This set isn't up to the same standards as the Mozart, Bach, Haydn, Or Beethoven Complete Edition sets that Brilliant Classics has been having recent success with. Let me divide the set into three sections and rate according to performance and sound.
The Concertos. Performances: 4 star (on the average), Sound: 4 star on the average. The first 25 of the 40 discs in the set are various concertos and families of concertos by what appears to be every ensemble in Italy that even serious classical music collectors have never heard of. Don't let that put you off. Most of these performances are quite good, and the sound engineering is intimate, but with the perfect amount of echo, reverb, and presence. Detailed, warm in some cases, and others seem to be missing a little on the low end. Nothing you can't fix with the treble and bass controls on your stereo. My only complaint, and it is pretty consistent with Brilliant Classics 40 disc collections...allegro doesn't seem to ever really be allegro. It's nursing home allegro. For best performances of these works go to the Naive label, or pick up the Fabio Biondi recordings. You'll pay the big bucks, but those recordings have energy, which this set lacks - hence, four vs. five stars.
The Sonatas: Performances: 3 stars. Sound: 5 stars. These are OK performances, but they don't pack enough energy to really get these pieces across. The engineering is quite good though. Intimate and close, but not claustraphobic. I do appreciate the smaller ensemble take on these pieces, and for their lack of energy, these recordings have a charming air about them that is pleasing to the ear. If they could have sped the tempos up about 4 to 8 beats per measure these would have been perfect.
The Choral Works: Performances: 1 star. Sound: Doesn't matter. These performances are so bad it is embarrassing. Cantatas by women that sound old enough to bury. Men that have been chasing ponies from Rome to Denmark. Choirs and orchestras that sound like they've been around since Vivaldi wrote these pieces. What may have worked on the Bach Complete Edition doesn't work well here. The Netherland Bach Collegium and the Holland Boys Choirs aren't so bad as far as original instrument groups go, but the no vibrato, no vocal blend, unsteady intonation - all the fault of the director and record producer - make for an unpleasant listening experience. The up side is you want to find better versions of these and add them to your collection. They butcher the Gloria (and not the famous one we hear at Christmas), the Stabat Matter, the Dixit and the Nisi Dominus, and a few other minor pieces that you wouldn't want to hear if they were recorded by Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir. Am I being a little hard on them? Yes, I suppose so, but this is a product and I am consumer. If the steam iron isn't perfect, I can return it. With CDs and DVDs, all we have is "caveat emptor." Buyer beware.
And if you think that isn't bad enough, there is that recorder genius, Erik Bosgraaf. Playing so bad it will make you laugh out loud. The Recorder Concertos are by far the worst CD in this set.
If they hadn't dropped the ball on the choral CDs in this set, I could recommend it whole heartedly, despite the Bosgraaf recordings. But for the asking price, you can pick up some great recordings,used, on Amazon that are top notch. The Viktoria Mullova/Il Giardino Armonico Violin Concertos Vivaldi: Violin Concertos are to die for, and anything by Fabio Biondi is worth sampling. Again, the Naive label has dedicated itself to getting 5 star recordings of Vivaldi's whole catalog, and expensive as they are, they are well worth collecting. If you are thinking about purchasing this set, divide the current price by 25, and ask yourself if you think it is worth it. I commend Brilliant Classics for what they are attempting to do, which is make discovering classical music affordable. These sets are works in progress. The Beethoven Complete Edition and the Mozart and Haydn Complete Editions are excellent investments. The Handel Portrait set I purchased last week was a complete waste of money. I would sincerely love to see Jed Wentz and his Musica ad Rhenum, a BC regular, pull in his Amsterdam Conservatory resources, re-record the choral selections and replace some of the yawns with more exciting pieces and have Brilliant Classics commision new recordings of these pieces. In fact, they should let him supervise all of the Baroque sets from now on.
PS. And one last recommendation. Naïve Classics has a three-for-the-price of one boxed set of highlights from three Vivaldi operas from their highly lauded Vivaldi Edition releases. Opera Highlights: Vivaldi Edition Warning: This will forever change your expectation of what Baroque music should sound like. Euphoria and addiction sure to follow.