Various Artists

The Classic 100 Symphony

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Anyone who needs a crash course in the western symphonic tradition should seriously consider hearing the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's two-volume, eight-CD set of the most essential works in the genre, though beyond giving this survey the once-over, it may not seem like an essential item to own for the long term. Where it is a certain success is in the presentation of whole symphonies among its many excerpts, so the neophyte has a chance to hear entire works, instead of just isolated movements, which can mislead some beginners into thinking that the best-known snippets are the only worthwhile passages to know. Indeed, having complete symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven, Antonin Dvorák, Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky, Jean Sibelius, and Franz Schubert provides much more of a framework than a compilation of snippets could. The "Top Ten" symphonies were selected by polling listeners of ABC Classic FM radio, and their significance in music history demands that they receive a full workup. Beyond this, listeners are set loose to make what they will of the various movements by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Felix Mendelssohn, Anton Bruckner, Gustav Mahler, Robert Schumann, Hector Berlioz, and others, which at least give a taste of what their symphonies sound like. But after sampling this collection, the newcomer may well aspire to collect only complete recordings and move beyond this basic introduction. ABC's picks are largely played by orchestras from Sydney, Adelaide, and Melbourne, though performances by the Vienna Philharmonic and Berlin Philharmonic give this international prominence, and such well-known conductors as Herbert von Karajan, István Kertész, Lorin Maazel, Carlos Kleiber, Edo de Waart, Willem van Otterloo, and Zubin Mehta, among others, certainly lend cachet to this undertaking. The sound is generally good enough for study purposes, but because of the different recording dates and venues, listeners should expect some slight variability in clarity and volume between tracks.

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