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Among the singers, there is a warm and avuncular presentation of Brahms's Liebeslieder Waltzes where Benjamin Britten, a brilliant pianist as well as conductor and composer, teams up at the piano with the no less august virtuoso Claudio Arrau. The four singers are Heather Harper, Janet Baker, Peter Pears and Thomas Hemsley. Galina Vishnevskaya's dark but authoritative performance of Mussorgsky songs, accompanied by Igor Markevitch and the London Symphony Orchestra, is surely one of the highlights of the entire series (Britten sub-series BBCB-8001). Also of special note is the silver throated soprano Lucia Popp who offers a sublime recital of Mozart, Schubert, Strauss, Dvorák and Mahler (BBCL 4025).

Lucia Popp on BBC Legends
Lucia Popp on BBC Legends

One added bonus: some of these sets include bonus tracks devoted to broadcast interviews with the musicians. Both Horenstein and Barbirolli emerge as articulate and charming, while the self effacing Myra Hess has a delicate sense of humor. Sir Thomas Beecham offers comments that are at once no-nonsense and a bit tongue-in-cheek.

According to series producer Stephen Wright, BBC Music plans to issue about fifteen to thirty CDs each year. Interviewed from his office at IMG Artists in London, Wright explains that the series will continue 'for as long as the archives provide quality material. In principle it can go on for a long time. Though we choose celebrated artists of the past, we try to find works they never recorded commercially, or things that they did record but where the performance is so tremendous that re-issuing it becomes worthwhile'.

That's what I'd call the making of a legend in its own right.

Copyright © 8 December 2002 John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA




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