The Penguin Guide To Compact Discs (and its predecessors) has been guiding discerning classical music purchasers for a good many years. The Penguin Guide will always retain a special place in the world of recorded music because of its unique and much coveted rosettes. Over the years a select number of recordings have been acknowledged with a charming little graphic known as a rosette.
The editors explain it like this: A rosette is a quite arbitrary compliment by a member of the reviewing team to a recorded performance that, he finds, shows special illumination, magic, a spiritual quality or even outstanding production values that place it in a very special class.
It’s my experience that the rosettes are well worth taking seriously and usually deliver exactly what is promised: a very special recording with a sometimes magical quality.
The good people at Universal Music have done everyone a great favour by reissuing a selection of their rosetted recordings as mid-price specials. This pretty much means that they are no-brainer best buys. I don’t want to sound like a late night TV commercial but there’s really nothing bad to say about these recordings and there really is something for everyone from Bruckner symphonies to baroque recorder recitals. These are a few personal favourites from the collection:
John Elliot Gardiner’s version of Gluck’s Iphigenie En Tauride is sublime, his pacing energetic and perfectly felt. The orchestra of the Op? de Lyon gives everything that Gardiner demands and Diana Montague and Thomas Allen are wonderful. Although I love Minkowski’s recent version of this opera, there is something quite remarkable and unbeatable about the emotional cohesion that Gardiner achieves.
Magic is also a word that I would use to describe Alfred Brendel’s Haydn Sonatas. Brendel is a pianist that I have always admired but one that I have only slowly come to love. This recording has all the careful intellectual consideration that makes him admirable, as well as the sense of wonder that makes him lovable.
Treasures Of Baroque Opera is a startling collection of beautiful arias from a set of brilliant singers. If this is a chocolate box collection, let’s just say the chocolate is Belgian. It has expected favourites from Rinaldo and Dido (yes, you guessed which ones) but also includes equally beautiful less well-known pieces well worth discovering.