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 Recording of the Week  50 Years of the Grosses Festspielhaus Salzburg

It has been a good few months for high quality box sets from Deutsche Grammophon. Following on from the Carlos Kleiber box I reviewed back in June and the Mahler box last week, today sees the release of perhaps their most impressive set to date – a 25 disc set to mark the 50th anniversary of the Grosses Festspielhaus in Salzburg.

The Salzburg Festival itself celebrates its ninetieth anniversary this year and uses a number of different venues across the city for its month-long summer extravaganza. Undoubtedly though the most impressive is the Grosses Festspielhaus which was designed by Clemens Holzmeister and opened 50 years ago this summer in 1960. It is a 2,200 all-seater hall and the fact that it hosts everything from solo piano cycles up to fully-staged operas is a testimony to the quality and versatility of the venue.

Deutsche Grammophon have worked very closely with the Salzburg Festival to prepare this limited edition box set in order to give a true representation of some of the great performances that have occurred over the last fifty years in the hall. It contains 5 complete operas, 10 concerts and 2 recitals, and a number of these have not been previously available on CD.

The five operas are Der Rosenkavalier with Lisa della Casa and Sena Jurinac, conducted by Karajan, which officially opened the hall in 1960; the Ferenc Fricsay Idomeneo from the following year; a 1992 Abbado recording of Janacek’s From the House of the Dead which has never before been on CD and features a brilliant Nicolai Ghiaurov, the fabulous La Traviata with Netrebko and Villazon from 2005 and an excellent Eugene Onegin from Barenboim in 2007 (also first time on CD).

The orchestral concerts all have something to offer and the line-up of conductors is pretty awe-inspiring: Abbado, Bernstein, Böhm, Boulez, Karajan, Levine, Mehta, Muti, Solti. Half of them are first time releases of which the Abbado Tchaikovsky 6 and Boulez performance of the Rite of Spring I found particularly welcome. The two recitals are also superb and the Brendel one from 2007 is available here for the first time and was one of his last performances before his retirement the following year.

Back in 2006, to mark the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, the Salzburg Festival took on the monumental task of putting on all 22 of the composer’s surviving stage works. It was perhaps the most daring and outstanding achievement in both operatic as well as classical audio-visual history. This mixture of well-known masterpieces, rarities and fragments was filmed and released on 33 DVDs later that year. The cost of producing those 51 hours of music in 5.1 surround sound must have been immense and unsurprising the cost of that set was pretty high.

Four years on though, and with the Grosses Festspielhaus 50th anniversary to celebrate, the set is about to be re-issued (released next Monday) at just a fraction of the original price. It now represents a real bargain and, with conductors including Harnoncourt, Muti and Minkowski involved along with a cast of singers including René Pape, Diana Damrau, Magdalena Kozená, Anna Netrebko, Christine Schäfer and Elina Garanca, as you can imagine there is much to enjoy here. As well as every opera and singspiel, the rarities and the scenic fragments, there are reports on the making of the productions, artist interviews and rehearsal excerpts.

Full details of both the 25 CD Grosses Festspielhaus set and the 33 DVD Complete Mozart Operas set are shown below.

50 YEARS: Grosses Festspielhaus Salzburg

25-CD box set – 5 complete operas, 10 concerts and 2 recitals – featuring many of the world’s greatest artists, and a number of first releases including Alfred Brendel's recital from 2007.

Available Formats: MP3, CD Quality FLAC