Thursday, December 10, 2009

One Hundred Eleven and Counting

OK, so by now you know that Deutsche Grammophon is 111 years old. That's pretty old, even for a record company. And to help celebrate, the fine folks over at DG have put together a wee 6-CD collection of highlights and gems from the last century.

The earliest recording on this lovely set is a Meyerbeer aria sung by the opera titan Enrico Caruso in 1907. That's a little like having a box set called “45 years of the Rolling Stones” and not including anything until Sticky Fingers, isn't it? Or perhaps I'm the only person who wants to hear tragically Lo-Fi 19th century opera recordings. Or perhaps that's the earliest thing they could find. Still, that's a minor gripe as this set is pretty impressive by any standards.

The tracks are offered up here alphabetically, by performer - from Abbado to Zimerman, taking in legends like Bohm, Domingo, Furtwangler, Heifetz, Karajan, Oistrakh, Rostropovich and Segovia along the way. Because of this there is no flow or theme on the discs but rather a continuously shifting mood that never gets boring.

I recognized much of the music on this set but there were nice surprises also - the wonderful “Boogie Woogie Etude” by Morton Gould sounds exactly like the title, and Golijov's "Ayre," sung by Dawn Upshaw (with the the Andalucian Dogs!) is fabulous too. The fact that such an array of composers is represented here (not just Bach and Beethoven) turns this collection into a treasure trove of discoveries. My only regret is that the pioneering work of Kagel, Stockhausen, Nono and Maderna (which DG thankfully supported in the 60s and 70s) is only marginally represented here. Perhaps we'll get an Avant-garde box set next year, guys?

The appeal of DG goes beyond music. Like the wildly different labels Blue Note and 4AD, the presentation and feel of the records was part of the package. DG is a design icon with an instantly recognizable brand and aesthetic; perhaps the first label to achieve that. So, good on ya, chaps! Thanks for the music and here's to another 111.

- Ben Sumner

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