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Fritz Reiner - RCA Album Collection - RCA 63CDs flac track

Label : RCA
Format : Flac track
Cover : Yes

Most of these recordings have been issued and reissued countless times. This “original jacket” box, however, contains everything that Reiner recorded for RCA. There are some quibbles that we need to get out of the way up front. First, ignore those “original disc” labels on the CDs. They only contain Side 1 of the original LP, and not the actual CD contents, for which you need to check the very attractive but somewhat clunky accompanying booklet. Some of the catalog numbers reflect the original mono issues, even though the actual recordings naturally favor the stereo masters. Also, the two-disc sets are packaged, as is Sony/BMG’s wont these days, with the open end of the paper CD pocket facing the folding spine, which makes the actual discs almost impossible to remove without destroying either the package or risking damage to the CD. It’s a really annoying decision in what is otherwise a very nicely assembled package.

Further complaints would be churlish. Reiner’s legacy with the Chicago Symphony for RCA represents one of the most astonishingly, consistently excellent in the history of recorded music. Other conductors have recorded more, but none have done better. You can swim through one of the billion-disc Karajan sets and be alternately enchanted and frustrated. Finding a great performance in DG’s Furtwängler set is like digging for buried treasure, with success just about as likely. Only Sony’s Szell box offers a similarly high level of achievement over so many discs, but that set has not been released domestically, and in any case it is not complete.

Where to start? Reiner was not known as a particularly persuasive advocate of the classical repertoire, but listen to it here and you may well conclude that much of it is astonishingly fine. His Beethoven “Eroica”, Seventh, and Ninth symphonies sound pretty impressive today. His Haydn also holds up surprisingly well—Symphonies 88, 95, and 101. (I “imprinted” on the reissue of Haydn’s 88th coupled to Mozart’s “Jupiter”.) Reiner’s Mozart was unusually swift and edgy for its day, and his finale of the “Jupiter” (first sound clip) will still have period-instrument players turning green with envy. It makes most later versions sound awfully tame.

When most people think of Reiner and Chicago, however, they expect playing of ridiculous virtuosity and brilliance in the late Romantic repertoire, and that’s what we get, over and over. As a Strauss conductor he had no equal except, perhaps, Kempe and Karajan. His recordings of the tone poems are uniformly exceptional, and the excerpts from Salome, and especially Elektra (with soprano Inge Borkh), remain touchstones both interpretively and sonically (second sound clip). Equal credit here goes to RCA’s engineers, as Reiner himself admits in the bonus CD in which he talks briefly about his latest recording of Beethoven’s Seventh. How did they get such a glittering yet rich result in the opening of The Pines of Rome (third sound clip)? It’s a mystery and a blessing.

As a concerto accompanist Reiner worked with some of the best, and many of these performances are truly legendary: the Brahms and Tchaikovsky Violin Concertos with Heifetz; Brahms’ First Piano Concerto with Rubinstein; Rachmaninov, Strauss, Schumann, and Liszt with Byron Janis; Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody and Second Concerto with Rubinstein; the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto with Gilels; and (more of a mixed bag) concertos by Brahms, Beethoven, and Schumann with Van Cliburn. Other reference recordings in the orchestral repertoire include everything from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Debussy’s La Mer, Wagner orchestral music, and just about anything by Bartók. Reiner’s Rossini Overtures and Strauss, Jr. waltzes are also worth mentioning. Like all great conductors he played “light” music with the same dedication and high quality standards that mark his work in more ostensibly serious repertoire. For what it’s worth, he basically owned Kabalevsky’s Colas Breugnon Overture.

Enough said. This set is a major collector’s item. Granted, the “original jacket” concept allows RCA to charge more by spreading the box out to 63 CDs when it could have been packaged on two-thirds that amount, but they deserve the premium for getting the job done, and for doing it right in all the ways that really matter.

David Hurwitz (ClassicsToday.com)

For complete listing and samples follow the link:
Fritz Reiner – The Complete RCA Album Collection