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Classical CDs For Budget Shoppers

Shopping on a budget for the holidays this year? I'm always on the lookout for recordings that are pleasing to the ears and the pocketbook. Think about several things when shopping for budget-priced classical CDs. First, prices vary widely, so look around. Second, if you're shopping online, deal with a seller who responds quickly with a firm arrival date. And finally, understand that many budget CDs are re-releases, hence the low price. But some are as good as (or better than) higher-priced, more recent recordings of the same works. Here are five that made my list this season.

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Concierto de Aranjuez

Julian Bream is among the best guitarists in the world, and he's playing the famous "Concierto de Aranjuez" by Joaquin Rodrigo, the 20th-century Spanish composer. The concerto balances classical design with popular Spanish elements, neither of which can dominate in a successful performance. And Bream's pristine guitar technique, matched with his affinity for folk music, makes for a soulful and energetic sound.

Ravel: String Quartet in F Major

French composer Maurice Ravel believed in mixing classical and popular traditions -- and also had a special attraction to the music of Spain. The second movement of his String Quartet is an example: The plucking and strumming evokes a Spanish guitar, while accompanying a folk-like French melody. The work is performed by the Emerson String Quartet, one of the world's best.

Missa Entre Vous Filles, for 5 Voices

Now to the 16th century and a very different style. This is music from the Flemish master Orlande de Lassus, one of his Masses for Five Voices. A good performance of Renaissance choral music sounds effortless, though it's never easy to bring that off. The ensemble here is the Oxford Camerata, directed by Jeremy Summerly.

Israel in Egypt, Oratorio

Staying with choral music, here's an oratorio by George Frideric Handel -- not his famous "Messiah," but the delightful and dramatic "Israel in Egypt." It’s a two-CD set with a handsome booklet, but priced as one budget CD.

Piano Concerto No. 2

When legendary Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter first came to the U.S. in 1960, the piece he played first was the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Johannes Brahms with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. The recording of the work was made in the days after -- and remains, for me, the best version of the concerto on CD.

Tom Manoff
Composer and author Tom Manoff has been the classical music critic for NPR's All Things Considered since 1985.