just get the cheapest one, provided it's not a really old recording (I once bought the cheapest version of Britten's Rape of Lucretia, turns out it was from the 50's and probably fantastic for people who knew the piece already and love Kathleen Ferrier, but not for someone like me who hadn't heard it before - it was barely audible over all the noise!).

3. Keep track of what orchestras/performers you like. If you go to a concert and really enjoy it or buy a record and love it, remember the names of the performers. Of course there's probably "objective" ways of telling which orchestra is best, but I think it's an emotional and personal thing as well. It doesn't matter how well-respected an orchestra or musician is if you like their playing. I have quite a few soloists, orchestras and conductors I prefer above all and even though sometimes I can say why (i.e. I like Rostropovich and Kondrashin's Shostakovich recordings best because they're pretty much the loudest and fastest) sometimes I can't. I tend to be quite loyal and often stick to my favourites - it makes buying records quite a bit easier as well, because there's less choice!

4. Don't be put off if you don't like a piece on the first listen. A lot of classical music takes a while to get into - especially more modern stuff. There are many, many pieces that I only loved after the 5th listen but are now some of my absolute favourites. If you are someone who has no time or patience for this then there are of course pieces that are much easier to digest - but you'll be missing out on so much!

5. But don't be afraid to dislike works and composers There are many canonical composers and works that you might feel you're supposed to like. But you're not! Give everyone a fair try, but don't worry if you just don't like it. I for one can't stand Haydn, Mozart bores me to death and Bach makes me nervous. I've tried but it's just not my cup of tea and that's absolutely alright. Unless it's Shostakovich of course, you can't not like Shostakovich. (just kidding.... maybe.)

I hope this helps. Do any of you have advice I haven't mentioned?

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