Decca Sound: The Analogue Years
In case you're too stunned to do the math, that's $2.58 per disc. For the most part, the music is great (some of it unjustly obscure), the performances stellar, and the sound. . .surprisingly terrific. The box also includes a 200-page booklet that lays out the music, disc-by-disc and in alphabetical order by composer (eg, Bartók's Two Pictures and Suite No.1, Dorati and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Disc 7), and describes Decca's recording techniques in two illuminating essays and lots of diagrams and photos from the archives. (One of the essayists, Michael Gray, is a world-class music archivist as well as a former critic for The Absolute Sound.)
When stereo came along in the mid-to-late 1950s, the major labels coined catchy trademark slogans touting their presumptive glories. There were RCA's Living Stereo, Mercury's Living Presence, Columbia's 360 Soundand Decca/London's Full Frequency Stereophonic Sound (a sequel to its mono-days' Full Frequency Range Recording), splashed on its covers as ffss< (or, in mono, ffrr). (And the disc-sleeves in the Decca Sound box are replicas of those covers, with liner notes.)
Audiophiles have long worshipped at the shrine of RCA and Mercury albums from that era, but Decca/London deserved the same treatment. It also offered a wider range of music and, often, superior interpretations. (The Chicago Symphony sounds far livelier under Solti on Decca than under Reiner on RCA.)
This collection isn't the stuff of a Classical 101 course. The music is almost entirely from the 19th and 20th centuries. There's no Bach, only one Beethoven and Brahms, but a lot of Dvorák, Kodaly, Mendelssohn, Prokofiev, Saint-Saëns, and Sibelius, with smatterings of Bloch, Borodin, Britten, Enescu, Fauré, Franck, Glazunov, and Hindemith, to name a few. (Look up the full table of contents here.)
A lot of these discs sound more like SACDs than standard-issue stuff. They have huge dynamic range, tonal beauty, and a wide, deep soundstage. I did A/B comparisons with some of the albums that I have on original LP pressingsChopin études by Ashkenazy, Shostakovich quartets by the Fitzwilliam, Debussy's sonata for flute, viola and harp by the Melos Ensembleéand, while the vinyl sounded better, the difference wasn't huge; in some cases, it will downright small.
It's rare enough to get discs this cheap from backwater labels sporting amateur orchestras. This collection contains some of the greatest conductors (Solti, Dorati, Mehta, Ansermet, Kertesz, Haitink, Maazel) leading some of the greatest orchestras (Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, London, Royal Philharmonic, Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam), with solos from some of the greatest musicians. (Check out Kyung Wha Chung playing the Stravinsky violin concerto under André Previn and the London Symphony.)
And now, somebody, do the same thing with the Concentus Musicus 1960s baroque albums on Telefunken.