It's sad that the "Great Conductors of the 20th Century" reissue series has not gotten more notice on www.Amazon.com and in other places, because it has my vote for the best reissue program thus far of the 21st Century. Drawing from the archives of all the major classical labels (EMI, Sony, BMG, DG, Decca, Philips, Supraphon, etc.), EMI and IMG Artists have assembled a wonderful series of affordable two-disc sets by the leading conductors of the last century. And unlike its counterpart, "The Great Pianists of the 20th Century," which are basically compilations of material already available on other CDs, the "Great Conductors" features rare and, for the most part, previously unreleased performances!
This particular CD, Volume 13, features the great Eugene Ormandy. With so many of Ormandy's recordings available in the Sony Essential Classics series and on RCA/BMG, you would think there could not possibly anything left to release on CD. Well, guess again. Ormandy recorded a Brahms cycle in the late 60s for CBS, but to date they have only issued the first two symphonies on CD via a Sony Essential Classic "Take 2." Someone like me, who is relatively new to classical and can't go thumb through dad's old vinyl collection, has been left to dream at the prospects of Symphonies 3 & 4. Well, at least here we get number four, and it is a giant! I have nearly a dozen recordings of the Brahms 4, and Ormandy's is every bit as good as my personal favorites by Kleiber, Dorati and Szell. Speaking of Sony Essential Classics "Take 2" CDs, Ormandy also did all of Rachmaninov's Symphonies with Philadelphia during his time with CBS, but the version presented here was done for RCA in 1973, and it was Ormandy's first recording of the complete original version of the work. This set also features the world premiere recording of Anton Webern's "Im Sommerwind." But if those three items are not enough, then use this set as a rare opportunity to hear Ormandy away from the Philadelphians. Ormandy joins the Bavarian RSO for two live performances -- Struass' "Don Juan" in 1959 and Kabalevsky's "Colas Breugnon" Overture in 1965.
Whether you are a serious collector of classical music or a beginner, the "Great Conductors of the 20th Century" has something for everyone. If the prized, rare performances previously unreleased on CD (or ever!) doesn't excite you, then use this as an opportunity to check out one of the greatest conductors ever recorded. Since stores are offering increasingly homogenized classical music sections, this conductor may not be in your collection, and that would truly be a shame.