Sviatoslav Richter • The Complete Album Collection

Sony Classical 88843014702
18 CDs
1960-1988/2015

Music

Sound

to

Sibelius • Complete Symphonies

Paavo Berglund, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Warner Classics 9 73600 2 5
Four CDs
1972-1978/2013

Music

Sound

by Roy Gregory | April 7, 2016

he whirlwind ransacking of back catalogues and tape vaults by classical labels desperate to monetize their assets before the loudly predicted demise of CD has led to an astonishing outpouring of boxed sets of up to 100 discs at astonishingly low prices, often around a couple of bucks a disc. Of course, you are generally foregoing the dubious pleasures of a CD booklet, and keeping the pesky discs in any kind of order is an organizational challenge, but the music . . . oh, the music! Early boxes from the likes of Decca, RCA and Mercury set the scene and the standard, but now the steam has rather gone out of the market, with increasingly desperate offerings starting to appear: a third Mercury box anyone? How much Sousa can one music collection take?

Which has opened the way for some slightly more thoughtful and less obvious offerings. First up is the Warner Classics recent reissue of a four-CD box (with notes) featuring the entire Berglund/Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra Sibelius symphonic cycle and tone poems. These 1970s recordings were originally released by EMI as individual albums and a seven-record boxed set [SLS 5129] that featured as a permanent part of Harry Pearson’s Super Disc List. The performances are beautifully balanced and full of fire and ice, but then you probably already know that -- so much has been written about them over the years. These CD transfers do the vivid, powerful readings full justice as well as adding the Tone Poems for good measure.

But best of all, the whole set is available at a bargain price. I’ve seen it for less than $9.00! My only complaint is that Warners could have included Haendel’s fabulous and seriously underrated performance of the Violin Concerto [ASD 3199] accompanied by the same conductor and orchestra, but maybe I’m just being greedy. Mind you, if that’s not enough for you, Warners has done a similar job on the Boult Vaughan Williams nine symphonies [0 87484 2 3], previously [SLS 822], and that’s worth grabbing too.

No such complaints with Sony’s Richter box, a 18-disc collection that contains the maestro’s complete output for both RCA and Columbia. Once again, you really don’t need me to tell you about Richter or these recordings, especially as you can probably pick up this box for around $40 -- although in the UK I paid less than 20, making it a serious bargain.

With so much material, the recording quality naturally varies, but the one constant is the sheer excellence of Richter’s playing. What makes this box special is the inclusion of the entire unedited Carnegie Hall tapes from his performances in October 1960, made during his debut US tour. The provenance of these tapes is itself dubious, deriving from Carnegie’s own in-house recording system, and while they have been variously available at different times and on different labels, spread across both LP and CD, this is as far as I know the first time they’ve been grouped together in their entirety, spread across nine discs, along with four further RCA-taped discs that contain the December 26th Carnegie concert and, for the first time, the entire Mosque Theatre, Newark recital of the 28th. Despite the wide-ranging sonic quality on show, it’s really not hard to hear why Richter’s appearances caused a sensation, and together these discs form an invaluable document for any lover or student of the piano.

More carefully selected boxed sets like these at similar bargain prices will make me a happy bunny. Who knows -- the reports of CD’s demise might just be grossly exaggerated.

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