Archiv Productions was founded in Germany in 1945 as a subsidiary label of Deutsche Grammophon. It’s purpose was to record older music in performances authentic to the periods covered. DG has already issued a box of CDs that was an overview of Archiv’s entire history. Now they have a new box which focuses in on the label’s stereo analogue recordings, made between 1959 and 1981. I think they’ve done a splendid job at hitting all the highlights. Karl Richter’s Bach recordings are represented by one of the cantatas and the Magnificat. Richter recorded around 75 of the cantatas and his approach was admired for its vigor, precision, and strength. August Wenzinger recorded Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks using a large wind band without strings, the way Handel originally wrote it for the first performance. Trevor Pinnock’s recording of the Bach Orchestral Suites, one of the first of many that Pinnock made for Archiv is here, as is Telemann’s Der Getreue Music-Meister.
Remarkable recordings by Charles Mackerrs, Simon Preston, and Helmut Walcha are all here along with many surprises, all pleasant ones. Archiv producers not only took great care with the arts and repertory for the label but also with the recorded sound. Every CD in this magnificent set is state-of-the-art for its day and most still hold that title up to present time. Each disc is in a cardboard sleeve that duplicates, on a smaller scale, the original vinyl album art work. You can see that in the beginning, it was the cream colored, plain sleeves that were all alike except of the artists and compositions. The label later went to silver with color inserts alternating with full color bordered in silver. They are all beautifully reproduced for this set. There’s an informative booklet delineating the entire series, complete with period photographs of the artists.
There’s not a clunker in this elegant set; it should be a much demanded gift item for the holiday season coming up in six months. But it is so appealing that if you bought it now, you’d probably want to keep it yourself.
I received two Cds of 19th century French music this month, each a winner in its own way, one with reservations, one with none. That latter one is on the Naxos label and is the first installment of a three-disc set covering the complete symphonies of Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921). It contains two very early works, the first and second symphonies, with the symphonic poem Phaeton as filler. The orchestra is the Malmo Symphony Orchestra and the conductor is its current music director, Marc Soustrot. Saint-Saens was a child prodigy; his first
symphony was written when he was but 17 and the second when he was in his twenties. Both have a youthful vigor and jubilant charm that are captured perfectly in Soustrot’s precise and lyrical readings. The colorful Phaeton receives possibly its best performance ever. This will be a series to savor and the other discs in it are eagerly anticipated. Excellent, full-bodied yet refined sound. You can find this appealing disc at Amazon for only $4.95 used.
Moscow born Valery Gergiev is the current music director of the London Symphony Orchestra and I have found his work with it to be varied in quality. There’s nothing spotty about his Berlioz Harold in Italy, however. Viola soloist Antoine Tamesitt is exceptionally eloquent and Gergiev subtle in a reading that
might not plumb the depths but makes the surface sound pretty wonderful. Part of this effect is due to the LSO Live recording, in which the upper strings are sweet and airy , reminding one of thefabled analogue recordings from RCA Living Stereo. This is the point in the review to stump for LSO Live. This label’s SACD recordings are all excellent; if you like the sound, and who wouldn’t, you can rely on it from release to release. They are hybrid multichannel discs and the CD layers are not bad, but adding the center and rear channels of the SACD layer are like applying a magic wand to something that’s already great. Primrose and Munch remain my favorite recording of this work, but this one will be listened to again. The filler piece, La mort de Cleopatre is made dreadfully dull by singer Karen Cargill and Gergiev.