EMI: British Composers Boxes

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: EMI
PERFORMER: Various

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What exactly is EMI playing at? Suddenly we’re confronted with seven big boxed sets assembled from the budget-priced British Composers series. a BRITTEN COLLECTION, for example, comes in at eight discs (5 75792 2, £27.99), ranging from Rattle’s orchestral recordings to King’s College Choir under David Willcocks in the choral music. Nothing duff, most of it highly recommended.

There are two ELGAR boxes, one orchestral (5 75793 2, seven discs, £21.99), one choral (5 75794 2, 13 discs, £39.99) – good, solid recordings from the usual suspects, but including the odd period-piece like Elgar himself conducting Beatrice Harrison in the Cello Concerto. A BARBIROLLI COLLECTION (5 75790 2, 13 discs, £39.99) falls between two stools. The specialist will have most or all of it already, but it’s certainly priced to sell more widely.

There are the Forties recordings of Vaughan Williams symphonies, and the world premiere recording of Britten’s Violin Concerto from 1948 (with Theo Olof) is particularly attractive, maybe more so than a mixed Delius double and the Elgar symphonies (although there’s a fine Dream of Gerontius here with the Hallé).

THE BEST OF BRITISH COLLECTION (5 75791 2, 13 discs, £39.99), may prove the most attractive set to the average bargain-hunter, as it cherry-picks some of the best of the rest. Three highlights: a wonderful compilation of Malcolm Arnold’s orchestral music, classic recordings from the Fifties and Sixties of British light music and a much-loved recording of Finzi’s Dies natalis with Wilfred Brown.

Then there’s A VAUGHAN WILLIAMS COLLECTION (5 75795 2, 9 discs, £30.99), and it’s a beauty: choral and vocal recordings that would sit nicely alongside the Boult readings of the symphonies reissued by EMI in a slimline box a while ago. Hang on a minute, though – that’s eight CDs, but it only takes up about a third of the space of this new set. All they have done this time around is print a thin card slipcase that binds together the individual jewel-boxes straight from the warehouse, and there you have it: something to get the collector salivating with minimal outlay.

A WALTON COLLECTION (5 75796 2, eight discs, £27.99) includes the three-disc ‘Walton Edition’ of the composer’s own EMI recordings from the centenary year, so I expect a lot of people will have picked them up already, and won’t find this big box tempting at all. That’s the problem: most of these individual discs have been around long enough to have found the buyers who really want them.

To justify keeping them in the warehouse (and the catalogue) EMI needs steady sales, yet as they stood there were two problems: shops not stocking enough of them to generate a turnover at these low prices, and nothing to make them stand out as an attractive impulse-buy. These shelf-straining boxes with the price-per-disc halved make it much more likely we’ll bite, even if we do end up with some duplication.

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I suspect many people will be throwing away the cardboard sleeve and filing the discs wherever they fit best – which is probably exactly what the shops will do if they don’t sell. And if you shop around, you may well find these boxes selling closer to £2 per disc. Even if they don’t start appearing on EMI’s deletions lists, these discs are unlikely to get any cheaper, so snap them up now, and let the record company worry about how to recycle them next time around.