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Thread: Where's the best place to download classics?

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    Default Where's the best place to download classics?

    Noob question: I want to download some classical music (and pay for it, naturally), but don't know where to go! Help!

    I am no music expert, but one thing I have learned is that the same piece can sound wildly different in different versions. I need some way to compare versions online. But most sellers only give the first 30 seconds: this is fine for a pop song but nowhere near enough for a classic (unless an interior 30 seconds is very carefully chosen). Any tips for comparing music without buying multiple versions or spending hours reading reviews?

    I am convinced that pop music only outsells classical because it's so much easier to buy. I can find the definitive version of any pop song within seconds, but every attempt to find a particular classical piece ends in wasted hours and frustration as every version is not the one I remember. Some examples:
    • I have copy of Solveig's song (from Peer Gynt) by the Moscow International Symphony Orchestra that's rich and lush, some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard. But every other version I've heard seems dull and wooden.
    • I used to have a version of Pachelbel's Canon by the Halle Orchestra that was so subtle, so lovingly produced that it became my favorite music ever. But every other version I've heard sounds like somebody just set the metronome and didn't bother rehearsing.

    There are other tracks I adore, but I can't remember who they were by and I no longer own the music! Sometimes I buy the most recommended CD and am usually highly disappointed. Maybe I just have unusual tastes?

    What prompted this post is that this morning I decided to start an MP3 collection. I thought I'd start with Khachaturian's Spartacus. I found some nice versions on YouTube, but these are not available from Amazon. I want to avoid iTunes if possible (because I like to feel in control of my music and computer: I don't want to manage music, I just want to download it and copy it to my other devices myself), and other sources either want a regular subscription or don't have what I want.

    Any suggestions? Any sites that sell classical MP3s and let you compare them first? Or any sites where the recommendations are so good that, even if I hate them at first, I will grow to love them as my taste improves?
    Last edited by tolworthy; Aug-04-2012 at 14:40.

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    Senior Member Ralfy's Avatar
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    If you go to the web sites of the major labels, you will find information on buying works online. Several of them sell in MP3 or similar format, and might have longer samples. They might also have online radio and other features.
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    Senior Member Ukko's Avatar
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    I have heard rumors that the Naxos site offers long samples, and not just from their label. Awhile back the Bis Boss mentioned some of that label's music being there.
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    Thanks. Can you recommend any labels? Or is it the case that each label will cover all the classics? Sorry if this is a silly question! To start with I'm looking for really good versions of Carmina Burana, Spartacus and The Sorceror's Apprentice.

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    Amazon currently has a series of MP3 box sets that are tremendous bargains. They're top quality performances culled from the BIS label. The Grieg collection is particularly good, with many recordings that are top recommendations.

    Go to Amazon and search the digital downloads category for "Rise of the Masters" and "99 masterpieces". I downloaded every one ofthe sets and they're all good. Altogether, there's about a week's worth of music... Over 15 gigs... For under $50. Instant classical music collection. The Big Mahler Box and te Big Gustav Leonhardt Box are excellent too.

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    Senior Member Jeremy Marchant's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tolworthy View Post
    Noob question: I want to download some classical music (and pay for it, naturally), but don't know where to go! Help!

    I am no music expert, but one thing I have learned is that the same piece can sound wildly different in different versions. I need some way to compare versions online. But most sellers only give the first 30 seconds: this is fine for a pop song but nowhere near enough for a classic (unless an interior 30 seconds is very carefully chosen). Any tips for comparing music without buying multiple versions or spending hours reading reviews?
    ...
    Any suggestions? Any sites that sell classical MP3s and let you compare them first? Or any sites where the recommendations are so good that, even if I hate them at first, I will grow to love them as my taste improves?
    You’ll never do it.

    Firstly, for the sort of works you mention, there are so many recordings, you’ll never be able to audition all, or even most, of them. Secondly, if you are “no music expert”, then what criteria will you use for evaluation particularly as, thirdly, as you hint at the end of your post, familiarity with a performance often changes our views of it.

    There are no sites where there are guaranteed recommendations. In any case, that’s not what you need, in my opinion. You will find it far more useful to build up an understanding of why a reviewer makes certain remarks about a work. There’s no substitute for reading up about the recordings.

    Also, why do you think you taste will “improve”? As measured by whom and in what way? And if it does improve how will that result in you “loving” something you currently “hate”?

    Although there are a very few recordings which are, by common agreement, “great”, on the whole it comes down to a matter of the listener’s personal preference for conductor A over conductor B, or pianist X rather than Y. Just because there are many people who can confidently, if not aggressively, assert that a particular recording is the best (almost invariably a recording which, just by chance, is the one they personally like the most) doesn’t make it true.

    In any case, it may be that the critical consensus of a recording that you (or I) personally like is poor. Maybe the Hallé distorted and misrepresented the Pachelbel piece in a way that was unidiomatic and inappropriate. Almost all reviewers would say that (if it were the case), meaning you would never have been alerted to it in the first place because you would have been put off by the reviews.

    There’s no substitute for developing your personal understanding and, I am afraid, that is unlikely to be achieved by restricting your listening to what other people tell you. You actually have to listen to poor performances so that you understand why and how others are better. You have to read decent criticism so that you develop that understanding.
    Last edited by Jeremy Marchant; Aug-05-2012 at 10:25.
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    Senior Member Ramako's Avatar
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    Recordings are a personal thing to some extent, but very important.

    I remember the first time I heard a non-HIP recording of Bach's second Brandenburg Concerto. When the (modern) trumpet came in I really felt as if my mind had opened and a ray of sunshine had come in. Of course it was probably a good one as well.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bigshot View Post
    Amazon currently has a series of MP3 box sets that are tremendous bargains. They're top quality performances culled from the BIS label. The Grieg collection is particularly good, with many recordings that are top recommendations.

    Go to Amazon and search the digital downloads category for "Rise of the Masters" and "99 masterpieces". I downloaded every one ofthe sets and they're all good. Altogether, there's about a week's worth of music... Over 15 gigs... For under $50. Instant classical music collection. The Big Mahler Box and te Big Gustav Leonhardt Box are excellent too.
    Superb! A thousand thanks. Even if I hate nine out of ten, that's still great value. Thanks so much!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeremy Marchant View Post
    You will find it far more useful to build up an understanding of why a reviewer makes certain remarks about a work. There’s no substitute for reading up about the recordings.
    That's what I feared. My problem is time: I can maybe set aside ten minutes per day to finding great music. For any other medium that is plenty of time, as there is generally only one definitive version of a Beatles song, Shakespeare text or Rembrandt painting (OK there are many variants, but variations are small). But classical music seems to embrace obscurity.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeremy Marchant View Post
    Also, why do you think you taste will “improve”?
    It will obviously change a little. Tastes always do.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeremy Marchant View Post
    As measured by whom and in what way?
    As measured by its ability to satisfy. My current tastes do not satisfy me, because I can't find my favorite pieces, that once I heard, but do not know the details.

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    Here are direct links for you...

    Sampler Collection: http://www.amazon.com/Rise-Masters-S...dp/B005VZRBR4/

    Mozart: http://www.amazon.com/Mozart-Supreme...dp/B005VZR2I2/
    Grieg: http://www.amazon.com/Grieg-Supreme-...dp/B005VZOZJ6/
    Beethoven: http://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Supr...dp/B005W26W12/
    Chopin: http://www.amazon.com/Chopin-Supreme...dp/B005W28SQO/
    Schubert: http://www.amazon.com/Schubert-Supre...dp/B005W23THC/
    Bach: http://www.amazon.com/Bach-Supreme-C...dp/B005WW94ZS/
    Debussy: http://www.amazon.com/Debussy-Suprem...dp/B005VZN1HI/
    Tchaikovsky: http://www.amazon.com/Tchaikovsky-Su...dp/B005W29340/
    Schumann: http://www.amazon.com/Schumann-Maste...dp/B006ABZY7C/
    Vivaldi: http://www.amazon.com/Vivaldi-Suprem...dp/B005W3GI88/
    Handel: http://www.amazon.com/Handel-Supreme...dp/B005VZMNYA/

    Big Mahler Box: http://www.amazon.com/Big-Mahler-Box...dp/B008J7G5LO/
    Gustav Leonhardt Bach: http://www.amazon.com/Gustav-Leonhar...dp/B008A4OXKG/

    These cost a bit more, but just as good of a deal...

    Saint Saens: http://www.amazon.com/The-Most-Essen...dp/B004GBU1B2/
    Mendelssohn: http://www.amazon.com/Essential-Mend...dp/B003O3RJ40/
    Dvorak: http://www.amazon.com/The-Most-Essen...dp/B0043WLQT0/
    Brahms: http://www.amazon.com/Essential-Brah...dp/B0030GQC08/
    Haydn: http://www.amazon.com/The-Most-Essen...dp/B003W5WBES/
    Sibelius: http://www.amazon.com/Sibelius-Compl...dp/B004Z4ZN4A/

    I'd particularly recommend Grieg, Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Dvorak to start. But get them all if you want. They're cheap and great.

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    Senior Member bigshot's Avatar
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    Found another...

    Mozart Operas (Kleiber, Fricsay, Krips, Bohm)
    http://www.amazon.com/Mozarts-Best-O...dp/B003U8Q7NS/
    Last edited by bigshot; Aug-05-2012 at 21:02.

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    Thanks again. I get paid on Thursday, so hopefully the offer is still on then.

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    Senior Member MacLeod's Avatar
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    I've found Presto Classical helpful.

    You can do a search for a composition, hear some samples and read reviews. You can hear the differences between some versions, though this is not comprehensive. It's a starting point.

    http://www.prestoclassical.co.uk/sea...s+Khachaturian

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    For Khatchaturian, I really like this...
    http://www.amazon.com/Khachaturian-M.../dp/B00000GV4H

    There are collections on Living Stereo by Reiner and Fiedler with Sabre Dance, etc. those are great too. Makes ya wanna get up and jump around!

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    Senior Member Jeremy Marchant's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bigshot View Post
    Here are direct links for you...

    ... But get them all if you want. They're cheap and great.
    I'm not sure this is what you asked for, tolworthy. Huge shedloads of "essential" "masterpieces", largely performed by obscure musicians, are the least likely places to find the "great", exceptional performances you're seeking.

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