First loves forever?

Do your first purchases of great music on disc still stack up? With me, some do, some don’t. Here are a few examples.

Brahms Symphony 4            Bruno Walter/NYPO              No     Toscanini and the BBC Symphony stepped ahead of Walter

Heifetz @ co in Mozart’s G minor Quintet                         Yes

Karajan and the Philharmonia in Sibelius 2                     No (no edge to the performance)   Monteux, Ansermet and Toscanini (1940), all vastly superior (IMHO)

The Oistrakhs/Kondrashin in Mozart’s E flat Sinfonia concertante    Yes

Verdi’s Falstaff – Toscanini, NBC                                          Yes

Furtwängler Tristan                                                               No – in general I prefer the leaner, fierier Carlos Kleiber

Mahler 9 Bernstein NYPO                                                     No – Walter pre-Anschluss gets me every time

Bach solo violin Sonatas – Heifetz                                       Yes … but Hilary Hahn is coming close

Can I have some of your hits and misses?








17 thoughts on “First loves forever?

  1. Mark

    For my 18th birthday my parents wanted to get me a cd. They asked the chap in HMV Manchester for a recording that would last a lifetime, he suggested Michelangeli Debussy Images. Best present ever….thankyou HMV man!


  2. What a choice Mark. I’ll never forget seeing Michelangeli playing the Bach Chaconne arranged by Busoni at the Royal Festival Hall in 1973. His recordings of it (one ‘studio’, the others ‘live’) pip all others to the post. You can even hear that 1973 recording on line. Thanks for writing.


  3. That is a fascinating question.

    So, my first Ring was Solti/VPO/Decca. I never listen to it now – it is my least favourite but I thought it was unbeatable in my teens! Furtwangler is now my favourite Wagner conductor, but overall I would probably rank Keilberth as my favourite complete Ring (preferably with Modl rather than Varnay). And Goodall’s is unique.

    My first lieder recordings were without exception all by Fischer-Dieskau/Moore (again in my teens). It pains me to confess that these are no longer my favourites. I still adore Fischer-Dieskau (and, perhaps even more, Hermann Prey), but of contemporary singers I find both Gerhaher and Goerne preferable. Also, I find modern accompanists of far greater imagination and excitement than Moore – albeit he was a genuine accompanist.

    I still think Regine Crespin’s Scherazade/Nuits d’Ete the best of all, despite some wonderful new performances.

    Menuhin’s Elgar Violin Concerto (with Elgar conducting) was my first of this favourite work – but it certainly isn’t my favourite now. I think this has now become Znaider with Colin Davis.

    My first recording of the Schubert Quintet was the famous Stern/Casals/Tortelier. I still love it,but it’s not my favourite – but I’m not sure which is.

    Finally, I thought for ages that the Beecham/de los Angeles Carmen was unbeatable. It was my first, but no longer. For me, the choice is now between Solti and Rattle.

    I could go on …….


    1. Well Richard the general pattern of your listening experience is quite similar to mine, certainly when it comes to The Ring and Wagner generally. Next week on Cowan’s Classics you can hear the slow movement of the Elgar Concerto played with remarkable eloquence by Aldo Ferraresi, the most Sammons-like performance since Sammons (who I’m informed never actually liked his recording under Henry Wood, thought it too rushed). As to F-D since learning much lieder repertoire through his wonderful recordings I’ve grown to know (and love) the music so much more and therefore respond to a wider range of interpretations. Re the Schubert Quintet I adore the chalk-and-cheese alternatives of Stern/Casals and Heifetz/Piatigorsky. And like you, I could go on.


  4. David Edwards

    Always best to be positive, so
    Bartók quartets – Juilliard on CBS LPs – still sound good to me, though very definitely supplemented by the Végh (and Keller) quartet versions
    Beethoven quartets – still love my original Quartetto Italiano LPs, though my go-to version would now be the Végh, even if I only have CDs of them, complemented by the Busch of course
    Berg Lyric Suite – Telefunken LP with the Alban Berg quartet. I can’t imagine it being bettered.
    Schubert, the 3 great song cycles Fischer-Dieskau/Moore on an HMV 3-LP set
    Tippett 2 Colin Davis LSO a revelation and it still is
    a lovely Oiseau-Lyre LP of Dumbarton Oaks, the Concerto in D and Danses Concertantes, again with Colin Davis but this time with the ECO
    Brahms op 117,119 by Steven Kovacevich
    Scarlatti – i don’t imagine that I will even want or need to replace the magnificent Scott Ross box.
    And I still have a soft spot for the Qt Italiano’s Webern LP which apparently one is not supposed to admire – probably a case where the revelation of the (later) works fixed the interpretation forever in my affections.

    A first love even if it came second: reading a positive review in Gramophone persuaded me to buy the Mozart quintets with the Juilliard on CBS rather than the supplemented Grumiaux trio recording I had been intending to get. I was instantly disappointed by the Juilliard version, including by its sound and still adore the Grumiaux.- especially in its vinyl incarnation, very audibly superior to the ‘Duo’ series CD transfer I also have.

    The works where I have subsequently found versions which convince me more would include the Mozart quartets, any old recordings of Vivaldi – historically informed performances have brought more sparing/thoughtful use of vibrato, greater transparency and fresh insights – my first recording of the Beethoven piano concertos, ditto of the Beethoven violin sonatas… with works as rich as these one needs multiple versions and is always interested to hear new interpretations. For keyboard Bach on the piano in the 70s one bought Gould, so I did too; now I’d definitely listen to Schiff or Edwin Fischer. (If one listens to Gould’s recordings now, it’s to hear Gould, I think, not Bach.) But the first acquisitions were exciting steps along the way and if they led to even more interesting ground they were still a precious and exciting part of the journey.


  5. This is all great David. Thank you so much. I’m with you with the Grumiaux Mozart quintets though I couldn’t be without the Epic Juilliard recordings of the six ‘Haydn’ Quartets. As for late Brahms. Gieseking for me (now on APR) though, yes, Kovacevich is very fine. And the Schubert song cycles? F-D’s first shots, certainly, but also Gerhard Hüsch and yes, the Bartók Quartets (which I’ve just been writing about), the (middle) Juiilliards and the (second) Véghs. Keep well. Best. Rob


    1. David Edwards

      Yes, those are the versions of the Bartók I meant, thanks for adding those important details, and indeed the early F-D (I’m not AT ALL a lieder expert). Thanks for the advice about Gieseking’s Brahms which I don’t know at all. For ‘even’ please read ‘ever’ in my words about the Scott Ross Scarlatti.


  6. Hi Rob. I think we classical lovers are sometimes guilty of ‘chasing the dragon’ to use a drug analogy. Somehow, we are trying to repeat the first experience of a work but, with subsequent recordings, we never quite manage it.

    For example, my first ever experience of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony was with Sir Alexander Gibson and the SNO at the Usher Hall in 1977 which I simply had to get a record of. A visit to Rea Macintosh in Edinburgh yielded a CfP disc of those artists which I was thrilled at finding and I played that record over and over.
    Since then, I must have bought dozens of CDs of this work and heard it many times by some pretty classy maestri and orchestras but there’s still something about that CfP disc that the others don’t quite reach.

    Another example is Igor Oistrakh playing the Tchaikovsky violin concerto with his father, David, conducting the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra on Melodyia that my father bought in Canada. I must have virtually every recording of that work available and there are some pretty stunning recordings BUT it’s always that one I return to as the ‘yard stick’. Alas, it’s never been released on cd but I was lucky enough to obtain an open Reel Tape which I had transferred to cd by an excellent company in Wales. I even managed to photograph the cover and made a pretty convincing copy. (For personal use only!)

    In fact, this year I’ve decided to cut back on buying new discs and am having Lps transferred to cd including Alan Loveday and Manoug Parikian playing the Beethoven violin concerto, The SNO under Boult from the early 1960’s playing Elgar 2, Gibson and the SNO playing Prokofiev 5 from 1963 and all the Igor Oistrakh recordings that I’ve waited patiently but in vain to be released on cd.


    1. I get your drift Rob. For me, first loves are rarely lasting – though thanks to a colleague I recently managed to get hold of an early Sixties Prokofiev Third Symphony with Rozhdestvensky and the Philharmonia, terrific. I also attended, as a young teen, the famous Albert Hall concert where the Oistrakhs played that Mozart Sinfonia concertante with the Moscow Phil under Menuhin – now happily out on both CD and DVD. Best. Rob


      1. Wow, Rob! What I would give to have been at that Menuhin/Oistrakh concert. I have both the cd and DVD and it’s amazing music making. At least I got to hear Perlman and Zukerman play K.364 in Washington.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. A neighborhood flea market had a US Deeca LP of Debussy’s’ Etudes played by Monique Haas that amazes me since age 17. First hearings of Celibidache on Italian pirate vinyls and CDs thrilled by eavesdropping on an artist who despised records. Their fascination wore thin, except for his Berlioz and Bruckner from RAI Torino from the 1960s. A video of the Fantastique thrills in the way he resembles Liszt in the 1860s – long hair waving as he urges on the orchestra, as if Liszt conducted.


  8. Heard Celibidache here in London Allan conducting the LSO in, among other works, La Mer, Dvorak 7, Prokofiev 5 and most amazing a suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet – Romeo at Juliet’s Tomb being quite devastating in its impact. The recordings, whether from Stuttgart, Sweden, or Italy, are variable – the new Munich Phil releases are good and there’s a great Romeo sequence there too. Best. Rob


  9. Tully Potter

    Rob, the first three Classical LPs I bought, as I may have told you before, were all conducted by Fricsay: Scheherazade, the ‘New World’ and the ‘Pathétique’. I still love all three, although if I reached for the Dvorák today, it would be a Czech conductor, and my first choice for the Tchaikovsky would be Mravinsky. I don’t think I own a second Scheherazade. It is sad if one moves on from one’s first loves, but many of mine stay with me because they opened doors for me. If one is lucky, the doors keep opening – I was in my 60s when Boulez persuaded me that Mahler’s Sixth was a real symphony.


    1. Hi Tully. Great to have you here! Agreed on all fronts there, especially re Czech takes on the New World. Tchaikovsky? Certainly when it comes to the Pathétiqiue it has to be Mravinsky though Pristine Audio have just released a live Koussevitzky version which I’m looking forward to hearing again (I heard it years ago but it didn’t displace Mravinsky in my affections). I love the freshness, candour and immediacy of Fricsay, always good to have to hand as a second choice. As to Mahler 6 when I first heard it (on a Sunday afternoon under Berthold Goldschmidt as I recall) I had to go out for a brisk walk afterwards, I was so affected. Among Boulez Mahler performances, the Ninth has moved me most. With the Sixth Rosbaud and Gielen are my favourites. Neither rush their fences and both treat the work as a serious symphonic statement rather than as a worn out neurotic throwing his toys out the pram (I know that sounds disrespectful to Mahler but I hope that you and everyone else know what I mean – a sequence of overplayed effects). Very best. Rob



    Wyn Morris conducting Mahler’s Resurrection. Great interpretation in the making. However – even though British musicians were and are the best sight readers in the world – it needed more rehearsal time. I prefer Bernstein, Rattle, Scherchen or Tennstedt now.


    1. I saw Kubelík do the Resurrection with the LSO at the Royal Albert Hal (in the early 1970s)l and that was mightily impressive. My personal favourites on disc are vintage broadcasts, Walter with the NYPSO, Klemperer at the Concertgebouw and from rather later Haitink is great too. Good to hear from you.


    2. Hi David. Saw Kubelík with the LSO in the late 1970s, which was mightily impressive (I like his discs too). Also keen on vintage broadcasts under Walter (NYPSO) and Klemperer (Concertgebouw) even though you need to use your imagination while listening. Very best. Rob.


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