History often repeats itself. And, many technology products tend to be at the very peak of their evolution upon their transition to oblivion. In the early 1980s, with the arrival of the CD, enormous quantities of high quality lps were boxed and sold at unprecedentedly low prices. Now 30 years later, a perfect storm caused by the establishment of the download, the often prohibitively high prices attached to new classical recordings, and, importantly, by the both high technical and artistic quality of existing catalogs, an avalanche of economically priced 50 cd boxes floods the market.
While the purchase of a couple of these boxes would enable the novice to obtain a high quality basic classical library, it is in most cases the seasoned collector lot that ends up capitalizing on the deals. As a result doubling, tripling, quadrupling, etc., up on interpretations of warhorses becomes an occupational hazard. Yet, a cleverly concocted mix of known and lesser known works tends to result in products whose purchase remains hard to resist.
Among the boxes on my shelves, this Teldec box deserves special mention because of the high quality of the often remastered products that are included. Thus, as is always the case with these large collections, individual preferences and favorites among the discs will greatly vary, but when it comes to the technical quality of the discs I would rate this box at the very top of my box collection. Allow me to visit a number of individual discs.
CD31 Alban Berg Quartett with Mozart and Schubert
I rank the ABQ among the greatest ensembles ever recorded. That said, the recording quality of the EMI recordings that they made at their peak tends to suffer from all the ills of digital processing. Poor treble, poor timbre, lack of transparency, you name it, they have it. Comparing the versions of K509 and D804 included in this box with their EMI counterparts reveals a day and night difference. And, importantly, the whole ABQ experience changes for the better. With the edginess gone, the transparency greatly improved, and low level dynamics restored, the very nature and musicality of the group shines like never before. Thanks to this the resulting subtlety of the performances would warrant spending the price of admission on this single disc. Those who thought that they had heard Schubert before will be in for something when hearing the opening bars of D804.
CD3 Cyprien Katsaris Beethoven/Liszt 9th Symphony
Comparing the original Teldec disc with the one included in this box reveals more subtle differences, but this was an outstanding disc to begin with. Transparency is improved as is the color palette of the beast of beasts, the Mark Allen piano. While the heroics of this transcendental performance remain undiluted, overall there is a more laid back experience and sonic diversity.
CD37 Borodin Quartet Tchaikovsky Quartets
Just like the aforementioned ABQ disc an extremely neutral, naturally balanced and highly detailed recording. A great sense of having a superior string quartet playing in the room. The lyrical nature of the first quartet's beautiful slow movement shines. Nothing but the highest praise.
CD16 Andras Schiff Haydn Sonatas
Personally, I don't respond all too favorably to the personal affect that Schiff projects on these works here. They strike me as an attempt at method acting by a performer who does not seem to be able to connect to the Haydn at the deepest level. But, that said, the recording is exemplary. Natural tone, great timbre, great soundstage, superior low level dynamics. Every subtlety of the performances is there to be savored.
CD47 Sharon Isbin et al. in arrangements of South American Guitar classics
Talking about recordings! Want a couple of performers serving up gentle entertainment in your room? Look no further. Wow.
And, surprise of surprises, CD45 Barenboim and friends evoking Buenos Aires
The piano sound fits more in the realm of jazz, but what a technically superior recording. Barenboim oozes sentimentality, and is more successful here, than in many of his classical endeavors.
And, I could go on and on and on.
My review here has focused on the recording quality of the discs. Yet, let there be no doubt that most of the discs meet the highest artistic standards. In I’ll mention closing three more personal favorites. 1) Shiff in Bartok. The Hungarians have it. Substantial and "light" at the same time. Superior. 2) Krainev in Prokofiev. The Russians have it. Now my first choice in both works. 3) Harnoncourt/RCO in Big Band Haydn. Nikolaus is his own man in these big boned, dynamic and emotionally involving performances. Ever wondered what panache sounded like? Look no further.