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4.7 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon May 9, 2012
...and I have no complaint about the performances. It's the sloppy preparation of the MP3 files that cause me to deduct stars.

For example, in the Violin Concerto, the first notes of movements II and III appear at the end of the previous MP3 file. This will create gaps in playback. (I'm reminded, a bit, of trying to listen to classical music via 8-track tape.) It is possible to use an audio editor and piece the music back together without any problem.

The first couple of notes of something else appear at the end of the violin concerto; I'm not sure which work that is, yet.

While I was editing the violin concerto, I decided to do something about the recorded-via-telephone sound quality of the recording. It is possible, if you've got a good ear and good software, to make this recording sound very modern. After I did so, I was blown away by the beauty of Oistrakh's playing.

My next stop was the Hungarian Dances. I was surprised by the amount of hum in the recordings. Maybe this won't be a problem without a subwoofer or via earbuds. Also, some of these recordings seem to take forever to start. There's a random amount of "dead air" at the beginning and end of each.

I have the feeling that nobody cares about any of this because every other review is basically "wow--10 hours for 99 cents". I'm just saying that people aren't getting the maximum enjoyment out of the recordings--especially the violin concerto--because of the poor presentation. Oistrakh, Kondrashin, Abravanel, and the others deserve better.
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on June 13, 2012
As has been the case with the other releases in Big Box series there are plenty of goofs in this one too.

In addition to the editing goofs mentioned elsewhere (see Kimba Lion's review) there are the following mislabelings:

Mislabelings
(incorrect => correct)
62 - Capriccio in B Minor, Op. 76, No. 2 => Intermezzo, Op. 76, No. 6 in A major
63 - Intermezzo in A major, Op. 76, No. 6 => Intermezzo, Op. 117, No. 2 in B-flat minor
64 - Intermezzo in B-Flat Minor, Op. 117, No. 2 => Rhapsody, Op. 79, No. 2 in G minor
65 - Intermezzo in B-Flat Minor, Op. 117, No. 2 => Capriccio, Op. 76, No. 2 in B minor
66 - Rhapsody in G Minor, Op. 79, No. 2 => Rhapsody, Op. 79, No. 1 in B minor

The 2nd piano sonata has the movements in the correct order but they are mislabelled (there are two last movements, for example).

Swaps
Academic and Tragic overtures are swapped.
Hungarian Dances Nos 11 and 12 are swapped.

Did they get the performers correct? There's really no way of knowing but all the goofs made in labelling the works does create doubt.

Bach Guild, is it really so hard to get the basic info correct?

So - all in all a great, cheap way for a beginner to get to know a large number of Brahms' works.

But just imagine their suprise when they find out years from now that the Academic Festival was actually a happy work!
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This latest in what I hope remains a continuing line of extreme bargain releases from eOne Music from the old archives of Vanguard Records lives up to the standards set in earlier offerings: Big Bach Set and Haydn Symphonies. Vanguard was once a force to be reckoned with across a number of musical genres, and "The Bach Guild" was a their specialized classical brand. Since Vanguard only made classical recordings until about the early 1980s, these are all older recordings, some of them going back to about the 1950s.

Also note that eOne Music released the Big Tchaikovsky Box on the same day as this set, also at the introductory price of one dollar. Brahms has been getting more attention -- probably because Amazon MP3 called attention to it on its Facebook page, which is how I found out about it as well. But definitely check out the Tchaikovsky as well.

The centerpiece of the collection is, in my view, the complete cycle of Brahms' four symphonies recorded in the 1970s by the Utah Symphony Orchestra under Maurice Abravanel, the Greek-Swiss-Jewish conductor who built the orchestra into a professional unit starting in the late 1940s and secured it a pretty solid reputation by the time he was done in the 1970s. The recordings here are in very good quality and the performances are very -- and perhaps surprisingly -- good, given that the Utah Symphony is not usually what you think of for great recordings of major composers. However, Abravanel brings out real emotional and interpretive depth here -- although perhaps some sentimentality at parts, which some people may find fault with but which I actually quite enjoyed. These symphonies have recently been remastered for re-release in DVD audio, but these are straight stereo recordings like those featured on this separate release. The sound is clear and sweet.

Apart from the symphony cycle, another major draw is the Violin Concerto featuring David Oistrakh with the USSR State Orchestra under Kiril Kondrashin -- a live recording from the early 1950s. The all-star line-up does a predictably bang-up job although the old mono recording suffers a bit from the recording quality of the time. I am fairly sure this is the same performance as featured on this release from Russia, which Vanguard also released together with the same Dvorak concerto.

The complete Hungarian Dances are here in fine performances by the Vienna State Opera orchestra under Mario Rossi, I believe in the early 1950s. The sound is good for its age -- clear and well-defined stereo. The recordings are in the big, lush style typical of 1950s orchestral playing.

There is a good selection of chamber works as well, including all three piano quartets (from this CD set, all three violin sonatas from a 1950s album, a number of works for solo piano, and several songs.

I enjoyed the violin sonatas very much, performed by former USC violin professor Eudice Shapiro and Ralph Berkowitz, who had been former assistant to Serge Koussevitzky at Tanglewood and a teacher to Leonard Bernstein once upon a time. I believe the recordings are from the 1950s and as far as I can tell, were never released on CD. I actually enjoyed the technical rawness of the recording itself compared to later, slicker, more technically refined recordings (e.g. Anne-Sophie Mutter's recordings of the sonatas with Alexis Weissenberg for EMI). The difference is night and day, but I find the more Spartan presentation here also attractive.

On the solo piano works, I had never heard Australian pianist Bruce Hungerford before, but came away impressed, especially with his expressive interpretations on the Six Piano Pieces. Eugene List -- one of the great American pianists from the mid-20th century -- gives fine performances of the first two piano sonatas in mono recordings.

Although quite good overall, the sound is not perfect. I especially noticed some sketchy sound in the piano quartets, mainly distortion in louder passages. For example it gets particularly bad for a while after the 5:00 minute mark on track 33, although I heard some smaller defects in a couple of other places.

Bitrates are variable and range from a fairly low 137 kbps to 254 kbps. Almost all of the 22 tracks with bitrates averaging less than 200 kbps are accounted for by the violin and piano sonatas, as well as the Oistrakh Violin Concerto. Total download size is 940 MB for 10 hours and 8 minutes of music.

(Thanks to Neil Brennan, who notes in the comments section that the Tragic and Academic Festival Overtures have their titles swapped. Doh! Also, he pointed out bad edits in the Violin Concerto. I didn't notice this at first because I my player is able to play MP3s seamlessly from track to track, but indeed the first fraction of a second of the third movement (track 71) is actually at the end of track 70, which contains the second movement. If there are small breaks between file playback on your MP3 player, you will notice the fault.)

Overall, a no-brainer at the current extreme bargain price and actually probably a great deal at the normal price later on. Keep 'em coming, eOne Music!
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on June 29, 2012
My only soft spot for Brahms are his piano works... so let the ridicule begin (OP34b my alltime fav). That said, the Bruce Hungerford Klavierstucke is so nicely done it makes the set a quality addition to a library. Here's my homemade reorganization of the set, via MP3tag.

_ Disc 01 [Piano]
Disc 01 [Piano] - 01 - 6 Klavierstücke, Op.118 i. Intermezzo in A Minor.mp3
Disc 01 [Piano] - 02 - 6 Klavierstücke, Op.118 ii. Intermezzo in A Major.mp3
Disc 01 [Piano] - 03 - 6 Klavierstücke, Op.118 iii. Ballade in G Minor.mp3
Disc 01 [Piano] - 04 - 6 Klavierstücke, Op.118 iv. Intermezzo in F Minor.mp3
Disc 01 [Piano] - 05 - 6 Klavierstücke, Op.118 v. Romanze in F Major.mp3
Disc 01 [Piano] - 06 - 6 Klavierstücke, Op.118 vi. Intermezzo in E-flat Minor.mp3
Disc 01 [Piano] - 07 - Piano Sonata No. 1 in C major, Op. 1 i. Allegro.mp3
Disc 01 [Piano] - 08 - Piano Sonata No. 1 in C major, Op. 1 ii. Andante.mp3
Disc 01 [Piano] - 09 - Piano Sonata No. 1 in C major, Op. 1 iii. Scherzo Allegro molto e con fuoco.mp3
Disc 01 [Piano] - 10 - Piano Sonata No. 1 in C major, Op. 1 iv. Finale Allegro con fuoco.mp3
Disc 01 [Piano] - 11 - Piano Sonata No. 2 in F# minor, Op. 2iv. Finale Allegro con fuoco.mp3
Disc 01 [Piano] - 12 - Piano Sonata No. 2 in F# minor, Op. 2.mp3
Disc 01 [Piano] - 13 - Piano Sonata No. 2 in F# minor, Op. 2 iii Scherzo Allegro.mp3
Disc 01 [Piano] - 14 - Piano Sonata No. 2 in F# minor, Op. 2 iv Finale Sostenuto. Allegro non troppo e rubato.mp3
Disc 01 [Piano] - 15 - Ballade in D Minor (Edward), Op. 10, No. 1.mp3
Disc 01 [Piano] - 16 - Capriccio in B Minor, Op. 76, No. 2.mp3
Disc 01 [Piano] - 17 - Intermezzo in A major, Op. 76, No. 6.mp3
Disc 01 [Piano] - 18 - Intermezzo in B-Flat Minor, Op. 117, No. 2.mp3
Disc 01 [Piano] - 19 - Intermezzo in B-Flat Minor, Op. 117, No. 2.mp3
Disc 01 [Piano] - 20 - Rhapsody in G Minor, Op. 79, No. 2.mp3
Disc 01 [Piano] - 21 - 28 Variations on a Theme of Paganini in A minor, Op. 35 Book 1.mp3
Disc 01 [Piano] - 22 - 28 Variations on a Theme of Paganini in A minor, Op. 35 Book 2.mp3

_ Disc 02 [Symphonies]
Disc 02 [Symphonies] - 01 - Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68 i. Un poco sostenuto. Allegro.mp3
Disc 02 [Symphonies] - 02 - Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68 ii. Andante sostenuto.mp3
Disc 02 [Symphonies] - 03 - Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68 iii. Un poco allegretto e grazioso.mp3
Disc 02 [Symphonies] - 04 - Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68 iv. Adagio. Piu andante. Allegro non troppo, ma con brio.mp3
Disc 02 [Symphonies] - 05 - Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73 i. Allegro non troppo.mp3
Disc 02 [Symphonies] - 06 - Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73 ii. Adagio non troppo.mp3
Disc 02 [Symphonies] - 07 - Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73 iii. Allegretto grazioso, quasi andantino.mp3
Disc 02 [Symphonies] - 08 - Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73 iv Allegro con spirito.mp3
Disc 02 [Symphonies] - 09 - Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90 iv Allegro con spirito.mp3
Disc 02 [Symphonies] - 10 - Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90 ii. Andante.mp3
Disc 02 [Symphonies] - 11 - Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90 iii. Poco allegretto.mp3
Disc 02 [Symphonies] - 12 - Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90 iv. Finale Allegro.mp3
Disc 02 [Symphonies] - 13 - Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98 i. Allegro non troppo.mp3
Disc 02 [Symphonies] - 14 - Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98 ii. Andante moderato.mp3
Disc 02 [Symphonies] - 15 - Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98 iii. Allegro giocoso.mp3
Disc 02 [Symphonies] - 16 - Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98 iv. Allegro energico e passionato.mp3

_ Disc 03 [Violin Sonatas & Lieder]
Disc 03 [Violin Sonatas & Lieder] - 01 - Violin Sonata No. 1 in G major, Op. 78 i. Vivace ma non troppo.mp3
Disc 03 [Violin Sonatas & Lieder] - 02 - Violin Sonata No. 1 in G major, Op. 78ii Adagio.mp3
Disc 03 [Violin Sonatas & Lieder] - 03 - Violin Sonata No. 1 in G major, Op. 78 iii Allegro molto moderato.mp3
Disc 03 [Violin Sonatas & Lieder] - 04 - Violin Sonata No. 2 in A, Op. 100 i Allegro amabile.mp3
Disc 03 [Violin Sonatas & Lieder] - 05 - Violin Sonata No. 2 in A, Op. 100 ii Andante tranquillo. Vivace.mp3
Disc 03 [Violin Sonatas & Lieder] - 06 - Violin Sonata No. 2 in A, Op. 100iii Allegretto grazioso (quasi Andante).mp3
Disc 03 [Violin Sonatas & Lieder] - 07 - Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108 i Allegro.mp3
Disc 03 [Violin Sonatas & Lieder] - 08 - Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108 ii Adagio.mp3
Disc 03 [Violin Sonatas & Lieder] - 09 - Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108 iii Un poco presto e con sentimento.mp3
Disc 03 [Violin Sonatas & Lieder] - 10 - Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108 iv Finale Presto agitato.mp3
Disc 03 [Violin Sonatas & Lieder] - 11 - Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO 33, No. 6 Da unten im Tale.mp3
Disc 03 [Violin Sonatas & Lieder] - 12 - Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO 33, No. 5 Die Sonne scheint nicht mehr.mp3
Disc 03 [Violin Sonatas & Lieder] - 13 - Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO. 33 No. 31 Dort in den Weiden.mp3
Disc 03 [Violin Sonatas & Lieder] - 14 - Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO. 33 No. 12 Feinsliebchen du sollst.mp3
Disc 03 [Violin Sonatas & Lieder] - 15 - Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO. 33 No. 42 In stiller Nacht.mp3
Disc 03 [Violin Sonatas & Lieder] - 16 - Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO. 33 No. 15 Schwesterlein.mp3
Disc 03 [Violin Sonatas & Lieder] - 17 - 5 Lieder, Op. 49, No. 4 Wiegenlied.mp3

_ Disc 04 [Overtures & Violin Concerto]
Disc 04 [Overtures & Violin Concerto] - 01 - Academic Festival Overture in C minor, Op. 80.mp3
Disc 04 [Overtures & Violin Concerto] - 02 - Tragic Overture in D minor, Op. 81.mp3
Disc 04 [Overtures & Violin Concerto] - 03 - Variations on a Theme of Haydn in B flat ('St. Anthony Variations'), Op. 56a.mp3
Disc 04 [Overtures & Violin Concerto] - 04 - Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77 i. Allegro ma non troppo.mp3
Disc 04 [Overtures & Violin Concerto] - 05 - Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77 ii. Adagio.mp3
Disc 04 [Overtures & Violin Concerto] - 06 - Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77 iii. Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace.mp3

_ Disc 05 [Hungarian Dances]
Disc 05 [Hungarian Dances] - 01 - 21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 i. Allegro molto in G minor.mp3
Disc 05 [Hungarian Dances] - 02 - 21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 ii. Allegro non assai in D minor.mp3
Disc 05 [Hungarian Dances] - 03 - 21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 iii. Allegretto in F major.mp3
Disc 05 [Hungarian Dances] - 04 - 21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 iv. Poco sostentuo. Vivace in F# minor.mp3
Disc 05 [Hungarian Dances] - 05 - 21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 v Allegro in G minor.mp3
Disc 05 [Hungarian Dances] - 06 - 21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 vi. Vivace in D major.mp3
Disc 05 [Hungarian Dances] - 07 - 21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 vii. Allegretto in A major.mp3
Disc 05 [Hungarian Dances] - 08 - 21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 viii. Presto in A minor.mp3
Disc 05 [Hungarian Dances] - 09 - 21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 ix. Allegro ma non troppo in E minor.mp3
Disc 05 [Hungarian Dances] - 10 - 21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 x Presto in F major.mp3
Disc 05 [Hungarian Dances] - 11 - 21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 xi. Poco andante in D minor.mp3
Disc 05 [Hungarian Dances] - 12 - 21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 xii. Presto in D minor.mp3
Disc 05 [Hungarian Dances] - 13 - 21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 xiii. Andantino grazioso in D major.mp3
Disc 05 [Hungarian Dances] - 14 - 21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 xiv. Un poco andante in D minor.mp3
Disc 05 [Hungarian Dances] - 15 - 21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 xv, Allegretto grazioso.mp3
Disc 05 [Hungarian Dances] - 16 - 21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 xvi. Con moto in F minor.mp3
Disc 05 [Hungarian Dances] - 17 - 21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 xvii. Andantino in F# minor.mp3
Disc 05 [Hungarian Dances] - 18 - 21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 xviii. Molto vivace in D major.mp3
Disc 05 [Hungarian Dances] - 19 - 21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 xix. Allegretto in B minor.mp3
Disc 05 [Hungarian Dances] - 20 - 21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 xx. Poco allegretto in E minor.mp3
Disc 05 [Hungarian Dances] - 21 - 21 Hungarian Dances, WoO xxi. Vivace in E minor.mp3

_ Disc 06 [Piano Quartets]
Disc 06 [Piano Quartets] - 01 - Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25 i Allegro.mp3
Disc 06 [Piano Quartets] - 02 - Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25 ii Intermezzo Allegro, ma non troppo.mp3
Disc 06 [Piano Quartets] - 03 - Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25 iii Andante con moto.mp3
Disc 06 [Piano Quartets] - 04 - Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25 iv Rondo all Zingarese.mp3
Disc 06 [Piano Quartets] - 05 - Piano Quartet No. 2 in A major, Op. 26 i Allegro non troppo.mp3
Disc 06 [Piano Quartets] - 06 - Piano Quartet No. 2 in A major, Op. 26Piano Quartet No. 2 in A major, Op. 26 ii Poco adagio.mp3
Disc 06 [Piano Quartets] - 07 - Piano Quartet No. 2 in A major, Op. 26 iii Scherzo Poco allegro.mp3
Disc 06 [Piano Quartets] - 08 - Piano Quartet No. 2 in A major, Op. 26 iv Finale Allegro.mp3
Disc 06 [Piano Quartets] - 09 - Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60 i Allegro ma non troppo.mp3
Disc 06 [Piano Quartets] - 10 - Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60 ii Scherzo.mp3
Disc 06 [Piano Quartets] - 11 - Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60 iii Andante.mp3
Disc 06 [Piano Quartets] - 12 - Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60 iv Finale Allegro.mp3
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on June 3, 2014
This set contains a lot of good music in variable sound quality. I liked the performances of the Hungarian Dances by Mario Rossi, but the sound quality wasn't the greatest. It was spectacular, though, compared to what David Oistrakh sounded like. It sounded as if Oistrakh, Kondrashin and the entire orchestra were wrapped inside three layers of cellophane. A pity, because the performance was truly spectacular. The original, crude Melodiya recording is to blame, so I can't pin that on the Bach Guild. I'm just glad that they included it because the performance was so stellar.

As for the other orchestral works: The symphonies et al were recorded in pretty good sound, with performances to match. The Utah Symphony will never be mistaken for the Vienna Philharmonic, but they do a credible job here playing Brahms. It appeared to me that the sound quality of the first symphony wasn't as good as the others, but that may have been a problem with my ears, my gear, or both.

I really enjoyed the solo piano works. Bruce Hungerford and Eugene List, both of whom met a horribly tragic end, do a fine job. Alexander Schneider et al play the piano quartets very well, but they are not well-served by the warbly sound quality. Eudice Shapiro's performance of the violin sonatas is fabulous, with fine sound to boot. Those (and Oistrakh) might have been the highlight of the set for me.

I'm not a big fan of classical vocal music, but I thought the German folksongs performed by Anny Felbermayer were quite nice, and had perhaps the best sound quality in the entire set. it ends, fittingly, with the famous Brahms Lullaby.

All in all, another worthy entry by the Bach Guild. Even though I didn't think it to be up to the standard of their top efforts (i.e., Haydn and Mozart), it's still an excellent purchase.
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on May 7, 2012
$0.99 for 10 hours of music? The people at the Bach Guild are giving this away. And there's some wonderful performances in this collection -- the performances of the Hungarian Dances are quite spirited and lovely. And an entire Symphony cycle, as well? Buy, buy, buy...
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on April 2, 2013
Vanguard scores yet another 99¢ victory with their Big Brahms Box. I mean, why wouldn't you buy this download?

You get the 4 Symphonies conducted by Abravanel, the Violin Concerto with Oistrach and Kondrashin, as well as a slew of piano and chamber works featuring artists like Bruce Hungerford and Eugene List.

Self recommending at $20. Insane at 99¢.
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on October 23, 2012
I'm not musically inclined, nor do I know a lot about what it's "supposed" to sound like, but I really enjoy listening to classical music...especially when I can pick it for very, very cheap on Amazon. The selection is nice and I really like listening to it on the weekends with the TV off, makes for a pleasant atmosphere.
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on July 18, 2015
This is a nice collection for MP3 use. I listen to it often as background in my office or while working out in the gym. (Yes, some of us actually prefer classical to work out with.) Like all bargain compilations, it has its high and low points. One quirk is that the labeling on the "Academic Overture" and the "Tragic Overture" is switched. It's hard to screw those up! As Brahms himself said, "One laughs; the other cries." But it's nice to have all the symphonies, the complete Hungarian Dances, the key chamber works, many of the important piano works,and much more. ("Ein Deutsches Requiem" is not included.) Many of the orchestral performances on this are by Maurice Abravanel and the Utah Symphony, a sound second-tier ensemble that produces decent if uninspired performances. The sense of nuance and clean ensemble playing is occasionally lacking, but not to the point that it's bothersome. I wouldn't choose this as the place to find the definitive performance of any of these works. But, perhaps a better indication of my opinion of this collection is shown by the fact that I listened to it for quite a while as a free Amazon Prime offering before buying it, to avoid having to be dependent on connection to a wi-fi network.
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on June 17, 2014
This box is a wonderful introduction to the romantic music of Brahms. The music is full of the contrasting emotions of the romantic period. It contains the four symphonies, orchestral versions of the Hungarian Dances,the violin concerto, the three violin sonatas, the three piano quartets, and multiple works from the solo piano literature. I would have liked to see the double concerto for violin and cello, the three string quartets and the Brahms German Requiem included but you can explore these pieces later. The performances and sound quality range from good to excellent. It is incredible you can listen to so much great music for such a small investment.
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