Your 20 favourite BBC Music CDs

We take a 20th-anniversary look at the best discs to have graced BBC Music Magazine


Since BBC Music Magazine launched 20 years ago, we have produced 248 cover CDs in total. Beginning with Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony and Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem back in September 1992, our discs have covered repertoire ranging from solo instrumental recitals to grand orchestral masterpieces, from the smallest of choral works to complete operas and oratorios.

In our July issue, we asked readers to tell us which BBC Music cover discs you have enjoyed the most. The response was terrific. Here’s what 20 of you had to say:

An Apline Symphony‘There have been some truly outstanding performances. Who remembers that Mariss Jansons once had a flourishing relationship with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales? Fabulously played, their thrilling live 1991 performance of Strauss's Alpine Symphony from St David’s Hall (January 1993 issue) takes much beating.’
Laurie Watt, London

‘My choice was easy: your premier performance and recording of Britten’s early ballet score Plymouth Town (November 2006).  I feel that this is a real addition to the repertoire, and I am surprised that there has not been a recording from a commercial record company. Perhaps next year, for the centenary?’
Joseph Cooper, California, US

‘In November 1994, you issued Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony played by the BBC Philharmonic under Edward Downes. I thought it was wonderful and was delighted when, sometime later on Desert Island Discs, the music critic Felix Aprahamian chose it as one of his eight discs, pointing out that it was a pity it wasn't available commercially. Nice to have your opinion verified by a professional!’
John King, Bexley, Kent

Walton‘One I find I want to listen to again and again is the live 1975 Proms performance of Walton’s First Symphony from the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sir Adrian Boult (August 2009 issue), despite the horns’ fluff in the first movement. As an ex-horn player I know how easy that is to do. I love live performances on CD – I believe that is what the CD format does best – and indeed should always do!’
Ian Hytch, via email

‘My favourite cover disc was the one where Michael Tippett conducted his own Second and Fourth symphonies (February 1995 issue). Not only was this remarkable given the composer's age (approaching 90 when he made the recordings), but there is a vitality and energy about these bubbling performances that is thoroughly infectious. There is a bounding energy that comes across in this CD.’ Audio clip below
JS Nicholson, via email

‘Maybe it is because I am a horn player but I really love the Schumann CD you released in January 2010 that contained a live performance of his Konzertstuck for Four Horns and Orchestra. I know how difficult this piece is to play and therefore how impressive an achievement it is to produce such an exciting performance (especially that amazing Finale) at the Proms. Every time I listen to the CD the excitement of this roller coaster ride comes through every time.’ Audio clip below
Norman Owen, Kenilworth

‘My favourite CD is Edith Vogel playing Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata (March 1994 issue). So many unsatisfactory performances bring promise and then disappointment, but in this performance, we meet a quite frail, elderly lady pitting herself against the impossible task with a spirit and inner strength which overwhelms you.’
John Ponter, via email

 ‘One cover CD I enjoyed very much but lost when I lent it Beethovento a friend was the Yan-Pascal Tortelier narration of Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (June 2000). But my favourite of all must be the Mozart Kegelstatt Trio coupled with Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence (February 2001) – a beautiful recording of the former and a wonderfully passionate recording of the latter, which never fails to delight me!’
Stephen Orton, Norwich

‘My favourite disc is Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 1 with Nelson Goerner and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christoph Koenig (October 2009). I remember buying the magazine on the way to France for holiday and then listening by a log fireside while sipping champagne. Marvellous. Just listened again and the performance is every bit as good as I remembered it.’
Jonathan Espley, via email

 ‘Having collected these cover discs from Vol. 1 No. 1 to the present, I found it very difficult to choose from the many favourites that I continue to enjoy. Eventually I decided on the disc that came with your October 1997 issue. This is the finest performance and recording I know of Mozart's Serenade in B flat for Thirteen Wind Instruments K361, played on this disc by the Wind Soloists of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment directed by Anthony Halstead. Pure joy from start to finish!’
Graham Williams, via email

‘My favourite cover CD was recorded to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Bridgewater Hall (August 2006 issue). It includes Anne Schwanewilms singing Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs, with Mark Elder conducting the Hallé Orchestra. This was my first CD of the piece; I’ve bought several since, some of which have equalled, but none of which has exceeded the quality of the cover CD (to my mind), in terms of pacing, clarity, heartfelt understatement and sheer beauty.’
Rob Kelsey, via email

 Beethoven String Quartets‘My favourite cover CD? Definitely the Pavel Haas Quartet playing three Beethoven String Quartets (May 2009). Their playing is a revelation. These are the performances that I have waited decades to hear.’
John Martin, Queensland, Australia

‘The first issue I received as a subscriber was March 1993, with the cover CD of the BBC Scottish SO performing Rachmaninov’s The Isle of the Dead and Stravinsky’s Petrushka (1947 version).  It was my introduction to both pieces, and indeed my introduction to Stravinsky. The Isle of the Dead was a true eye-opener – as described, it is a musical depiction of a soul’s final journey across the River Styx.  The minor key and 5/4 time signature make sure of that.  It’s an absolutely beautiful piece.’
Josephine Marie Thane, Kansas, US

‘One I return to again and again is January 1996’s CD of piano trios by Beethoven (Op. 97 in B flat, ‘Archduke’) and Dvorák (the ‘Dumky’) by the Frankl /Pauk /Kirschbaum Trio. I have several different performances of these works but there is something very polished and coherent in how they play together.’ Audio clip below
Rob Stuart, Cambridge

‘For me, your February 2000 CD of Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (Kathryn Stott) and Symphony 3 conducted by Marin Alsop are still today the best recordings of these pieces available. To be fair, there are some moments in the Concerto when the orchestra isn’t completely together and the brass is possibly too prominent in the Symphony, but actually these just lend a human and ‘live’ element that makes these recordings even more enjoyable.’ Audio clip below
Colin Hart, via email

‘I would choose the recording of Martinů’s The Epic of Gilgamesh accompanying the July 1996 issue. Jirí Bélohlávek, at the helm of a quartet of vocal soloists and the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducts a searing and idiomatic live performance of an underrated and underperformed 20th-century masterpiece. Surprisingly, there are only two commercial recordings of this cantata.’
Joseph Camilleri, Malta

‘I have only recently subscribed to BBC Music Magazine, and my favourite CD since I began reading is April 2012’s ‘Sacred Choral Music by Byrd and Tallis’. However, before then I bought a copy of May 2008’s ‘Renaissance Choral Music’ from a second-hand shop. Due to my love of pre-classical music, these two are among my favourite cover CDs. I would love to see more pre-classical recordings both on the radio and accompanying my favourite magazine.’
Aidan Tulloch (aged 12), via email

‘The cover CD which I’ve had most enjoyment from has been Shostakovich’s 11th Symphony (Bournemouth SO/Karabits; September 2009). I'd never listened to Shostakovich before, and its impact opened a whole new musical journey for me – I’m loving the Petrenko/RLPO Shostakovich cycle on Naxos at the moment. Not only that, but the CD cover notes were captivating, and have let me into an interest in modern Russian history. So thank you!’
Ben Bass, via email

‘I’ll opt for the DVD of the Proms concert that featured two Fourths – the Beethoven Piano Concerto and the Nielsen Symphony. This was especially welcome because no Proms concert has been telecast in the US for at least the past ten years; and aside from the occasional Last Night DVD, we in the States have no opportunity to see these concerts.’
Isaac Segal, New Jersey, US

Walton and Takemitsu‘The most memorable cover CD arrived with your July 1994 issue. Left on a shelf, unopened, I grabbed it just as my wife and I went out the door to go to the hospital to deliver our second son, Jonathan. Labour proved long and, for a diversion, I put the CD in the player we had brought along. Into the room, by stealth, slipped the covert energy of the Walton First Symphony, followed by Takemitsu's From Me Flows What Is Called Time.  I wish I could report that Jonathan emerged triumphant with the exultant conclusion of the Walton, but he also missed his cue with the hushed ending of the Takemitsu. It was well after we finished playing either that he entered the world, screaming in protest.’
Eric Benjamin, Ohio, US

…and one favourite CD cover
‘I rather liked the landscape with a gate and footpath sign in the foreground on the cover of Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 5 (July 2008).  I don't recognise the location (and can't read the sign) but that's not the point.  The illustration fits perfectly with RVW's construction of (in the words of the programme notes) ‘an idealised, abstract, timeless England’.
John Radford, Toronto

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