Enough Mozart for a Lifetime In a Single Box

In honor of the 225th anniversary of Mozart's death at the age of 35, Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, and the Salzburg Mozarteum Foundation have together issued a whopping 24-lb box of recordings and commentary called Mozart 225. Billed as the most complete and authoritative edition of Mozart recordings ever assembled, the $480 box, in an edition limited to 15,000 copies worldwide, includes 200 CDs with 240 hours of music.

As you can see here, the contents amount to every completed work by Mozart, including the Handel and Bach arrangements; over 100 fragments, completions by other composers, and works of doubtful attribution; 30 CDs of alternate performances, including some on authentic period instruments and/or of historic import; and a number of world premiere recordings, including over two hours-worth of new recordings on the very instruments that Mozart played. We've got the world premiere of a long lost song (K477a) written in "friendly competition" with Antonio Salieri (who did not kill Mozart), the first recording of Sonata K331 with Rondo "alla turca" from the recently discovered autograph manuscript, played by Francesco Piemontesi, and a brand new disc from period-instrument ensemble Accademia Bizantina and Ottavio Dantone. There are even five "exclusives," although these are, in all but one case, either short movements or fragments.

The box's four long trays of thin, paper slip-cased CDs, each of which includes a book of content listings, will happily fit on your shelf once they are removed. In addition, the box includes two illustrated hardback books, including a new Mozart biography by Cliff Eisen and a second book that offers work-by-work commentary. If you're into numbers—after all, you will have to put a few of those together to buy the thing—those essays and commentary amount to 120,000 words. Then there are 5 frameable prints, a new thin-papered booklet listing the numbering in the new Köchel catalogue, a complete performer index, and, yes, an iPhone/iPad Libretto App that will allow you to access and even download all opera libretti and access authoritative urtext (original/earliest) scores of the online edition of the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe (New Mozart Edition).

If somehow seeing this all spelled out on a YouTube trailer will make the box more tangible, please go for it. From my critical perspective, the happiest thing about the trailer is discovering that its fragment of the unforgettable "Sull'aria" duet between Countess Almaviva and her co-conspirator/maid Susanna, from Le nozze di Figaro, is done slowly, in the most sublime way imaginable, rather than in the rushed manner that has become fashionable among many modern and "authentic performance practice" interpreters. Happily, the box includes both the zip-zip, no-lingering-here, period-instrument recording by Arnold Östman and the Drottingholm Court Theatre Orchestra and Chorus, with Arleen Auger and Barbara Bonney singing beautifully albeit with no trace of lingering romance, and the "supplemental" (hah!) 1955 recording by Erich Kleiber and the Vienna Philharmonic and Vienna State Opera Choir—the very first complete stereo recording of the opera—in which Lisa della Casa and Hilda Gueden duet exquisitely. Thank goodness for alternative performances.

We don't get alternatives to the other operas, alas. The Don Giovanni, for example, finds Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra zipping along as Joyce DiDonato does one of the best imitations of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's Donna Elvira hysteria on record. The cast is very fine, but the recording as a whole cannot equal Carlo Maria Giulini's unforgettable account on Warner. Even if it not the top recommendation, Claudio Abbado's Die Zauberflöte with Dorothea Röschmann and René Pape is nothing to sneer at. And there are any number of supplemental "insertion arias," period instrument aria excerpts, and aria excerpts done by everyone from Montserrat Caballé and Janet Baker to Jonas Kaufmann. For unforgettable "classic" aria recordings set down earlier than the 1950s, however, you must go elsewhere (or come to Port Townsend and take my class!).

The good news is that the music has been drawn from 20 labels in toto, 18 of which are not part of Universal Classics, and that the artists are almost all universally admired. For Mozart lovers who invested in the 1991 Philips Mozart Edition, the fact that 70% of those recordings are not included in this edition is a major plus. That doesn't necessarily mean that the newer choices are better, of course. Far less of an incentive to purchase, from an audiophile perspective, is that none of the early digital recordings or early digital masterings of analog recordings have been remastered.

The bottom line is this. No compilation this vast could possibly be perfect, let alone please all parties. If you agree that the music of Mozart is far more indispensable than Game of Thrones, and you have the time to indulge several times per week, this set will sate your Mozart appetite for a good five years or more. Supplement it with the occasional must-listen new performance, especially if it's a period-instrument alternative, and at least one of your longings will be fulfilled. Maybe.

Anon2's picture

This is an interesting survey. It fills gaps that many collectors have in other collections, if they already have these box sets. This collection, while comprehensive and then some, will leave some wanting for stand-alone collections that a Mozart fan should still have in his or her collection.

I did some comparison to the 1991 collection, whose contents are on Wikipedia. I also compared the listing to some box sets in my own collection. Here are some sets that are partially represented, or left out of this collection and, it appears, left out of the 1991 comprehensive compendium.

Mozart Piano Sonatas - Andras Schiff: In my quick review of the PDF for this collection, there appear to be none of the Sonatas from the Decca Andra Schiff box set.

Mozart Piano Concertos - Andras Schiff/Sandor Vegh/Camerata Academica Salzburg (10/10 Classicstoday rating): some of the works of this great set are here, but not all. Admittedly, this set, neither, is "complete."

Mozart Piano Concertos - Vladimir Ashkenazy/Philharmonia Orchestra: there appears to be nothing here.

Mozart Piano Concertos - Geza Anda/ Camerata Academica Salzburg: There's no representation of this set, which is now under the same roof as Decca and the former Philips, by whoever owns this now. I hope the new owners don't think that the Camerata Academica Salzburg are from Piscataway, NJ, but you never know.

Some Concertos in this collection are fortepiano. Representation of fortepiano works may be defensible for purists, but for regular classical music Joes (they do exist), you either like the fortepiano or not (not is the more likely).

Mozart Symphonies/English Concert/Trevor Pinnock: It appears that some, but not all are on this collection.

Mozart Symphonies/Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood/Jaap Schroder: again some but not all of this most comprehensive of surveys is on this set. You'll still want to buy the box set to go the "whole hog," which I call more of a "brick set" (like the venerable Antal Dorati/Philharmonica Hungarica Hadyn 104 symphonies 33-CD set).

Make no mistake, this is a heck of a "brick" as I call these over 10-CD collections. It's also a vindication of the CD enthusiast that we have such a comprehensive survey coming out on the medium. There still might be, however unlikely it seems, the need to purchase yet more recordings--never a problem for me--to aspire to the truly "complete" surveys of Mozart that are out there.

This all makes you want to pull out a year 2000 Penguin Guide to CDs. I am sure that nothing in this impressive survey is less than a **(*). I am sure that most of the recordings here are *** and that many a "Rosette" lurks in this set that perhaps might be better handled by UPS or FedEx due to its sheer weight.

Thanks for the article. It was enjoyable to go through the PDF, though there are still some gaps to the greatest "full collections" that are still out there. I guess it means that even after buying this, you'd better still have some spare dollars for yet more.


Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Universal could have put all that in the box, but I doubt they were prepared for all the legal claims after people got hernias and herniated discs while trying to lift the damn thing up.

hallam's picture

Just a couple of replies to the above:
Schiff- no sonatas but several shorter works and there are sonatas from his fortepiano recordings
Ashkenazy - No 26 K537 is there
Anda - No 21- K467 is there and there is quite a lot of Camerata Salzburg in the set.
ALL the keyboard concertos are available on fortepiano (Bilson or Levin); all the favourite ones are also available on modern piano.

dalethorn's picture

My mind is boggled, which is better than my brain being fried.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Mozart helps. Unless, of course, you're Donna Elvira. In that case, a 12-step group, at the least, is in order.

english pete's picture

As far as I can see all that's missing is a live recording of the composer himself!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

It was stolen by someone who was afraid that it would be converted to an MQA file. The reward for its return is vast.

english pete's picture

How very droll Mr. Serinus. :-)