This release is a sequel to the earlier Decca Sound box set. It covers the years of Decca’s analogue “Full Frequency Range Recording”, starting with the company’s earliest stereo recordings from 1954 –Ansermet conducting the Suisse Romande Orchestra in music by Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov, Balakirev and Liadov – and finishing in 1980 just prior to the advent of digital recording, with Dutoit conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra in tone poems by Saint-Saëns. The bonus CD gives us the Ansermet Russian program in its original mono, for comparative purposes.
Unlike the earlier box, this is not presented as a best performance collection; rather, it is designed to showcase the peak of Decca’s sound quality over those analogue decades. And indeed it does: the sound of Fistoulari’s highlights from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake holds up stunningly (recorded with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1961), not to mention Solti’s visceral Mahler Resurrection Symphony with Heather Harper, Helen Watts and the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus from 1966.
Sometimes the sound is of its time. When Decca producers recorded opera in the late 1950s and early 1960s they preferred a cavernous space with the voices set back – an opera house acoustic – yet the clarity and presence of the two opera sets is undeniable – and what performances! Serafin conducts La Bohème with Tebaldi and Bergonzi, and Karajan conducts Tebaldi and Del Monaco in Verdi’s Otello, both tremendously exciting.
There are too many highlights to list, but they include: Kertész (pictued) conducting Dvorˇák and Kodály; Radu Lupu playing Schumann and Grieg Concertos, and Kyung Wha Chung in Walton and Stravinsky; Solti conducting the Verdi Requiem with Sutherland, Horne and Pavarotti in 1967; John Lanchbery conducting Hérold’s La fille mal gardée. Nostalgic vinyl buffs will be joyously reunited with the original LP covers.