Christmas Boxes 2014 – A Lucky Seven Selection – Richard Strauss operas, Colin Davis, Claudio Abbado, James Galway, Pierre Monteux, Pierre Boulez and Benjamin Britten…

Written by: Colin Anderson

The boxing up of recordings, very often focussing on a particular musician, is currently very popular with companies, and these handsome packages can be found at attractive prices, giving an opportunity to listen in depth and at length to the artistry of celebrated conductors, instrumentalists and singers.

Of the following sets – hopefully Lucky Seven for anyone looking for a last-minute present for a musical friend or for oneself, the ‘home alone’ music-lover with holiday-time to immerse themselves in a release – maybe something that follows will be a help even if it is tip-of-the-iceberg stuff.

DG, Complete Richard Strauss Operas, 33 CDs
This year has seen the 150th-anniversary of Richard Strauss’s birth. Deutsche Grammophon’s set of all his operas is very tempting. Some recordings here are regarded as classics, Georg Solti’s of Der Rosenkavalier, Elektra and Die Frau ohne Schatten, for example, but of the fifteen operas by Strauss, some remain a little out of touch, such as Friedenstag, Guntram and Feuersnot. All are gathered here to reclaim or to get to know – with a galaxy of singers, and two first-time releases are included. The booklet, although without librettos, include synopses and photos: a treat for the opera fan and for Richard Strauss admirers. The last of the 33 CDs finds Jessye Norman in Strauss’s Orchestral Songs.

Sony Classical, Claudio Abbado: The Complete RCA and Sony Album Collection, 39 CDs
Opera also features in a 39-CD set from Sony Classical devoted to Claudio Abbado’s complete recordings for that label and for RCA. Boris Godunov and Simon Boccanegra, for example, together with Berlin, Chicago and LSO versions of Mozart, Tchaikovsky (all the numbered Symphonies), Mendelssohn and Rossini, a fine tribute to a much-loved conductor who died at the beginning of this year at the age of 80.

RCA Red Seal, Sir Colin Davis: The Complete RCA Legacy, 51 CDs

Further operas are to be found in a 51-CD set of Colin Davis’s RCA recordings (available on Sony Classical) with the features of Lohengrin, The Marriage of Figaro, Falstaff and Fidelio. Plus lots of Mozart (not least Alicia de Larrocha’s wonderful versions of the Piano Concertos) and all of Sibelius’s Symphonies and Brahms’s Four. And that’s not all… Elgar, Mahler and Berlioz…

Sony Classical, Pierre Monteux: The Complete RCA Album Collection, 40 CDs

A similar arrangement – recorded for RCA and now issued by Sony – informs the Pierre Monteux collection, 40 CDs this time, presented in original LP sleeves with some works newly re-mastered. A nicely presented booklet includes well-researched information, and the musical delights embrace Beethoven, Debussy, Franck, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Brahms … and some opera, La traviata and Orfeo ed Euridice, as well as ten CDs devoted to Monteux’s “The Early Recordings”, covering 1941-51. For many people, Monteux is the musician’s musician. Orchestras include those of San Francisco, Chicago and Boston.

Sony Classical, Pierre Boulez: The Complete Columbia Album Collection, 67 CDs

Another great French maestro, Pierre Boulez, has all his Columbia recordings (well, nearly all) enshrined on 67 CDs from Sony. Once again, a well-informed booklet and the use of LP covers add distinction. Music by Debussy, Ravel and Berlioz, Mahler and Wagner, and Bartók, Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Webern. Beethoven’s Fifth, too. Operas include Pelléas et Mélisande and Wozzeck. Boulez’s own music is included and there are surprises such as Handel’s Water Music (excellent) and pieces by Dukas, Falla and Varèse: a wonderful prelude to Boulez’s 90th-birthday early next year.

Decca, Britten The Performer, 27 CDs

Another notable composer-conductor, as well as a superb pianist, is Benjamin Britten, so a Decca box of 27 CDs presents him as performer, as pianist to Peter Pears in Schubert and Schumann, and to Rostropovich in Cello Sonatas by Debussy and Frank Bridge. Otherwise Britten is conducting the Brandenburg Concertos, the St John Passion, Haydn, Mozart, Percy Grainger, Elgar (The Dream of Gerontius) and a whole lot more.

Sony Classical, James Galway: The Man With The Golden Flute: The Complete RCA Album Collection, 71 CDs

At the lighter end of the scale is James Galway: The Man with the Golden Flute, weighing in, wait for it, with 71 CDs plus a couple of DVDs. This very eclectic collection certainly can’t be pigeonholed. Baroque and Classical repertoire, including The Four Seasons and Mozart Concertos (recorded several times by Galway and all are here), pieces written for him, and collaborations with Martha Argerich, Cleo Laine, John Mayer, Lennox Berkeley, Henry Mancini, Phil Coulter, The Chieftains, and many more… Japanese Melodies, Christmas Carols, Tango… Seven LPs appear on CD for the first time.

A recording of classical music, a celebration of greatness, is not just for Christmas but for all time, so if you read this article going into 2015 then all of the above remain available.

But already the list grows, for there is Jonas Kaufmann: 50 Great Arias (Decca), Christian Thielemann conducting Brahms Symphonies in Dresden (Decca has a set with near-neighbours Leipzig and Riccardo Chailly: compare and contrast) and Daniel Barenboim playing Schubert Piano Sonatas (both sets are from DG) and…

Sony Classical, Charles Rosen – The Complete Columbia And Epic Album Collection, 21 CDs

… staying with pianists, and returning to Sony, Charles Rosen’s Complete Columbia and Epic Album Collection. Maybe not an obvious Christmas Present (but it will soon be January and beyond), for on 21 CDs, Rosen gives intellectual consideration to such works as Gaspard de la nuit, Hammerklavier Sonata (and other ‘late’ Beethoven), Goldberg Variations, The Art of Fugue, Debussy’s Etudes, Elliott Carter, Chopin, Webern, Liszt, Schubert, Schumann, Haydn and, linking back above, Pierre Boulez. Bon appétit!

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