The Compact Collection

Rob Cowan on the week's CDs
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Naxos's triumph in the classical marketplace has not been won on the reputations of great artists. That's the province of the so-called majors, who are currently re-releasing some of their most prestigious back catalogue for an all-out war in the budget-price CD racks. EMI made a killing with HMV Classics (its Red Line edition will follow shortly) and, as from October, Universal will unleash a 200-strong batch of Eloquence CDs.

Naxos's triumph in the classical marketplace has not been won on the reputations of great artists. That's the province of the so-called majors, who are currently re-releasing some of their most prestigious back catalogue for an all-out war in the budget-price CD racks. EMI made a killing with HMV Classics (its Red Line edition will follow shortly) and, as from October, Universal will unleash a 200-strong batch of Eloquence CDs.

Between times, there are 25 lower-mid-price Universal Panorama double-packs, generous single-composer samplings that call on classic recordings from DG, Decca and Philips.

My own favourites are the oddballs, with Leonard Bernstein's "Indian Summer" Tchaikovsky recordings near the top of the list. Lenny made them with his old New York Philharmonic and boy, did he take liberties! The "Pathétique" will prompt the deepest gasps, especially the finale, which is virtually half the speed of anyone else's. The first movement's central climax is like a terrible purging, not so much because of the tempo (which isn't especially slow) as the deafening impact of its final hammer blow. And yes, there are Mahlerian parallels, though the March-Scherzo is blowsy and brash.

The Fifth is more central, a highly emotive re-enactment that stays the right side of dignity and enjoys a fair degree of help from the balance engineers (especially with reference to the woodwinds and lower brass). We're also given a big-hearted Romeo & Juliet overture and a vividly etched Nutcracker Suite under Rostropovich.

While Bernstein clasps at his heartstrings in Tchaikovsky, Reinhard Goebel dons sweatband and trainers for a top-speed sprint through Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. The Third Concerto is a whirlwind, the Fourth a feast of wild piping and the Sixth flashes with darting strands of counterpoint. This is a period-instrument production, drilled to the last semiquaver but with plenty of colour. I can't think of a modern set of Brandenburgs that I prefer and the deal is rounded off by some generous fill-ups, all of them led by Trevor Pinnock. There's the sunny four-harpsichord Concerto after Vivaldi, the dead-earnest D minor Concerto for harpsichord and strings, and the two solo violin concertos (with Simon Standage).

Then again, you might prefer your Bach dressed for full orchestra, in which case a generous new two-disc set from Biddulph will fit the bill. Great Orchestral Transcriptions concludes with a sequinned D minor Toccata and Fugue under Sir Henry Wood and has its artistic high point in a gothic, not to say Brucknerian, transcription of the great G minor Fantasia and Fugue by Dimitri Mitropoulos. This is the wide-screen Bach of pulpit orations and cathedrals in the sky, wild as in Respighi's Passcaglia and Fugue (magnificently conducted by Toscanini), sumptuous in Stokowski's "Arioso", and tweedy in Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt's "Italian" Concerto.

There's Schoenberg's "St Anne" given new-found justification under Erich Kleiber and Elgar's swashbuckling jaunt through the C minor Fugue, BWV537 (his opening Fantasia is rather more restrained). Other striking makeovers by Barbirolli, Caillet (under Fritz Reiner), Damrosch, Gui, Klemperer, Melichar, Sargent and Stock are more musical steeples than studies in counterpoint, always played with conviction and superbly transferred from vivid old 78s.

Tchaikovsky: Bernstein, DG Panorama 469 214-2 (2 discs)

Bach: Goebel, Pinnock, DG Panorama 469 103-2 (2 discs)

Great Orchestral Transcriptions of Bach: Biddulph BID 83069-70 (2 discs)

Comments