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Good, but new remasters a wash -- ended up preferring another big set
on January 22, 2011
Update: August 6, 2011. I originally wrote this review in pre-release based on public sources regarding the recordings, tracks and remastering information. It was released in Europe in January, and was originally due to be released Feb 15, 2011 in the US, but release here was apparently delayed until May. I jumped the gun and ordered it from France when it appeared the US release had been canceled.
This set has a lot going for it for people who do not already own these recordings. It features new 2010 remasters of the Beethoven symphonies on discs 1-5, as well as on the Brahms cycle on discs 10-12. But the remasters add little, if anything, to earlier releases. I do not have any of the Brahms releases, but I'm not hearing much of a difference on the Beethoven.
If anything, the new remasters have taken away a little bit rather than added to the quality. On the Bayreuth 9th, for example, there is not much difference at all compared to an earlier EMI release I have, but I did feel the former release had slightly better sound -- audible, for instance in the tympanies in a few places. On the other hand, the Beethoven Violin Concerto from Lucerne with Menuhin sounds better than on a previous EMI release I have.
Ultimately, I regret the decision to buy this set, because despite some misgivings I eventually ended up buying the mammoth release on Membran, Wilhelm Furtwangler: The Legacy. Having bought Membran releases in the past, I was, like many, quite skeptical about the quality I would find on their 107-CD set purporting to include at least one version of every composition Furtwangler had ever recorded.
My fears turned out to be only partially founded -- I say partially because sound quality is always going to be an issue of interest and potential concern on any Furtwangler set. While there are some recordings on this EMI collection that sound slightly better than the Membran release of the same performance, in the majority of cases I felt the edge went to Membran -- almost always because of EMI's poor mastering using overly aggressive noise control that also wipes out the high end. My review of the Membran includes a short statement or two of the sound quality on each disc.
In the end, I can warmly recommend the huge Membran set over this EMI offering. This is unfortunate as I would like to be able to expect more from EMI.
Indeed, since I already had a lot of the Beethoven on this collection, a major part of my original decision to buy this EMI set was based on my desire to finally get a copy of the classic four-disc recording of Tristan und Isolde featuring Kirstin Flagstad and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. In the end, the Membran version sounds slightly better than the Tristan featured here.
At any rate, here is a breakdown of the contents:
Beethoven - Complete Symphonies
Nos. 1-7 Vienna Philharmonic
No. 8 Stockholm Philharmonic
No. 9 Bayreuth Festspiel-Orchester
- The performances appear to be identical to those found in this release.
- 2010 remasters do not add much, if anything, to quality
Beethoven - Piano Concerto No. 5, Edwin Fischer soloist (from this recording)
Bartok - Violin Concerto No. 2, Yehudi Menuhin soloist (from this recording)
- 2001 remaster
Beethoven - Violin Concerto, Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Yehudi Menuhin soloist
Mendelssohn - Violin Concerto, Berlin Philharmonic, Yehudi Menuhin soloist
- 1998-1999 remasters
Beethoven - Fidelio, Vienna Philharmonic, Martha Modl in title role (from this recording)
Brahms - Four Symphonies, Hungarian Dances, Haydn Variations
Beethoven - Corolian and Leonore Overtures
- All from this set
- 2010 remasters
Brahms - Violin Concerto, Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Yehudi Menuhin soloist
Brahms - Double Concerto, Vienna Philharmonic, Willi Boskovsky and Emanuel Brabec soloists
- Both recordings found on this CD
- 2004 remaster on the Violin Concerto, 1980 (!) remaster on the double concerto
Mozart - Symphony No. 40, Vienna Philharmonic
Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 6, Berlin Philharmonic. (Appears to be from the recording by HMV, a former EMI subsidiary, featured on this disc)
- Remasters are 1998 for the Mozart and 1993 for the Tchaikovsky
- The Tchaikovsky sounds terrible -- very loud hiss
Richard Strauss - Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel, Tod und Verklärung - Berlin Philharmonic
Furtwängler - Symphonic Concerto: II Adagio, Berlin Philharmonic, Edwin Fischer soloist (Appears to be from the HMV recording referenced above)
- Remastering 1994 on the Strauss and 1999 on the Furtwängler
Wagner - Tristan und Isolde, Philharmona Orchestra, Kirstin Flagstad, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau et al (the legendary recording found on this and other EMI editions)
- Still the 2001 remaster
Haydn - Symphony No. 94 "Surprise", Vienna Philharmonic
Cherubini - Anacréon Overture, Vienna Philharmonic
Schubert - Symphony No. 8 "Unfinished", Vienna Philharmonic
Liszt - Les Preludes, Vienna Philharmonic
- All apparently from this release
- Remasters 1998
A new audio documentary, "Remembering Furtwängler". Quite enjoyable, although the tendency is to have a 30-second quote followed by 2 minutes of a music clip. The format will be quite familiar to anyone who heard the "Remembering Karajan" documentary EMI released on the web in conjunction with its big boxes a few years back, or the "Remembering Menuhin" documentary from that box set in 2009.