EMI: Classics for Pleasure

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: EMI

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When the Classics for Pleasure series was launched in the Seventies, its purpose was to make modern recordings, often with younger artists, and to sell them at a quarter of the cost of a full-price disc.

Now they’re appearing for the same money as other budget reissues, many of which boast performers more eminent than CfP could manage.

Why buy Daniel Chorzempa’s literal and lumpen readings of BEETHOVEN’s Moonlight, Pathétique and Appassionata Sonatas (5 75561 2, £5.99) when you could have the likes of Brendel or Gilels?

Similarly, BERLIOZ’s Symphonie fantastique from James Loughran and the Hallé (5 75562 2, £5.99), though well-balanced, lacks tension; and their account of RACHMANINOV’s Second Symphony (5 75565 2, £5.99), one of the earliest uncut versions, now seems underpowered, and congested in its sound quality.

(But better than Andrew Litton’s self-indulgent RPO recording, which recently resurfaced on a Virgin double – VBD 5 36037 2 – with the other two symphonies.

The recording is surprisingly distant, and individual moments are dwelt on at the expense of the whole – overall the First Symphony fares best, as there are fewer opportunities to wallow.)

Still with Russian music on CfP, John Pritchard brings his well-remembered elegance to a selection from PROKOFIEV’s Romeo and Juliet, though MUSSORGSKY’s Pictures at an Exhibition is too much on autopilot (5 75564 2, £5.99).

Sian Edwards brings a young conductor’s freshness to a TCHAIKOVSKY compilation (5 75567 2, £5.99), including Romeo and Juliet and the 1812, as well as an innocently passionate Onegin ‘Letter Scene’ with Eilene Hannan.

But the two incontestably worthwhile discs from this CfP batch are both of English music: Charles Mackerras brings intensity to WALTON’s symphonies (5 75569 2, £5.99), almost matching the composer’s own fierce concentration in the First, and bringing out the phantasmagorical elements of the unjustly neglected Second.

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And John Mark Ainsley challenges the legacy of Peter Pears in BRITTEN: his French is idiomatic in Les illuminations, the obbligato instrumentalists are virtuosic and tender in the Nocturne and the Serenade is distinguished by David Pyatt’s horn-playing (5 75563 2, £5.99). These are among the best modern versions.