Awards - The 1980s: Our 25 Greatest Recordings

by Chris O'Reilly. 5th January 2017

In this, the third of a 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 1980s.

As well as ushering in the beginnings of a revived interest in ‘early music’ and historically-informed performance (represented here by an early recording from The Tallis Scholars), the 80s seem to have been a particular golden age for studio opera recordings and German Romantic repertoire (as you’ll see, we simply couldn’t decide between two favourite Bruckner recordings from Vienna so pushed the boat out and had both!)

You can still browse the first two instalments of this series - focusing on recordings of the 1960s, and 1970s.

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Albéniz: Iberia (Alicia de Larrocha)

Albéniz: Iberia

CD Only

Superbly idiomatic performances from the doyenne of Spanish piano music, brimming with gentle wit, affection and warmth even in the most technically demanding passages. Decca’s wonderful sound-engineering provides exactly the right balmy ambience to allow the performances to glow.

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Allegri: Miserere (Tallis Scholars)

Allegri: Miserere Mei

Original CD release

A recording from the Tallis Scholars' relatively early days - already showing the polish and care that their name has come to stand for. Allegri's haunting Miserere performed with a highly effective echo technique, Palestrina's popular Missa Papae Marcelli and, in between the two, a monumental twenty-minute motet by Mundy in luxurious Tudor Catholic style.

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Allegri: Miserere Mei

25th Anniversary budget CD Re-issue

Sorry, no download option currently available for this recording, but there is this alternative (and cheaper) CD re-issue

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JS Bach: Goldberg Variations (Glenn Gould)

Bach, J S: Goldberg Variations, BWV988, (1981 Recording)

CD Only

Made 26 years after his 1955 recording of the same work launched him to stardom, Glenn Gould’s final recording of the Goldberg Variations is markedly different from his first thoughts, though just as idiosyncratic and distinctive; tempi are often provocatively slow, but the austere, almost hermetic quality of the performance is undeniably mesmerising.

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Bach, J S: Goldberg Variations, BWV988, (1981 Recording)

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Re-mastered version available for download, including Hi-Res option

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Bartók: String Quartets Nos. 1-6 (Emerson String Quartet)

Bartók: String Quartets Nos. 1-6

CD Only

The Emerson String Quartet are one of the greatest and most acclaimed String Quartets of the last 40 years. At the time, Gramophone Magazine lauded this very special recording as "one of the most exciting chamber music recordings of recent years". Indeed, it is a compellingly intense recording, containing great clarity and formidable playing. No wonder that it went on to win Gramophone Record of the Year in 1989. This is virtuosic quartet playing of the highest order.

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Bernstein: Candide (Hadley, Ludwig, Anderson, London Symphony Orchestra, Bernstein)

Bernstein: Candide

CD Only

With the tenderly affecting voice of Jerry Hadley as Candide, the wry humour of Kurt Ollmann as Maximilian and Adolph Green as Dr Pangloss, and June Anderson on top form as Cunegonde (not least in her stunning account of Glitter and Be Gay), this is a joy of a recording. Throw in star turns from Christa Ludwig as the Old Lady and Nicolai Gedda in various roles (not to mention the composer himself conducting the London Symphony Orchestra), and you just can’t get better than this.

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Bernstein: Candide

DVD Video

Filmed just before they went into the recording studio, this live performance comes from the Barbican on 13th December, 1989. As Bernstein explains in his opening address to the audience, it’s a miracle it happened at all, as most of the cast were struck down with heavy colds at the time! The sense of occasion, as well as the thrill and buzz that only a live performance can bring, is palpable, and Adolph Green’s archly witty delivery of the linking narrations is worth the price of the DVD alone!

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Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 in E Major (Wiener Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan)

Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 in E Major

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In what would be his final recording, the great Herbert von Karajan and the Wiener Philharmoniker bring a sense of space and breadth to Bruckner's majestic Seventh Symphony.

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Bruckner: Symphony No. 8 in C minor (Wiener Philharmoniker, Carlo Maria Giulini)

Bruckner: Symphony No. 8 in C minor

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The crowning glory of Carlo Maria Giulini’s account is a sublime performance of the Adagio, with the radiant sheen of the Wiener Philharmoniker string section on full display. Giulini’s command of structure and pacing ensures that his generally stately tempos never drag, and the magnificent brass end the symphony with a triumphant blaze of majesty.

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Elgar: Violin Concerto (Nigel Kennedy, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vernon Handley)

Elgar: Violin Concerto & Introduction and Allegro

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Few interpreters of English orchestral music can match Vernon Handley at the helm of the London Philharmonic; though his Vaughan Williams is perhaps better remembered, this Elgar pairing shows the same deep understanding of the score. A young and vigorous Nigel Kennedy is a delight in the Concerto.

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Feather on the Breath of God (Emma Kirkby, Gothic Voices, Christopher Page)

Abbess Hildegard of Bingen - A feather on the breath of God

CD Only

A reissue of a landmark recording by Emma Kirkby and Gothic Voices, this collection of sacred works by the 12th-century Hildegard of Bingen kick-started a renewed interest in medieval music among classical listeners. The performances are simple, free of unnecessary artifice and completely spellbinding.

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Gershwin: Porgy and Bess (White, Haymon, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Glyndebourne Chorus, Sir Simon Rattle)

Gershwin: Porgy and Bess

CD Only - Re-issued 20th January 2017

Gershwin's tragic 'folk opera' performed by the Glyndebourne Chorus and London Philharmonic - with Simon Rattle conducting and commanding performances from Willard White and Cynthia Haymon in the title roles.

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Gershwin: Porgy and Bess

DVD Video

Video Recording which uses the same soundtrack as the Audio Recording

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Horowitz in Moscow (Vladimir Horowitz)

Horowitz in Moscow

CD Only

One of the most famous piano recitals of all time – given by the 82-year old Vladimir Horowitz, returning to his homeland of Russia after more than 60 years. "This recording shows a master musician and performer at work. Sparkling fingerwork together with a beautiful piano sound." (Music Week). Horowitz & Russia - an unbeatable combination. Truly exhilarating!

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Janacek: The Cunning Little Vixen (Popp, Jedlicka, Novak, Randova, Wiener Philharmoniker, Charles Mackerras)

Janacek: The Cunning Little Vixen

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Has anyone since captured the strange beauty of Janacek’s anthropomorphic fantasy quite like Charles Mackerras, or conveyed the innocent eroticism of the vulpine heroine quite like the clean-voiced Lucia Popp in her prime? The ensemble of native Czech-speakers make Janacek’s folksy speech-rhythms really sing.

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Janacek - The Operas

9 CD set

A great value box set of Mackerras's Vienna Janacek recordings also including Jenůfa, The Makropulos Case, From the House of the Dead and Káta Kabanová

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Mahler: Symphony No. 2 (Baker, Auger, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle)

Mahler: Symphony No. 2 'Resurrection'

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Simon Rattle strikes again, this time with the CBSO and its Chorus, with Arleen Augér and Janet Baker the soloists in a thrilling account of Mahler's great Resurrection Symphony. Baker's Urlicht is mesmerising, and paves the way for a climax as uplifting as any you'll hear on disc.

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Symphonies Nos. 1-10

14 CD set - currently the only option if you want a CD version of this recording, but it is a bargain!

The complete set of Rattle's Mahler symphonies and orchestral songs, with the CBSO, Berliner Philharmoniker and Wiener Philharmoniker.

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Mahler: Symphony No. 5 (Wiener Philharmoniker, Leonard Bernstein)

Mahler: Symphony No. 5

CD Only (mid-price)

Leonard Bernstein was rarely one to underplay the emotion of any piece that he conducted, and that intensity leads to an electrifying performance of the Fifth Symphony with the Wiener Philharmoniker. He wrings every last drop of feeling from the Adagietto, and some excellent brass playing leads to an extremely exciting climax.

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Mahler: Symphony No. 9 (Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan)

Mahler: Symphony No. 9

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Debate raged long and hard in the Presto office as to which of Karajan’s Mahler Nines would make the cut – the same orchestra and conductor had made an acclaimed studio recording in 1980, but in the final analysis we can’t be without this live performance from Berlin two years later: ‘vitality’ is perhaps the wrong word, but to our ears it’s even more intense and alive than its predecessor.

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Poulenc: Piano Works (Pascal Rogé)

Poulenc: Piano Works - Vol. 1

Presto CD / Download

These are the reference recordings of Poulenc's Piano works, by the great French pianist, Pascal Rogé. After winning a Rosette in The Penguin Guide, and the Instrumental Disc of the Year at the Gramophone Awards, this recording has gone on to be a perennial best-seller: irresistible with playing of great sensitivity.

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Respighi: Roman Trilogy (Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, Charles Dutoit)

Respighi: Pines of Rome, Fountains of Rome & Roman Festivals

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Charles Dutoit and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal bring out all the colours in this sparkling recording of Respighi’s Roman Trilogy. Pines of Rome moves from dazzling virtuosity to the awe-inspiring tread of the Roman army along the Appian Way, coupled with a riotously raucous Bacchanalian celebration in Roman Festivals and a grandiose, noble account of Fountains of Rome.

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Saint-Saëns: Organ Symphony (Simon Preston, Berliner Philharmoniker, James Levine)

Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78 'Organ Symphony'

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Alongside impressive woodwind playing and thrilling brass contributions, the Berliner Philharmoniker under James Levine offer some ravishingly beautiful string playing in Saint-Saëns’s most popular symphony. Organ duties are handled with aplomb by Simon Preston; the organ’s weighty tone at the start of the second movement's Maestoso section doesn't disappoint. It’s coupled with a cheeky account of Dukas’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

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Murray Perahia & Radu Lupu play Mozart & Schubert

Murray Perahia & Radu Lupu play Mozart & Schubert

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This is a sublime recording from Murray Perahia and Radu Lupu, two legendary and visionary pianists, both poets of the keyboard. BBC Music Magazine has since said: "Wonderful performance: delicacy in the Mozart as well as a feel for the Sonata's near-orchestral scale. A magisterial reading of Schubert's Fantasie." This is one of the finest piano duo collaborations on record.

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Schubert: Schwanengesang (Peter Schreier & András Schiff)

Schubert: Schwanengesang, D957

Presto CD Only

German tenor Peter Schreier brings out the varying moods of Schubert’s music exquisitely. He’s never afraid to bring a slightly darker, harsh edge to his sound when the text calls for it, and his accounts of Der Atlas, In der Ferne, and Der Doppelgänger in particular are chilling. András Schiff is the perfect accompanist, matching Schreier’s interpretation every step of the way.

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Schubert - Song Cycles

3 CDs / Download

A 3 disc set also containing Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise

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Strauss, R: Die Frau ohne Schatten (Behrens, Várady, Domingo, van Dam, Wiener Philharmoniker, Georg Solti)

Strauss, R: Die Frau ohne Schatten

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Die Frau ohne Schatten includes some of the most demanding vocal roles that Strauss ever wrote, but Georg Solti's cast are more than up to the task: Hildegard Behrens as the Dyer's Wife and Júlia Várady as the Empress dominate, but the real treat is the casting of Plácido Domingo as the Emperor. He may be a slightly unorthodox choice for this role, but just revel in the sumptuous singing he treats us to!

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Strauss - Four Last Songs (Jessye Norman, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Kurt Masur)

R.Strauss - Vier letzte Lieder and Other Lieder

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Jessye Norman brings an unparalleled grandeur and opulence of sound to the long lines of Strauss’s great autumnal meditations, and rides the thrilling climax of Cäcilie with Ariadne-like rapture. Sumptuous (but never stodgy!) support from the late Kurt Masur and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig.

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Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin (Allen, Freni, von Otter, Shicoff, Staatskapelle Dresden, James Levine)

Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin

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Mirella Freni’s fresh-voiced Tatyana, evolving from naivety to dignified resignation, is heart-breaking, whilst Thomas Allen’s brusque anti-hero elicits exactly the right combination of revulsion and sympathy; a youthful Anne Sofie von Otter is a sensual Olga, whilst Neil Shicoff almost steals the show with his impassioned death-scene.

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Verdi: Don Carlos (Domingo, Ricciarelli, Nucci, Raimondi, Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala, Claudio Abbado)

Verdi: Don Carlos

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Domingo and Ricciarelli on rapturous form make one wonder how anyone can bear to be without the love-at-first-sight music of the oft-omitted first act; Nicolai Ghiaurov and Ruggero Raimondi chill the marrow in the great fourth-act confrontation between Church and State, whilst Lucia Valentini Terrani spits fire as the volatile Princess Eboli.

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Wagner: Parsifal (Hofmann, Vejzovic, Moll, van Dam, Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan)

Wagner: Parsifal

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Karajan’s luminous studio recording of Parsifal bears out Wagner’s conception of the work as a ‘consecration festival play’. The transcendent playing of the Berliner Philharmoniker is the real glory of this set (time truly does seem to become space here), though the cast – notably Peter Hofmann’s virile Parsifal and Siegmund Nimsgern’s black-voiced Klingsor – are never less than compelling.

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