Music critic Tom Manoff says there are plenty of classical CDs that make great holiday gifts and won't bust your budget.
Shopping on a budget for the holidays this year? I'm always on the lookout for recordings that are pleasing to the ears and the pocketbook. Think about several things when shopping for budget-priced classical CDs. First, prices vary widely, so look around. Second, if you're shopping online, deal with a seller who responds quickly with a firm arrival date. And finally, understand that many budget CDs are re-releases, hence the low price. But some are as good as (or better than) higher-priced, more recent recordings of the same works. Here are five that made my list this season.
Concierto de Aranjuez
- from Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez; Fantasía para un gentilhombre
- by Julian Bream
Julian Bream is among the best guitarists in the world, and he's playing the famous "Concierto de Aranjuez" by Joaquin Rodrigo, the 20th-century Spanish composer. The concerto balances classical design with popular Spanish elements, neither of which can dominate in a successful performance. And Bream's pristine guitar technique, matched with his affinity for folk music, makes for a soulful and energetic sound.
String Quartet in F major
Ravel: String Quartet in F Major
- Song: String Quartet in F major
- from Debussy, Ravel: Streichquartette
- by Emerson String Quartet
French composer Maurice Ravel believed in mixing classical and popular traditions -- and also had a special attraction to the music of Spain. The second movement of his String Quartet is an example: The plucking and strumming evokes a Spanish guitar, while accompanying a folk-like French melody. The work is performed by the Emerson String Quartet, one of the world's best.
Missa Entre vous filles, for 5 voices
Missa Entre Vous Filles, for 5 Voices
- Song: Missa Entre vous filles, for 5 voices
- from Lassus: Masses For Five Voices, Infelix Ego
- by Oxford Camerata
Now to the 16th century and a very different style. This is music from the Flemish master Orlande de Lassus, one of his Masses for Five Voices. A good performance of Renaissance choral music sounds effortless, though it's never easy to bring that off. The ensemble here is the Oxford Camerata, directed by Jeremy Summerly.
Israel in Egypt, oratorio
Israel in Egypt, Oratorio
- Song: Israel in Egypt, oratorio
- from Handel: Israel in Egypt
- by Anthony Bramall
Staying with choral music, here's an oratorio by George Frideric Handel -- not his famous "Messiah," but the delightful and dramatic "Israel in Egypt." It’s a two-CD set with a handsome booklet, but priced as one budget CD.
Piano Concerto No. 2
- from Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2; Piano Sonata No. 1
- by Sviatoslav Richter
When legendary Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter first came to the U.S. in 1960, the piece he played first was the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Johannes Brahms with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. The recording of the work was made in the days after -- and remains, for me, the best version of the concerto on CD.