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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Deutsche Grammophon 463 485-2  6 CDs around £16.00
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CD1:- MEDITATION includes Peer Gynt - Morning Mood (Grieg). Suite No.3 - Air (JS Bach). Canon (Pachelbel). Pavane (Faure). Adagio (Albinoni). Tales of Hofmann - Barcarolle (Offenbach).
CD2:- ORCHESTRAL FIREWORKS includes Carmen - Les Toredors (Bizet). Four Seasons - Winter (Vivaldi). Requiem - Dies Irae (Verdi). Bolero (Ravel). Rhapsody in Blue (Gershwin). Romeo and Juliet - Kinght's Dance (Prokofiev).
CD3:- INVITATION to DANCE includes Invitation to dance (Weber). Water Music - Alla Hornpipe (Handel). The Blue Danube Waltz (Strauss). Prince Igor - Polovtsian Dances (Borodin). Gaite Parisienne - Cancan Allegro (Offenbach).
CD4:- NOCTURNE includes Piano Concerto No.21 - Andante (Mozart). Fur Elise (Beethoven). Clair de Lune (Debussy). Moments Musicaux (Schubert). Nocturne in F sharp major (Chopin). CD5:- POMP & CIRCUMSTANCE includes Messiah - Hallelujah Chorus (Handel). Ma Vlast - Vltava (Smetana). Finlandia (Sibelius). Pomp & Circumstance March No.1 (Elgar). Hebrides Overture (Mendelssohn). Toccata & Fugue (JS Bach). Fantasia on Greensleeves (Vaughan Williams).
CD6:- GRAND OPERA includes Nessun dorma! (Puccini). Il trovatore - Di quella pira (Verdi). Tristan und Isolde - Liebestod (Wagner). Celeste Aida (Aida). William Tell - Overture (Rossini). Madama Butterfly - One Fine Day (Puccini).  

The intent of this set is pretty clear from the titles of each of the six discs: Meditations; Orchestral Fireworks; Invitation to the Dance; Nocturne; Pomp & Circumstance; Grand Opera. This is mood or 'theme' music designed to provide either a background or a sequence of 'tasters' initiating the person who comes fresh to classical music with a sampling from the 'great and the good'. True the 'great and the good' are all from the core repertoire; not even a scintilla of Janacek, Nielsen, Adams, Reich which is a shame.

Speaking for myself I gained a spicy introduction to classical music not through the conventional Bs but through Janacek, Martinu, Vaughan Williams, Bax and only later, and in a relatively unguided way, 'explored' the classics.

The playing time is reasonably generous though more could easily have been squeezed on. Playing times vary between 68 and 75 minutes, mostly over 70 minutes.

The set, blessedly, does very little in the way of extracting passages from the middle of movements. The tracks are usually either complete works or complete movements from works.

I am not going to list all the contents but give you some flavour.

Meditations: Pachelbel's Canon, Mahler's Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 (in an emotional reading by Kubelik), a mordantly attacking Elgar Cello Concerto moderato from Fournier, Faure's Pavane.

Orchestral Fireworks: Ozawa's Boston Knight's Dance (Prokofiev), a bumptious Les Toreadors from Bizet's Carmen, Steinberg's Also Sprach (for years the staple version on DG); a complete Rhapsody in Blue (Stockigt being the characterful pianist) and a glitzy Bolero from Ozawa's Boston.

Invitation to the Dance: Abbado's storming and rippling Hungarian Dances (perhaps a little rushed); Leitner's rather earthbound Sugar Plum Fairy, Pinnock on his toes in Water Music, Fricsay rather wonderful in Blue Danube; Jarvi spinning and delirious in the Polovtsian Dances.

Nocturne: lots of piano including two obligatory Mozart piano concerto movements (yes, 21 and 23 and yes Geza Anda), Weissenburg sensitive in Clair de Lune; a couple of restful Rachmaninov Preludes by Zilberstein. Nothing to break the sleepy mood.

Pomp & Circumstance: an Oh so respectable Hallelujah Chorus (Trevor Pinnock) which I hated - where is the joy in this?; Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in Greensleeves; a magical and alert Vltava from Kubelik; a sleepy Finlandia from Jarvi, a decent Jupiter from Steinberg; a good Fingal's Cave from Abbado; Norman Del Mar (much missed) spanking along in P&C No. 1.

Grand Opera: Domingo is in rich and resonant voice in a 1982 Nessun Dorma, a bawling Bergonzi in Di quella pira; a nicely swung Va pensiero from Sinopoli; a strained Sandor Konya in Che gelida manina; Kleiber conducting and Margaret Price singing (probably better that way) in the Liebestod. Mirella Freni, noticeably wobbly, in 1988 with Sinopoli conducting in Un bel di vedremo. This is the weakest disc in the set but the four Domingo tracks are superb. He is in ringing form. There are stacks of Sinopoli on this disc. Are DG trying to tell us something?

This set is not at all the usual type of material reviewed here. But we should cover it. All I have done here is skipped and sample the discs. From this I commend the set as a bargain basement 'intro' to the great classics. There are a few misfires or things I didn't like (not necessarily the same thing) but you have to expect that with any compilation.

The key thing is that the recording quality is good, performances are often excellent and chosen from one of the world's strongest stables.

There are no liner notes or texts and you have to get inside the jewel case to find out who is performing what.

Rob Barnett

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