Jeremy Lee writes
Rapidly improving technology nowadays and the vast back catalog of recording labels mean that a few budget spin-off series of major labels have emerged, and the attractive price and normally starry names have attracted the attention of novices and experienced collectors alike. For novices, a great performance with respected performers of the trade at an accessible price is an essential portal to their discovery of the world of classical music; for collectors, it means a less wallet-wrenching way of obtaining the legendary performances they love.
However, it seems that the performances appearing on most budget series are not as famous or well-acclaimed as those issued on full-priced series, and it is economically understandable why labels choose to do so, though there exist a few labels whose budget series do offer consistently high-quality–even legendary–performances. This piece of Top Ear Consumer Advice, then, is written with a wish to advise buyers on the good, bad and ugly sides of buying budget.
Note: the following only reflects the situation in Hong Kong, and all prices are in Hong Kong dollars. And as always, your mileage may vary.
What budget series?
The three main labels who issue budget series are Universal (that means, DG, Decca and Philips), Sony Masterworks (Sony and RCA), and EMI.
Sony Masterworks has only one budget series, the “Sony/RCA Classical Masters” series, which started some time ago (though I’m not too sure exactly when).
Universal has two budget series, namely Eloquence (not Australian Eloquence–that’s mid-price territory) and Virtuoso, and generally Eloquence discs are less expensive than Virtuoso discs although this varies. Virtuoso started around the same time as the Sony/RCA Classical Masters series while Eloquence has been a rather long-running series.
EMI has three budget series one a rather long-running series called Encore, one an also long-running series called Classics for Pleasure, and lastly an ancient series called Red Line which enjoyed a stylistic/artistic refresh most recently. Another budget series-issuing label is Hyperion, though the series, called Helios, really isn’t inexpensive at all (at least $20 more than other budget labels). Naxos in itself is a budget label although that is another thing that I won’t include in my piece of advice today.
So then, I present you with Top Ear’s first piece of consumer advice: on budget series. Please click on the links below or scroll down to the respective sections. Happy discovering!