It would be silly to think that a favorite music genre should only be comprised of contemporary pop hits or just music meant for West Coast Swing or Hustle. If one truly wants to understand music on a grand scale (LOL), then one must also hear some of the best compositionally created and impeccably performed moments in music history. Here are some of my favorites (but not nearly all).
Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No.1 in B, Op 23
It's hard for any pianist to compete with Vladimir Horowitz's opening notes of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 1, especially considering that the orchestra was under the direction of the legendary Toscanini (known for his spirited tempi and full-sounding orchestra). Horowitz plays with such command, it's hard to hear the orchestra playing at full forte.
Movement 2 - Arthur Rubenstein
In contrast to the 1st and 3rd movements, the 2nd movement requires a delicacy and sensitivity that is like a lullaby. Arthur Rubenstein captures this spirit perfectly for this movement.
Possibly one of the greatest moments in live piano concert history are the last 2 minutes of the the Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 1's third movement. Vladimir is unmatched in this speed and precision in the virtuosic moment to this day.
Sibelious' Symphony No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 82
Philharmonia Orchestra, Herbert von Karajan, Studio Recording, September 1960
Movement 2: Part 3 of 4
Movement 3: Part 4 of 4
It's difficult to talk about each individual movement of this Symphony - it's a grand work. Von Karajan brings out all the wonderful texture experiences that make Sibelious truly unique. Even though this Symphony has more organized themes/thoughts than other symphonies by Sibelious, it is still a journey of amazing musicality - a cornucopia of changing rhythms, modulating harmonics, themes and variations, timbre.
Beethovan's Simphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 "Pastoral"
Philadelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stakowski, 1940
Movement 1: Part 1 of 4
Movement 2: Part 2 of 4
Movement 3: Part 3 of 4
Movement 4: Part 4 of 4
Perhaps I'm not the only one who fell in love with Beethovan's 6th Symphony from the Disney movie Fantasia made in 1940. My father used to bring me to see this movie every year when I was growing up. Perhaps some of my love for musicality stems directly from watching the visualization of this music during this movie. The legendary Leopold Stakowski conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra in one of the most famous and perfectly composed romantic masterpieces. It is litterally a canvas of art of music.
Mahler's Symphony No. 5 in C Sharp Minor: IV. Adagietto
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Lorin Maazel, 1983
This was the music to which I wrote my wedding vows. I originally heard this piece on a drive to Queens to spend an evening with Anna. It is rumored that Mahler had written this piece as a love poem to his wife. To me it simbolized all the ebb and flow which is love, life and relationships. Sometimes it is beautiful, sometimes it's difficult to understand what is to come, sometimes there is disonance, but love can be the ever present theme that can grow and evolve to make the journey amazing. This piece is constantly changing. Every time you think you know which note is coming, it changes, yet it all makes sense.
Brahms' Concerto No. 2 in B-Flat Major for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 83
Although, I really like the entire concerto, the first movement is simply overwhelming. I remember reading a description calling it, Hurculean. And, indead it is. It is big in scope in every way: strong, powerful, comanding, yet nimble, light and agile. It is a vertuoso pianist's dream. This recording features one of great female pianists of the 20th and 21st century, Alicia De Larrocha. Standing at 4' 7", it is almost impossible to believe that she had hands big enough or strong enough to play such a work. However, she devours it. This recording is not commercially available - it is from a live performance. Other artists who must be heard are Sviatoslav Richter and Vladimir Horowitz.
Stravinsky's Firebird Suite Finale
It's quite amazing to hear incredible music - it's historic to see the composer conduct his own work. Igor Stravinsky's Firebird is the musical gateway to the modern era of classical music. Many moments of this finale have great dissonence and harmonic "stress", which resolves in a firework of triumpant brass. It uses almost every aspect of the orchestra and every type of musical dynamic. It's incredibly complex in structure, yet it crescendos into one of the most memorable endings of all time. For composers like Stravinksy, it might have been his annoucement of a new musical evolvement. This piece has gone on to be used in the movie Fantasia 2000 and Even Lysacek's short-program performance in the Olympics in 2010.