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on May 9, 2012
Let's start with the good. This "Big Tchaikovsky Box" uses recordings from the Vanguard catalog, and was issued by eOne, the current holder of the tapes. Tchaikovsky wasn't a focus of the label, but Vanguard managed to publish some very fine performances over the years, and they have been collected here.

Highlights of the set include Maurice Abravanel's tapings of The Nutcracker and Swan Lake ballets with the Utah Symphony. The recordings from the 1960s sound fresh, and while the Utah brass and winds at times suffer in comparison to, say, orchestras in Philadelphia and New York, the difference is inches and not yards. Abravanel recorded excerpts from Swan Lake with the Utah Symphony in the 1950s for another label (and a filler on the first CD issue of Rodzinski's The Nutcracker, on the old MCA Classics "Double Decker" series), and the orchestra is much more refined sounding in Vanguard's recording. Purists might turn up their noses at a "complete" Swan Lake with traditional cuts, but Abravanel's dramatic conducting sweeps criticism before it.

Turning to the rest of the set, the American Symphony Orchestra recording of the Fourth Symphony remains a classic not only for the performance but for the orchestration. Conductor Leopold Stokowski, as was his wont, couldn't resist 'improving' Tchaikovsky's orchestration. Fanfare magazine once published a detailed list of all the changes made to the score; I don't have it at hand, but even from the first notes you notice something is different. There's no denying the impact the recording makes.

The three performances led by Pierre Monteux are live tapings from the Vienna Festival in 1962. John Ogdon is a grand soloist in the Piano Concerto, and Monteux leads exciting performances of music written back when he was a music student eight decades before (Romeo and Juliet and the Fifth Symphony). Vanguard's sound is a little distant but very good for live recordings.

Somary's recording of the Serenade for Strings with the English Chamber Orchestra is from an early 1970s recording of "Russian Music For Strings." Compared to many performances, this one comes across as small scaled without a compensating virtue such as clarity. Somary, best known for his Bach and Handel recordings, was never a conductor to tear a passion to tatters; I'm not sure such a dry-eyed approach works for Tchaikovsky. A curiosity. I wish eOne had reissued the Arensky Variations on the Theme of Tchaikovsky that was the flip side of the LP.

The rest is filler. The three Vienna State Opera Orchestra recordings, including the Sixth Symphony, are distinctly ordinary - run throughs at best.

The productions of the MP3s in these Big Boxes have had problems in the past. My only complaint with this set is that there often seems a very long time between the end of one track and the beginning of the next. This is especially annoying in Swan Lake, since it interrupts the flow of the music.
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Another excellent addition to the growing line of "Big Box" MP3 releases from eONe Music, which apparently now handles the catalog of the once great, now defunct classical music division of Vanguard Records. Vanguard's classical music was often published under a separate brand, "The Bach Guild", which is where the name on these releases derives from (that is, they are NOT published by any organization called "The Bach Guild"). This set was released on the same day as Big Brahms Box, also for an extreme bargain introductory price.

This set is excellent, and I have been especially impressed with the quality of the sound. For the most part, the recordings ring crisp and clear, without noise and in wonderfully three dimensional stereo. I was surprised to learn from a comment on my review for the Brahms box by a representative of eOne that the company is preparing these releases -- at least in part -- from the original master tapes. While I'm not sure exactly which recordings are from the original masters, this does go a long way to explaining the remarkable sound quality on some of the selections.

The set starts with the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, one of three pieces (along with the Piano Concerto No. 1 and Symphony No. 5) taken from this recording conducted by Pierre Monteaux, the man who conducted one of the most famous (or infamous) performances in music history -- the premiere of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" in Paris on May 29, 1913. In the recordings here, he is leading the London Symphony Orchestra live in concert at the Vienna Festival 50 years and two days later, on May 31, 1963. These recordings represent the full concert program from that evening, and are both good in sound and energetic in interpretation. The Piano Concerto's soloist, John Ogdon, was a remarkable British talent in the 1960s before his health deteriorated, and we can hear him at his full powers here. An outstanding performance, all live in one take.

Next we have fine performances of the 1812 Overture and Capriccio Italien by the Vienna State Opera Orchestra under Mario Rossi (the same combination that delivers the Hungarian Dances on the Brahms set). These mono recordings seem to have been released by Vanguard as part of a "Quality Control" album allowing listeners to test the quality of their hi-fi equipment.

The Serenade for Strings featured here was originally part of a larger album of Russian string music performed by the English Chamber Orchestra under Johannes Somary. I didn't find this piece particularly compelling, but it is fine.

Only Tchaikovsky's later numbered symphonies (Nos. 4-6) are featured. I loved the performance and great sound on Symphony No. 4, performed by Leopold Stokowski and the American Symphony Orchestra, which he founded in 1962 when he was 80 years old. However, this recording is very controversial. Stokowski was from an era where conductors felt few inhibitions in changing a composer's work here and there -- and within that tradition, Stokowski himself was one of the most avid modifiers. I don't have a catalog of the changes he made to the original Tchaikovsky score, but the reviews on this CD release of the same recording will give you some idea of the controversy. The result is very enjoyable despite the sacrilege, and the sound quality is clear, rich and dynamic.

I had never heard of Vladimir Golschmann, who conducts the Vienna State Opera Orchestra in Symphony No. 6, originally featured on this LP, another Vanguard "demonstration" album designed to show off the features of a new recording technology known as "stereo". This is actually a fine performance and the sound really impressed me, being recorded specifically to demonstrate what stereo can do and succeeding quite well. Golschmann, it turns out, was musical director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra from 1931 to 1958. Great recording of a fine performance.

The final works represented are the full ballet scores of The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, both performed by the Utah Symphony Orchestra under Maurice Abravanel, the conductor who turned the Utah Symphony into a professional orchestra and left it with a fairly good reputation by the time of his departure in the 1970s. He pulls out a fantastic performance of The Nutcracker from his orchestra (from this recording). The Swan Lake (from this CD) is also very good, although The Nutcracker, as a lighthearted work with a lot more room for playful inventiveness, is perhaps easier to love.

If there is a fault with the set, I'd say it lies with a relative lack of variety -- no early symphonies, no Violin Concerto, only three of Tchaikovsky's many short orchestral works, no solo piano or chamber music, songs, choral works, etc. But looking around on the web at available Vanguard Tchaikovsky recordings, it seems they really didn't actually have much more than this. There were a few different recordings of some of the late symphonies -- very interestingly, including Sir John Barbirolli conducting the Halle Orchestra on Nos. 4 and 6. Those could have been good choices, but the Stokowski and Golschmann are excellent, so no complaints there.

As on the Brahms set, I have run across at least one poor edit here as well. The first split second of music from the 4th movement of Symphony No. 6 (track 22) actually is at the end of track 21. If your MP3 player can handle continuous playing and you are listening to the tracks in order, you won't notice it. But if your player hesitates for a fraction of a second between tracks, it will be a distraction.

MP3 transfers are good in sound quality, and bitrates are variable, averaging 214-253 kbps. Total download size is 731 MB for 7.2 hours of music.

Very warmly recommended overall. There are some real gems here -- I'm particularly delighted with the Stokowski 4th, the Golschmann 6th, the Ogdon/Monteux Piano Concerto, and The Nutcracker. Pick it up before they raise the price!
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on June 14, 2012
A Big Box from Bach Guild just wouldn't be a Big Box without some goofs. Here are the ones I found:

Mislabelings:

71 - Swan Lake Ballet, Op. 20 Act III_ Scene_ Allegro, Tempo di valse
should be labelled: Scène. Allegro - Allegro giusto
(Scene: Allegro, Tempo di valse is part of track 70)

72 - Swan Lake Ballet, Op. 20 Act III_ Scene_ Allegro, Allegro giusto
should be labelled: Danse espagnole. Allegro non troppo, Tempo di bolero

73 - Swan Lake Ballet, Op. 20 Act III_ Danse Espagnole
should be labelled: Danse napolitaine. Allegro moderato - Andantino quasi moderato - Presto

74 - Swan Lake Ballet, Op. 20 Act III_ Danse Napolitaine => This track is definitely not the Danse Napolitaine but is what is commonly known as the 2nd violin solo from Swan Lake. This occurs in Act 2 - if you listen to track 67 the same music begins near 1:30. If you compare tracks 67 and 74 you'll realize that while this is the same music these are *different* recordings. In other words the performers in track 74 are very likely different as well. So the Bach Guild has given us a "bonus" recording of the 2nd violin solo, labeled as the Danse Napolitaine and with mystery performers to boot.

Track order:

The usual order for the dances in act 3 is Danse hongroise - Danse espagnole - Danse napolitaine. In this case the Danse hongroise is placed last - it's hard to tell whether this is intentional or just another screw up. If you want to hear these in the usual order you would play tracks 71 - 75 - 72 - 73 - 76 (and leave 74 out).

The Bach Guild seems unable to put out a big box set without including goofs and editing errors. On sale these are great value, particularly so if you can figure out their screw-ups. In this set I'm particularly happy to have the performances from Stokowski and Monteux at such a low price. At a regular price I have some doubts.

Without the goofs I think these sets would be great for beginners. With the mislabelings they are less so, and the errors in this Tchaikovsky set were not quite so bad as, say, the Brahms.
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One of the early Bach Guild download packages, originally released in May of 2012 and continuing to be available at very low price, a bargain as Bach Guild releases always are. (And as near as I can tell, the Bach Guild had just begun to release these bargain .mp3 packages in March of 2012, so this Tchaikovsky collection was one of their very first releases).

This has a less comprehensive collection of Tchaikovsky's orchestral works than some collections now available on Amazon, but for those interested either in these specific performances, or interested in recordings of the Nutcracker and Swan Lake, which are included here in complete form, or simply for those who like taking advantage of these great deals to get different interpretations of music that they have already but enjoy enough to want a variety of performances in their collection - any of these reasons are good ones for picking this up (as if a justification is really needed; after all, where else can you get excellent quality recordings for less than the price of a latte at that coffee place that has sprung up on just about every corner of every major city these days?).

Notable in this collection: the performance of Tchaikovsky's 4th symphony is a famous one, with some controversy attached to it (see comments below and at the link referenced. I also believe that this recording was originally released in quadraphonic sound by Vanguard).

Altogether 7 hrs and 15 minutes on 80 tracks, equivalent to 6-7 CD's.

track ....... description

1: Romeo and Juliet (Fantasy Overture); Pierre Monteux conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra
2: The Year 1812, Festival Overture In E Flat Major, Op. 49; Mario Rossi conducting the Vienna State Opera Orchestra
3: Capriccio Italien, Op. 45; Mario Rossi conducting the Vienna State Opera Orchestra
4-7: Serenade for Strings In C, Op. 48; Johannes Somary leading the English Chamber Orchestra (1988 live recording)
8-10: Piano Concerto No.1 In B-Flat Minor, Op. 23: John Ogdon, piano; Pierre Monteux conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, recorded live May 31, 1963 at the Vienna Festival.
11-14: Symphony No. 4 In F Minor, Op. 36: Leopold Stokowski conducting the American Symphony Orchestra. Originally released in 1972

-->> the above performance of Symphony 4 can be found on a couple of previous Vanguard CD releases. In particular:
----- Tchaikovsky: Symphony No 4; Scriabin: Etude in C -- at this link you will also find Larry VanDeSande's review which explains the story behind this recording much better than i ever could. Reading his review, and now listening to this performance myself, I'm very glad that I have it. My familiarity with the 4th is not yet sufficient to immediately recognize the changes made by Stokowski, but with more listenings I'm sure I'll begin to discern the differences and be able to make my own judgement.

-->> the above performances of Symphony 4, Romeo and Juliet, the 1812 overture, and the first Piano Concerto can be found on this 2-CD Vanguard release:
----- Symphony No. 4 -- Victor Carr Jr reviewed this release in ClassicsToday and said, in part: "a highly idiosyncratic rendition of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 ... brims with his characteristic subtle (and not so subtle) re-orchestrations and wildly free phrasing and rubato ... while this isn't a performance that best represents the composer's intentions, it's undeniably a Tchaikovsky Fourth unlike any other, and very well recorded to boot. The 1812 Overture gets more or less standard treatment, but the dim mono recording greatly diminishes its sonic impact ... Pierre Monteux's Tchaikovsky sounds relatively straightforward, but his performances are enthralling nonetheless ... a meticulously planned yet passionate account of Romeo and Juliet-the slightly subdued opening gives little hint of the rapturous climax to come. In the Piano Concerto No. 1 ... John Ogdon's brilliant yet highly personalized traversal of the solo part ... his caressing touch produces a richly sonorous tone that adds greater depth to the music. This live performance catches the pianist in the heat of the moment, firing off kinetic energy that occasionally overwhelms his fingers (especially in the too-fast central section of the second movement)... it's a performance every pianophile should hear. Vanguard's clear and present recording projects a large acoustic that neatly balances the soloist and orchestra."

-->> the above performance of Serenade for Strings was included in this earlier Vanguard release:
----- Russian Favorites for Strings

-->> the above performance of Capriccio Italien and 1812 overture was included in this earlier Vanguard LP release:
----- Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture, Capriccio Italien / Rimsky-Korsakov: Capriccio Espagnol, Russian Easter Overture

15-18 :Symphony No. 5 In E Minor, Op. 64: Pierre Monteux conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, recorded live May 31, 1963 at the Vienna Festival.
19-22: Symphony No. 6 In B Minor, Op. 74 ('Pathétique'): Vladimir Golschmann conducting the Vienna State Opera Orchestra

-->> the above performances of symphonies 5 and 6 was on this earlier Vanguard 2-CD release:
----- Symphonies No 5, 6, Serenade for Strings

-->> the Monteux performances of the 5th symphony and first piano concerto, both recorded live May 31, 1963 at the Vienna Festival, were also included in this Vanguard 2-CD release:
----- Monteux Plays Tchaikovsky

23-46: Nutcracker, Ballet, Op. 71: Maurice Abravanel leading the Utah Symphony Orchestra and Chorus

-->> the above performance of the Nutcracker was on this earlier Vanguard 2-CD release (1961?), and is the complete ballet:
----- Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker (Complete); Swan Lake Suite

47-80: Swan Lake Ballet, Op. 20: Maurice Abravanel leading the Utah Symphony Orchestra (1967?). I believe that this is the complete ballet but for those familiar with the two versions, Tchaikovsky's original and the subsequent edited 'Drigo' version, I have not yet studied this sufficiently to be able to say with confidence which version is performed here

-->> the above performance of the Swan Lake was on this earlier Vanguard 2-CD release:
----- Swan Lake
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on August 17, 2013
Aside from being a great value, which this certain is, these are really good older performances from American and Western Europe orchestras, all well recorded.

The obligatory 1812 Overture is a fine performance (Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Mario Rossi), and is a safe, conventional interpretation that will surely have wide appeal. But I like the more rousing Kunzel or Dorati recordings better.

The Capriccio Italien (also Vienna with Rossi) is lively and entertaining. Both this and the 1812 are very well recorded.

The Serenade for Strings is a favorite of mine, and this recording (English Chamber Orchestra, Johannes Somary) is excellent. It's both bright and romantic.

The Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor (London Symphony, Montreux, John Ogdon) is very familiar, and this recording doesn't disappoint. Well recorded, excellent solo piano and orchestra. The piano solo is on the romantic side, which is good with Tchaikovsky.

The Symphony No. 4 in F Minor is the classic recording with the American Symphony Orchestra led by Leopold Stokowski. The recording is excellent, even by modern standards, and the performance is nothing short of rousing. In the finale, the horns are bright, forward, and intense. Excellent in every respect.

The Nutcracker and Swan Lake (Utah Symphony, Maurice Abravanel) are complete, or nearly so, and are both excellent performances, well recorded.

This set is a winner!
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on April 19, 2013
I am not the type that knows all this in-depth info on classical music so that I can tell you if a note was missed or if someone is not as good as another person performing a piece. All I know is that this is great music and a bargain basement price. This is great to listen to when you have some quiet time and just want to relax. If you buy this, you will enjoy it. It is great music!
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on April 2, 2013
This Vanguard Big Box is a good value at 99¢, even if at 7 hours it runs around half the length of others in the BB series.

There are some good performances by some big name artists here: Stokowski, Monteux and pianist John Ogdon, not to mention the ubiquitous-to-Vanguard Maurice Abravanel, whose Swan Lake and Nutcracker are included (this Nutcracker recording also appears in the Bach Guild's BB Xmas). The Monteux-led Piano Concerto and 5th Symphony are both live performances, and they are simply outstanding.

Recommended.
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on July 6, 2012
there's not really much to say that hasn't been covered. these sets are great for people either new to classical or those more knowledgeable who want different recordings. at the original $0.99 it was a no-brainer. now that it's $9.99, it's still pretty a pretty good deal. i particularly like the utah with abravanel; it's worth it just for the ballets, if you don't have them, track mis-labellings aside (the comments on one of the reviews clears that up). i'm not really a fan of the LSO, however, i was pleasantly surprised by their recordings under monteux (not too familiar with him). i've always liked the english chamber orchestra, and i disagree with one reviewers description of the serenade; but, opinions differ, and that's how music goes. you should decide for yourself what you like. all-in-all, highly recommended.
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on September 19, 2013
While a fan, I am not a classical music expert. That said, I do have an ear, and this collection is pleased to listen to at any time. I especially enjoy it while traveling. What a diverse, terrific overview of some of his best. Perfect to unwind, read to, or just have on in the background!
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on May 7, 2012
This is a great collection, and I've only just started to listen. The Stokowski performance is fabulous, that alone is worth the $0.99 investment. Fantastic deal!
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