EMI Classics has shown remarkable largesse (well, it's almost the holiday season) with its "Best-loved" composers series on Seraphim. The label is offering four CDs devoted to a single composer for less than the cost of one full-priced CD. The presentation's not bad either: EMI Classics has taken the original releases, kept them in their original jewel boxes, and simply packaged them together in a cardboard slipcase. Pretty nifty! The only thing missing is program notes; the inside of the booklets just advertises other titles in the series. What this means is that the "Best-loved" series may be a better purchase for admirers of EMI's astonishing back-catalogue than for new collectors coming to this repertoire for the first time. At these prices, though, no one's really going to suffer – quite the contrary, as I see it.
Let's look at a couple of these boxes and see what's inside. Best-loved Handel begins with the three Water Music suites conducted by no less than Yehudi Menuhin, with the Bath Festival Orchestra. These recordings were made in 1963, and although they don't reflect the now-burgeoning "authentic performance" movement (good thing, some would say), they still are fresh and relevant. Disc two contains all six of the Op. 3 Concerti grossi. This digital recording features the Linde-Consort conducted by Hans-Martin Linde. The third disc presents extensive highlights from Messiah. These come from Charles Mackerras's recording from the mid-1960s. The soloists are Elizabeth Harwood, Janet Baker, Robert Tear, and Raimund Herincx. Many critics feel that this is one of the best Messiah s ever, and I don't disagree. The last disc contains more choral music: the four Coronation Anthems, plus the Dixit Dominus. The Choir of King's College, Cambridge and the English Chamber Orchestra are conducted by Philip Ledger and David Willcocks.
Best-loved Bach contains a similar tasty mix. Yehudi Menuhin and the Bach Festival Orchestra are the performers on the first three discs. Disc one, originally recorded in 1959, contains the A Minor and E Major Violin concertos, and the Double concerto, all played and conducted by Menuhin. (Christian Ferras plays second fiddle in the Double concerto.) The first three Brandenburg Concertos can be heard on the second disc (also recorded in 1959), and the first three Orchestral Suites are on the third (recorded in 1960). The last disc features a big chunk of music from the St. Matthew Passion. This respected recording, made in 1968 by Wolfgang Gönnenwein, includes excellent solo work by Nicolai Gedda and Herrmann Prey, among others.
Other titles currently available in the United States are devoted to Beethoven (5 69537 2), Mozart (5 69542 2), Tchaikovsky (5 69544 2), and Vivaldi (5 69545 2). Four more sets (Brahms, Schubert, Dvořák, and Haydn) are advertised inside the booklets; I hope that EMI Classics will choose to bring these out later. "Seraphim Edition: Great Music, Great Artists, Great Prices" says the promotional material. I couldn't agree more. These would make excellent gifts for friends, family, and even yourself.
Copyright © 1999, Raymond Tuttle