EMI: Budget Boxes

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: EMI
PERFORMER: Various artists
CATALOGUE NO: See text for individual catalogue numbers

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The number of space-saving budget boxed sets has mushroomed over the past few years, making each new catalogue entry more vulnerable to competition.

EMI’s repackaging of the three MOZART/Da Ponte operas (CZS 5 75535 2, 9 discs) with the Vienna Philharmonic and casts prepared to the nines by Riccardo Muti, for example, would have the field to itself, had Philips not already brought out its superior Colin Davis trilogy, or Decca not sneaked Arnold Östman’s period-instrument traversals into the present running. EMI’s chilly, reverberant engineering, furthermore, neutralises the lyric warmth and chamber-like textures of Mozart’s ingenuous orchestration.

Still, there’s plenty of superb singing to savour, with William Shimell’s rakish Giovanni, Kathleen Battle’s quicksilver Susanna, Jorma Hynninen’s imposing Count Almaviva among my favourites. Wolfgang Sawallisch’s London Philharmonic BRAHMS cycle (CZS 5 75502 2, 7 discs) doesn’t match the sonic vibrancy and impact of like-minded direct, stylish readings of similar vintage (Wand, Dohnányi, Mackerras, for example), though the forward winds (like Klemperer’s) are a strong asset.

I’d grab this EMI box first and foremost for Stephen Kovacevich’s virile yet poetic traversals of the piano concertos, with violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann and cellist Heinrich Schiff gloriously matched in the Double Concerto and Sawallisch’s poised keyboard prowess to the fore in the Horn Trio.

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No qualms or qualifications of any kind greet Jean Martinon’s breathtaking DEBUSSY and RAVEL cycles from the early Seventies, with the Orchestre de Paris and ORTF National Orchestra playing their hearts out (CZS 5 75526 2, 8 discs). The performances (all gorgeously recorded) shimmer with character and dramatic variety, vivacity of detail, linear clarity and forward sweep.If you adore this repertoire as much as I do, your collection will be poorer for not owning this set – buy it without delay.