Many aficionados of great music need time to prepare for the concert season. So for those who would like to examine next year's Annapolis Symphony Orchestra repertoire in advance, I make these compact disc recommendations.
Since Leon Fleisher will return to Annapolis to perform the Ravel Concerto for Left Hand, it seems only fitting to express my admiration for his Sony recording with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony, a disc that includes two additional works by Britten and Prokofieff.
For budget shoppers, there is a perfectly fine Naxos recording of the "Left Hand" combined with Ravel's irresistibly jazzy G major Concerto and De Falla's evocative "Nights in the Gardens of Spain." Naxos discs, you'll recall, sell for $5.99. For that kind of money, it's tough to go wrong.
For Ives' Second Symphony, look no further than Leonard Bernstein, who offers the marvelously eclectic piece along with six shorter orchestral works on Deutsche Grammophon. Bernstein championed Ives as the premier American symphonist, and this disc shows why.
Ravel's orchestrated version of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" (written originally for solo piano) is one of those virtuoso showpieces that every conductor wants to record. There are many fine ones.
I'm partial to the Neeme Jarvi/Chicago Symphony "Pictures" paired with Scriabin's "Poem of Ecstasy" on the Chandos label, and to Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony joined with a crackling Bartok "Concerto for Orchestra" on a London budget disc. Another excellent "Pictures" comes from Riccardo Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra on another budget offering. It's paired with Muti's searing "The Rite of Spring" -- Stravinsky that has to be heard to be believed.
The best Beethoven Violin Concerto I know comes from Itzhak Perlman and Carlo Maria Giulini on Angel. Profoundly lyrical, yet imbued with great inner strength, it may well be the finest recording of Perlman's distinguished career. I prefer it to his Berlin remake with Daniel Barenboim.
And if you like your Beethoven hot, hot, hot, there's the classic Heifetz/Munch on RCA. This may not be how you want to experience Beethoven every time out, but it's worth the money just to hear Heifetz.
Gustav Holst's "Planets" has become another one no conductor can resist. Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony have been captured in stunning sound by the London engineers.
I also like the old Bernstein version on Sony and the Ormandy on RCA, but the up-to-date production probably makes the Dutoit worth the extra couple of dollars.
There is tremendous sweep and panache from pianist Earl Wild in his Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto (Chesky), and for sheer bravura, it's tough to beat Gary Graffmaw and George Szell on CBS.
Van Cliburn's reprise of his award-winning Moscow performance RCA) is still an intriguing option, and among modern accounts, there's Mikhail Pletnev's Tchaikovsky on Virgin Classics.
For Shostakovich's saucy Concerto for Piano and obbligato trumpet, you'll enjoy pianist Andre Previn with Bernstein on Sony.
I'm not sure I've ever heard a bad performance of Bach's Double Violin Concerto, but my favorite is found on Arthur Grumiaux's set of the four Bach fiddle pieces on Philips Silver Line.
Yo-Yo Ma performs the Saint-Saens A-minor on a delightful CBS disc that also contains excellent accounts of the Second Piano Concerto and the Third Violin Concerto.
You can find Beethoven Ninths of every shape and size these days. My favorites include the gorgeously played and sung Dohnanyi/Cleveland (Telarc), the earlier of the two Solti/Chicago Ninths, and the strong, honest reading presided over by Gunter Wand (RCA).
I've not heard the new John Eliot Gardiner version of the Ninth, but none of the other period-performance specialists -- Hogwood, Bruggen, Goodman and Norrington to name a few -- have come close.