If holiday shopping for the music lover in your life seems a bit overwhelming, you might want to consider Gramophone's excellent series of "Good CD Guides." These little treasure-troves of information are not only great resources for figuring out what to buy, but they're also terrific gifts in and of themselves.
Gramophone, publishers of British-based Gramophone magazine since 1923, has four books in the "Good CD Guide" series in the categories of classical, film music, jazz, and musicals. The best and most popular is the "Gramophone Classical Good CD Guide," in its 11th printing.
In contrast to Schwann's "Opus" guide to classical music, the Gramophone publication makes no attempt to be comprehensive. Instead, it is highly selective and critical, drawing upon the expertise of 55 contributors from around the world who rate recordings into several categories, from award-winning to simple suggestions for "further listening."
Many of the highest-rated recordings merit an actual review, which in many cases gives a fairly solid capsule history of the composer and/or performer that readers should find informative. Reviews also include information on price range and production quality in addition to a critique of the actual performance.
The publication's predilection for esoterica can get a bit thick at times. Readers looking for a simple recommendation for Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, for example, get more information on bit-processing than musical interpretation in the initial entry, but hard-core enthusiasts won't mind.
And those looking for a more subjective assessment won't have to look far. Gramophone's critics mince few words in their analyses of performers and composers. They can be especially opinionated in their judgment of contemporary composers. The book includes a section on collections, which is helpful for someone looking into more substantial sets, such as all nine Beethoven symphonies; or recordings restricted by genre, such as collections of overtures.
For the novice, one of the most helpful features will be the three-page compilation of works called the "suggested basic library," a thorough (if British-tinged) selection of basic repertoire through the centuries.
* 'Gramophone Classical Good CD Guide' (Omnibus Press, 1,334 pp.) is $25.95 and may be ordered by calling 800-431-7187.