Here we have another of those Warner Classics card boxes that sweeps up the back catalogue recordings made by an artist who, for economic reasons, has gone on to other, maybe better, things. It's pretty good value and worth considering as a value-for-money purchase for those who either: a) want a 15-CD box featuring many the warhorses of the violin repertoire; b) appreciate the undoubted talent of the then rather young (but fully-formed) Austrian wunderkind Thomas Zehetmair; or c) like collecting Warner boxes like me (not always a wise thing to do!).
This is one of the more expensive Warner boxes as it contains 15 CDs and the usual booklet with the recording dates and some puff about Zehetmair. Zehetmair is, clearly, a major talent (although I'm not quite so keen on his vibrato) in the world of violinists and he has subsequently made many excellent recordings for the ECM New Series label. So, what is in the box?
The first two CDs feature Zehetmair's 1983 recordings of JS Bach's Sonatas & Partitas for solo violin. This relatively early digital recording has also been released as a budget Apex set Bach - Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin - Zehetmair; it's a fine performance, but I prefer listening to "period" instrument recordings of these works most of the time. You may be very happy with these well-regarded recordings.
CDs 3 & 4 feature Mozart's violin concertos with the K269/373 Rondo and K261 Adagio pieces. These were recorded in 1991/92 and Zehetmair is both soloist and the conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra. Again, very good performances, perhaps overlooked at the time of release but, if you want modern instrument recordings, the Pamela Frank/Zinman Arte Nova CD might prove a better choice Mozart: Violin Concertos Nos 1-5. This recording is also an Apex release Mozart - The Violin Concertos - Zehetmair.
CD5 comes from 1985 and features Zehetmair in Mozart's "Haffner" Serenade K250 and the K249 March with the Staatskapelle Dresden under Nikolaus Harnoncourt. This is good stuff as is CD6 with string duos. These have Tabea Zimmermann on viola and the 1989 recordings have the K423/424 Mozart duos and Michael Haydn's Duo Number 1.
CD7 has Zehetmair recordings from several sessions. These are Joseph Haydn's Violin Concerto in C major Hob.VIIa:1 with Zehetmair conducting the Franz List Chamber Orchestra, Beethoven's Triple Concerto Op.56 in Harnoncourt's recording with Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Clemens Hagen and The Chamber Orchestra of Europe. The CD closes with Zehetmair conducting the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie in Beethoven's Romances Op.40 & Op.50.
CD8 has two Beethoven violin sonatas in the utterly predicatble form of the "Kreutzer" & "Spring". Malcolm Frager's fortepiano rescues this disc for me. This was first out as Classical Diamonds - Beethoven (Violinsonaten) (now very expensive used - why bother?) in 1986 but has had Schumann's Fantasy Op.131 with the Philharmonia under Christoph Eschenbach tagged on.
CD9 has Paganini's 24 Caprices - Paganini - Caprices was the original 1993 recording. Very fine if you like this music (which I don't so much).
CD10 is very interesting with bits and pieces from Schubert and Schumann. Schubert's not-so-well-known works for violin and orchestra (D345/580/438/895) and Schumann's Op.129 Violin Concerto are beautifully played and well worth hearing in these performances.
More Schumann on CD11 with the first two violin sonatas Op.105/121 plus the Marchenbilder OP.113. I love these pieces and, although other recording have appeared since these were made in 1987, Zehetmair and his talented pianist Cyprien Katsaris do Schumann proud.
CD12 has Brahm's violin concerto with The Cleveland Orchestra under Christoph von Dohnanyi and Dvorak's with the Philharmonia under Eliahu Inbal. OK, but not much more than that - methinks Zehetmair is better off in smaller-scale orchestral and chamber works.
CD13 has Mendelssohn & Sibelius. The violin concertos. With Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra/Rolla and Gewandhausorchester/Masur. Doesn't work too well (for me).
CD14 features a rather more promising Berg violin concerto, a Janacek fragment, and a Hartmann work. CD15 rounds things up with Berg's Chamber Concerto and Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony 1 Op.9 (Schoenberg & Berg: Chamber Orchestral Works was the original release). Zehetmair plays his heart out, but Holliger's conducting is not very impressive.
On balance, the good performances outweigh the also-rans, but I have to say that this is very much a case where less would have been more for me.