DEBUSSY: La Mer  Trois Nocturnes  Pr╦lude à l'apr╦s-midi d'un faune.  Marche ╚cossaise.  Berceuse h╚roïque.  Musques pour Le Roi Lear.  Jeux.  Images.  Printemps.  Children's Corner.  Petite Suite.  Danse sacr╚e et danse profane.  Le Boîte a joujoux.  Fantasie for Piano and Orchestra. Le plus que lente.  Premi╦re Rapsodie avec clarinet.   Rhapsody pour Saxophone.  Khamma.  Tarantelle styrienne.
RAVEL: Bol╚ro.  Une Barque sur l'oc╚an.  Ma M╦re l'Oye.  Alborada del gracioso.  Rapsodie espagnole.  Ouverture de f╚erie.  La Valse.  Le Tombeau de couperin.  Menuet antique.  Pavane pour une infante defunte.  Valses nobles et sentimantales.  Daphnis et Chlo╚.  Concerto for the Left Hand.  Piano Concerto in G. Tzigane.

Aldo Ciccolini, piano; Itzhak Perlman, violin; Marie-Claire Janet, harp; Guy Dangain, clarinet; Jean-Marie Loneix, saxophone; Choeurs de L'ORTF; Choeurs du Th╚âtre National de l'Op╚ra; Orchestre National de L'ORTF; Orchestre de Paris/Jean Martinon, cond.
EMI CLASSICS 75526 (8 CDs) (B) (ADD) TT:  9 hrs. 9 min

BRAHMS:  Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68.  Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 73.  Symphony No. 3 in F, Op. 90.  Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98.  Tragic Overture, Op. 81.  Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80.  Variations on a Theme by Haydn.  Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15.  Piano Concerto No. 2 in B Flat, Op. 83.  Violin Concerto in D, Op. 73.  Double Concerto for Violin and Cello, Op. 102.  Schicksalslied, Op. 54.  Two Songs for Alto, Viola and Piano, Op. 91.  Five Songs, Op. 105.  Horn Trio, Op. 40.  MOZART:  Violin Concerto No. 3, K. 216.
Stephen Kovacevich, piano; Frank Peter Zimmermann, violin; Heinrich Schiff, cello; Ann Murray, mezzo-soprano; Nobuko Imai, viola; Maria Luise Neunecker, horn; Ambrosian Singers; Wolfgang Sawallisch, pianist; London Philharmonic Orch/Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Wolfgang Sawallisch, cond.
EMI CLASSICS 75502 (7 CDs) (B) (DDD) TT:  7 hrs. 45 min.

RACHMANINOFF:  Symphony No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 13.  Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27.  Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 44.  The Isle of the Dead, Op. 29.  Scherzo in D Minor.  Vocalise, Op. 34 No. 14.  Symphonic Dances, Op. 45.  Piano Concerto No. 1 in F# Minor, Op. 1.  Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18.  Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30.  Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Minor, Op. 40.  Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43.  TCHAIKOVSKY:  Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23.
Mikhail Rudy, piano; St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orch/Mariss Jansons, cond.
EMI CLASSICS 75510 (6 CDs) (B) (DDD) TT:  6 hrs. 48 min

EMI surely presents a strong front to budget labels with their "Budget Box Sets," a series of twenty-two multiple CD sets ranging from 6 to 16 well-filled disks, handsomely packaged in an appropriately-sized container each with a booklet usually with rather limited notes - just enough to inform the new collector what the music is about.  But what resources EMI has from which to assemble these!  These are performances by major artists of the time - conductors and soloists - many are digital recordings and the sound throughout is always satisfactory, and on occasion exceptionally fine. It's unfortunate music on each CD isn't listed on the CD itself - the only labels are "CD 1" etc. Could it have been that difficult to print contents on each CD?  A minor point, perhaps, but more than a bit of inconvenience for the collector that could have been avoided.

The Martinon 8-CD Debussy/Ravel set is particularly worthy.  The Debussy recordings were made in 1974, the Ravel the following year - these are not digital recordings but represent some of EMI's finest sound of a quarter-century ago.  Some of these performances were issued on 45-rpm LPs; Bol╚ro, Daphnis and La Valse are featured on EMI's recent DVD Audio disk (92395 9) in "surround sound."  I've always felt Martinon was under-rated as a conductor.  It's unfortunate when he was music director of the Chicago Symphony he suffered disfavor of the Chicago Tribune's powerful vitriolic critic, Claudia Cassidy, who made his life there difficult eventually succeeding in forcing his departure.  Martinon made some superlative recordings with the CSO, some of which have yet to be issued on CD.  Here we have his distinctive Debussy and Ravel - all of the orchestral works including the former's relatively unknown La Boţte a joujoux, Musiques pour Le Roi Lear and Khamma, and the latter's Ouverture de feerie

The Rachmaninoff set is not quite as appealing as a totality but has much merit.  The Russian orchestra as in fine form throughout, Jansons' ideas are individual if not always totally convincing - and this is an excellent set, particularly at budget price.  When R.D. commented on some of these recordings (REVIEW), he found particularly lacking the hasty Isle of the Dead, although he praised Symphony No. 3. Mikhail Rudy is soloist in all four concertos and the Paganini Rhapsody.  His spikey Rhapsody is among the finest ever recorded, his Concerto No. 4 almost as good - particularly as we are offered two versions of the third movement, the original of 1926 and the 1941 familiar revision.  In Concerto No. 3, Rudy opts for the lighter first-movement cadenza, rather refreshing as most recordings made in the past decade use the massive alternative.  This performance cannot match fire and imagination of the recent Volodos Berlin recording.  The first and second concertos, although surely well played, are hardly exceptional.  Concerted works were recorded from 1990-1993; Symphonies 2 and 3, Syphonic Dances, Scherzo and Vocalise were recorded 1992/3, Symphony No. 1 and Isle are the most recent, 1998 As a bonus and to add to the total playing time of this set, EMI has included the same performer's 1990 recording of Tchaikovsky's Concerto No. 1.  

Less worthy is the 7-CD Brahms set which features all four symphonies, the two piano concertos, Haydn Variations, Academic Festival and Tragic overtures and Schicksalslied all performed by the London Philharmonic conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch.  Frank Peter Zimmermann is soloist in the Violin Concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic as well as soloist in the Double Concerto, with cellist Heinrich Schiff, and the London Philharmonic.  Soloists connect these performances. Steven Kovacevich is the sterling soloist in the two piano concertos as well as accompanist for Anne Murray (on one CD listing identified as a contralto, the other a mezzo-soprano) in Five Songs, Op. 105 and Two Songs, Op. 91, the latter with violist Nobuko Imai. The Horn Trio, Op. 40 features Zimmermann with hornist Marie Luise Neunecker - and Sawallisch at the piano.  As a bonus - and probably because it would fit - we have Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3 played by Zimmermann with the BPO.   The two concertos with Kovacevich are among the best recordings of these works, the string concertos and vocal/choral music welcome fillers.  However Sawallisch's Brahms symphonies cannot compete with many others, particularly the budget-priced Szell/Cleveland Sony set.  Sonic quality generally is excellent although Zimmermann's violin in the concerto (a live recording) is overly recessed.  A mixed bag then, but there are two gems.  It's unfortunate the two piano concertos aren't available singly at budget price.

R.E.B. (November 2002)