Universal: Trio

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Universal
CATALOGUE NO: See text for individual catalogue numbers

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‘Two’s company, three’s a crowd’ – not according to Universal, which has decided that the many and varied twofers, duos and doubles on offer from every major classical company recycling its archive leaves a gap in the reissues market.

With its three-CD sets (Trios, naturally), it can offer ‘complete repertoire segments’: more satisfying for the classical punter building a library – or at least if the performances, packaging and price are as attractive as the repertoire.

First off are ROSSINI Overtures – not merely a selection, but all 26 of them in two hours 40 minutes, and with not nearly as much repetition and recycling as the composer’s reputation would suggest (473 967-2). But aren’t the mid-Seventies performances a bit long-in-the-tooth?

Not at all; this is the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and Marriner in their heyday – sound quality is excellent and the notes enhance the whole experience. All boxes ticked, then: one for the library.

Karajan conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in the SIBELIUS symphonies – and that’s all the information some buyers are going to need (474 353-2). But Karajan didn’t record Sibelius’s Third, so DG includes Okko Kamu’s account with the Helsinki RSO.

Karajan’s 1965 Sibelius Fourth is a real classic, so it’s a shame it’s split over two discs, but that apart, this set offers Sibelius in long breaths and broad brush strokes, with that special burnished Berlin sound. So what about SCRIABIN’s symphonies with Ashkenazy (473 971-2)?

Aren’t these already out as a Double Decca? Yes, but for a couple of quid more Universal is throwing in the Piano Concerto with Peter Jablonski.

Interestingly, Ashkenazy himself is a better soloist in the Concerto (on Decca with Maazel conducting); and there have been more thrilling and sensuous accounts of the symphonies (Muti or Gergiev), but not at this price.

The idiosyncratic Russian pianist Anatol Ugorski has also recorded Scriabin’s Concerto, but here he turns his formidable firepower on MESSIAEN’s aviary (474 345-2): the Catalogue d’oiseaux.

The landscapes seem more rugged and the birds themselves bigger and more predatory than in most recordings – Messiaen produced by Hitchcock? There are some stunning sounds and colours, but not enough weight is given to the silences – although you do get the substantial bonus of La fauvette de jardins, a 27-minute garden warbler that wasn’t part of the original Catalogue.

Trevor Pinnock’s Archiv accounts of BACH’s solo keyboard music can be swiftly dispensed with (474 337-2); if you want the repertoire – the Six Partitas, French Overture, Italian Concerto and Goldberg Variations – buy this Trio reissue. This is still fine playing and recording 20 years on, cheap at the price.

My last Trios are two sets of quartets. First the Ysaÿe Quartet’s recordings of the six quartets MOZART dedicated to Haydn, with the French foursome seeking out the deepest, darkest corners of Mozart’s music, sometimes when it isn’t there (473 963-2).

It’s fine playing, though, even when you’d appreciate a lighter touch, or a less oppressive recording. All of which falls into place with the Emerson Quartet’s late BEETHOVEN box, the last five plus the Grosse Fuge (474 341-2).

Ideally recorded for me: superb balance from the players and the engineer, and a sound that seems to mix the precision of the Alban Berg Quartet with the weight and dynamic range of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

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The Emerson’s Beethoven is too slick for some who prefer the fragile humanity of The Lindsays or the seductive intimacy of the Quartetto Italiano, but this is superb playing: 21st-century Beethoven on a budget. Good for the library, the wallet and the soul.