The Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music

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The Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music (formerly The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs and, from 2003 to 2006, The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs and DVDs) is a widely distributed annual publication from Britain published by Penguin Books, reviewing and rating currently available recordings of classical music. It is written by Ivan March, a music journalist, consultant and former professional musician; Edward Greenfield, former music critic of The Guardian newspaper and Robert Layton, music writer and lecturer. All three are also reviewers for the UK classical music periodical Gramophone. Since the 2008 edition, a fourth contributor has been listed on a par with the three founding authors. This is Paul Czajkowski, who had been involved as an editor from the 2002 book.

The Guide is often found in the classical departments of record stores. Formerly, it awarded each recording a rating of between one and three stars, with extraordinarily favoured recordings receiving a rosette. Since 2007, the publication uses four stars to denote records which are "exceptional issue[s] on every count". DVDs of operas and classical music concerts and Super Audio Compact Discs are also reviewed.


As provided by The Penguin Guide To Recorded Classical Music:

  • Rosette: A rosette is a compliment that places the recording in a very special class.
  • 4 Stars: A very exceptional issue on every count.
  • 3 Stars: An outstanding performance and recording of the calibre we now take for granted.
  • 2 Stars: A good performance and recording of today's normal high standard.
  • 1 Star: A fair or somewhat routine performance, reasonably well performed or recorded.

NOTE: A star in brackets means there is some qualification to the performance or recording. A bracket around all three stars usually denotes an outstanding performance in dated monaural sound.


The guidebook first appeared in 1960 as The Stereo Record Guide, in response to the increasing number of stereo LP recordings available. Up to 1968 the writing team comprised Ivan March, Edward Greenfield and Denis Stevens. Penguin Books, having published guides to bargain records (1966, 1970 and 1972), began publishing the guides in 1975. In those days, as the reviewers concede[1] it was possible to include almost all stereo recordings, so limited was the repertoire.

Additional volumes were printed to cover cassettes, and in the 1984 Guide compact discs were added for the first time. By the 1990 revision so completely had CDs come to dominate that LPs were omitted altogether. Since 1997, the main guide has been supplemented by alternately published 'yearbooks', adding new recordings and recommended issues for that particular year. Several other supplementary volumes have been released covering 'bargain' recordings. Additionally, since 2003 DVDs have been incorporated, initially as an appendix, and from the 2006 edition in the main body of the reviews themselves.

Whilst these other volumes add further reviews, the authors admit[2] that attempting to cover all releases is now impossible, and instead only the 'cream' of available recordings can be covered.

This more selective approach, coupled with a perceived British bias, has led to criticism, on internet newsgroups and elsewhere.[citation needed] However, as even some critics agree[3] a project on this scale and on this topic (inevitably a subjective affair) could not expect to suit all perspectives.

Since publication of the 2010 edition in November 2009, the guide has not been updated. The editors worked on a new book, published in 2011 as The Penguin Guide to the 1000 Finest Classical Recordings: The Must-Have CDs and DVDs.


  1. ^ 2006 Penguin Guide, p. vii
  2. ^ 2006 Penguin Guide, p. xi
  3. ^ Review of 2004 edition

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