I really like box sets as long as the set doesn’t contain several LPs that I don’t care for and as long as the box isn’t so big that storing it is very difficult. There are some exceptions, however, even to those two rules. One exception I made was to purchase both box sets of the Mercury Living Presence LPs even though there were several albums in the set that were duplicates of the original LPs I already owned. I sold the duplicates and store the originals I already had in the box set with the remainder of the set that I didn’t already own.
Another exception I’ve made has to do with the size of the boxed set. I love classical music, and I love to attend a performance when Michael Tilson Thomas is conducting the San Francisco Symphony. So, yes, I bought the 22-LP vinyl collector’s edition of Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony’s Mahler Project. There are just some things you have to make room for!
So, this is the first of maybe several posts in 2018 where I’m sharing with you some of my favorite vinyl box sets. These sets will come from several different genres, but this one starts with a bluegrass set and a classical set. Now, I think that’s diverse, or at least weird enough, to say something about the old Audio Beatnik’s taste in music.
Alison Krauss + Union Station Live
This 3-LP set is the eleventh album and the first live album by Alison Krauss and Union Station. All of the songs were recorded at The Louisville Palace on April 29–30, 2002 except for “Down to the River to Pray” which was performed at Austin City Limits. The album was released on November 5, 2002.
Alison Krauss was the first bluegrass singer to cross over into genuine pop marketability. As of 2018, she has won 27 Grammy Awards and has been nominated 42 times. This makes her the most awarded living recipient, second only to classical conductor Georg Solti who holds the record for most Grammy wins with 31. She is the most awarded singer and the most awarded female artist in Grammy history.
Unless you’re a bluegrass purist, that is, looking for music that preserves the traditional Appalachian sounds of Bill Monroe, you will probably find this one of the finest albums you have ever heard. It seems that every time Krauss opens her mouth to sing, angels stop what they’re doing and sing with her. I know of no musical pleasure quite as pure and sweet as listening to Krauss sing “When You Say Nothing at All.” And when she sings the very moving and beautiful gospel tune “Down to the River to Pray,” it almost brings me to tears.
I think this album is truly the crown jewel of Bluegrass and American Roots music, and yes I know, this box set is out of print and sells for a small fortune if you can find it, but my oh my what a performance. Whether it’s Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas’ masterful playing of the dobro, or the incomparable bluegrass band Union Station, the music is incredible. The live version of “New Favorite” is amazing. The album is both a musical and recording masterpiece. Even if you can’t find it on LP or SACD, get the CD, or better yet, someone needs to release it on vinyl!
Beethoven The Nine Symphonies, The Chicago Symphony, Sir Georg Solti
This may be one of my best finds over the years. I purchased this 9-LP London box set from Half Price Books for the whole sum of five dollars. I don’t think the LPs had ever been played. Every time Constantine Soo, the editor of Dagogo.com, comes over, it’s the first thing he wants to hear. The symphonies were recorded between 1972 and 1974 and released in 1975. Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s stereo recordings of Beethoven’s symphonies were very popular then and remain a classic 30 years later.
As was typical of the Solti/Chicago partnership, the performances were big-boned, bold, highly dramatic and matched by a powerful orchestra. I’m not an expert on classical music, but this is by far my favorite box set of Beethoven’s Symphonies. The vinyl is completely flat and incredibly quiet, which is so important for symphonic recordings with their long quiet passages.The soundstage is wide and deep and floats as only a great symphonic recording can. I have never heard the original Decca recordings, but I know I much prefer this early London pressing to the Decca remastered that was released in 2007.