Jeremy Lee writes
Besides the budget price (ranging from around $45 to $75 depending on what label and where you buy), there’s also the obvious advantage of obtaining great performances by great performers if you’re lucky.
Two examples of how Universal’s Eloquence series can be a great deal: Mehta’s Holst Planet Suite/Star Wars with the Los Angeles Philharmonic (of which Leonard owns a copy), and Haitink’s Mahler Das Lied von der Erde with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, both of which are highly acclaimed and stand as reference recordings of their respective works. The Virtuoso series hasn’t been all that impressive so far, but it does have Abbado’s Mahler 1 and 5 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (which are at least fine performances of two great works), as well as another reissue of the aformentioned Mehta Holst.
EMI’s Encore has around 250 titles, and most of the performances are very fine. My picks include Michelangeli’s Brahms Paganini Variations, Oistrakh’s Brahms and Mozart Violin Concertos, Zacharias’ Mozart Piano Concertos, as well as Ogdon’s massive Busoni Piano Concerto. Red Line before the artistic refresh had such performances as Tennstedt’s Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn–a masterly performance, but refreshed titles were not that impressive so far, with only Popp/Tennstedt’s Strauss Four Last Songs to be a truly attractive performance. Classics for Pleasure’s releases are rather mediocre, two major picks being Rattle’s Mahler 10 with Bournemouth (though many report that it has been surpassed entirely by his Berlin Philharmonic remake; nevertheless, I own it and I am glad to report to you that it’s a very fine performance in itself), and Horenstein’s Mahler 4 with the London Philharmonic.
Sony/RCA may only have one budget series under their name, but it’s by far the most satisfying and consistent in my opinion. As well as single CDs, they also have 2CD sets and box sets of your choice, all at a very reasonable budget price. My picks are too many to list down, but the really shiny gems include Glenn Gould’s Bach, Fleisher/Szell’s Beethoven and Brahms Piano Concertos, Bernstein’s Bernstein, Solti’s Verdi Requiem, Levine’s Mahler, Reiner’s Strauss and a generous dollop of Horowitz.