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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Superconductor 2011 Gift Guide Part II: Orchestral Boxed Sets

One of these boxes has music in it.
With the major labels constantly merging and trying to re-sell old recordings, there are excellent opportunities for the collector. The recordings here are all orchestral music, with great conductors tackling familiar works. Buy one of these for someone you know, and they'll be happy you did.

Nielsen: The Masterworks Vol. 1: Symphonies 1-6, Orchestral works (Da Capo, 4 CDs, 2 DVDs)
Danish National Orchestra cond. Michael Schønwandt. 
Those of us who stayed in New York this summer can tell you that Mr. Schønwandt's performance of Nielsen was a concert highlight of those hot months. The Danish conductor brings his razor-sharp ensemble to a complete cycle of the six symphonies. Recommended here: the bold Inextinguishable Symphony (No. 4) and the brisk Four Temperaments (No. 2). The set also includes overtures and rarely heard excerpts from Nielsen's stage works, not often played outside of Denmark.

Bruckner Symphonies No. 3-9, Sacred Works (EMI, 12 CDs)
Munich Philharmonic cond. Sergiu Celibidache
The Romanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache worked at the height of the recording boom. Yet, the maverick maestro famously refused to join the frenzy of record-making, preferring to let his live performances speak for themselves. When he died, his family did not hesitate to make his performances available on CD. These EMI reissues are at a budget price, featuring his mystic approach to Bruckner with the Munich Philharmonic.

Stravinsky: The Complete Ballets and Symphonies (Decca, 7CDs)
Orchestre symphonique de Montreal cond. Charles Dutoit
Cleveland Orchestra cond. Vladimir Ashkenazy
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra cond. Riccardo Chailly
This is pretty good Stravinsky. Not absolute top-rank: that's Pierre Boulez' DG recordings or the composer's own readings on Sony. There are some great performances here though: Charles Dutoit's Montreal account of The Firebird and Vladimir Ashkenazy's Cleveland Rite of Spring. The set also includes more modern ballet scores like Agon and the composer's neo-classical symphonies and works for piano and orchestra.

Charles Munch: Late Romantic Masterpieces  (RCA 7 CDs)
Boston Symphony Orchestra cond. Charles Munch 
Charles Munch's Boston recordings have enjoyed something of a renaissance this year, with two boxed sets celebrating his musical legacy. Here is your chance to hear his approach to Wagner, with soprano Eileen Farrell joining the orchestra for scenes from the operas. In addition to solid symphony performances (the Tchaikovsky 4, 6, and Dvořák 8) this set also includes classic concertos.  Violinist Henryk Szerying plays the Tchaikovsky, and cellist Gregor Piatagorsky tackles the Dvořák concerto.

The Mahler Symphonies (RCA, 16 CDs, 1 DVD)
Tonhalle Orchester Zurich cond. David Zinman
I'm just going to quote my own review here:
"The Swiss forces are not as showy a "name" as the Vienna or Berlin Philharmonics or the American "big five." But on these recordings, they play Mahler with freshness, enthusiasm and love for this composer's particular genius. They are led by Mr. Zinman, who chooses brisk, but not rushed tempos, with some exceptions."

"It also includes a fascinating documentary, Going Against Fate, that chronicles the sessions for the Sixth Symphony. The film delves into the complexities of playing in a modern state-sponsored orchestra, from the tuba player's need for brass oil to a bassoonist demonstrating the proper way to wrap and blow a double reed."

Check out the rest of the 2011 Superconductor Gift Guide:
Part III: Beethoven for Christmas
Part IV: Opera Recordings
Part V: Piano Mania
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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.