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Classical Guitar Music CD's You Can't Live Without

Updated on August 16, 2012
The classical guitar is a uniquely expressive instrument. This article looks at some essential recordings from true masters of classical guitar.
The classical guitar is a uniquely expressive instrument. This article looks at some essential recordings from true masters of classical guitar. | Source

The classical guitar is truly unique among musical instruments. One of the few instruments that can simultaneously play both melody and accompaniment, a classical guitar performance has a warmth and intimacy not often heard with other instruments or ensembles.

Essential Classical Guitar CDs

The repertoire for classical guitar literally spans centuries. For a recording to be classified as "can't live without", it must contain works from the best composers, as performed by true masters of the instrument. The recordings listed below come from six of the finest musicians to ever play classical guitar, and provide a good cross-section of what the instrument is capable of.

These recordings form an excellent classical guitar "essentials" collection. For those who want to expand beyond the basic collection, I've listed a number of CDs that I think would be good additions.

Christopher Parkening, The Great Recordings (Label: EMI Classics)

This 2-disc collection (over two hours of music), contains Parkening's own favorite recordings from his 25 years at EMI. Selections range from the baroque era to works by 20th century composers such as Debussy and Ravel. Parkening performs several compositions from Johann Sebastian Bach, including Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (see video, right), as well as classical pieces from Mozart and François Couperin. Also included are compositions from noted romantic-era composers Fernando Sor, Isaac Albeniz and Enrique Granados.

Paul Galbraith, Paul Galbraith Performs Mozart, Bach and Britten (Label: Mashulka Productions, Inc.)

This recording includes Galbraith's performances of Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 2 in F Major, Bach's Suite for Solo Cello No. 4 in E Flat Major, and Nocturnal After John Dowland, for Guitar, Op. 70 by 20th century British composer Benjamin Britten.

Manuel Barrueco, 300 Years of Guitar Masterpieces (Label: Vox Classical)

As the title suggests, this collection (three discs, containing nearly three hours of music) contains quite a wide variety of music. Composers represented include Bach, Albeniz, Granados, Domenico Scarlatti, Niccolò Paganini, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Carlos Chávez and others.

David Russell, Art of the Guitar (Label: Telarc)

This is a varied, adventurous collection of music. Several of the composers represented, such as Isaac Albeniz, Fernando Sor and Heitor Villa-Lobos, are familiar to followers of classical guitar, but the collection also includes transcriptions of short piano pieces from Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, as well as selections from 20th century Venezuelan composer Vicente Emilio Sojo, and music from the score for the 1978 film The Deer Hunter.

Julian Bream and John Williams, Together Again (Label: RCA)

Guitarist virtuosos Julian Bream and John Williams (not the famous composer/conductor) perform Suite for 2 Lutes by baroque composer George Phillip Telemann, compositions from Albeniz and Granados, and works from Debussy and English renaissance composer John Johnson, all arranged for two guitars.

More Great Classical Guitar CDs

The CDs listed above constitute an excellent classical guitar collection by any standards. What follows are some suggestions for those wanting to explore the genre further. The guitarists on this list are familiar: Russell, Williams, Parkening and Bream. It's hard to go wrong with performances from these masters.

David Russell is especially good for exploring new musical territory. Russell is known for including compositions and musical styles from outside the standard classical guitar repertoire in his performances, and has released several albums themed around specific styles, eras and/or composers.

Renaissance Music:

  • David Russell, Renaissance Favorites for Guitar (Label: Telarc)

Baroque Era:

  • John Williams, The Baroque Album (Label: Sony)
  • Christopher Parkening, Parkening Plays Bach (Label: EMI Classics)

Romantic Era:

  • Julian Bream, Romantic Guitar (Label: RCA)

Spanish Music:

  • Julian Bream, Spanish Guitar Music (Label: DG)
  • David Russell, Reflections of Spain (Label: Telarc)

Latin American Music:

  • David Russell, Aire Latino: Latin American Music for Guitar (Label: Telarc)

Modern Classical:

  • John Williams, The Great Paraguayan - Guitar Music of Barrios (Label: Sony)

After viewing this video, will you seek out more flamenco music?

See results

Flamenco Guitar

Flamenco, a very dramatic and passionate form of Spanish music, is a genre that classical guitar aficionados may enjoy. The flamenco guitar is quite similar in tone and construction to the classical guitar, and the best guitarists display a virtuosity equal to that of the classical masters.

The early works of Spanish guitarist Paco de Lucia, recorded before he began combining flamenco with jazz influences, are an excellent introduction to traditional flamenco music. I recommend these CDs:

  • La Fabulosa Guitarra de Paco de Lucia (Label: Polygram Int'l)
  • Fantasia Flamenca de Paco de Lucia (Label: Universal)

These are my suggestions for a "must have" classical guitar CD collection. Do you have a favorite guitarist or recording that you think should be on the list? Let me know in the comments section below.


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    • theclevercat profile image

      Rachel Vega 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts

      I just love flamenco guitar... so full of life and emotion. Great hub, you've inspired me to take some more listens. :-)

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 

      8 years ago from Northern, California

      Classical guitar is my very favorite of musical instruments, having dabbled with its lovely nature many years ago. David Russell has magic hands, and his delicately masculine technique on the strings captivates me every second his fingers dance across them. You have put together a fantastic group of CDs to choose from! Thank you for several relaxing moments found while listening to your video offerings. A much appreciated experience, my friend!


    • starstream profile image

      Dreamer at heart 

      8 years ago from Northern California

      I have always loved to listen to classical guitar and recall a very special concert in Mexico. It is such a lovely instrument.

    • Doc Sonic profile imageAUTHOR

      Glen Nunes 

      8 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      cclitgirl, you should definitely pick up the guitar again. It's so satisfying, even if all you can do is strum a few chords.

      Sethughes, you are exactly the kind of reader I was aiming for - you know you like the music, but don't know where to begin. Hopefully this will get you started.

    • Sethughes profile image


      8 years ago

      Great hub! I love classical guitar but am always at a loss when trying to figure out who or what to listen to. This truly helps! Much appreciated.

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 

      8 years ago from Western NC

      Julian Bream is one of my all-time favorites. In fact, when I was teaching, I would play this music for the kids when I wanted them to be calm. They loved this music, too - and they were public school kids! :D

      I took classical guitar lessons in college and still have my guitar. I don't play it NEARLY enough. Perhaps one day I'll pick it up and keep going. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Doc Sonic profile imageAUTHOR

      Glen Nunes 

      8 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Kathleen, thanks for the comments, and also for sharing, which helps bring this wonderful music to the attention of even more people. I hope you find some recommendations that you enjoy.

      Teresa, I was glad I could find some videos related to these recordings and performers. Obviously my words could never do justice to these guitarists and their music. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Teresa Coppens profile image

      Teresa Coppens 

      8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Well done Doc. A very comprehensive list for those just venturing into the genre. The videos give a nice taste of the recommendations.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 

      8 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Wow! I'm going to have to come back to this hub this weekend when I have more time. Looks like a treat! Sharing


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