This news may seem quite late for some discerning buyers, but late news is better than no news, because it’s important: another budget label has entered the Hong Kong market. You may have seen a few albums of that series in certain unpretentious corners of some shops, selling at an unmistakably un-budget price, but never in a large quantity. Well, those previous issues were merely discrete imports, and because they were never really imported by bulk they were never the “budget” label they seem to claim to be. The news is that a week ago, the label has been officially imported here, and may give Sony and EMI something to worry about—welcome, everyone, to Australian Eloquence!
Yes, it’s that Eloquence that previously only Australians could enjoy. Classics Today’s comprehensive reviews of that series donkey’s years ago gave us a first taste of its goodness, but we at Top Ear never had the privilege to hear any of them until recently. Which brings up the inevitable question: what’s the difference between the previous Eloquences we had in Hong Kong (let’s call it “International Eloquence from now on), with this new Australian series?
Well, it has a more attractive, minimalist cover design, and mostly everything—the back cover, the spine and so on—is yellowy-beige in color. And when you open the case, you’ll discover something absent in most other budget series albums (including International Eloquence): booklet notes! They’re only in English, but they’re detailed and well-written, and even include technical details. Most interestingly, Australian Eloquences come in single-CD, 2-CD and 3 or 4-CD formats, unlike International Eloquence (which rarely comes in 2-fer formats) and most other budget labels except Sony’s Classical Masters, and a single CD is yours from $65 up. The 2-fers are slightly more expensive, at around $98, and the 3/4-CD sets even more expensive still, but they’re mostly much less expensive than those of mid-priced series.
Best of all, while many budget labels simply release the content of some of their full-priced CDs onto their budget CDs and strip off the booklet notes, Australian Eloquence rarely does that. Ashkenazy’s Mahler 3rd (no matter how mixed the reviews are) has never been released anywhere else on CD according to my best knowledge, and so has Larrocha’s selection of Spanish piano concertos. But when they do such a thing (such as Mehta’s Mahler 1st and 3rd, also on Double Decca, but which seems rather unobtainable at the moment), it often makes for an even more compelling acquisition, not least because it’s significantly less expensive, but also because it includes booklet notes. And most of the performances offered on Australian Eloquence are extremely reliable and at times legendary (much like Sony’s Classical Masters series), unlike International Eloquence which has become somewhat of a mixed bag.
We at Top Ear welcome Australian Eloquence heartily, and since we have purchased some of its offerings we will consider reviewing some of them in due course. Meanwhile, as you wonder what other budget series are available in Hong Kong, here’s Jeremy’s survey on budget series written earlier on.