Various Artists

Best Classics 50

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Despite the skepticism its title may engender, EMI's Best Classics 50 is a decent sampler of what many consider to be the greatest hits of classical music, independent of subjective preferences or special pleading for some overlooked gem. The picks on this three-disc set are justifiable for not only being well-known, memorable, and popular, but also for having a proven record with classical experts and the public alike. Some of the masterpieces are represented here by only a movement or a short excerpt, which space constraints obviously require, so listeners need to be aware that these are not all complete works; the selections are merely intended to provide easy access into these compositions, in many cases by presenting their most familiar themes. The recordings range from 1959 to 1997, with most dating from the 1970s and '80s, so there is a fair amount of variability in the sound quality, but EMI has adjusted for that in the digital mastering and balanced setting of volume levels, so there are no sudden, loud surges to make one lunge for the controls. As is usually the case with collections of this kind, listeners benefit most from using it to identify pieces they like, then identifying good recordings of the complete work. In this respect, the artists of EMI are certainly worth considering, and this set can also serve as an introduction to the label's extensive backlist.

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