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 Awards, The 1960s: Our 25 Greatest Recordings

The 1960s: Our 25 Greatest RecordingsIn this, the first of a new series looking at the greatest recordings of each decade, the Presto editorial team have set themselves the challenging but pleasant task of picking out the very, very best recordings from the 1960s.

This was a decade that saw many iconic artists at the peak of their musical powers; with Fischer-Dieskau, Schwarzkopf, Karajan, Rubinstein, Baker, Sutherland and others all on the roll-call, any attempt to exclude a particular recording was bound to (and did) meet stiff opposition from within the team...

But after many hours of heated discussions we have come up with 25 recordings that we felt we just couldn't do without!

Our 25 Greatest Recordings of the 1960s

Walter Berry, Christa Ludwig, London Symphony Orchestra, István Kertész

Few accounts of Bartok's only opera have captured the work's ambiguity and claustrophobia like István Kertész's 1965 recording with the London Symphony Orchestra and real-life husband-and-wife Walter Berry and Christa Ludwig as Bluebeard and Judith, the mezzo giving sopranos a run for their money in the climactic high C at the famous 'Fifth Door' moment (Katherine Cooper).

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti

It was a toss up between this recording and the later digital recording which Solti made with the Chicago Symphony. In the end we decided this one had the slight edge in terms of raw excitement and characterful orchestral playing - and the Dance Suite coupling is outstanding too. (Chris O'Reilly)

Available Formats: Presto CD, MP3, FLAC

Maria Callas, Christa Ludwig, Franco Corelli, Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala Milan, Tullio Serafin

The word 'legendary' is over-used, but there's no other way to describe Callas' Casta Diva. Fifty-five years on, her ill-fated druidess is as convincing as ever - and Franco Corelli's heroically lovesick Roman proconsul deserves a mention in despatches too. (David Smith)

Available Formats: 3 CDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Gundula Janowitz, Hilde Rössel-Majdan, Waldemar Kmentt, Walter Berry; Berliner Philharmoniker & Wiener Singverein, Herbert von Karajan

Karajan recorded the Beethoven symphonies no fewer than four times for DG, but for me this 1963 set narrowly edges ahead of the rest. There's an intensity to the Funeral March of the Eroica, a warmth to the Pastoral and a grandeur to the Ninth that amazes me every time. It comes as no surprise to learn that ten years after its release it had sold nearly one million copies. Aided by thrilling sound in this 2013 remastering, it is exemplary in every respect. (James Longstaffe)

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Gundula Janowitz, Hilde Rössel-Majdan, Waldemar Kmentt, Walter Berry; Berliner Philharmoniker & Wiener Singverein, Herbert von Karajan

The old remastering is worth including as it is still pretty splendid, and at a cheaper price remains a great bargain.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Philharmonia Chorus & Orchestra, Otto Klemperer

Otto Klemperer's tempi may seem slow to modern ears but he was a consummate Brahmsian, and from its rich dark opening to its serene close, this performance has a depth and dignity I've never heard from anyone else. (David Smith)

Available Format: CD

Galina Vishnevskaya, Peter Pears, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Benjamin Britten

Set down on disc in a studio-recording at the Kingsway Hall rather than at its less-than-auspicious premiere at Coventry Cathedral a year earlier, this recording of Britten's War Requiem under the baton of the composer sold 200,000 copies within six months of release; little wonder, given the searingly committed performances of the three soloists and massed forces. (Katherine Cooper)

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC

A fascinating window on the early career of a remarkable pianist who continues to go from strength to strength today. This all-Chopin recital (built around the mighty B minor Sonata) has all the intensity and power of a live performance. (David Smith)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC, Hi-Res+ FLAC

Perhaps nobody could play Chopin like Rubinstein; here he shows why his reputation as the arch-Romantic pianist is so richly deserved. (David Smith)

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Joan Sutherland, Renato Cioni, Robert Merrill, Cesare Siepi, Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Sir John Pritchard

Joan Sutherland would record the title-role in Lucia di Lammermoor several times in the course of her career, but her first studio-recording shows her in freshest voice, with all the sparkle that earned her the nickname 'La stupenda' a couple of years earlier (Katherine Cooper).

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Mstislav Rostropovich, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Herbert von Karajan

Maybe I'm biased (I am a cellist) but I have owned this recording since aged in single digits and have treasured it beyond most others ever since. Rostropovich is in his absolute prime with such apparent ease and beauty of tone throughout, while Karajan and his Berlin Philharmonic are at their brilliant and sensitive best. (Chris O'Reilly)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Jacqueline du Pré, Janet Baker, London Symphony Orchestra, Sir John Barbirolli

Made when she was just 20, Jacqueline du Pré's searing 1965 account of Elgar's Cello Concerto with Sir John Barbirolli and the London Symphony Orchestra has become a sort of gold standard against which all subsequent recordings of the work are inevitably measured; Janet Baker's deeply-felt Sea Pictures (made two years earlier) is similarly definitive. (Katherine Cooper)

Available Format: CD

Sinfonia of London & New Philharmonia Orchestra, Sir John Barbirolli

Sir John Barbirolli's affinity for the English composers of the twentieth century is both well known and beyond doubt; among his many acclaimed recordings this collection of string works stands particularly tall. Vaughan Williams' two Fantasias are a delight. (David Smith)

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Eberhard Wächter, Joan Sutherland, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf et al, Philharmonia Orchestra & Chorus, Carlo Maria Giulini

There's so much to praise in Giulini's 1961 Don Giovanni, from Eberhard Wächter's patrician libertine and Luigi Alva's elegant Ottavio to the glacial beauty of Joan Sutherland's Anna and the regal dignity of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's Elvira; the final scene, with Gottlob Frick a stentorian Commendatore, retains its terrifying power 50 years later. (Katherine Cooper)

Available Formats: 3 CDs, MP3, FLAC

Janet Baker, Raimund Herincx, Patricia Clark, Monica Sinclair, English Chamber Orchestra, Anthony Lewis

You'll love or loathe Monica Sinclair's scenery-chewing Sorceress, but this recording is unmissable for the regal dignity of Janet Baker's Queen of Carthage; her eloquent and supremely moving account of Dido's famous Lament has featured on numerous celebrities' 'Desert Islands', and remains one of the high points of her distinguished discography. (Katherine Cooper)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Vladimir Ashkenazy, Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, Kirill Kondrashin, London Symphony Orchestra, Anatole Fistoulari

Vladimir Ashkenazy's accounts of the piano works of Rachmaninov are widely acknowledged as superlative; here, in the company of orchestras from the USSR and the UK, he performs the composer's most popular two piano concertos in recordings which although over fifty years old are still unsurpassable. (David Smith)

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Régine Crespin, L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Ernest Ansermet

The entire editorial team were unanimous on this one: recorded in 1963 and 1967 in Geneva and London, Régine Crespin's voluptuous yet infinitely subtle accounts of Berlioz's Les Nuits d'été and Ravel's Shéhérazade rank as some of the greatest French song recordings ever made (Katherine Cooper).

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

One of the great chamber music recordings of all time, the Borodin Quartet's 1962 account of Shostakovich's powerful 8th String Quartet has long stood the test of time. The magnificent rich recorded sound is equally resplendent in the original LP coupling of Borodin's 2nd String Quartet (Chris O'Reilly)

Available Format: CD

Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, Evgeny Mravinsky

Expertly remastered recordings of three definitive accounts of Tchaikovsky. The exquisitely beautiful horn solo in the Fifth is a particular highlight, and the Sixth packs as much of an emotional punch as any on record. (David Smith)

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Philharmonia Chorus & Orchestra, Carlo Maria Giulini

In Giulini's ever-capable hands the sheer operatic intensity of Verdi's Messa da Requiem comes to the fore, with a stellar lineup of soloists; Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Christa Ludwig, Nicolai Gedda and Nicolai Ghiaurov. (David Smith)

Available Format: 2 CDs

George London, Birgit Nilsson, Hans Hotter, James King, Régine Crespin, Gottlob Frick, Christa Ludwig, Wiener Philharmoniker, Georg Solti

Simply one of the supreme achievements of the gramophone era: this might be a studio recording, but the visceral theatricality of Solti's Ring leaps from the speakers at every turn. Highlights are far too numerous to mention, but Birgit Nilsson's majestic but human Brunnhilde, Hans Hotter's authoritative but unpompous Wotan, and Gottlob Frick's terrifying Hagen have never been bettered, if equalled. (Katherine Cooper)

Available Format: 16 CDs

Wolfgang Windgassen, Birgit Nilsson, Christa Ludwig, Martti Talvela, Eberhard Waechter, Bayreuther Festspiele, Karl Böhm

One of (if not 'the') greatest Tristan und Isoldes on record. It is also the only one of our top 25 which is actually a 'live' recording (which itself attracted some healthy debate!). But, live from Bayreuth, under the baton of Karl Böhm, and with a cast including Wolfgang Windgassen, Birgit Nilsson and Christa Ludwig... we couldn't leave it out (Chris O'Reilly)

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC