Benjamin Britten's Bach is a "middle-of-the-road" version of these delightful works. They offer no startling departures from the Baroque style favored in the 1960s, but are ripe, polished performances with a fearless trumpet soloist in No. 2, and outstanding flute and violin solos throughout. Modern instruments and moderate tempos may seem stodgy these days, but there's integrity in Britten's music-making and this set, recorded in 1968, still sounds fresh, easily holding its own against more recent versions. As an added attraction, London includes concerti for violin and oboe, and flute and strings, both done in the 1970s with Neville Marriner leading light and springy readings of distinction. --Dan Davis
Keith Anderson's comp is a model of efficiency, packing 2 CDs and a 930-page book into a box and providing a code and password to stream and download more than 15 hours of additional music! As thick as the book is, it's small enough to take with you, offering a brief overview of the lives and works of hundreds of composers. On the CDs: selections from Brahms' Symphony No. 3 , Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 ; Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique ; Wagner's Tristan and Isolde ; Stravinsky's Petrushka , plus Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Liszt, Schubert, Schumann, Verdi, Vivaldi and more!
Is it a two-CD set with a particularly thick booklet, or a 562-page book with a compilation album attached? Either way, the unpretentious text by Keith Anderson offers an introduction to the lives and works of dozens of composers, together with recommended recordings from the Naxos and Marco Polo catalogs. Anderson includes a useful 59-page glossary of musical terms and an extensive listing of classical pieces used in films. The odd thing about the 36 extracts and complete pieces on the CDs is that they do not form an A-to-Z at all. Rather, they are arranged chronologically, from 1,000-year-old Gregorian chant to the opening movement of contemporary composer Philip Glass's Violin Concerto. Between these two points is the early music of Palestrina and Byrd; the Baroque glories of Vivaldi and Bach; the 19th-century Romantic masters, from Beethoven to Tchaikovsky; and such 20th-century greats as Rachmaninov and Stravinsky. Opera, song, and chamber music are barely represented, but only so much can fit into 151 minutes. Essentially a deluxe sampler of the vast Naxos catalogue, the discs offer a good introduction to some of the most famous and melodic music ever composed, while the book will be very useful to newcomers to the potentially confusing world of classical music. --Gary S. Dalkin