Classical Music Box Sets for the Holidays

It’s that time of year again. The time when people start searching for gifts for the holidays, for friends, or for themselves. At this time of year, record labels – especially classical labels – release a number of box sets, to entice listeners to perhaps buy more than they would otherwise purchase, but also to make snazzy packages that make nice gifts. I generally take advantage of this period to pick up a couple of box sets, either of music I’d been looking to get to fill out my collection, or of music that I discover at bargain prices. I’ve been looking through what’s available this year, and I’ve found a number of nice classical box sets that are worth checking out.

To start with, I just received Naxos’ 38-disc Deutsche Schubert-Lied-Edition, a project organized by pianist Ulrich Eisenlohr, featuring all German singers. I’ve already written about it here, so I’ll direct you to that article for more about this set, and about Schubert’s lieder in general.

A recent budget release of Mozart piano concertos, featuring Alfred Brendel is on my list. Brendel plays concertos 5-27, with Ingrid Haebler playing the early piano concertos, Ton Koopman playing harpsichord concerts, and Katia & Marielle Labèque and Imogen Cooper joining for the concertos for multiple pianos. I’m a Brendel fan, and will definitely be getting this.

Harmonia Mundi has a 30-disc set of Music of the Enlightenment, which, for now, is listed on Amazon.fr, but not Amazon.com. This contains a selection of composers of that period, from Bach to early Beethoven, by way of Gluck, Boccherini, Rameau and others. It’s an interesting concept to group all these composers together, giving listeners an idea of the music that propagated during this period.

Another set that’s only on Amazon.fr for now is Michel Chapuis’s recordings of Bach organ works on 14 CDs, at the low price of around €30. This reissue of recordings first released in the 1970s is definitely worth getting if you’re a Bach organ fan. And the price can’t be beat.

One set that I’ve already picked up, and very much enjoyed, is Café Zimmermann’s Concertos avec plusieurs instruments, or concertos for multiple instruments, by Bach. On six CDs, this group provides energetic readings of Bach’s concertos. From harpsichord to violon, from oboe to the Branderburg concertos, this covers all of Bach’s concertos. Each disc is grouped as a recital, rather than organizing all the concertos of a particular type together, making each one an attractive program on its own.

The 50-CD Decca Sound box set groups a number of vintage Decca recordings which, apparently, have excellent sound. There are many recordings here that I don’t have, and it’s tempting, but it’s one of those boxes where I probably wouldn’t listen to more than half of the CDs. This said, at less than $2 a CD, it’s a steal.

I recently ordered this 18-disc set of Mozart’s operas, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner. Another bargain, where the set costs about the price of two operas, and it contains the seven most famous Mozart operas. The label claims it is a limited edition, and this may be true. At this price, you shouldn’t miss out.

A 4-disc set of Schütz’s Narrative Works, on the Danish Da Capo label, is on my list. I’ve listened to some previews of the music, and it’s very attractive. I’m not very familiar with Schütz, but Paul Hiller, leading Ars Nova Copenhagen, seems to master this music.

I’m not very familiar with David Oistrakh’s recordings, but this 100th Birthday Edition features 20 discs of his recordings at a bargain price.

I’d like to get this 6-disc set of Gesualdo’s madrigals, on the Globe label, but it seems to be unavailable. Gesualdo’s madrigals are wonderful works, and I’ve never explored them enough. Maybe this will be available again soon.

I’ve listened to parts of the Brilliant Classics Frescobaldi Complete Edition. On 15 discs, this is all of Frescobaldi’s compositions at the usual Brilliant Classics price. It’s worth noting that this label has also recently released editions of music by Corelli, Vivaldi, and Telemann, though the latter is far from complete. Telemann wrote hundreds of works, and this 29-disc set is only a selection of the best known.

Finally, the Bernstein Symphony Edition contains 60 discs of Lenny conducting symphonies. Many collectors already have a lot of these recordings, but if you don’t, there are some gems. It’s really cheap as well (less than $2 per disc).

So whatever your tastes in classical music, this holiday season offers a number of tempting box sets, many at bargain prices. Take your pick, fill out your collection, and enjoy some great music.

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2 replies
  1. Laurent says:

    I second the recommendation for the Bach concertos by Café Zimmermann. A truly remarquable achievement. Céline Frisch and Pablo Valetti are two of my favorite Bach performers (listen to Céline’s Goldbergs, or their violin/harpsichord sonatas), and these recordings are by far my favorite version of these works.

    I’d like to also mention some Bach boxsets I received in the mail today :

    - The Orchestral works by Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert (8 CDs). Another reference in this repertoire, even if it’s a little old by now (recordings 1979-1984).
    - French & English suites and Toccatas for harpsichord (5 CDs) by Blandine Rannou, who just released a recording of the Goldberg Variations well worth a listen.
    - The third (!) complete organ works recorded by Marie-Claire Alain (14 CDs), probably her best recording of these works.

    Reply
    • kirk says:

      I have the Pinnock, and it’s very good.

      I’ve been listening to the Rannou recordings on iTunes – the previews. I really like her playing, and will probably pick up that set; it’s pretty cheap for five discs. And the Alain, it’s true, is a recent re-release as well, at a decent price.

      There has been a lot of good Bach recordings released this year.

      Reply

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