Great Classical Masterpieces - Best-selling Recordings 1987-2012
rec. various venues and dates. DDD
Full track-list at end of review
NAXOS 8.578217 [77:18] 

As part of a series of events celebrating a trailblazing 25 years in the business, this generously-packed bargain-price CD from Naxos presents selections from the label's best-selling titles. Naxos have come a long way in that time; so has the music industry. This is thanks in no small part to Naxos's cut-price business model. Despite the general pessimism regarding cultural dumbing-down there has never been a better time for art music recordings.
For all the changes, a number of the performers heard on this entertaining compilation are happily still recording regularly for Naxos, not least the excellent Hungarian pianist Jenő Jandó, Polish conductor Antoni Wit, and two Slovak orchestras, the Radio Symphony and the Philharmonic.
To keep costs low, East European performers quite possibly made the bulk of Naxos recordings in the first decade or more, and notwithstanding the fact that numerous were well received and remain much-loved, early subscribers to Naxos will doubtless have culled a few of those discs over the years, as better cheaper recordings have usurped them. Many of those replacements have been redone in improved versions by Naxos. The Katowice, Slovak and Budapest orchestras featured here have grown in stature and quality considerably since these recordings. The Capella Istropolitana, still going strong, have one of the most impressive discographies of any orchestra anywhere, having appeared on getting on for 400 Naxos releases all told!
All the bestsellers tellingly date from Naxos's first decade, an interesting but not surprising fact - those were the uncomplicated days when downloading was at best an irrelevance for music fans. The accompanying booklet gives a brief, generally frank description of each piece by Naxos founder Klaus Heymann. For example, he refers to Fauré's "very English Requiem with our Oxford Camerata and Jeremy Summerly", and writes of Vivaldi's Four Seasons: "The most popular Naxos recording of all time featuring my hardworking wife (violinist Takako Nishizaki) and the Capella Istropolitana. The Four Seasons were recorded in one very long day, with the last session ending just before the orchestra musicians had to leave to catch the last tram."
Really, the disc is likely to appeal primarily as a souvenir for nostalgia buffs - a chance to revisit some of those early Naxos recordings, to remember how good they seemed for the money, and to see how well they have stood the test of time. For newcomers to Naxos, this compilation will probably give a misleading impression, with some of the engineering and performances a little on the rougher side, and its focus on pretty mainstream repertoire that reflects only a fraction of what Naxos are about. On the other hand, as a cheap and cheerful alternative to the often syrupy compilations churned out by the Classic FM conveyor belt, these are all tuneful, easily recognisable items that would go down well in most situations, from a dull car or bus ride to an intimate soirée at home.
Both the Mozart Requiem and Orff Carmina Burana recordings in particular lack definition and clarity, Dvořák's Ninth is rather raw-sounding, and in truth the Four Seasons recording is more winter than spring. On the other hand, the Ravel and the Rodrigo are good by any standard. Only Klara Körmendi's recording of Satie's famous Gymnopédie no.1 seems misjudged - she rushes through it automaton-like without any regard for Satie's 'Lent et douloureux' instruction.
The back inlay handily supplies all the catalogue numbers the works are drawn from, for those wishing to find out more about any of the recordings. Therein lies a difficulty with the slightly tautological 'Great Classical Masterpieces - Best-selling Recordings' concept: the pieces Heymann has chosen may not always be the work for which the original CD was purchased! Thus the Copland disc was most likely bought for Appalachian Spring or Rodeo, the Gershwin for Rhapsody in Blue, the Górecki almost certainly for the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.  
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Tuneful, easily recognisable items that would go down well in most situations.
Full track-list
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
a Fanfare for the Common Man [2:54]
HILDEGARD (von Bingen) (1098-1179)
b O Pastor Animarum [1:31]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
c Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041 - I. Allegro [3:57]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
d Requiem in D minor, K. 626 - Sequence - Dies irae [1:52]
o Serenade in G, K. 525, 'Eine Kleine Nachtmusik' - IV. Rondo allegro [2:58]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
e Piano Sonata no. 14 in C sharp minor, op. 27 no. 2 ('Moonlight') - I. Adagio sostenuto [5:15]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
f Hungarian Dance no. 1 [3:04]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
g Piano Concerto no. 2 in C minor, op. 18 - II. Adagio sostenuto [11:23]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
h Valses Nobles et Sentimentales - I. Modéré; très franc [1:25]
Carl ORFF (1895-1982)
i Carmina Burana - O Fortuna [2:39]
Henryk GÓRECKI (1933-2010)
j 3 Olden Style Pieces - I. [3:20]
Joaquín RODRIGO (1901-1999)
k Concierto de Aranjuez - I. Allegro con spirito [6:18]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
l Water Music: Suite no. 2 in D, HWV 349 - II. Alla hornpipe [3:00]
Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
m Gymnopédie no. 1 - Lent et douloureux [2:43]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
n The Four Seasons, RV 269 - 'Spring': I. Allegro [3:34]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
p Requiem, op. 48 - Sanctus [3:29]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
q Piano Concerto in F - III. Allegro agitato [6:48]
Antonín DVO Ř ÁK (1841-1904)
r Symphony no. 9 in E minor, 'From the New World' - IV. Allegro con fuoco [11:08]
a Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Stephen Gunzenhauser
b Oxford Camerata/Jeremy Summerly
c Takako Nishizaki (violin), Capella Istropolitana/Oliver Dohnányi
d Slovak Philharmonic Chorus/Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Zdeněk Košler
e Jenő Jandó (piano)
f Budapest Symphony Orchestra/István Bogár
g Jenő Jandó (piano), Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Győrgy Lehel
h Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Jean
i Slovak Philharmonic Chorus/Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Stephen Gunzenhauser
j Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra Katowice/Antoni Wit
k Norbert Kraft (guitar), Northern Chamber Orchestra/Nicholas Ward
l Capella Istropolitana/Bohdan Warchal
m Klara Körmendi (piano)
n Takako Nishizaki (violin), Capella Istropolitana/Stephen Gunzenhauser
o Capella Istropolitana/Wolfgang Sobotka
p Oxford Schola Cantorum/Oxford Camerata/Jeremy Summerly
q Kathryn Selby (piano), Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hayman
r Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Stephen Gunzenhauser