The Art of Piano: Great Pianists of the 20th century (3 CDs, 1999
Philips 464 381 2)
One may argue that this potpourri of composers and pianists is too eclectic and the sound quality far from perfect. I would simply answer that as long as it offers great pieces like Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody by Ignace Jan Paderewski, recorded in 1922, or Sergei Rachmaninov playing his own Moments musicaux op. 16 (No. 2), recorded in 1940, I don't care. Among other artists I could mention Vladimir Horowitz, György Cziffra, Artur Rubinstein, Wilhelm Backhaus, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (with Scarlatti's Sonata in B minor, L.449) or Glenn Gould (with Ravel's La Valse, recorded in 1974). Can you ask for more? Get it from Amazon.com.
Stravinsky: Symphonies of Wind Instrument, Symphony of Psalms, Symphony in Three Mouvements. Berliner Philharmoniker, Pierre Boulez (1999 Deutsche Grammophon 457 616 2)
Bring together two big names in classical music, Stravinsky and the Berlin Philharmonic Ochestra under the direction of Pierre Boulez, and you would expect to get a feast for your ears - but only if you like Stravinsky and religious music. As an atheist, I must admit that Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms is not in my taste. Despite all efforts and goodwill, I hate it. Stravinsky composed it in 1930 for the Boston Symphonie Orchestra. Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments are based on a chorale, that's already better since there is nobody singing ... Only his Symphony in Three Mouvements composed between 1942 and 1945 for New York, first performed in 1946, shows the Stravinsky I like. More than 22 minutes of pure pleasure. The first mouvement was prompted by a documentary film of scorched-earth tactics in China, the second by the movie The Song of Bernadette where it was drafted for the apparition of the Virgin, and the third mouvement was composed for documentaries on soldiers and on the rise of the Allies. Stravinsky later called it his "symphony on war". But he never got the chance to work for Hollywood.
Bruckner: Symphony No. 7. Wiener Philharmoniker, Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 7 was first performed by the Gewandhaus Ochestra under Arthur Nikisch in Leipzig on December 30, 1884. It made him famous in Europe and even in the USA. Bruckner was already sixty and had been composing symphonies for some twenty years. His foe and Vienna's leading music critic, Eduard Hanslick, called it "sick and perverse", but in spite of this attack, Bruckner's Symphony No. 7 became his masterpiece. A slow composer, he worked for more than two years on it. But unlike most of his other symphonies, it exists in only one version (only bars 177-182 of the Adagio survive in divergent versions) so Bruckner must have ragarded it as somehow finished. And he was right, the Symphony No. 7 became an instant success. The interpretation by the Wiener Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt keeps up with this high standard. Harnoncourt, born in 1929, is one of the conductors that fully respects the works of the composers. In 1953, he founded, together with his wife Alice, the Vienna Concentus Musicus, whose members perform exclusively on period instruments. Get it from Amazon.com.