These classical CD box sets make great gifts
The Decca Sound
The Decca label became favored for its high fidelity in the early LP era, to say nothing for its vast, if often British-centric, artist roster. The 50 choice releases from the past half-century, each disc in a cute original album sleeve, are a feast. Famous recordings include excerpts from George Solti’s “Ring,” Benjamin Britten conducting his “War Requiem,” and Zubin Mehta’s great “Turandot” with Sutherland and Pavarotti. But that’s only the beginning.
Beethoven: The Symphonies. Riccardo Chailly conducts the Gewandhaus Orchestra.
Decca is still at it. Although Beethoven symphony sets are common enough, Chailly’s rhythmic exhilaration and ear for orchestral color provide a spectacular freshening act. The recorded sound is terrific and the symphonies seem to leap out with magical immediacy from whatever digital or analog device you favor.
Rossini: “William Tell”
It’s been a while since Rossini’s epic and too-little-produced (especially in America) last opera has had a new recording. This one which comes from Rome’s Santa Cecilia Orchestra, is highlighted by Antonio Pappano’s compelling conducting and boasts a capable cast headed by Gerald Finley’s Tell. But the main accomplishment is to remind us of what wonderfully characterful music this opera contains.
Every year, Jordi Savall comes up with at least one stunningly packaged must-have release of music you had no idea existed or could exist. This year the Catalan early-music specialist investigates the music of 16th century Spain and Japan. The concept is brilliant concept, the performances are ear-catching, and the single CD comes incased in a beautiful paper sleeve that opens like a Japanese fan.
This five-CD set celebrates the 30th anniversary of the chamber music festival that the intrepid Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer founded in the small Austrian village of Lockenhaus. Musicians are invited to make music for the sake of making music, not to promote careers, as is the case in too many European festivals that resemble musical meat markets. Stars are included, as with conductor Simon Rattle, violinist Thomas Zehetmair and the Hagen String Quartet. Of particular note are the intense performances of late Shostakovich string quartets and a disc devoted to the imaginative Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff, who died in a concentration camp.
-- Mark Swed