Back in the old days which gave birth to the LP. there were very few big sets. Perhaps the thinking was that now that the industry could get a Brahms symphony on one LP instead of 6 or so 78 rpm records, why go back to multiple discs? In those days you collected the works of a composer one at a time, which means you might end up with recordings of the nine Beethoven symphonies by nine different conductors. But along came Vox Records and the Vox Box, which offered complete works-complete Beethoven string quartets, for instance. These were usually performed by lesser known, though quite worthy, artists and offered at an attractive, low price. Later on, companies would release complete collections by a better known artist. More recently the focus has shifted from composer to performer. With a conductor like Lorin Maazel, who passed away in Virginia last year after more than a 50 year career, it is possible to get very specific; there’s already been a Decca release of Maazel’s complete recordings with the Cleveland Orchestra, one of the many ensembles associated with the conductor as music director.
The latest Maazel box consists of recordings made in in the late 50s and early 60s, the dawn of stereo, all on the Deutsche Grammophon label. Most are with the Berlin Philharmonic, arguably the best orchestra in the world at that time, the Berlin Radio Symphony, and the Orchestre National de la R.T.F. The 18 CDs are laid out just like the original LPs, which makes them all run about 45 minutes each. The discs are housed in cardboard sleeves adorned with the original LP cover art. There are some real treasures here: Maazel’s Schubert symphony recordings and his disc of Mendelssohn’s fourth and fifth symphonies have perhaps been equaled but never bettered. The fourth symphony of Tchaikovsky and the third of Brahms receive vigorous performances full of youthful passion and precision, and Respighi’s Pines of Rome, and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite are most exciting. There’s not a bad performance in the box, those are just the highlights. The recorded sound gets the full and luxurious bass of the originals right, but I believe that they might be brighter on the top end than the LPs were. You can get the full contents here and also find a bargain price.