As Christmas brought music of the Baroque into focus – mainly thanks to Handel’s Messiah and its Hallelujah! Chorus – it’s timely to review ABC Classics’ great boxed set of CDs … it was our choice for a musical Christmas present. In the “Classic 100” series and with the title Baroque and Before this set comprises 8 CDs and over 10 hours of music, in the producers’ words “celebrating Western classical music from the earliest times to the Baroque”. It was six months ago that the Classic 100: Baroque and Before survey was counted down live on ABC Classic FM following contributions from music lovers across Australia.
In the quest to find the 100 most popular works of the period it was a clever ploy to include music before the Baroque as early works such as the anonymous Sumer is icumen in (no.100) are far less known than those by the towering Baroque figures: Bach, Handel and Vivaldi. Even Monteverdi (born a century earlier) just makes it into the top 20, with his Nigra sum from Vespers of the Blessed Virgin. The relative simplicity of earlier works also positions the Baroque period as one of extraordinary achievement, with its great concertos and massive choral works noteworthy in an enormous output of music.
Of course, aficionados of the Baroque will have already worked out that even with 8 CDs, 100 selections would mean that many works are only part of larger ones … and listeners may already have their own CDs or even LPs of favourite recordings. It might seem a missed opportunity not to have included more older recordings for contrast – but it would have been a nightmare in terms of copyright and negotiation, which would have increased the price. Besides, it can be refreshing to hear newer recordings, and it’s almost certain that the listener will be introduced to a “new” composer or version of a favourite work – and it’s good to have Australian artists at the forefront of all these CDs.
This boxed set relies on ABC Classics recordings for the most part, with its list featuring Sara Macliver, Yvonne Kenny, Jane Sheldon, Sally-Anne Russell, Fiona Campbell, Paul McMahon, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Elizabeth Wallfisch, Richard Tognetti, Diana Doherty, Tommie Andersson, Daniel Yeadon, Erin Helyard, Jacqueline Ogeil, Geoffrey Lancaster, Antony Walker, Paul Dyer, Graham Abbott, Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Orchestra of the Antipodes and Australian Chamber Orchestra.
It was probably predictable that the top two choices were Handel’s Messiah and Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. The full Top Ten, as presented on the first CD is:
- HANDEL Messiah: Hallelujah!
- VIVALDI The Four Seasons – Spring: I. Allegro
- ALLEGRI Miserere – excerpt
- HANDEL Water Music: Suite No. 1: VI. Air
- BACH St Matthew Passion: Mache dich, mein Herze, rein
- PACHELBEL Canon in D major
- PURCELL Dido and Aeneas: Dido’s Lament
- HANDEL Zadok the Priest
- HANDEL Music for the Royal Fireworks: IV. La Réjouissance
- TALLIS Spem in alium
For the full list – and to order – go to https://shop.abc.net.au/products/classic-100-baroque-and-before-8cd. At just under $60 it’s a good buy. Or consider the two-CD set with the Top Ten plus highlights. https://shop.abc.net.au/products/classic-100-baroque-and-before-top-10-2cd at $19.99.
As stated earlier this is Classic Melbourne’s choice of recordings. They are sure to be appreciated by someone you know … yourself, perhaps?
ABC Classics supplied the writer with a review copy of the full boxed set.