Virgin: The Classics

LABELS: Virgin: The Classics


Since its launch in 1983, the CD has provided the most comprehensive re-homing facility the record industry has ever seen, yet the sheer scope and diversity of the reissue listings has often seemed bewildering.

Cash-conscious collectors profited whenever top-drawer performances reappeared at reduced cost, though what’s been largely absent from the release schedules until recently has been any tangible sense of structured, logical planning.

But with the big three (Philips, DG and Decca) coordinating their output more and more under Universal’s umbrella, things should change as two major reissue initiatives, Eloquence and Panorama, come on stream.

A no-frills marketing concept (without recording data or booklet notes) focusing on core repertoire, Eloquence might signal a threat to Naxos. At mid-price, Panorama mines the treasures of the three companies’ archives (though chiefly DG), but provides only entry-level annotations. Baroque music fares well among Universal’s reissues.

Virgin’s ‘The Classics’ series is a superior product aimed at the discerning if thrifty consumer. The discs are imaginatively presented; booklets include recording data, occasional artist photos, and user-friendly music notes in English and French.

Christoph Eschenbach’s 1990 DVORÁK New World with the Houston Symphony (VM 5 61837 2) is first class: questing, dynamic and muscular – you’ll feel you’re discovering this played-out work entirely afresh.

Equally striking are Paavo Järvi’s SIBELIUS performances from Stockholm (VM 5 61847 2); his Lemminkäinen Suite is finer than Salonen’s highly praised Los Angeles Philharmonic/Sony account, and Nightride and Sunrise receives the most persuasive reading I’ve yet heard. Outstanding value, and superlative sound, too.

Kent Nagano is one of today’s most compelling and incisive conductors of STRAVINSKY. His 1991 LSO recording of the complete original Firebird (VM 5 61848 2) is indispensable, his flair for the exotic coloration and sonorities of this score, coupled with thrilling orchestral playing and demonstration quality sound warranting high commendation.


Finally, Virgin has also reissued an interesting MINIMALIST concoction of adroitly played Adams, Glass, Reich and Dave Heath from the London Chamber Orchestra and Christopher Warren-Green (VM 5 61851 2), while the reappearance of John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil in Steven Isserlis’s magnetic world-premiere recording (VM 5 61849 2) underlines its stature as a contemporary classic.