Jeremy Lee writes
Of course, for the small price that you have to pay, there is a small price that you have to pay (if you get what I mean), namely the absence of any written descriptions of the performers, the performance or the piece, and if any they are very simple (as with Universal’s Virtuoso). In their place are advertisements on other titles in the series, and if I’m honest they’re not terribly helpful when you want to know what the choir in the choral piece you’re listening to are shouting about. Sony/RCA’s Classical Masters box sets don’t even come with a shred of paper excepting those cardboard inserts holding the CDs.
But another price to pay if you’re not lucky is that you may come across some truly terrible performances. Lo and behold, this is exactly what I experienced after I bought my Karajan Mozart Requiem on DG’s Eloquence. Virtuoso’s offerings aren’t very special, but its offering of Pletnev’s set of Beethoven symphonies with the Russian National Orchestra was given a very low artistic rating by the review site Classics Today (read the review here).
EMI’s offerings are also heinous at times. Weissenberg isn’t the most consistent pianist ever, and his EMI offerings released on Encore and Red Line are very frequently criticized: his Goldberg Variations, which now appears on Red Line, is certainly one of the least satisfying readings the work has ever received (read Leonard’s review here). Otherwise the Red Line series consists of mostly mediocre efforts. Classics for Pleasure offers more or less unattractive recordings too–none are terribly awful, but none really deserve a very high recommendation.
Sony/RCA is more generous, and their Classical Masters series offers at worst not-so-famous performances, such as Giulini’s Bach Mass, Leinsdorf’s Prokofiev or Peter Serkin’s Goldberg Variations. But since I have never heard them, I am in no position to criticize them, and who knows? Perhaps these unheard-of performances would warrant my highest recommendation.