The Whole Salonen

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To be exact, the whole Salonen on Sony (Columbia Records): 61 CDs, all the recordings he made for that label before moving on to Deutsche Gramophon and elsewhere.

I confess, I hadn’t realized he had been that prolific, but after scrolling through the contents, I realized I was already familiar witth a great deal of what’s inside the box, and already have a substantial amount of these recordings in my collection.

Salonen is of course one of the major figure in contemporary classical music. As a conductor he was instrumental in turning the LA Philharmonic into a notable ensemble before he handed over the baton to Gustavo Dudamel, and as a composer he has produced a number of scores that give pleasure, though at least for me they don’t stick in the mind.

But what if you’re reading this and wondering if it’s worth spending $149.98 on (the pre-order price at Amazon as of this writing, though most likely this will drop)? That is a tough question to answer, perhaps more with this than any other of the recent boxed sets from the Columbia back catalog.

If you already have all the Stravinsky, Debussy, and Bartók in your library that you need, then you don’t need this. Same with Nielsen—those composers make up about a quarter of the set, and the recordings here are all good to very good, but there’s not one that is among the finest (IMO). If you don’t have this music, you’ll be satisfied with what is in here. But if you do, you will probably find this superfluous.

However, there is still a lot in here that’s the best you can get. In the standard repertory, the Mahler 4 recording, is about the best there is, as is Messiaen’s Turangalila and Des canyons lux etoiles. The CD with both the Sibelius and Nielsen violin concertos is spectacular.

What is invaluable here is the musical that Salonen was committed to recording and bringing to the public—Ligeti (this is where you will find Le Grand Macabre), Saariaho, Takemitsu, Lindberg. This is as good as it gets. The two Lutoslawski CDs, which include a complete symphony cycle, are essential. The collection of Bernard Herrmann film music is unique and superb.

In the end, this is for fans, I think, of specific composers or the artist himself. To fandom, money is usually no object, but again, this makes for an excellent first step into modern classical music.

Preorder Esa-Pekka Salonen: The Complete Sony Recordings, at Amazon. Release date is May 4.

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