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on 16 January 2013
I have been buying the Penguin Guides to Classical Music for many years. I have found their authoritative and perceptive reviews of music very helpful and rewarding in guiding my choice of recordings in many different fields of classical music. However this new edition is a bit of a disaster. For a newcomer to music, using this guide would not make you realise that Bach wrote the Well Tempered Clavier as there is no mention of it. Why so many minor composers while leaving out some of the leading 20th century ones?
In a more digital world why could not Penguin just produce a giant digital edition? I bought this Guide for my Kindle and I am not aware of any size limits on Kindle files. Alternatively they could create an online presence as it would be one site where I would not object to a paywall.
I cannot recommend this guide unless it is used alongside other guides as a starter or talking to well informed staff in a good music shop. This sadly is becoming increasingly rare but I try to buy my CDs from these specialist shops to support their knowledge and learning.
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on 30 January 2013
Like other reviewers, I have a love-hate relationship with the longstanding efforts of the editors of the Penguin Guides to Classical recordings. There are always particular choices they make, and relative evaluations of recordings, where we can disagree with them, as in similar products. There are, however, some uses the previous, larger, Penguin Guides have had, in terms of checking for obvious problems in terms of recorded sound, or serious problems in terms of performance. I would not be as negative about this particular incarnation if it were merely a matter of what recordings I like vis-a-vis the preferences of the authors.
The introduction makes clear that there is an ambiguity about what this much reduced successor to the rather more comprehensive Penguin Guides we are used to is aiming at. It claims to be the 1000 best recordings, but is apparently also the authors' favourite recordings. The tension here has produced a really muddled product.
Arguably, about 10 or 15 years ago at least, the long-standing 'editors' of the guide should have recruited some help, because of (a) the proliferation of recordings on labels beyond the core Decca/ DG/ EMI/ Warner/ Sony/ Hyperion/ Naxos labels which made it difficult for them to remain up to date with new releases and (b) changing tastes, in particular increased interest in music composed prior to 1700 and in the music of the later 20th century and early 21st century. Another editor was recruited, and in a non personalised way, I'd suggest that adding someone interested in British 'light' music of the early to mid 20th century was a big mistake.
The result is predictable, especially when in such a compressed version of the tastes of the editors, the limitations of their strategy become even clearer. I get irritated at non-British assertions of the bias of British critics to British music and British artists, but I have to say this version of the guide is merely adding fuel to their fire. There is apparently nothing, for example, that Janet Baker did do better than anyone else, including Dido and Aeneas, for which we might have expected a more recent and in-tune-with-the baroque recommendation. She was a fantastic artist but still.. Ditto various overenthusiastic recommendations of recent Decca re-releases from Australia - really, on balance, are 1960s recordings of Rameau the best recommendations for music that depends so much on the colour of 18th century instruments and has received so many revelatory recordings on such in the last 3 decades? As other reviewers point out, there are pages and pages devoted to relatively obscure British composers, and to recordings of, for example, 'My Fair Lady' and Noel Coward that are excellent but have arguably no place in a guide like this.
I agree with other reviewers that taking page after page of the guide up on very large box sets of miscellaneous artists or repertoire is not very helpful, especially to newcomers, especially as some of these are special editions that may not be around for long.
It is always interesting to read about a composer one might not have thought much about. Nonetheless, it is very doubtful that some of the recordings of minor, especially British (and Scandinavian), composers featured here could possibly be construed in the big picture as being among the 1000 greatest recordings of all time. Surely there must be some sense, in a guide such as this, of what the really important and pathbreaking music might be, over the centuries and overall. Others have pointed out the absence of a recording of the 'Well-Tempered Clavier'. I have some other examples which to me are equally telling
-Nothing by Guillaume Dufay, the most remarkable composer perhaps before 1600
-No reasonable recommendation for a set of the Beethoven symphonies. I mean, really, does anyone think a DVD set of Karajan conducting these in the 1980s is the most recommendable way of hearing these?
-In the later 20th century, we get some Messiaen, Lutoslawski, Adams, Ades and Birtwistle (the last two presumably included as British), among others. No entries for Cage (!), Boulez, Feldman, Reich, Glass, Ligeti, Rihm, Kagel, Lachenmann, Carter, Harvey, Weir, Schnittke, Gubaidulina, and just about anyone else you can think of in the music of the last 60 years. Xenakis gets included, strangely, in an entry that merely reminds us of the patronising way in which the Guide has tended over the decades to deal with anything post-tonal and new. Ligeti is at least included as a fill-up to a chamber work of Beethoven and what is probably the Horn Trio is described as a masterwork, but seriously, this is an inadequate way of recommending important music to newcomers. As it is increasingly obvious that younger audiences in particular are drawn to recent music, this inability of the editors to respond to it in a generous and timely way is, as it always was, a terrific shame.
I was also annoyed that there wasn't even a recommended recording of an early 20th century masterpiece, Berg's Lulu, but I suspect if I went over the product in more detail there would many more examples of clear masterpieces from various periods passed over in favour of relatively minor works the authors perhaps had a thing about at the moment of compilation.
I really can't recommend this volume, which has become a misrepresentation of what matters in terms of both composers and recordings. I've often thought about reviewing its previous incarnations but persuaded myself that I didn't have the time and it might get better. It hasn't. For the same money, buy a recording of Dufay's Motets or of Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano instead. Much better spent.
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on 19 January 2013
The Penguin Guide has been indispensable for more than 30 years. Not now. Since Paul Cjadkovski came on the scene it has become more trivial each year.
Others here refer to the lack of of the well Tempered Clavier and the strange imbalanced choices. They are right. The original wonderful authors treated all composers similarly as a look at the 2002 edition for example. When Mr Cjadkovski hoved into view - the original authors are all getting on a bit now - he seemed overwhelmed by the range of his task. His specialism is film music not classical and it shows. He seems a strange choice for such a formerly renowned book. Since he began his editorship we have seen arbitrary exclusions of formerly well regarded performances, still in the catalogue, now we have great works excluded altogether. But the cat is out of the bag with the title now "must have CDs and DVDs" not a REVIEW of those avaiabe. I wonder how sales have gone over the last few years - falling I'd imagine as this book plases no-one. It is too complex for newcomers, too arbitrary for more expert listeners.
Penguin need to focus this. As another reviewer says, why not put the whole book on Kindle. If that's not possible, have a CD/download book an a DVD download book. Alternatively, go back to the Yearbook format of the 1990s with a starred performance of major works for newcomers and reviews of new performances judged against them
But I am not holding my breathe under Penguin's current lack of leadership fore this once great book
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on 18 October 2016
Already done. Thanks.
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on 22 January 2013
I copy my review from the previous edition below. Note that very little at all has changed. So many great recordings over the last couple of year have been totally ignored, presumably because they upset the 'clever' (I assure you it's not) use of box sets to get around the problem of a 1000 recording limit.

So apparently Bernstein's Sony Mahler set is the one to get, despite the fact that the original PGs rated Solti, Tennstedt and Chailly with a greater number of stars. don't get me wrong it's a great set, but it's been included at the expense of individual, infinitely preferable performances! The same happens with Sibelius and countless other composers. All you would end up with is a whole bunch of mediochre box-sets if you followed this new guide.

Anyway....my original review:

I have been a follower of the Penguin Guide since around 1996. Each year I looked forward to seeing the ratings and finding out how each recording was placed. I don't always agree with the guide, but it's on that.....a guide. Increasingly it was possible to identify major releases that were simply left out. One could argue that there
are too many, but with the likes of Fisher's Mahler 2, Davis' LSO Live Sibelius 3 and 7 and the Gielen and Bertini Mahler sets ignored I became concerned that the whole thing was stalling. Year books were the answer, and worked. If the Guide was at capacity why not only publish new recordings with keys as you did in some years?

Anyway, we've now hit rock bottom. The latest guide is simply a list of a small number of discs for each
Composer, each with a review but no rating. This means that the idea of a 1000 greatest recordings is not what you get. Sure there may be a 1000 entries, but it's more of a recommended catalogue in that many great recordings are left out to make space for sole recordings of lesser works. Mahler 6 is only included by accident as part of Bernstein's Sony set, yet several Lyrita odds and ends make the cut. It should have been called 'Penguin Essential Library of Classical Music' as it most certainly
does't do what it says on the tin!

The authors make a big deal of being clever by adding sets of recordings as one entry (all set out in the intro pages) and yet often settle for mediocre performances for many works. Bernstein's Sony Mahler may give us truly great versions of 3, 6, 7, but how can these be the finest firsts and seconds available? Sibelius' Symphonies are entirely represented by Ashkenazy's (very good) Exton set, supplemented by Davis' LSO Live 1 and 4, but is that the whole story? What about Kullervo?

The real shock comes when you realise just how few new recordings are there. It's almost an extract from the 2010 guide and so seems to be terrible value for money.

I could go on. Please do not waste your money. I would actually get the 2010 Guide instead, because that at least gives more choice.

What a terrible shame.
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on 19 October 2013
I suppose a book like this can never please everyone, as the selections must inevitably reflect the personal preferences of the reviewers.

But even bearing that in mind, the selections and omissions of this book appear very often to be just odd. For example:-
1. There is only a recommendation for a highlights version of 'Boris Gudonov'. Surely this great opera deserves a complete version?
2. Sir John Barbirolli gets more coverage than Monteverdi. There are no recommendations for 'Orfeo', 'Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria" or any of the books of madrigals.
3. Bartok does at least get just about as much coverage as Barbirolli but there is no CD recommendation for 'Bluebeard's Castle', just a DVD and nothing at all for the Cantata Profana
4. For Beethoven's complete symphonies there is only a recommendation again for a DVD. This might be excusable for an opera, but hardly in this case.
5. No recommendation for Faure's string quartet
6. More modern composers (unless they are British) seem poorly represented: no entry for Philip Glass or Steve Reich (although John Adams is included), or Ligeti for that matter
5. Most incredibly, as far as I can see there are no recommendations at all for 'The Art of the Fugue' or the 'Well Tempered Clavier'. Maybe I missed them, surely these are 2 of the most important works in the canon and any classical music collection is incomplete without them.

I could go on but hopefully the message is clear. Also most of the recommendations appear to be for very old recordings, with Solti and Tennstedt being particular favourites. I have nothing against this, but it does make one wonder how up to date the contributors are in their listening.

I have to confess I bought my copy of this in a bargain bookstore. I now understand what it was doing there!
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on 3 December 2012
Strange emphasis on some rather obscure (British?) composers; some of them get two pages or more of recommendations, while much more intersting and important composers are either forgotten or reduced to the minimum. And what's the point of listing all the items of the "RCA Living Stereo" recordings collection? Or of Mercury's? Just does not make sense for a guide.
Mixing DVDs and CDs has always been problematic; while I can listen to a great recording on CD many many times, it gets awfully repetitive to watch the players or the opera again and again. It would be better just to have a guide for CDs. In classics, at least, they will probably still be around for some time.
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on 2 December 2012
Can you imagine a record guide without any version of "well-tempered clavier" ? This is one! According to "Penguin", Simon Rattle is a Mahlerian more distinguished than Mitropoulos and Horenstein, Alina Ibragimova is superior to Milstein and Menuhin in J.S.Bach partitas and sonatas etc., etc. It is acceptable for beginners only. I confess that I have lost my money buying this.
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on 6 January 2015
I've been a longtime collector of the Penguin Guides to classical music (having all but the very first, in fact), and this is a misguided attempt at recognizing important recordings. It is very personalized, not historically backed, and a total waste of money, sorry to say.
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on 8 September 2016
Picked this up again after a couple of years to check whether it is as bad as I originally thought. It's worse!. Like others, I had a soft spot for the old guides, but this does not do it. The balance is all wrong, "The 1000 Finest..." - I think not. There is a clear attempt to avoid any duplication with major works which may have hundreds of recordings, in favour of sole recordings of modern obscurities. Maybe I'm just a peasant!
Back to balance. God bless William Walton but could he have conceived of taking up more column inches than Chopin, Liszt and Bruckner put together?
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