I sat on the fence for a long time before purchasing this Harmonia Mundi 50th anniversary box set. Even though it was reasonably priced, it was still a lot of money to lay out all at once for CDs of (mostly) unknown works performed by unknown (ie, not famous) artists. Would I actually listen to all of this new music? Would I find it interesting enough to listen to more than once? Would it broaden my musical horizons?
The answer to all three questions was Yes, Yes, and YES!
In short, this is an absolutely amazing box set. If you have been listening to classical music for many years, or decades, and are ready to broaden your outlook/knowledge you won't go wrong. The works themselves range from those you have probably heard, or know to some extant (Bach / Matthew'sPassion, Art of Fugue, Chopin Ballads, Schubert Sonata D960, Fantasy in C etc) to those you are probably not as familiar with (Purcell/ King Arthur) to those that are completely unfamiliar (Keiser / Croesus). You will find them all enjoyable and enlightening.
In the case of the known works, some of the performances are revelatory. The aforementioned Bach pieces for example opened my ears to new interpretations that astounded me. Herreweghe's first recording of Matthew's Passion was a gorgeous, soulful interpretation of this masterwork that has me seeking out his other performances. Fretwork's interpretation of the Art of Fugue was nothing but delightful, and complements the versions on the shelf featuring piano, string quartet and organ (you know who) without replacing them.
The recordings themselves are state of the art. Its rare to find digital recordings with this degree of warmth, presence, and three dimensionality. A joy to listen to.
In conclusion - this is a set I will be holding on to, and returning to again and again. (My wife, a professional mezzo, commented on the high quality of the vocalists in several of the recordings). At less than $3 per disc (less if you can find it used) this set is quite simply the deal of the century.
I may now even splurge for the Deutsch Harmonia Mundi set!