Various Artists

111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon

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Containing six discs and 111 tracks, Deutsche Grammophon's 111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon is a sprawling collection of single items drawn largely from its enormous 55 CD 111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon The Collector's Edition. The good news is that it's not a very expensive product, and the package itself is pretty impressive; the box contains a sort of over-wide digipak with six slim plastic holders inside and a slim booklet with complete track listings, but only six lines of notes. Although much of its contents are excerpted, DG at least tries to keep to complete movements and to mix them up with pieces that are reasonably complete in themselves. Perhaps it's too much to expect that the collection itself has some coherence as a whole, which it does not; you would need an A-list producer to put together something this big and diverse and to have it flow forward in a continuously pleasing thread. This is more like the kids putting together a nice -- if very long -- mixtape from mom and dad's record collection.

The whole 111 years concept, though, is rather disingenuously executed: while it is true that at one time DG was the world's oldest label to operate under the same basic management structure -- and the only one to reach the century mark in duration -- but in its 101st year DG was folded into a conglomerate along with the other former Polygram-distributed classical labels under the Universal Music Group banner. This collection reflects the combined holdings of the conglomerate, rather than the DG label itself, though admittedly most of the selections were released by DG. However, the oldest selection included -- Enrico Caruso singing "O paradiso dall'onde uscito" from Meyerbeer's L'Africaine -- was recorded in 1907 at Victor's New York studio; likewise, Jascha Heifetz's "Ain't Necessarily So" was recorded in 1945 at American Decca in New York; this latter track was acquired as a result of the 1999 merger and the former was licensed from BMG. Although it may have been founded in 1898 by Emile Berliner, the era in which DG made its mark was in the postwar period of the 1950s and '60s, and there's precious little of that represented here; most of these selections are from the 1970s forward, with an emphasis on relatively recent or current DG artists. Of course, if you are hoping to promote artists who are still making money for you, then that would be the way to go. Apart from its egregious anti-historicity, Deutsche Grammophon's 111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon might be a nice collection for a neophyte classical listener to connect with a big bunch of literature and expert artists at one time, and we repeat: it is not very expensive. However, it covers such a wide variety of material that to suggest that any one listener might be so inclusive that he/she would enjoy every single track in this collection would be overstating it by a lot and this is not helped by the eclectic sequencing and that the relative balance between tracks is rather wide owing to a high variance between volume levels.

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