Even single CDs are not necessarily cheap, we know, some running just under $20. But for that special classical-music loving friend who warrants a gift this year that's over and above the norm, there are a whole slew of newly issued boxed sets of CDs or CD anthologies that would fill the bill very nicely and give your friend listening pleasure throughout 1991.
Here are some choices to ponder:
Corelli -- 12 Concerti Grossi, Op. 6; I Solisti Italiani (Denon 7416 8/6 9 -- 2 CDs). Sumptuous performances of the magnum opus by the man whose development of violin techniques and literature are incalculable. Includes the famous "Christmas Concerto," one of the most delectable of all baroque concertos.
Percy Grainger -- Complete Piano Music: pianist Martin Jones; Vol. 1, Original Works (Nimbus 5220); Vol. 2, Arrangements (Nimbus 5232); Vol. 3, Folksong Arrangements (Nimbus 5244); Vol. 4, Transcriptions and Original Works (Nimbus 5255); Vol. 5 (to be announced). The eccentric and wonderful Grainger's quirks and his overriding, totally unself-conscious musicianship are all here to be heard in affecting performances by Martin Jones.
Handel -- 12 Concerti Grossi, Op. 6; I Solisti Italiani (Denon 81757 6305 -- 3 CDs). This set is as splendidly played as I Solisti Italiani's Corelli concertos listed above, my only qualm being a tendency in Handel to a brusque treatment of allegro movements.
Handel -- Messiah (2 recordings); (1) soloists Michael, Dami, Van Nes, Blochwitz and Fink, Ensemble Vocal et Instrumental de Lausanne conducted by Michel Corboz (Erato 45497 -- 2 CDs); (2) soloists Schwarzkopf, Hoffman, Gedda, Hines, Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Otto Klemperer (EMI/Angel 63621 -- 3 CDs). Here are two vastly contrasting "Messiahs." Corboz conducts the streamlined Mozart version of the score, in German, and in a generally light, lyrical manner. Klemperer's is a reissue of a 1965 original, in English, with the traditional large orchestra and chorus, and generally broader, slower tempos.
Joplin -- Complete Rags, pianist William Albright (MusicMasters 7061 -- 2 CDs). Albright is one of the foremost proponents of this unique American art form. His performances have just the right combination of vitality, stride, pliancy and nonchalance to make a very persuasive statement of each of Joplin's 34 rags. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first recording of the "complete" rags, so wholly apart from the performance level, this is a very valuable document.
Rachmaninoff -- Symphony No. 1, "The Isle of the Dead" (Virgin 90830); Symphony No. 2, "Vocalise" (Virgin 90831); Symphony No. 3, "Symphonic Dances" (Virgin 90832); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton (3 separate CDs). Litton seems to be maturing, as these CDs of the complete Rachmaninoff symphonies show a good grasp of the composer's dark melancholy style and long cantilena lines.
Satie -- Complete Piano Music, pianist Frank Glazer (VoxBox 5011 -- 2 CDs). The famous old LP VoxBoxes are now back in CD form, and this wonderful collection played by the much underrated Glazer makes a fine reintroduction. His feeling for the whimsy, sarcasm, casual lyricism and hidden sensual beauty of Satie, an even greater eccentric than Grainger, with great sensitivity.
Scarlatti -- Anthologie (56 sonatas), harpsichordist Scott Ross (Erato 45422 -- 3 CDs). Here is a huge collection still representing less than 10 percent of Scarlatti's 600-plus sonatas. Ross has all the agility and freedom of phrasing required to make this music fly with real excitement.
Vivaldi -- 12 Concerti Grossi, Op. 8; violinist Monica Huggett and the Raglan Baroque Players conducted by Nicholas Kraemer (Virgin 90803 -- 2 CDs). Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" has become ubiquitous. Here are those four concertos in impeccably light, authentic but expressive baroque style, plus the eight other equally worthy concertos of Vivaldi's Op. 8, which rarely are heard.