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Or, How to Buy a Music Library at Christmas

No matter how fine the music, say Bach's Mass in B minor, a poor performance will leave the listener wondering where the "greatness" went. So the recommendations below represent a merging of both: All of the compositions are among the very best sacred music ever written, but the recorded performances succeed in communicating their extraordinary beauty.

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - I started this list as the 100 Best Pieces of Sacred Music, but I decided instead to recommend specific recordings. Why? No matter how fine the music, say Bach's Mass in B minor, a poor performance will leave the listener wondering where the "greatness" went.  So the recommendations below represent a merging of both: All of the compositions are among the very best sacred music ever written, but the recorded performances succeed in communicating their extraordinary beauty. 

I also dithered over whether or not to make a list of "liturgical" music, or "mass settings," or "requiems." Each of these would make interesting lists, but I chose the broader "sacred music" with the hope that this list might be of interest to a wider spectrum of people. Composers are not limited to any denomination -- some are known to have been non-believers -- although the music belongs to the Christian tradition. 

I've also decided to limit my choices to recordings that are presently available on CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays, or digital downloads.  I don't expect those who are curious about a particular title to start hunting down LPs, especially since these vinyl recordings are suddenly in great demand and prices are rising. 

This list is alphabetized, rather than listed in chronological order. This was necessary, since recordings will often include several pieces composed years apart, perhaps much more. Thus, to reiterate, there has been no attempt to arrange them in order of preference -- all 100 are among "the best" recordings of sacred music currently available. The recording label is indicated in parentheses.

What I would call 'Indispensable Sacred Music Recordings' are marked with an ***.

1.Allegri, Miserere, cond., Peter Phillips (Gimell).***
2.Bach Mass in B Minor, cond., Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1968 recording;Teldec).***
3.Bach, St. Matthew Passion, cond., Philippe Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi).***
4.Bach, Cantatas, cond., Geraint Jones and Wolfgang Gonnenwein (EMI Classics).
5.Barber, Agnus Dei, The Esoterics (Naxos).
6.Beethoven, Missa Solemnis, cond., Otto Klemperer (EMI/Angel).
7.Bernstein, Mass, cond., Leonard Bernstein (Columbia).
8.Berlioz, Requiem, cond. Colin Davis (Phillips).
9.Brahms,  Requiem, cond., Otto Klemperer (EMI/Angel).***
10.Briggs, Mass for Notre Dame, cond., Stephen Layton (Hyperion).
11.Britten, War Requiem, cond., Benjamin Britten (Decca).
12.Brubeck, To Hope! A Celebration, cond. Russell Gloyd (Telarc).
13.Bruckner, Motets, Choir of St. Mary's Cathedral (Delphian).***
14.Byrd, Three Masses, cond., Peter Phillips (Gimell).
15.Burgon, Nunc Dimittis, cond., Richard Hickox (EMI Classics).
16.Celtic Christmas from Brittany, Ensemble Choral Du Bout Du Monde (Green Linnet)
17.Chant, Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos (Milan/Jade).
18.Charpentier, Te Deum in D, cond., Philip Ledger (EMI Classics).
19.Christmas, The Holly and the Ivy, cond., John Rutter (Decca).
20.Christmas, Christmas with Robert Shaw, cond., Robert Shaw (Vox).
21.Christmas, Cantate Domino, cond., Torsten Nilsson (Proprius).***
22.Christmas, Follow That Star, The Gents (Channel Classics).
23.Christmas, The Glorious Sound of Christmas, cond., Eugene Ormandy (Sony).
24.Christmas: Moravian Christmas, Czech Philharmonic Choir (ArcoDiva)
25.Desprez, Ave Maris Stella Mass, cond., Andrew Parrott (EMI Reflexe).
26.Dufay, Missa L'homme arme, cond., Paul Hillier (EMI Reflexe).
27.Duruflle, Requiem & Motets, cond. Matthew Best (Hyperion)
28.Dvorak, Requiem, cond. Istvan Kertesz (Decca).
29.Elgar, The Dream of Gerontius, cond. John Barbirolli (EMI Classics).***
30.Elgar, The Apostles, cond. Adrian Boult (EMI Classics).
31.Elgar, The Kingdom, cond., Mark Elder (Halle).
32.Eton Choirbook, The Flower of All Virginity, cond., Harry Christophers (Coro).
33.Faure, Requiem, cond., Robert Shaw (Telarc).
34.Finnish Sacred Songs, Soile Isokoski (Ondine).
35.Finzi, In Terra Pax, cond. Vernon Handley (Lyrita).
36.Gabrieli, The Glory of Gabrieli, E. Power Biggs, organ (Sony).
37.Gesualdo, Sacred Music for Easter, cond., Bo Holten (BBC).
38.Gonoud, St. Cecilia Mass, cond. George Pretre (EMI Classics).
39.Gorecki, Beatus Vir & Totus Tuus, cond. John Nelson (Polygram).
40.Gospel Quartet, Hovie Lister and the Statesman (Chordant)
41.Guerrero, Missa Sancta et immaculata, cond., James O'Donnell (Hyperion)
42.Handel, Messiah, cond., by Nicholas McGegan (Harmonia Mundi)***
43.Haydn, Creation, cond., Neville Marriner (Phillips).
44.Haydn, Mass in Time of War, cond., Neville Marriner (EMI Classics).
45.Hildegard of Bingen, Feather on the Breath of God, Gothic Voices (Hyperion).
46.Howells, Hymnus Paradisi, cond., David Willocks (EMI Classics).***
47.Hymns, Amazing Grace: American Hymns and Spirituals, cond. Robert Shaw (Telarc).***
48.Lauridsen, Lux Aeterna & O Magnum Mysterium, cond. Stephen Layton (Hyperion).***
49.Lassus, Penitential Psalms, cond. Josef Veselka (Supraphon).
50.Leighton, Sacred Choral Music, cond., Christopher Robinson (Naxos).
51.Liszt, Christus, cond., Helmut Rilling (Hannsler).
52.Liszt, The Legend of St. Elisabeth, cond., Arpad Joo (Hungaroton).
53.Lobo, Requiem for Six Voices, cond., Peter Phillips (Gimell).
54.Martin, Requiem, cond. James O'Donnell (Hyperion).
55.Machaut, La Messe de Nostre Dame, cond., Jeremy Summerly (Naxos).
56.Mahler, 8th Symphony, cond., George Solti (Decca).
57.Mendelssohn, Elijah, cond. Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos (EMI
58.Monteverdi, 1610 Vespers, cond., Paul McCreesh (Archiv).
59.Morales, Magnificat, cond., Stephen Rice (Hyperion).
60.Mozart, Requiem, cond. Christopher Hogwood (L'Oiseau-Lyre).
61.Mozart, Mass in C Minor, cond. John Eliot Gardiner (Phillips).
62.Nystedt, Sacred Choral Music, cond., Kari Hankin (ASV).
63.Organum, Music of the Gothic Era, cond., David Munrow (Polygram).
64.Palestrina, Canticum Canticorum, Les Voix Baroques (ATMA).
65.Palestrina, Missa Papae Marcelli, cond. Peter Phillips (Gimell).
66.Part, Passio (St. John Passion), cond., Paul Hillier (ECM New Series).
67.Parsons, Ave Maria and other Sacred Music, cond., Andrew Carwood (Hyperion).
68.Pizzetti, Requiem, cond., James O'Donnell (Hyperion).
69.Poulenc, Gloria & Stabat Mater, cond., George Pretre (EMI Classics).
70.Poulenc. Mass in G Major; Motets, cond., Robert Shaw (Telarc).
71.Puccini, Messa di Gloria, cond., Antonio Pappano (EMI Classics).
72.Purcell, Complete Anthems and Services, fond., Robert King (Hyperion).
73.Rachmaninov, Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, cond., Charles Bruffy (Nimbus).
74.Rachmaninov, Vespers, cond., Robert Shaw (Telarc).
75.Respighi, Lauda Per La Nativita Del Signore, cond., Anders Eby Proprius).
76.Rheinberger, Sacred Choral Music, cond., Charles Bruffy (Chandos).
77.Rossini, Stabat Mater, cond., Antonio Pappano (EMI).
78.Rubbra, The Sacred Muse, Gloriae Dei Cantores (Gloriae Dei Cantores).
79.Rutter, Be Thou My Vision: Sacred Music, cond., John Rutter (Collegium).***
80.Russian Divine Liturgy, Novospassky Monastery Choir (Naxos).
81.Rutti, Requiem, cond., David Hill (Naxos).
82.Saint Saens, Oratorio de Noel, cond., Anders Eby (Proprius).
83.Schubert, 3 Masses, cond., Wolfgang Sawallisch (EMI Classics).
84.Schutz, Musicalische Exequien, cond., Lionel Meunier (Ricercar).
85.Spirituals, Marian Anderson (RCA).***
86.Spirituals, Jesse Norman (Phillips)
87.Telemann, Der Tag des Gerichts, cond., Nikolaus Harnoncourt (Teldec).
88.Thompson, Mass of the Holy Spirit, cond., James Burton (Hyperion).
89.Shapenote Carols, Tudor Choir (Loft Recordings)
90.Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms, cond., Robert Shaw (Telarc).
91.Tallis, Spem in alium & Lamentations of Jeremiah, cond., David Hill (Hyperion).***
92.Tschiakovsky, Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, cond, Valery Polansky (Moscow Studio).
93.Taneyev, At the Reading of a Psalm, cond., Mikhail Pletnev (Pentatone).
94.Vaughn Williams, Five Mystical Songs, cond., David Willcocks (EMI Classics).***
95.Vaughn Williams, Mass in G, cond. David Willcocks (EMI Classics).
96.Vaughn Williams, Pilgrims Progress, cond., Adrian Boult (EMI Classics).***
97.Verdi, Requiem, cond., Carlo Maria Guilini (EMI Classics).***
98.Victoria, O Magnum Mysterium & Mass, cond., David Hill (Hyperion).***
99.Victoria, Tenebrae Responsories, cond., David Hill (Hyperion).
100.Vivaldi, Sacred Music, cond., Robert King (Hyperion).

Deal W. Hudson is president of the Pennsylvania Catholics Network and former publisher/editor of Crisis Magazine. Dr. Hudson also a partner in the film/TV production company, Good Country Pictures.


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1 - 1 of 1 Comments

  1. Michael D. Mann
    2 years ago

    I find that music at Mass really makes a difference. A talented musician can truly help lift the spirits of the congregation toward God. Singing is just another joyful way to participate in the celebration. Thank you St. Cecilia.

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