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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Re-stocking the Bare Shelves

A look at upcoming classical boxed sets.
"My cans. My precious, antique cans. Look what you've done to 'em."
Every Fall, the classical music industry releases a new flood of boxed sets and reissues into the warehouses of Amazon.com and its competitors. (This line used to read "into the record stores" but since there are very few left age their stock is limited, I decided to update it for this barren decade.)

In times of limited employment and deep economic strife, suggesting which classical/opera boxed sets to collect might be as futile as buying a subscription to the New York City Opera's 2011 fall season. But we're still going to do it anyway, because writing about good music is a light in dark days.

Here's some new and notable box sets. Some are recently released. Others are coming in the next few months:

Rafael Kubelik conducts Great Symphonies
Schumann Symphonies 1-4, Bruckner Symphony No. 3, 4, Mozart Nos. 35, 36, 38-41

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra cond. Rafael Kubelik (RCA, 7 discs)
One of the great underrated conductors gets a reappraisal, thanks to the merger of Sony and RCA and a slew of accompanying reissues. Kubelik always had a unique take on major repertory, and he meshed perfectly with the Munich forces to produce gorgeous results. (Release Date: Sept. 6, 2011)


Schubert: Piano Sonatas and Impromptus, Andras Schiff, Piano (Decca, 9 discs)

This Hungarian pianist made these Schubert recordings in the 1990s. Crisp keyboard diction, beautiful digital sound and a sense of intimacy, especially in the beautifully played Impromptus. (Oct. 18, 2011)

Bruckner: Symphonies 0-9
Chicago Symphony Orchestra cond. Daniel Barenboim. (DG, 10 discs)

This set has been out of print for almost two decades, mostly because Daniel Barenboim decided to record a second Bruckner cycle with the Berlin Philharmonic. That set was released in the '90s on Teldec/Warner Brothers and is also currently available. This older, analog set made in the 1970s offers the conductor's fiery first take on these classic works and allows the listener to hear the early relationship between the young Barenboim and this great American orchestra. (Oct. 18, 2011)


EMI Sergiu Celibidache Edition Boxed Sets
Munich Philharmonic cond. Sergiu Celibidache (EMI Classics, Four boxed sets, 48 discs total.)

Four low-price boxed sets celebrate the "all-bootleg" recorded legacy of this idiosyncratic, but inspired Romanian conductor. Since Celibidache would not make studio recordings and openly disapproved of the process of making live recordings, he had to be recorded quietly, with everything released following his death.

The maverick Celibidache famously eschewed the recording studio, leading mystic, revelatory performances of major symphonic repertory. (Most of these recordings were made between 1982 and 1995, but not intended to be released.) Bruckner is the main attraction here, although this conductor applied his unique touch to Bach choral works, the Verdi Requiem and an astonishing range of repertory from Haydn and Mozart to Debussy, Bartok and Mussorgsky. (Oct. 25, 2011)


The Liszt Legacy: Benno Moisewitch, Alicia De Larrocha, Claudio Arrau, Raymond Lewenthal, Egon Petri, Piano (DG, 11 discs)
This year has seen a slew of Liszt boxed sets, from the scattershot anthologies of EMI and Sony to Hyperion's absolutely complete set of Leslie Howard's recordings, that weighs in at a hefty 99 discs. This ten-disc Liszt-a-thon celebrates the composer's bicentennial with rare and unreleased recordings of the composer's works from five great pianists. Many of these are previously unreleased.

The Chilean Claudio Arrau and the Spanish Alicia de Larrocha are the big names here, but the set is also notable for the inclusion of the underrated Benno Moisewitch as well as the more obscure Dutch-German pianist Egon Petri and the American-born Raymond Lewenthal.  (Nov. 15, 2011)
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.