Album Title: 111 years of Deutsche Grammophon
Performer: Too many to list
Label: Deutsche Grammophon box set containing 55 reference CDs
Run time: long, very long
Recorded: Too many to list

Christmas was good to me this year. Although launched a year ago and now not quite as easy to find, the 111 years of Deutsche Grammophon 55 CD anthology made its way to the foot of our christmas tree. Obviously when a label like DG puts an anthology together, criticisms and second guessing will be all over the internet. There's simply no way that 55 discs picked out of 1000s will please everybody. Not enough contemporary music for some, not enough pre-classical music for others, no Sinopoli, no Bruckner, no Mirella Freni... valid requests all except that the whole set costs barely over $100, bringing us over 50 reference recordings (and they truly are) for about $2/ea. Personally I say thank you DG as I only owned three of these recordings until now. What a deal and what a fantastic opportunity to add truly stellar references to my collection.

Of course one could legitimately question the 111-years theme considering that the oldest recording here is from 1951; or the inclusion once more of Karajan's 1962 recording of Beethoven's Ninth symphony - but let's focus on the positives. I cannot name all the discs that caught my attention but for a few, Barenboim's amazing Ravel recording with l'Orchestre de Paris has to be close to the very top of my favorite list - right next to Emil Gilel's recording of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas and Rameau's Symphonie Imaginaire by Minkowski. Other all-time references include Kempff's recording of Beethoven's 4th and 5th Piano Concertos, Vivaldi's Four Seasons by Trevor Pinnock and Simon Standage or Maria Joao Pires in Chopin's Nocturnes. In the end however nothing was more personally exciting than hearing for the first time some really excellent and new to me recordings.

Gustavo Dudamel in Mahler's 5th was a true revelation as was Gardiner in Monteverdi and even Lang Lang in Tchaikovky's 1st Piano Concerto did not elicit the negative reaction I usually get from listening to his soulless and mechanical play. Only Hilary Hahn failed again to grab my interest. Of course I wish the set had included recordings by Gil Shaham, Pinchas Zukerman or Agnes Baltsa just to name three house artists who did not make it into this collection. And I probably would have liked a little less Bach and Chopin for a Bruckner symphony instead but the truth is, the 111-years set covers artists and recordings from 1951 to today from the stars of yesterday to the marketing-hyped musicians of today (some of them quite good like Kozena or Dudamel), from West Side Story and Beethoven's Ninth to music rarely heard. Considering the size of the catalog to choose from, it must not have been easy to reject so many other great recordings.

I can't think of a better collection to cost-effectively take a first dive into classical music. You can feel certain that the discs included here are not suddenly going to be out of fashion. For long-time lovers of classical, it's also an opportunity to own a huge list of references that you may have missed for a very reasonable price - and in today's world you can always copy the 55 CDs to a server and resell your set used. What's not to love?