A-Z of Classical Music is a remarkable 932-page, illustrated book, detailing the lives of all the great composers as well as many less known, but equally fascinating, musical masters. Like the Naxos range of recordings itself, A-Z of Classical Music is a rich source of inspiration for anyone either just embarking on a lifetime of musical enjoyment or for whom classical music has long been a way of life. Included within is an extensive glossary of musical terms plus a unique guide to classical music used in acclaimed films. Two-and-a-half hours of the finest music from across the centuries are contained on the accompanying CDs.
Is it a two-CD set with a particularly thick booklet, or a 562-page book with a compilation album attached? Either way, the unpretentious text by Keith Anderson offers an introduction to the lives and works of dozens of composers, together with recommended recordings from the Naxos and Marco Polo catalogs. Anderson includes a useful 59-page glossary of musical terms and an extensive listing of classical pieces used in films. The odd thing about the 36 extracts and complete pieces on the CDs is that they do not form an A-to-Z at all. Rather, they are arranged chronologically, from 1,000-year-old Gregorian chant to the opening movement of contemporary composer Philip Glass's Violin Concerto. Between these two points is the early music of Palestrina and Byrd; the Baroque glories of Vivaldi and Bach; the 19th-century Romantic masters, from Beethoven to Tchaikovsky; and such 20th-century greats as Rachmaninov and Stravinsky. Opera, song, and chamber music are barely represented, but only so much can fit into 151 minutes. Essentially a deluxe sampler of the vast Naxos catalogue, the discs offer a good introduction to some of the most famous and melodic music ever composed, while the book will be very useful to newcomers to the potentially confusing world of classical music. --Gary S. Dalkin