Classical Box Sets for Christmas 2017

It’s that time of year again. Classical record labels released big box sets to tempt music fans, and many of them offer very interesting collections of recordings at nice prices (at least the per-disc price). Here’s a roundup of some of the box sets that I’ve found interesting. (Note that some of these recordings may not yet be listed on Amazon US.)

Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein Remastered is a 100-disc set of Bernstein’s recordings on Columbia records (now Sony). The box is the now-familiar shape of the big Sony sets; nearly cubic, with a hardcover book, and with original album covers. With some 230 separate works, it features recordings that were previously released in Leonard Bernstein: The Symphony Edition and Leonard Bernstein Edition – Concertos & Orchestral Works. Those sets totaled 140 discs, so this new set is just a selection, and not his complete recordings. The discs are “remastered from their original 2 and 3-track analogue tapes. This has allowed for the creation of a natural balance (for example, between the orchestra and solo instruments) that brings the quality of these half-century-old recordings, excellent for their time, up to the standards of today’s audiophiles.” (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

Leonard Bernstein – The Composer is a smaller set of Bernstein’s own works. On 25 CDs – also remastered – here are the composer’s symphonies, ballets, chamber works, theater pieces, and more. I don’t know why Sony didn’t group this and the above set in a single box. But, hey, they can probably make more money this way. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

Luciano Pavarotti – The Complete Operas I’m not a fan of this type of music, and I have a feeling there have already been big releases of his recordings before. But with 101 discs, at the usual price of around £2 or $2.50 per disc, this is the kind of set that will please collectors of this music. If they don’t already own most of it. Decca claims that “Every single opera is presented in the best possible audio quality, remastered at Abbey Road under the supervision of former Decca engineers.” Why “former” Decca engineers? (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

Sir Georg Solti – Complete Chicago Recordings gathers 108 discs of this great conductor’s work with this symphony over several decades. Not specifically a fan of his work, but he was one of the more influential conductors of his time. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

Herbert von Karajan – Complete Recordings On Deutsche Grammophon And Decca Ah, the Karajan industry… It seems that every few years there’s a new repackaging of his recordings. This one isn’t cheap; it will run you £750 or $1,000. But it contains a whopping 355 discs, so that’s still a decent per-disc price. What, you don’t already have all these recordings yet? For shame! It would be interesting to know how much money has been made from Karajan’s recordings over the years. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

Daniel Barenboim is celebrating his 75th anniversary this month, and as such, the record labels have already released box sets. The first is Daniel Barenboim Complete Solo Recordings On Deutsche Grammophon, Westminster And Philips, 39 discs of his solo piano recordings (I’m a big fan of his Beethoven sonatas), including some old Westminster discs that have been cleaned up. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) The second is Daniel Barenboim – A Retrospective – The Complete Sony Recordings, 46 discs covering his work as both pianist and conductor. This is one of the more interesting sets out there, in my opinion. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

The Ricardo Muti Album Collection 1991-2001 is a small set of his RCA and Sony recordings. In order to make the box – only 28 CDs – look bigger, they’re packaged in jewel cases, which is totally unnecessary. (It’s been at least a decade since I’ve bought a big box set that wasn’t in sleeves.) (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

The Boston Symphony Orchestra – Complete Recordings On Deutsche Grammophon offers 57 discs, mostly conducted by Seiji Ozawa, but with works led by Michael Tilson-Thomas (including the wonderful disc with Carl Ruggles’ Sun-Treader, which I bought back in the early 1980s), Claudio Abbado, Leonard Bernstein, and others. Seven of the discs are recordings by the Boston Symphony Chamber Players. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

The Amadeus Quartet – Complete Recordings On Deutsche Grammophon contains 70 CDs by this great string quartet. This one tempts me; I’m a big fan of the string quartet, and while they’re not the best in everything, they’re generally quite solid. I like how DG’s blurb says, “Benefitting from the jet aeroplane and from the record industry’s ability to reach out to world, they dominated chamber music making for nearly 40 years.” At £155 or $165, this one’s a bit steep. (It looks like the per-disc price for these box sets is climbing a bit, after hitting a low of around £1 or $1 a disc in recent years for the biggest sets.) (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

Harmonia Mundi has released a 30-disc set of Herreweghe: The Harmonia Mundi Years. Interesting, but a limited choice of his recordings, notably weak as regards Bach cantatas, of which he recorded a large number. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

Sequentia’s Hildegard Von Bingen Edition regroups nine CDs of this ensemble’s magnifecnt recording of Hildegard’s music. I have this in older editions, but if you don’t know this music, by all means check it out. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

Finally, DG has released two box sets of music by Narcisco Yepes. The Complete Concerto Recordings (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) and The Complete Solo Recordings (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) contain respectively 5 and 20 discs. (Why didn’t they put them in one set?) Back in the day, when I was learning guitar, I had a number of his recordings, and saw him live once at Carnegie Hall. He played this very cool 10-string guitar, which gave him a wonderful range. I’m not that interested in the concerto recordings, but I may spring for the solo recording box.

6 thoughts on “Classical Box Sets for Christmas 2017

  1. If I had to choose between Lenny and Fluffy, I’d definitely go with Lenny. The atrocious sound of many Bernstein recordings was supposedly due to his wanting to hear the orchestra as he heard it when conducting. This preference is doubly confusing, as he supposedly used QUAD ESL-57 speakers, which should sound best with simple miking.

    One of the advantages of cheap big-box sets is that they offer a way of hearing interpretations we might not otherwise give a chance.

    PS: Did you know that Hildegard invented a game of chance which was used to raise money for her church? It was originally called “Bingen”.

  2. If I had to choose between Lenny and Fluffy, I’d definitely go with Lenny. The atrocious sound of many Bernstein recordings was supposedly due to his wanting to hear the orchestra as he heard it when conducting. This preference is doubly confusing, as he supposedly used QUAD ESL-57 speakers, which should sound best with simple miking.

    One of the advantages of cheap big-box sets is that they offer a way of hearing interpretations we might not otherwise give a chance.

    PS: Did you know that Hildegard invented a game of chance which was used to raise money for her church? It was originally called “Bingen”.

  3. I hope Sony will release a Volume II. I am still waiting for an RCA release from Erich Leinsdorf, Andre Previn and a Sony complete Zubin Mehta

  4. I hope Sony will release a Volume II. I am still waiting for an RCA release from Erich Leinsdorf, Andre Previn and a Sony complete Zubin Mehta

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