Here are some recommended classical boxed sets for any holiday season. Gift-givers can check out these options which include some of the best works by some of the greatest classical musicians, and receivers…pray that someone will befit one of these to you.
“The Leonard Bernstein Collection: Volume One” (Deutsche Grammophon, 60 CDs and DVD, $241.64): Perhaps no classical artist exerted as profound an impact on the musical life of the second half of the 20th century as Leonard Bernstein. DG is reissuing the complete recordings he made for the label in two mammoth, LP-sized boxes, presented with the original cover art and a 40-page book of new essays. Even at their most idiosyncratic, these deeply personal readings – presented alphabetically by composer, from Beethoven to Liszt, and including Bernstein’s own works – are well worth hearing and studying. Volume Two, spanning Mahler to Wagner, is due next year.
“Luciano Pavarotti Edition 1: The First Decade” (Decca, 26 CDs, $112.54): To mark the 50th anniversary of the start of Pavarotti’s recording career with Decca, the label has released a limited-edition boxed set documenting the golden-voiced tenor’s first decade in the Decca studios, before international celebrity carried his name beyond the classical sphere. Along with complete operas by Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini (also a thrilling Verdi Requiem under Georg Solti), the set includes concert and recital discs and a seven-inch LP of Pavarotti’s very first Decca recordings.
“Bruno Monsaingeon Edition 2: Yehudi Menuhin” (EuroArts, eight DVDs, $107.99): Yehudi Menuhin once remarked, “I was born old and have been growing younger ever since.” Many of the signposts of the violinist’s richly lived life and career have been preserved in various documentaries, interviews and performance films made by French filmmaker Bruno Monsaingeon. Here are 13 of them, made between 1979 and 1996, most of them new to DVD. Together they form a most illuminating portrait of a great artist and great human being.
“Pierre Boulez: The Complete Columbia Album Collection” (Sony Classical, 67 CDs, $221.98): Sony is heralding the upcoming 90th birthday of master modernist Pierre Boulez by reissuing in bulk all the recordings he conducted for CBS and American Columbia from the 1960s through the ’80s. Lucidly, precisely detailed performances of his core 20th century repertory (Stravinsky, Bartok, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Varese, Messiaen and Boulez himself) share box space with French repertory (Berlioz, Debussy, Ravel, Roussel) in benchmark recordings made with the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, BBC Symphony and other ensembles. A 164-page hardcover book contains a valuable essay by Wolfgang Fink.
“The String Quartets of Joseph Haydn.” The Schneider String Quartet: Hats off to Music & Arts for issuing, for the first time on compact disc, the legendary Haydn string quartet recordings made by the Schneider Quartet for the Haydn Society label beween 1951 and 1954, when the pioneering project was abandoned for lack of funds. Although far from complete (the set comprises 48 of Haydn’s 67 completed quartets), the robust performances wear their years exceedingly well, and the remastered monaural sound is equally pleasing.
“Anna Netrebko: Live from the Salzburg Festival” (Deutsche Grammophon, three Blu-ray DVDs, $109.99): The opera world’s reigning prima donna assoluta is the star attraction in DG’s video repackaging of live operatic performances from Salzburg. Best of the three is a 2005 production of “La Traviata” to which soprano Netrebko and tenor Rolando Villazon bring conspicuous intensity to the Verdi warhorse. Almost as compelling is “La Boheme” from 2012, with Netrebko and tenor Piotr Beczala striking sparks as Puccini’s hapless lovers. Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro,” recorded in 2006, is rather a mixed bag, but that should not deter Netrebko fans.
The top selling classical albums in the US during Black Friday (according to Nielsen Soundscan):