Four CDs of P.D.Q. Bach probably seem like overkill -- anyone who has enjoyed Peter Schickele's "P.D.Q. Bach" performances probably knows that a little goes a long way. The problem is that the extant individual P.D.Q. Bach releases on Vanguard (like those by Joan Baez, Ian & Sylvia, et al.) were done early in the CD era and don't sound terribly good. This box, however, was done much more recently and it contains most of Schickele's best bits, the classic original albums An Evening With P.D.Q. Bach, An Hysteric Return, P.D.Q. Bach on the Air, The Stoned Guest, and The Intimate P.D.Q. Bach. The material on these albums was remarkably fresh in its time and still holds up reasonably well; as was always the case, the more one knows about classical music, the better one gets the joke and the longer the joke is sustained. There is one exception: "New Horizons in Music Appreciation," which always had universal appeal; it works exceptionally well not only because it is a delightful satire of the conventions of music appreciation classes, but also of television and radio sportscasting -- one needn't ever have heard a note of classical music to appreciate that particular track, but a few minutes of watching Monday Night Football in one's lifetime (as well as even a slight knowledge of Bob & Ray's work) wouldn't hurt. This package is not only reasonably priced as a compilation of material that, if bought separately, would cost about $10 more, but it also has new wraparounds dealing with the conversion to CDs that are pretty funny in their own right, plus fresh annotation on Schickele's career and the pieces themselves. The only drawback is that, even with the fresh remastering, there are a few too many variations in volume on the low side, although that can be adjusted. It's better audio than the individual CDs, but not as clean or sharp as it should be. The booklet is nicely informative and well-illustrated (complete with the Bach family tree extended to include this "descendant") and incorporates art from the original albums (it's great to have the diagram of the instrument called the pandemonium, "the loudest instrument ever created").
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