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Jeff Simon's list of the BPO's best recordings

In line with the new addition to the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra catalog, Ottorino Respighi's "Roman Trilogy", here is one man's personal -- and provisional -- list of the best of the BPO on record:

The Complete Music of Carl Ruggles

Conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas

Neither the quality of performance or the sound quality of this are on the level of the greatest BPO records by JoAnn Falletta, but if the performance and sound here are sometimes disappointing, this was, hands down, the BPO's greatest gift to the American musical discography.

No one had ever done this before, but Thomas did in the same era that his old California friend Peter Yates was the chairman of the SUNY Buffalo State music department and there were two newspapers with fiercely progressive classical music critics (The News' John Dwyer and the Courier's Tom Putnam). Thomas was able to follow up on his epochal Boston Symphony recording of Ruggles' "Sun Treader" for Deutsche Grammophon. It will always remain a triumph of repertoire over performance.

What is even more amazing about it when fully considered now is that Thomas -- whose grandparents were in Yiddish Theater -- was conducting music by a composer whose response to musical politics of the '30s was starkly anti-Semitic. What I love most about Ruggles' music is that it is almost a perfect musical analogue to the Clyfford Still abstract-expressionist paintings in the Albright-Knox Gallery.

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Gliere -- Symphony No. 3 "Ilya Murometz"

Conducted by JoAnn Falletta

I think the orchestral performance and recording quality of this are unbeatable. According to former News classical music critic Mary Kunz Goldman, the orchestra took a great deal of extra rehearsal time before recording this and taking it on tour. The result is that a Russian composer suspended midway between modernism and late Romanticism is performed and recorded in an optimal way. Anyone anywhere who condescended to the efforts of the BPO was put on eternal notice by this record how idiotic that was.

. . .

Ottorino Respighi's "Roman Trilogy"

Conducted by JoAnn Falletta

BPO's new record of Respighi works is a beauty

. . .

Griffes, "Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan," "The White Goddess" and other works

Conducted by JoAnn Falletta

Another magnificent triumph of repertoire in the discography. Like the Gliere and Ruggles records, the BPO's performances of the early 20th century composer from Elmira became essential to the American recorded repertoire here. Charles Tomlinson Griffes -- who died at 36 (the same age as Mozart) -- was, like Respighi, easy to overlook until you hear how remarkable he is in large quantity, especially when it is played with the ecstatic urgency and grandeur of the BPO on this record.

. . .

Gershwin on Broadway

Conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas

You may have to hear the soundtrack music to Woody Allen's movie "Manhattan" to hear some of this. These are Don Rose arrangements of Gershwin overtures to these musicals: "Girl Crazy," "Of Thee I Sing," "OK, Kay," "Funny Face," "Let 'Em Eat Cake" and "Strike Up the Band." Allen was so in love with Thomas' performances that it's said he had his people cut a check to all the BPO musicians for recording sessions that never happened just so he could use the ones that had.

. . .

John Corigliano, "The Red Violin" and "Mr. Tambourine Man -- Portrait of Bob Dylan"

Corigliano's "Red Violin" concerto is taken from one of the most captivating and serious film scores of the past 30 years. The movie starred Samuel L. Jackson, among others, and there's one unexpectedly marvelous thing about this recording of it: Composer Corigliano is the son of the man with the same name who was the brilliant concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic. On this disc, his concerto is played brilliantly by Michael Ludwig who was, at the time, the exceptional concertmaster of the BPO. A terrific musical "shout out" across the generations on a brilliantly performed record.

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