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 Favourites, The 1970s: 25 Great Recordings

The 1970s: Our 25 Greatest RecordingsIn this, the second 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 our absolute must-have recordings from the 1970s.

This was a decade that saw many iconic artists at the peak of their musical powers; with Previn, Pavarotti, 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…

(You can browse the first instalment of this series - focusing on recordings of the 1960s - here).

Our 25 Greatest Recordings of the 1970s

Alfred Brendel – surely a household name among pianists – spent the 1970s recording the complete Piano Sonatas and Concertos of Beethoven. This is the result – comprehensive, sensitive and endlessly varied. The inclusion of the rarely-heard Fantasia (a kind of piano-concerto dry-run for the Choral Symphony) is a pleasant surprise. (David Smith)

Available Formats: 12 CDs, MP3, FLAC

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Carlos Kleiber

Carlos Kleiber's recordings of these symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic are undoubtedly at the top of most people's lists of revered Beethoven recordings. The Fifth has an irresistible drive, not least in the famous first movement, and a noble feel to the last movement. In the Seventh, Kleiber brings an unmatched vigour, with a breathtaking account of the last movement, aided in no small measure by some boisterous horns. (James Longstaffe)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Perlman and Ashkenazy made a great many recordings together, but their complete Beethoven Violin Sonatas rank as one of their finest collaborations. The depth of their artistic partnership is clear; you will struggle to find a better set than this from any decade. (David Smith)

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Few people understand the music of Alban Berg quite like Pierre Boulez. His intelligently authoritative conducting and Teresa Stratas's sensational performance in the title role prove to be an unbeatable combination, ably assisted by Yvonne Minton as the Countess Geschwitz, Franz Mazura as Dr Schön, and Robert Tear as The Painter. (James Longstaffe)

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Karl Böhm

This account of the Fourth Symphony conducted by Karl Böhm must surely be a candidate for the pinnacle of Bruckner recordings. A majestic opening solo from the principal horn of the Vienna Philharmonic sets the standard for the whole symphony, with luxurious string tone and thrilling brass throughout. Böhm's masterful control ensures that his generally stately tempos never feel plodding. (James Longstaffe)

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Of all the many Chopin recordings that Maurizio Pollini has made, the two sets of Études are among the most outstanding, with a flawless technique and an easy virtuosity in the faster pieces and a tender lyricism to the more melodic numbers. The Revolutionary Étude is performed with great fire, and the final C minor Étude from the op. 25 set is a masterclass in sustaining line and shape amidst a never-ending flurry of semiquavers. (James Longstaffe)

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

Michelangeli brings Debussy’s vivid Preludes to life as only he can – from the nobility of the Sunken Cathedral to the languorous Girl with the Flaxen Hair and the whimsical charm of the Minstrels, the entire palette is on display here. (David Smith)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Alongside the second book of Preludes and both sets of Images, Michelangeli captures perfectly the playful essence of Children’s Corner.

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC

Rafael Kubelík conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in what must be one of the most exciting recordings of the Ninth Symphony on record. There's a warmth to the celebrated cor anglais solo in the second movement, and a bite to the brass that makes this recording truly exhilarating. It is coupled here with an equally fine account of the Eighth Symphony from 1966. (James Longstaffe)

Available Format: CD

André Previn takes on the dual roles of conductor and pianist as he leads the London Symphony Orchestra in this effortlessly stylish performance of three pieces by Gershwin. Gervase de Peyer's cheeky clarinet solo at the start of Rhapsody in Blue is delightfully flamboyant, there's a breezy charm to An American in Paris, and Howard Snell's sultry trumpet solo in the second movement of the Piano Concerto oozes class. (James Longstaffe)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

The performances on this disc are among those magical recordings that give the impression that you're hearing these two war-horses for the very first time: I love the epic sweep and sheer muscle that Lupu and Previn bring to the Grieg in particular, but what's also remarkable is the clarity of the orchestral textures (particularly apparent in the woodwind) and the perfectly-judged rubato in solo passages and tuttis alike. Great sound, too. (Katherine Cooper)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

The recording widely credited with “de-stodging” Handel’s great, but often poorly-treated, masterpiece. Hogwood’s Messiah was groundbreakingly taut, historically-informed, and (of course) immaculately sung. Still the yardstick against which other recordings are measured, forty years on. (David Smith) Digitally remastered Studio-Quality version also available.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

The Beaux Arts Trio perfectly capture the poised elegance of Haydn’s Piano Trios – this complete set is a treasure-chest of consummate craftsmanship from both composer and performers. (David Smith)

Available Formats: 9 CDs, MP3, FLAC

Heather Harper, Lucia Popp, Arleen Auger (sopranos), Yvonne Minton (mezzo), Helen Watts (contralto), Rene Kollo (tenor), John Shirley-Quirk (baritone), Martti Talvela (bass) Wiener Staatsopernchor, Wiener Singverein, Wiener Sängerknaben & Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti

Georg Solti's recording of Mahler's monumental choral work with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is still a benchmark account. Solti's seemingly endless energy makes for an electrifyingly breathless conclusion to Part One. An impressive roster of soloists includes Heather Harper, Lucia Popp, Arleen Auger, Yvonne Minton, René Kollo, and John Shirley-Quirk, and the choral singing throughout is committed and rousing. (James Longstaffe)

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

Probably the two best-loved violin concertos in the repertoire, in the hands of a supremely sensitive, intelligent soloist – Kyung Wha Chung’s 1972 recording is as fine as any before or since. The two rousing finales are especially fine – the multiple-stopping and fireworks executed with agility and panache. (David Smith)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Mirella Freni (Mimi), Luciano Pavarotti (Rodolfo), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Colline), Elizabeth Harwood (Musetta), Rolando Panerai (Marcello), Gianni Maffeo (Schaunard), Michel Sénéchal (Alcindoro/Benoit), Gernot Pietsch (Parpignol), Hans-Dieter Appelt (Sergente dei doganieri), Hans-Dietrich Pohl (Un doganiere), Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan

There's an open-heartedness and simplicity about Pavarotti's Rodolfo for Karajan that catapults this to the top of my favourite recordings of him in a complete role; Mirella Freni's generous, youthful Mimì is mercifully devoid of archness or over-sentimentality, and I love the exuberant energy which Karajan brings to the knockabout scenes between the lads in their garrett (all beautifully characterised and differentiated by Rolando Panerai, Gianni Maffeo and Nicolai Ghiaurov. (Katherine Cooper)

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Joan Sutherland (Turandot), Luciano Pavarotti (Calaf), Montserrat Caballé (Liù), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Timur), Tom Krause (Ping), Pier Francesco Poli (Pang), Piero De Palma (Pong), Peter Pears (L'imperatore Altoum), Sabin Markov (Un mandarino) John Alldis Choir, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Mehta

Zubin Mehta's 1977 Turandot chills my blood from the implacable opening bars; Joan Sutherland wasn't particularly associated with Puccini, but her glacial timbre and lacerating top notes make her a formidable ice-princess here, an ideal foil to Pavarotti's ringing, impassioned Calaf (his first entry is hair-raising stuff, and of course that Nessun dorma is the stuff of legend) and Montserrat Caballé's peerless Liù (a role which showcases her famous high pianissimo singing to perfection). (Katherine Cooper)

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Joan Sutherland (Turandot), Luciano Pavarotti (Calaf), Montserrat Caballé (Liù), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Timur), Tom Krause (Ping), Pier Francesco Poli (Pang), Piero De Palma (Pong), Peter Pears (L'imperatore Altoum), Sabin Markov (Un mandarino) John Alldis Choir, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Mehta

Also available as a Digitally remastered Studio-Quality version

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

André Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra made many classic recordings during the 1970s, but perhaps none so legendary as this one. Jack Brymer’s clarinet solo in the third movement is just sublime, but from start to finish this performance has a swagger and a confidence that epitomise the combination of Previn and the LSO. (James Longstaffe)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

The strings of the Berlin Philharmonic treat us to their most ravishingly expressive sound in Verklärte Nacht, heard here in Schoenberg's own version for string orchestra, conducted by Herbert von Karajan. This is a big and bold performance, definitely leaning heavily towards the Romantic end of the spectrum, but in Karajan's hands it all works perfectly. It is coupled with a sumptuous account of Pelleas und Melisande. (James Longstaffe)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Colin Davis will always be remembered as a great interpreter and advocate of the music of Sibelius, and this cycle of symphonies with the Boston Symphony Orchestra demonstrates why. There’s a radiant glow to the Second Symphony, and the build-up to the sun-drenched trombone solo in the Seventh Symphony possesses a grandeur that nobody can manage quite like Davis. (James Longstaffe)

Available Formats: 5 CDs, MP3, FLAC

With lush, sweeping strings, imposingly grandiose brass, and a rich, deep organ tone, it’s easy to hear why Herbert von Karajan’s 1973 recording of Also sprach Zarathustra with the Berlin Philharmonic is so acclaimed. Also on the disc are a witty, insolent account of Till Eulenspiegel, and a vivacious performance of Don Juan, with the big horn tune soaring just as you would hope it should. (James Longstaffe)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Can there be a more stunning display of masterly pianism at work than Maurizio Pollini's performance of the opening movement of Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka? He also despatches the phenomenally difficult final movement of Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata with astonishing ease. Combine that with Pierre Boulez’s notoriously fiendish Second Piano Sonata and Webern’s Variations, op. 27, and you have a simply staggering disc. (James Longstaffe)

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

London Symphony Orchestra, André Previn

Like all of Previn's seminal Tchaikovsky ballet recordings from this period, this Swan Lake not only gives the impression that it would actually be a joy to dance to (without naming names, not always the case in some recent studio recordings!) but also conjures up forest lakes, hunting expeditions and lavish castles with such vivid immediacy that it's an eminently satisfying listen even without the visual element. (Katherine Cooper)

Available Format: 2 CDs

London Symphony Orchestra, André Previn

Also available in a 7CD boxset containing 3 Tchaikovsky Ballets.

Available Format: 7 CDs

Ileana Cotrubas (Violetta Valery), Stefania Malagu (Flora Bervoix), Helena Jungwirth (Annina), Placido Domingo (Alfredo Germont), Sherrill Milnes (Giorgio Germont), Walter Gullino (Gastone), Bruno Grella (Barone Douphol), Bayerisches Staatsorchester, Carlos Kleiber

The 1970s really were a golden age of Verdi recordings, and Carlos Kleiber's Traviata is surely the jewel in the crown; the sweetness and vulnerability of Ileana Cotrubas's Violetta (with never a hint of coarseness or histrionics) still moves me to tears after countless hearings, particularly in her great central confrontation with Sherrill Milnes's thoroughly compassionate Germont, and Plácido Domingo's virility and sincerity make him one of the most sympathetic Alfredos on disc. (Katherine Cooper)

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Simply one of my favourite Verdi recordings of all time, Abbado's 1971 account brings out all the score's light and shade, all its contrasts between the public and the private, like no other; the eloquence and humanity of Piero Cappuccilli remains unsurpassed, especially moving in his scenes with Mirella Freni's radiant Amelia, José Carreras in his golden-voiced prime is an ardent Adorno, and Nicolai Ghiaurov makes Boccanegra's nemesis Fiesco so much more than a cardboard-cut-out villain. (Katherine Cooper)

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC