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INTRODUCTION Though few of them make much effort to entice a new audience to their product, the recording companies continue to pour out a flood of classical music. The catalogue of current classical CDs runs to more than two and half thousand tightly packed pages, and lists nearly three hundred composers before reaching the second letter of the alphabet. An average month sees some four hundred recordings and re-issues added to the pile. The Rough Guide to Classical Music attempts to make sense of this overwhelming volume of music, giving you the information thats essential whether youre starting from the beginning or have already begun exploring. As well as being a buyers guide to CDs, this book is a whos who of classical music, ranging from Hildegard of Bingen, one of the great figures of eleventh-century European culture, to Thomas AdГЁs, born in London in 1971. Of course weve had to be selective, both with the composers and with their output - Domenico Scarlatti, for example, was a fascinating musician, but no book of this scope could do justice to each of his five hundred keyboard sonatas. Gaetano Donizetti wrote more than seventy operas, but you wouldnt want to listen to all of them. Weve gone for what we think are the best works by the most interesting composers, mixing some underrated people with the big names, and highlighting some we think you should keep an eye on. When it comes to CDs the situation requires even greater ruthlessness. Beethoven may have written only nine symphonies, but there are more than one hundred versions of the fifth in the catalogue, and scores of recordings of all the others. Several of these CDs should never have been issued - they are there simply because any up-and-coming conductor has to make a Beethoven recording as a kind of calling card, regardless of any aptitude for the music. However, a fair proportion of the Beethoven CDs are worth listening to, because a piece of music as complex as a Beethoven symphony will bear as many different readings as a Shakespeare play. Although there are recordings that stand head and shoulders above the competition, no performance can be described as definitive, which is one reason why we have often recommended more than one account of a work. Whereas all our first-choice CDs make persuasive cases for the music, some of the additional recommendations are included because they make provocative counter-arguments. Where price is a consideration, weve also listed a lower-cost alternative whenever appropriate - thus we might suggest a mid-price boxed set of symphonies as an alternative to buying them as full-price individual CDs. Finally, in many instances weve picked an outstanding pre-stereo performance as a complement to a modern recording. These `historic reissues are the one reliable growth area in the classical music industry, and their success is not due to mere nostalgia. There are some great musicians around today, but theres also a lot of hype in the business, with many soloists owing their success more to the way they look than to the way they play - and conversely, many superlative musicians who remain obscure because they dont project the requisite glamour. Its in the area of orchestral music and opera that the situation is especially bad, notwithstanding the technically immaculate quality of many digital recordings. Orchestral musicians are now trained to a very high standard, but only a few of the top-class orchestras enjoy the sort of long-term relationship with an individual conductor that can mould a distinctive identity. The same goes for opera companies, which used to have a stable core of singers and musicians working under the same conductor for years. Now theres a system based on jet-setting stars, who might be performing in London one night, New York the next, then in the recording studio for a few days to record something with people they hadnt met until the day the session started. You dont necessarily get a good football team by paying millions for a miscellaneous batch of top-flight players, and you dont build a good musical team that way either. Musically, then, new is not always best. And dont assume that a recording made more than thirty years ago will sound terrible. Sound quality wont match that of digital CDs, but youll be surprised at how good it can be - indeed, many people prefer the warmth of the old analogue sound to the often chilly precision produced by modern studios. (Weve warned you if surface noise or tinny quality might be a hindrance to enjoyment.) In short, youll be missing a lot if you insist on hi-tech - few recent releases can match Vladimir Horowitzs 1940 account of Tchaikovskys Piano Concerto No. 1, for instance, or Josef Hofmanns versions of the Chopin piano concertos from the 1930s.

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