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Everything You Wanted To Know About Classical Music (But Weren't Afraid To Ask)

Khatia Buniatishvili's new album, <em>Motherland</em>, is among those recommended during the Friday afternoon Twitter sessions.
Sony Classical
Khatia Buniatishvili's new album, Motherland, is among those recommended during the Friday afternoon Twitter sessions.

A few weeks ago, in an act of brazen thievery, your devoted NPR Classical hosts appropriated an idea from our colleague Bob Mondello, NPR's film critic. Each Friday he tweets movie suggestions for the weekend. Realizing we could easily capitalize on his brilliance (less work for us!), we decided to run with Bob's concept and recommend classical albums each Friday afternoon at 2 Eastern on Twitter.

We were pleasantly surprised to find a swell of interest both from newbies, asking about classical music to start with, and seasoned observers, commenting on everything from neglected Russian symphonies to the similarities (or not) between string quartets by Janáček and Bartok.

We tend to lean toward new and exciting releases, and in sessions that last just 30 minutes, the recommendations are far from comprehensive. But in the spirit of Friday afternoons, anything goes. It's all quite fun and we encourage you to join us. Meanwhile, here are some of the questions and recommendations from the past couple of weeks.

(Note: /AT is Anastasia Tsioulcas, /TH is Tom Huizenga)

  • There's a new disc I love with Pavel Kolesnikov playing The Seasons. Gorgeous on Hyperion. /TH
  • If you want to dip a toe, try this list from Ted Libbey & @FredChildPT of The NPR Classical 50: /AT npr.org/series/9986640...
  • There's always the Tchaik Piano Concerto No. 1. A new rec. by Behzod Abduriamov looks promising. /TH
  • Recommended by @NotaRover:

  • Violin concerto. Especially the Oistrakh version.
  • Well, if you want something new, try Music for Heart and Breath by Richard Reed Parry (from Arcade Fire). /TH
  • I'd strongly suggest making time for this live video of Arvo Part's music: npr.org/event/music/31... /AT
  • There's a great new Talich Qt. reissue of Janacek SQs with Schulhoff SQ No. 1! /TH
  • I'm also partial to the old Smetana Qt. recording of the Janaceks /TH
  • For sheer theatricality in the Janacek, try the Hagen Qt. on DG from 20 years ago. Stunning and in your face. /TH
  • You know which other qt's Bartok I adore? The Takacs. So vivid & visceral. /AT
  • Recommended by @CharityTD (Bartok):

  • I grew up w/ Takacs in Colorado. Exquisite, passionate and clean musicianship all at once.
  • Recommended by @Davidweininger (Janacek):

  • That Hagen disc is one of the greatest chamber music recordings in history, tho I also like Talich for a diff view.
  • There's a recent Nyman piano disc by Lisitsa and a new Turnage 'Undance' that sounds great on NMC label./TH
  • I really like Turnage's Viola Concerto — the London Phil released a recording lpo.org.uk/recordings-and... /AT
  • Just saw Reich play "Music for 18" & Glass play "Music in 12 Parts." I love this Glass quartets philipglass.com/music/recordin... /AT
  • The HUGE buzz electronically speaking is the soon to be released new album by Aphex Twin. I've heard a sneak peek. AWESOME. /TH
  • Give the "NPR Classical 50" a try — each has a recommendation for a work along w/ a specific recording. npr.org/series/9986640... /AT
  • Recommended by @TheOneImage:

  • You might like these articles: Top 10 Symphonies classicalmusic.about.com/od/classicalmu...
  • How about Elgar? Enigma Variations? An oldie-but-goodie recording led by Simon Rattle: arkivmusic.com/classical/albu... /AT
  • And if you'd like to try out a little Thomas Tallis himself, you've gotta go with the Tallis Scholars singing Tallis' "Spem in Alium." Life-changing, in my opinion. /AT
  • Oooh, Nancarrow! We were just talking about the player piano music a couple of days ago. Do you know the Wergo series of Nancarrow? wergo.de/shop/en_UK/3/s... /AT
  • Janacek's Sinfonietta? I think there are 13 trumpets in it... arkivmusic.com/classical/albu... /AT
  • Try John Adams Sax Concerto or Toshio Hosokawa's Horn Concerto, both new releases. /TH
  • Want something REALLY off the beaten path? A new Concerto for Theremin by Kalevi Aho. /TH
  • I like Mackerras in Scheherazade. /TH arkivmusic.com/classical/albu...


  • Her concerts have been slammed, but pianist Khatia Buniatishvili's new CD "Motherland" is a pleasing set of hits peppered with rarities. /TH
  • How about Carter Pann. Remember "Slalom?" His new solo piano album, played by Joel Hastings, reminds me of a modern day Reynaldo Hahn. /TH
  • Like Piano Music? Ethiopian pianist Girma Yifrashewa has a delightful new album, Love & Peace. Think Chopin mixed with African-styled tunes. /TH
  • Also, albums I haven't heard yet but really looking forward to opening up: Behzod Abduraimov's Tchaik 1/Prok 3 piano ctos /AT


  • There's a new electrifying 'Elektra.' Evelyn Herlitzius is a powerhouse. HUGE orchestra strong under Thielemann in Dresden. /TH
  • Wild about Joyce DiDonato's Stella di Napoli. Melting bel canto singing, incl. a breathtaking early Bellini aria. /TH
  • Liking the Perello (husband-wife team of Ailyn Perez and Stephen Costello) album of duets. /TH
  • In the reissue dept. you can't get much lovelier than Lieder by Schubert, Brahms and Strauss sung by Lisa Della Casa, rec. in 1956./TH
  • Choral

  • Smitten with Robert Kyr's choral pieces sung by Conspirare. And yes, we've done some reporting on it. /TH npr.org/blogs/deceptiv...
  • Choral connoisseur? The Sixteen continues its survey of Palestrina in with a mass, Song of Songs and a gorgeous Veni Creator Spiritus. /TH
  • Want great singing? The beauty of singing in the Latvian Radio Choir continues to stun me. New album, Sacred Love. /TH
  • Orchestral/Chamber

  • I'm a fan of Anima Eterna the historically informed orch. from Bruges. The new Ravel album sports transparent coloring in the winds. /TH
  • Always a soft spot for Lou Harrison. A new disc of 'La Koro Sutro' and Suite for Violin and Gamelan with Gil Rose's BMOP is welcomed. /TH
  • It rocks softly: Polish musician Jacaszek creatively blends electronics and acoustic instruments. The new album is Catalogue des Arbres./TH
  • Also loving: James Blackshaw's new project, music for a silent film, Le Faux Magistrat, recorded live at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris. /TH
  • And for new music try 'Excelsior,' by the young, increasingly awesome Caleb Burhans @Pluckbro performed by the Fifth House Ensemble. /TH
  • The Danish String Quartet is always up to something interesting. This time 400-year-old folk music, on the new album "Wood Works." /TH
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.