A personable if anachronistic beginner’s guide to classical music.
Selecting over 125 of his favorite pieces of music from the baroque, classical and romantic periods, as well as his favorite recordings of them, music enthusiast Nielsen (Warriors, 2009) has compiled an encyclopedic resource for people looking to expand their music collections. Each one-to-two–page entry, in addition to introducing the composition and recording, offers some biographical information about the composer, conductor and musicians, interspersed with Nielsen’s corny but affable humor (he can’t pass on a good “Baroque”/”broke” pun). Nielsen describes his musical “cup of tea” as “light, lively, and very melodic,” which does influence the tenor of his recommendations; ardent appreciators of contemporary classical, for instance, are likely to differ in opinion on what constitutes “the best,” though Nielsen is always forthcoming with his personal biases. While greats such as Bach, Mozart and Beethoven deservedly have quite a few works featured, Nielsen also includes music by Albinoni, Fesca and the lesser-known Haydn brother, all refreshing suggestions from the canon. In an attempt to be comprehensive, Nielsen provides information in each entry about the manufacturer, price and online purchasing of each recommended CD—but recognizes in his introduction that these can change quickly, and some may already be out of date. For that reason, in addition to the sometimes repetitious nature of the blurbs, the guide feels as though it might be better suited to a searchable online format. Its structure, too, doesn’t seem to necessitate book form: Primarily comprising alphabetical entries on instrumental music, it concludes with three much shorter and more lackluster sections on vocal music, Christmas music and some comic composer biographies. That said, for readers who are less comfortable navigating the Internet, or just overwhelmed by the sheer volume of recordings and reviews to be found there, Nielsen’s guide will be a helpful starting point. As his music criticism tends a bit toward the superficial, neophytes stand to gain some basic knowledge, but experts should probably pass.
For readers seeking an introduction to classical music, an easy, entertaining alternative to searching online.