In no particular order, with recommended recordings
  1. Simon Rattle
    Beethoven: Complete Symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic. Best Beethoven you'll ever hear.
  2. Carlos Kleiber
    Absolutely anything. The greatest conductor of all time. Some highlights: Der Fledermahs overture, Brahms 4 (OMG), and Beethoven 5 with the Vienna Philharmonic.
  3. Riccardo Chailly
    Stravinsky: Soldier's Tale with the London Sinfonietta. Phenomenal energy in this recording, the clearest, crispest Stravinsky around.
  4. Fritz Reiner
    Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Chicago Symphony and Van Cliburn. Cliburn turns in a legendary performance of one of the romantic eras biggest warhorses, but the sound Reiner gets out the CSO is equally gripping.
  5. Leonard Bernstein
    Any Mahler Symphony with any orchestra. Bernstein pours his soul into these in a way that is totally unique and completely overwhelming.
  6. Riccardo Muti
    Verdi: Requiem, with the Chicago Symphony. Muti is probably the world's greatest interpreter of romantic Italian vocal music, and it shows.
  7. Herbert Von Karajan
    Tchaikovsky: Complete Symphonies, with the Berlin Philharmonic. Karajan got a sound out of that orchestra that is immediately recognizable and absolutely perfect for these melodramatic masterpieces.
  8. Claudio Abbado
    Debussy: La Mer with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. La Mer requires more gradations of color than any piece of which I'm aware, and Abbado somehow manages to find all of them and more.
  9. Georg Solti
    Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie, with the Bavarian Radio Symphony. Solti was known for his big, powerful brass sound, but in this recording it's the lyricism of the strings that stands out.