11 Classical Music Albums Vinyl Lovers Need
Although pop music is at its height, there are still stalwarts of classical music, such as Cecilia Bartoli, Lise Davidsen, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Daniel Barenboim, and Yo Yo Ma. Whether you’re a classical connoisseur or just striking out into the genre, you’ve probably discovered at least some of the tremendous effects this music style can have, body and soul. Some have even suspected, “Does listening to classical music make you smarter?” From the dark, sublime compositions of Bach to the peppy pastiche of Tchaikovsky, classical music doesn’t just transform our mood or mental state. It alters our sense of perspective.
So how do you decide which classical music albums to introduce to your vinyl collection? The genre is packed with bonafide musical geniuses, and some works are so powerful they can be spun ad infinitum—and you’ll still hear something new with each listen.
If you’re just starting to build your library, these 11 classical music albums provide an excellent foundation for nurturing your love of the genre and enriching your vinyl collection overall.
#1 Glenn Gould: The Goldberg Variations, Glenn Gould
Classical pianist Glenn Gould shot to international stardom with the 1955 release of Glenn Gould: The Goldberg Variations. The stunning tribute to Johann Sebastian Bach underscores the beauty of JS Bach’s original 1741 creation and presents listeners with 30 ambitious and outstanding interpretations.
NPR credited Gould with infusing Bach with soul; others called Gould an overnight sensation.1 We call it mesmerizing—and an incredible feat for a 22-year-old up-and-comer.
#2 Requiem in D Minor, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor was incomplete at the time of his death in 1791 but was brought back to life when his student, Franz Xaver, later finished the composition. The Austrian composer gathered inspiration for Requiem from composers like Handel and Bach, resulting in a “requiem mass” that delivers a potent emotional punch.
More than 200 years later, the brilliant piece continues to resonate with its rich inclusion of instruments like:2
Any one of Bach’s works would fit well in a vinyl collection. But because this was one of the last pieces he created, it delivers an extra dose of poignancy.
#3 Water, Helene Grimaud
Helene Grimaud, a classical pianist from France, has been making waves in music since childhood, but Water is one of her most remarkable achievements. Released in 2016, the album draws from classical music heavyweights like Debussy and Faure, moving silkily from one composition to the next. It’s a seductive, romantic work—the ideal vinyl to play wrapped in a blanket on a rainy afternoon in.
#4 Blue Notebooks, Max Richter
Modern classical musician Max Richter has garnered a cult following. His haunting pieces are known to linger in the mind long after the needle has reached the end of one of his eight masterful records.
Richter’s Blue Notebooks was named one of The Guardian's best classical music albums of the 21st century. Written shortly after the US invaded Iraq in 2003, each moving number is laden with fire, sorrow, and grace. Some of the most memorable tracks on the album include:
- “Shadow Journal”
- “The Trees”
- “Written on the Sky”
- “Vladimir’s Blues”
Many music curators for the big and silver screens took note of the Blue Notebooks’ power and luminosity. The album’s melancholic, violin-heavy “On the Nature of Daylight” has been featured in several films and television shows, including Stranger Than Fiction, Shutter Island, and The Handmaid’s Tale. Critic John Lewis summed up the composition’s potency perfectly when he wrote that its “ever-expanding layers of strings are used to heart-tugging effect.”3
#5 Immunity, Jon Hopkins
England-born pianist Jon Hopkins is considered by many to be one of the finest electronic music composers and producers of the 21st century.4 While Immunity certainly won’t strike you as Schubert-esque, Hopkins’ adventurous, contemporary classical sensibilities capture and rework the tonal spectrum explored by classical music’s most famous composers.
Celestial one moment and resoundingly deep the next, each track on Immunity stretches our understanding of the genre’s range and potential. Some particularly hypnotic tracks include:
- “We Disappear”
- “Open Eye Signal”
- “Breathe This Air”
- “Abandon Window”
And yet, it’s the album’s eponymous track, “Immunity,” where the essence and scope of the album ripen in full. It’s rousing and ethereal, kaleidoscopic and absorbing. Listening to solely this track, it’s easy to understand how Hopkins can be both a festival fave and a treasured addition to any individual collection.
#6 The Four Seasons, Seiji Ozawa-Boston Symphony Orchestra
The Four Seasons is Antonio Vivaldi’s most famous and recognizable composition: four violin concertos that, mimicking the seasons, have been playing on loop since the 18th century.
But if you haven’t heard it performed by Seiji Ozawa, acclaimed Japanese conductor and former music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and his stellar orchestra, it’s time for another listen. On this seminal album, pieces like “Allegro” and “Largo” are splendidly revitalized under Ozawa’s direction, making it a must-have for any classical music aficionado.
#7 Orchestral Suites, Johann Sebastian Bach
As one of the most prolific composers to ever grace the planet, Bach gifted us with more than 11,000 original compositions—and Orchestral Suites exemplifies his genius. The four suites that comprise it run the gamut from dramatically legato movements to rapid fugal parades of melody. Trumpets, drums, and flutes intensify the grandness of these pieces, serving to remind us of Bach’s enduring virtuoso.
#8 La Sacre du Printemps, Igor Stravinsky
Modernist composer Igor Stravinsky was one of the most in-demand musicians of the 20th century, working across genres to compose original works like:
His characteristically irreverent style is brought to light in Le Sacre du Printemps, a ballet and orchestral concert that debuted in 1913 at the Theater des Champs-Elysees in Paris.
At the time, the score was considered unusual and experimental, flouting critics’ expectations for classical conventions. It played with rhythm, meter, and dissonance—which later became the hallmark sounds of modernist music. Today, “The Rite of Spring” continues to be one of the most famous classical music recordings.
#9 The Nutcracker, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
No, including The Nutcracker in your vinyl library won’t diminish your collection’s evergreen quality (or its cool quotient). Tchaikovsky’s 1892 score for the two-act ballet ought to be on any greatest classical hits list because it’s downright timeless. Vibrant, exuberant, and lush with nostalgia, it’s bound to evoke childhood memories in even the most jaded listeners.
#10 Low Symphony, Phillip Glass
Phillip Glass is both credited and criticized for making classical music accessible to modern listeners, but that doesn’t take away from the composer’s reach, skill, or influence. The three-time Academy Award nominee has held sway on several musical artists, including:5
- Brian Eno
- David Bowie
- Hans Zimmer
- Nico Muhly
Glass has authored an astounding array of works, from film scores and chamber music to symphonies and string quartets.
But if there’s any work that persists in our memory, it’s Low Symphony. First performed in 1993 by the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, it’s based on David Bowie’s album, Low, and includes the insights of both Brian Eno and Bowie. It’s surreal, magnificent, and addictive, with just enough jarring moments to keep your attention riveted.
#11 Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone, Yo-Yo Ma
Juilliard grad, one of Times’ 100 Most Influential People of 2020, and 19-time Grammy Award winner Yo-Yo Ma has had us all ears since Seven Years in Tibet was released (the first of many films that display his indescribable talent). Yo-Yo Ma has recorded bluegrass, traditional Chinese songs, Argentinian tangos, and more, but some of his biggest contributions have been in the classical genre.
2004’s Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone is the result of Yo-Yo Ma’s collaboration with the late Ennio Morricone. He’s one of Italy’s most respected conductors, composers, and trumpeters, and widely praised for his phenomenal work on the film score for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone stands out for several reasons:
- It features several of Morricone’s most winning and unforgettable film scores, including theme music from The Untouchables, Malena, and Casualties of War
- It’s orchestrated, conducted, and produced by Morricone
- It was recorded with the highly acclaimed Roma Sinfonietta Orchestra (featuring Italian pianist Gilda Butta)
This album engrosses as much as it delights, opening with Yo Yo Ma’s opulent recording of The Mission’s “Gabriel’s Oboe,” and whisking us into the acoustic realms of classic crime films and spaghetti westerns. At the heart of it all is Yo-Yo Ma’s ever-astonishing command of the cello.
Classical Music Albums: Honorable Mentions
Classical music spans centuries and continues to be a force today, with countless new musicians breaking the mold and waiting discovered. So while the list of best classical albums is forever growing, we’d be remiss not to give a nod to these other remarkable albums:
Enliven Your Classical Music Collection with Victrola
It’s difficult to decide which is the best classical music album. Start your journey in classical music vinyl, and you may just end up acquiring them all. Listening equipment can be as important as the albums you choose to be audience to. And when it comes to classical music, listening on vinyl is as close as you’ll come to traveling through time and hearing these musical wizards work their magic in concert. The audio quality from Victrola almost feels like you are in person at the Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, or London Symphony Orchestra.
Bring the masters directly into your living space by exploring Victrola’s range of turntables, speakers, and listening accessories to set the stage for an enrapturing experience. With our rich, varied classical record store selection, it’s time to diversify your collection and change your perspective—just as Beethoven intended.
- NPR. Beyond Glenn Gould: five great ‘goldberg variations’: deceptive cadence. https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2012/03/19/148927259/beyond-glenn-gould-a-list-of-great-goldberg-variations
- Britannica. Requiem in d minor. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Requiem-in-D-Minor
- The Guardian. The best classical music works of the 21st century. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/sep/12/best-classical-music-works-of-the-21st-century
- The New York Times. Jon Hopkins music for psychedelic therapy. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/10/arts/music/jon-hopkins-music-for-psychedelic-therapy.html
- The Guardian. A guide to Phillip Glass’s music. https://www.theguardian.com/music/tomserviceblog/2012/dec/03/contemporary-music-guide-philip-glass
- The New York Times. Helene Grimaud-music-report. https://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/05/arts/music/05oest.html