I always welcome each new batch of these SONY budget box sets with anticipation. There are often many exciting reissues of long out-of-print recordings being rediscovered, along with a head-scratcher or two. This newest batch is no exception. But I think SONY is learning. This latest release of 10 appears to offer logical, all-inclusive and comprehensive collections with every one.
And fortunately, SONY pulled out all the stops with this Beethoven set from Michael Tilson Thomas. I'd like to focus on what is included here. We get all 9 symphonies Tilson Thomas recorded with the English Chamber Orchestra for CBS in the early 80s, right at the dawn of the digital era. These were reissued once that I know of, in CBS's "DDD Extended Play" series, not long before SONY acquired the entire catalog. Most have been out of print for decades. So they make a welcome reappearance here. There were no overtures included on those early reissues, only the 12 Contradances. However, SONY has found Egmont Overture, from these same forces, to include in this new box set.
I'll not go into details about the performances, which should be self-recommending, other than to emphasize the obvious - these are played by a chamber orchestra. They are therefore small-scaled and more intimate than MTT's later, big-band recordings with the San Francisco Symphony. It's fascinating to compare the two sets.
And I'm happy to report that someone at SONY had the brilliant foresight to also include in this box MTT's album of Beethoven "Late Choral Works", recorded in 1975 with the London Symphony Orchestra and Ambrosian Singers. Each of these 13 selections has been spread out and added as fillers to each disc of symphonies.
SONY no longer labels these sets as having been remastered in their ubiquitous "24-bit" process, which may or may not be a good thing. I've experienced mixed results with this remastering technique as implemented by SONY. I therefore have to assume these current sets have not been remastered at all. However, after sampling the analog recording of King Stephen selections, I can say they are a bit smoother than before, which is a good thing - they were not the best recordings to begin with. For those interested in surround sound, Dutton has just released this original Quadraphonic "Late Choral Works" album on a 2-SACD set of MTT miscellany (which also includes his Cleveland Carmina Burana and some Gershwin), which improves the sound even further.