The Best Classical Music Recordings of All Time

A list of the best classical music recordings of all time, as determined by the editors of Classical Music Magazine.


Classical music is art music produced or rooted in the traditions of Western culture, including both liturgical (religious) and secular music. While a more precise term is also used to refer to the period from 1750 to 1820 (the Classical period), this article is about the broad span of time from before the 6th century AD to the present day, which includes the Classical period and various other periods. The central norms of this tradition became codified between 1550 and 1900, which is known as the common-practice period.

Western staff notation is used by composers to indicate to performers the pitches (which pitch class), tempo, metre and rhythms for a piece of music. This can leave less room for practices such as improvisation and ad libitum ornamentation, which are frequently heard in non-Western art music and popular music. Another difference between Western art music and popular music is that most Western art music has been written down in an arrangement for mass production and copyright protection. This contrasts with most popular styles, where singers are expected to learn songs “by ear”, by copying or by reference to recorded versions that are available commercially.

The term “classical music” did not appear until the early 19th century, when it was applied retrospectively to describe earlier periods of Western art music. It may be difficult to define classical music precisely, as it covers a huge range of styles from across Europe and beyond, from Gregorian chant through Bach’s Mass in B minor to 20th-century atonal works by John Cage; however classical periods tend broadly speaking be either before or after the Renaissance (roughly 1600).

The Best Classical Music Recordings of All Time

Bach – The Goldberg Variations

Bach – The Goldberg Variations is a classical music recordings of all time by Bach. It was first recorded by Glenn Gould in 1955.

Beethoven – Symphony No. 9

The Ninth Symphony is one of the most popular and well-known pieces of classical music, and it’s no wonder. The catchy “Ode to Joy” melody has been used in everything from commercials to movies, and the energetic opening movement is always a hit with audiences. But there’s more to this symphony than just a few famous tunes – it’s a complex work that shows Beethoven at the peak of his compositional powers.

This recording by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic is regarded by many as the best performance of the Ninth ever captured on record. Recorded in 1962, it features some of the finest musicians of the time, including bass-baritone Hermann Prey and contralto Jennie Tourel. Bernstein’s conducting is masterful, and he draws a remarkably cohesive performance out of the Philharmonic. This is a recording that any fan of classical music should own.

Brahms – Symphony No. 4

This recording of Brahms’s Symphony No. 4, conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini and performed by the Wiener Philharmoniker, is widely considered to be one of the best classical music recordings of all time. Released in 1981 on Deutsche Grammophon, it is prized for its beauty, elegance, and mastery of Brahms’s complex score.

Dvorak – Symphony No. 9

great but little-known recording of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 with Rafael Kubelik and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. This is easily one of the best classical music recordings of all time, and it’s a shame that it’s not better known.

Elgar – Enigma Variations

This record contains one of the most popular pieces of classical music ever written, Elgar’s Enigma Variations. The work is a set of 14 variations on an original theme, each one dedicated to a different friend or colleague of the composer. The piece was an instant success when it was first performed in 1899, and has remained popular ever since.

The recording on this record is by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir John Barbirolli. It was made in 1966, and is widely regarded as one of the finest recordings of the piece ever made. The playing by the London Symphony Orchestra is absolutely superb, and Barbirolli’s conducting is sensitive and precise. This is a must-have recording for anyone who loves classical music.

Mahler – Symphony No. 5

One of the most popular and well-loved symphonies of all time, Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 is a tour de force of emotion and technical prowess. First performed in 1904, the work has been recorded countless times by some of the world’s greatest orchestras and conductors. Here are 10 of the best recordings of this work, each one offering a unique perspective on Mahler’s complex and compelling masterpiece.

Mozart – Symphony No. 40

Mozart – Symphony No. 40 is a album by Mozart, recorded in 1965 by George Szell and The Cleveland Orchestra. The album was released in mono and stereo format on CBS Masterworks Records.

The album won the Grammy Award for Best Classical Album in 1966.

Schubert – Symphony No. 8

This is one of the most popular and well-known symphonies of all time, and for good reason. The melodies are absolutely beautiful, and the overall emotional tone of the piece is incredibly powerful. Even if you’re not a classical music fan, this is one recording that you absolutely need to hear.

Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 6

Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74, Pathétique is Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s final completed symphony, written between February and the end of August 1893.

The composer entitled the work “The Passionate Symphony”, using a Russian word, Патетическая (Pateticheskaya), which was then translated into French as Pathétique, meaning “passionate” or “emotional”. The exact inspiration for the symphony’s name is uncertain, but Tchaikovsky’s brother Modest claimed that it had been suggested by Anton Arensky.

The pathos of the work has led to numerous popular interpretations of its meaning, including that the symphony was a suicide note; Tchaikovsky died nine days after its premiere. However, there is no evidence that this was the composer’s intention.

The first recording of the symphony was made by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1929; it received critical acclaim and remains one of the most popular recordings ever made.


In conclusion, there are many great classical music recordings out there, and it really depends on your personal taste as to what you consider to be the best. However, the recordings listed above are definitely some of the most well-known and respected recordings in the history of classical music, and they are sure to provide you with hours of enjoyment.

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