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 Recording of the Week  The Decca Sound

While we tend to feature primarily new recordings in these newsletters, sometimes a box set comes along with such a good story behind it and representing such great value that it is hard to ignore. That is certainly the case with the 50-disc ‘Decca Sound’ box which has just been issued.

Decca was founded in 1929 but it wasn’t until the late 1930s that the label started to take Classical music seriously. Through technical innovation their aim was simple – the ability to record a more realistic sound. One of the key elements in this was capturing a wider frequency range (high and low notes). By the out-break of the Second World War they were so far on with this that they were asked by the British Government to turn their expertise to developing a high fidelity hydrophone capable of detecting individual German submarines by each one’s signature engine noise.

After the war this was developed further into the famous Decca Radar system but from a musical point of view it was used to create what became known as ffrr (full frequency range recording) – one of the vital elements of the legendary ‘Decca Sound’. In the 1950s this sound was further improved by the advent of stereo and in particular the development of the ‘Decca tree’ spaced microphone technique which helped capture not only a strong stereo image, but also the ambiance of the venue.

There were further technological developments and also important individuals – John Culshaw for example revolutionised the way opera was recorded and this helped the label attract many of the biggest operatic stars of the time (such as Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti). In opera and elsewhere Decca really did lead the way through much of the second half of the twentieth century and this new box set celebrates and demonstrates that through a tremendous range of terrific recordings.

We’ve put a short video trailer on the website which shows some of the big artists and recordings included in this box. The photos on the video are all included in the impressive 200-page booklet which accompanies the set. I’m told it is limited edition, and while we’ve bought quite a lot of stock, please bear in mind that once it has gone, it has gone, so if you want it don’t delay long.

The Decca Sound box also forms part of our autumn Box Set Special Offer. This year we’ve managed to include over 1500 box sets in this offer and with discounts in some cases up to 50% off there are some tremendous bargains in here. You can browse them all from the Box Sets special offer page, but I’d just like to highlight a few others here which are unlikely to be around for long (and got me quite excited).

Firstly, the Leonard Bernstein Symphony Edition. This beautifully packaged 60-disc LP-sized set contains the complete symphonic recordings of Leonard Bernstein with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra between 1953 and 1976. There are some tremendous recordings in here and complete with a 32 page LP-sized illustrated booklet it comes with a real ‘wow’ factor. Originally released late last year it was deleted almost before it came out and frustratingly we could only ever get hold of a handful of copies. However, we’ve managed to secure a one-off bulk order from Europe and at a really great price it is definitely a grab-it-while-you-can item.

The new set of Barenboim’s Complete Wagner Opera recordings is (as far as I know) not limited so you can spend a bit more time considering this one. Not that you really need to as it contains all ten major Wagner Operas on 34 discs at again a very attractive price. For my money the Ring cycle on here (from Bayreuth with John Tomlinson (Wotan), Siegfried Jerusalem (Siegfried), Anne Evans (Brünnhilde), etc) is along with the Solti cycle one of the two finest sets on disc. And the other operas are key contenders as well (Peter Seiffert is the Lohengrin, Siegfried Jerusalem and Waltraud Meier are the Tristan and Isolde and so on).

And finally, slightly different in concept but equally high in quality is Harmonia Mundi’s (limited edition) seasonal offering. Their 30-disc set ‘Lumieres’ is essentially 30 CDs of all sorts of music from the 18th and early 19th centuries – I suppose what you would describe as from the “twilight of the Baroque to the dawn of Romanticism”. The repertoire is widespread, ranging from the well known (for example Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony) to virtually unknown (for example Pleyel’s Cello Concerto and Mondonville’s sacred vocal works). But when you consider that it includes such great recordings as the René Jacobs Marriage of Figaro, Daniel Reuss’s Handel Solomon (including Connolly, Sampson and Padmore) and Paul Lewis playing Beethoven, it is hard to pass over too quickly!

Barenboim's Complete Wagner Operas recordings

CDs containing all ten major Wagner Operas: Der fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, Götterdämmerung, Parsifal

Available Format: CD


discs of music from the twilight of the Baroque to the dawn of Romanticism

Available Format: CD