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 Recording of the Week  Mining the archives

I suppose it is not surprising that as economic times start to hit the number of new high profile recordings being made, the major record labels have increasingly looked to their archives to provide a steady flow of income. For us collectors this provides the opportunity to purchase whole chunks of catalogue at often very keen prices, and while this practice isn’t particularly new, the quality of the recordings and the prices on offer this year seem to me quite exceptional – Sir John Barbirolli conducting Elgar, Günter Wand conducting Bruckner, Arthur Rubinstein playing Chopin, Glenn Gould playing Bach. The list goes on and on, and includes many of the greatest recordings ever made – recordings which are loved and admired the world over and in many cases are never likely to be surpassed.

Arthur Rubinstein
Arthur Rubinstein

First up then is the re-launch of EMI’s ‘British Composers’ Series. From the very early recordings of Elgar conducting his own works, through a whole host of other composer-conductors to the more recent recordings of Nicholas Maw and Peter Maxwell Davies, this series has always celebrated all that is good about EMI’s commitment to British music. The series has been dormant for a few years now, and during that time a number of the titles have gradually been deleted. It is therefore terrific news that in one fell swoop EMI have just re-issued 34 discs of music (spread across six box sets). In addition to the legendary Barbirolli Elgar recordings already mentioned, you’ll also find Vaughan Williams, Delius, Britten, and virtually every other British composer of note, as well as a 9-disc set of Elgar conducting his own works. If there is one complaint it would be the lack of more contemporary music, but that already looks to be on EMI’s agenda going forward as three Thomas Adès recordings are set to also join this series later this month.

In the form of their ‘Collectors Editions’, Decca and DG have for some time been re-issuing their best recordings in the form of box sets, and it is a testimony to the recorded history of the labels that they don’t seem to be running out! The latest additions include Alfred Brendel’s Mozart Piano Concerto recordings, Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert playing Bach, five Rimsky-Korsakov operas from Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Opera, and the small matter of a 26-disc set of Plácido Domingo opera recordings.

Sony and RCA have traditionally been slower than the others to ‘box-up’ their archives, but wow have they made up for that now! 28 new box sets totalling nearly two hundred discs, and amongst them some of the most critically acclaimed recordings in history. You simply don’t get better than Rubinstein playing Chopin, or Günter Wand conducting Bruckner. There are so many what I would consider first choices amongst these it is hard to know quite where to begin. I don’t think you’d regret buying any of these, but if you did want guidance on maybe a few to look out for first then in addition to the those already mentioned I’d maybe suggest the Fritz Reiner conducts Richard Strauss set and the Jascha Heifetz plays Great Violin Concertos as great recordings to have in any collection.

For a limited period we’ve managed to secure substantial discounts on all the sets mentioned here, and you can view full details on the website via the following links.

Featured Box Sets:

British Composers series re-launch

Decca/DG Collectors Editions

Sony (and RCA) Masters