I ordered this set a couple of months ago, and after several listens finally decided to get around to writing a review. First let me say I was shocked to discover that this item is now being sold by Amazon for nearly 2 1/2 times more than what I paid for it. (Thankfully most third party vendors are still selling it for a reasonable amount!) Quite frankly I am at a loss as to why Amazon continues to sell some of these "Original Masters" sets at normal prices while others like the Kubelik Rare Recordings and this title are at ridiculously inflated ones, despite the fact that they have the same number of CDs.
Anyway, on to the fine music in this 9CD set by French conductor Jean Martinon, much of it receiving its digital debut. First let me say that two discs worth of material, and much of a third have been issued previously. CD5 contains excellent accounts of Prokofiev's 5th & 7th Symphonies, which were just released within the last few years via a licensing agreement with the Testament label. I guess serious classical collectors have to keep an increasingly close eye on the Decca/Testament reissues -- I'm thinking particularly of a recent batch of Knappertsbusch offerings -- because at this point, what's to say they won't eventually be included in some future "Original Masters" box. Also, the 1958 recording of Borodin's 2nd Symphony has appeared previously in various collections, most notably the "Double Decca" title "The Essential Borodin." Finally, the entirety of CD7, containing Ibert's Divertissement, Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre and Le Rouet D'Omphale, Bizet's Jeux D'Enfants - Petite Suite, and four Berlioz Overtures, was once a single title in the old "Classic Sound" series. However, that disc has been long out-of-print and until recently was commanding outrageous prices as a rare collectable.
The remaining selections, recorded between 1951 and 1960, to the best of my knowledge are appearing on CD for the first time, and in any event were new to me. So much of this set is first rate that it's hard for me to single out the true highlights. Adam's Giselle on CD1 and the collection of obscure French Overtures on CD2 were thoroughly enjoyable. Martinon may not have been a logical choice for a recording of Dvorak's Slavonic Dances, but they are solid performances, if not on par with those by Kubelik and Szell. I had never previously heard the Ballet Suite from Lalo's Namouna, but this excellent 1955 mono rendition has certainly wet my appetite for tracking down a second version. As with the aforementioned Prokofiev Symphonies, Martinon continues to show his talent with Russian fare on Capriccio Espagnol, Tchaikovsky's 6th and Shostakovich's 1st Symphonies, and the Age of Gold Suite, all four in glorious golden age stereo from 1958. Then after all those classic performances, the ninth and final CD was in many ways my favorite. Martinon forges memorable partnerships with the London Philharmonic and three different renowned pianists, Moura Lympany (Saint-Saens' PC2, 1951), Kathleen Long (Faure's Ballade & Francaix's Concertino, both 1954), and Peter Katin (Mendelssohn's Capriccio Brillant & Rondo Brillant, 1954), giving brilliant readings of works that are too often marginalized.
In all, the Martinon "Original Masters" set is outstanding. My only complaints come from the fact that UNI decided to release this box only as an import (see my recent review of the Julius Katchen OM set), and that Amazon can't seem to consistently sell it at an affordable price.