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TORONTO AUDIOPHILE | 8 Essential Classical Albums To Own On Vinyl

We are in Grammy/Juno nomination season and end of year ‘Best Recordings of the Year’ lists are appearing in my email thick and fast. It’s a fun time for music lovers and reviewers. What did we miss? What should we buy?

Considering classical music recording was supposed to be dead as a doornail, I’m getting lots of listening suggestions from friends, readers and the PR folks. The major recording companies we all knew as youngsters have been kneecapped — DGG, Decca and EMI, (the big three), were swallowed whole by Universal Music, and Warner Music gobbled up a couple of smaller companies.

Whither the independent recording company? Boutique companies have been popping up as fast as you can say “hostile takeover.”

There are many reasons, other than the dreaded bottom line, that is to blame for the loss of these legacy companies and the general thinning out of new performances of classic repertoire by star soloists and orchestras. If you are Lang Lang, Yo-Yo Ma, or Renee Fleming, you have a large enough following to warrant new recordings. If you can’t guarantee sales, you’re basically out of luck, save for the generosity of wealthy patrons or self-publication. Remastered classics are an easy sell, with a much lower bottom line for the companies. And, the performances and recordings are generally better (I remember getting the legendary Karajan/Beethoven Symphony set for $19 one Boxing Day Sale at HMV on Yonge St — speaking of changes, where are they now?) So, why would I spend 10 x the amount on a new Beethoven set, that’s half as good?

Savvy orchestras like the Berlin Phil and the London Symphony led the way for the Chicago Symphony and a few others to self-produce (LSO Live, CSO ReSound), many others don’t have the funds, the following, the international quality or a social media savvy director (some orchestras don’t even have a free Twitter, Instagram or Facebook page!). Leading boutique companies like Reference Recordings (beloved by audiophiles) used to record with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and now mount recordings in Kansas City and Salt Lake City. Another boutique shining light, Harmonia Mundi is big in Lucerne and Cologne. New York? Fuggedaboutit!

CDs have made way for streaming (if you don’t have a Tidal HiFi subscription, you should — look for a Toronto Audiophile column soon focusing on streaming). But the LP still burns brightly, especially with young folks and audiophiles. And nowhere will you find better reissues of legendary performances than on the marvellous LP pressings from Testament, Speakers Corner, Classic Records, and many others. Legacy recordings available in the here and now, with original art and the original mastering. These LP reissues are readily available from online retailers such as Elusive Disc or Soundstage Direct. But, many of the Toronto audiophile stores have the very best of them available for purchase. I’ve never felt as excited as leaving a shop with a pristine, 180g vinyl pressing of a great recording.

I could list over 100 that you should have in your collection, but I’ll offer only eight to start. 180g reissues can be expensive (up to $50), so we’ll walk before we run. These are my Top 8 LP classical reissues that should be the basis of any new classical vinyl collection. They are geared towards music lovers and audiophiles. As such, performance and recording will be the very best you can find. Let this short list be a spark for research into others that you may like to add to your collection.

If you already have them as original pressings, lucky you. Invariably, in the right, mint pressing (eg. Camden, NJ, not Montreal pressings of classic RCA LSC ‘Shaded Dogs’; Decca over London, unless the London is a ‘Blueback’, etc. — we can easily get down into the weeds), the sound will be even better than a reissue. The caveat? FYI, an original Camden pressing of the ‘Royal Ballet Gala’ on RCA will set you back $1500. As such, the $50 reissue is a pretty good deal.

So, here are my audiophile orchestral gems you should have in your vinyl collection. Each is a masterpiece of sound and performance.

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For local availability, try American Sound of Canada in Stouffville or Audio Excellence in Markham.

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