Even more Brilliant Classics

On An Overgrown Path started to spread the word about the Dutch super-budget label Brilliant Classics more than a year ago. BBC Radio 3 has finally caught on to the riches available, and featured a number of exciting new releases in CD Review on Sunday.

The big news is that Brilliant Classics has done a major licensing deal with EMI, which makes some very interesting recordings available at crazy low prices - around £3 ($5 US) here in the UK. Among them are Riccardo Muti's Schubert symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic. They are a bargain at this price, but not much more. As with so many of Muti's orchestral recordings they are all circumference and little circle, and his interpretation of the ninth symphony justifies the title 'Grate C major'. (If you want budget priced Schubert symphonies numbers one to six you can do a lot worse than Menuhin's 2 CD set on EMI, recorded in Studio 1 Abbey Road). But if Scriabin's style of 'smell, touch and feel' orchestral writing is your thing (and I have to confess it isn't mine) Muti's excellent set of the Scriabin symphonies with the Philadelphia Orchestra newly released on Brilliant is far more recommendable.

Among the other re-issues is some fine French music. Saint-Saens' symphonies are interesting if derivative, and I do find his stolid writing in the third difficult to take. But the six CD set of his orchestral works also includes the piano concertos and some rarities, so is well worth exploring. But even more recommendable is conductor Jean Martinon's superb 4 CD set of Debussy's orchestral works, wonderful playing, superb sound, and exquisite music.

There are two real stars among these new Brilliant bargains. First is Mariss Janson's thrilling interpretation of Dvorak's fifth, seventh, eighth and ninth symphonies (plus sundry fillers). These are top-notch digital recordings from the Oslo Philharmonic, and come highly recommended. But what a comment on the over-production and poor repertoire planning of the major labels that such fine performances should be relegated to a bargain basement licensing deal, surely these releases answer my question Is classical music too cheap?

I have kept the best to last. A three CD set of Beethoven choral works including Carlo Maria Giulini's (photo above) heartfelt 1976 Missa Solemnis with Janet Baker, Heather Harper, Robert Tear, and Hans Sotin, produced by EMI veteran Christopher Bishop in the peerless acoustics of London's Kingsway Hall. Giulini's concert and recorded repertoire was limited, but it was beautifully executed. His Missa Solemnis was outstanding as a full price issue, as a super-budget release it is simply unmissable.

The ridiculously low prices of Brilliant Classics do come at a price though. These CDs can be difficult to find in the shops, and their web site does not list them yet. But I have linked each release in the copy above to an online retailer stocking it. Here are the full details of my recommendations, good hunting.

SCRIABIN Le Poeme de l'extase, Op.54; Symphony No.1 in E Major, Op.26*; Symphony No.2 in C Minor, Op.29; Symphony No.3 in C Minor Op.43 'Le divin Poeme'; Promethee, Op.60: Stefania Toczyska (mezzo)*, Michael Myers (ternor)*, The Westminster Choir*, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Riccardo Muti (conductor)
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92744 (3-CD, budget)

SAINT-SAENS Symphony in A Major; Symphony No.1 in E Flat Major, Op.2; Symphony No.2 in A Minor, Op.55; Symphony No.3 in C Minor, Op.78 'Organ Symphony'*; Symphony in F Major 'Urbs Roma'; Violin Concerto No.1 in A Major, Op.20+; Violin Concerto No.2 in C Major, Op.58+; Violin Concerto No.3 in B Minor, Op.61+; Havanaise in E Major, Op.83; Morceau de concert in G Major, Op.62; Introduction et Rondo capriccioso in A Minor, Op.28; Caprice andalou in G Major, Op.122; Prelude du 'Deluge' in D Major, Op.45; La Muse et le poete, for Violin, Cello & Orchestra, Op.132**; Valse-caprice; Romance for Violin and Orchestra in C Major, Op.48; Romance for Violin & Orchestra in D Flat Major, Op.37; The 5 Piano Concertos++: * Bernard Gavoty (organ), + Ulf Hoelscher (violin), Ralph Kirschbaum (cello)**;
New Philharmonia Orchestra, Pierre Dervaux (conductor), ++ Gabriel Tacchino (piano), Orchestra of Radio Luxembourg , Louis de Froment (conductor)
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92777 (6-CD, budget)

DEBUSSY Orchestral Works - Musique pour le Roi Lear; La Mer; Trois Nocturnes; Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune; Marche ecossaise; Berceuse heroique; Jeux; Images; Iberia; Printemps
(Suite symphonique)^; Khamma; Fantaisie for Piano & Orchestra**; La plue que lente; Premiere Rapsodie for Clarinet & Orchestra; Rapsodie for Orchestra and Saxophone Solo : Michel Sedrez & Fabienne Boury (piano duet), + Fabienne Boury (piano), ** Aldo Ciccolini (piano), Children's Corner Suite; Petite Suite; Danse sacree et danse profane; La Boite a joujoux: Chorus & Orchestra of ORTF, Jean Martinon (conductor, photo above)
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92765 (4-CD, budget)

DVORAK Symphony No.5 in F Major, Op.76; Symphony No.7 in D Minor, Op.70; Symphony No.8 in G Major, Op.88; Symphony No.9 'From the New World' Op.95; Othello Overture, Op.93; Scherzo Capriccioso; SMETANA Vltava, from Ma Vlast: Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Mariss Jansons (conductor)
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92779 (3-CD, budget)

CD 1 Missa Solemnis in D Major, Op.123; Mass in C Major, Op.86: Heather Harper (soprano), Janet Baker (mezzo), Robert Tear (tenor), Hans Sotin (bass), New Philharmonia Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Carlo Mario Giulini (conductor)
CD2 Mass in C: Elly Ameling (soprano), Janet Baker (mezzo), Theo Altmeyer (tenor), Marius Rintzler (bass), New Philharmonia Chorus & Orchestra, Carlo Maria Giulini (conductor)
CD3 Christus am Olberge (Christ on the Mountain of Olives , Op.85): Maria Venuti (Seraph), Keith Lewis (Jesus), Michel Brodard (Peter), Gachinger Kantorei Stuttgart, Bach-Collegium Stuttgart, Helmut Rilling (conductor)
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92825 (3-CD, budget)

Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
Image credits -
Carlo Maria Giulini - Le Monde, Saint-Saens & Dvorak Arkiv-music.com, Missa Solemnis Qualiton Imports
CD details from BBC CD Review
Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. If bandwidth is a problem with your permission I will host your image.
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Reflections on the Philadelphia Orchestra


Shablagoo! said…
Thank You for this informative article. The wonderful Giulini Beethoven Works, I have them on vinyl but I've been waiting for a cd re-release of these fine interpretations for ages! The Mass is superb! :D

Thanks for putting them on my radar!

Anonymous said…
Actually, the Saint-Saens set is listed at the Brilliant Classics site, but you must find it by going to "S" in the alphabetical list of composers; the poor fellow's name is misspelled, so plugging the correct spelling in the search engine won't take you to the proper page!
Berend de Boer said…
Ah yes indeed, Brilliant Classics is brilliant! I'm just back from a visit to Holland and I brought back a few kilo's of CDs as well. I disagree with you about the low price though. It's excellent to be able to have a recording of every piece of classical music in the home. Even if it isn't the best. Only the richest people in the world can afford the best recordings of every piece of music.
Shablagoo! said…
" Only the richest people in the world can afford the best recordings of every piece of music"


In the good old days, when HMV used to let you use your 10% student discount on sale items, I built up a large collection of the perceived 'best' recordings purchased from the Oxford Street Megastore (which has a very large classical dept).

I guess even then I shared pliable's quibble that some of the music and recordings seemed far too 'cheap' given their technical and musical qualities. But who was I to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Nonetheless, if these fine box sets attract people on a budget all the better.
Pliable said…
I fully share Daniel, Ben and Berend's appreciation of the musical riches that are now available at budget price, and I don't want to be seen as a kill-joy.

What does concern me though is the equation of short term benefit (wonderful recordings at very low prices) against long term cost (falling income for musicians and composers, concentration on 'safe' recordings, demise of 'niche' labels, falling concert attendances due to low cost of CDs/downloads, collapse of physical distribution of CDs etc).

The result of that equation is not currently known. I am delighted that my article drawing attention to these Brilliant bargains has been so widely read.(I should incidentally own up to a conflict of interest, the producer of the Giulini Missa Solemnis Chris Bishop is a great friend of mine, and Godfather to our oldest child, but I hasten to add he is not on a royalty!). But I do think it is also incumbent on me to at least make people aware of the possible long term costs.

Meanwhile many thanks for the informed and considered comments which are so typical of the readership of this blog, and enjoy those wonderful bargains!

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