Bach Guild Big Box Sets

By Daniel McAdam.

It struck us the other day that we have purchased a number of Bach Guild offerings, which appears on the surface to contradict advice we've given elsewhere about purchasing recordings, particularly on the Best Available Recording page. Hence, a word or two of explanation is probably in order.

The original Bach Guild was founded shortly after World War II by two brothers, Seymour and Maynard Solomon, with the initial goal of issuing recordings of every Bach cantata ever composed. Under the Solomon Brothers, the Bach Guild expanded upon this vision and released numerous excellent recordings from the 1950s into the 1970s. The Bach Guild today is owned by Entertainment One Ltd., and the company is well-known for releasing multi-hour classical downloads via Amazon at very low prices, often as low as 99 cents.

So, on to our deviations from our own direction and excuses for same:



In general, we advise against purchasing compilations, and the Bach Guild recordings are, of course, compilations. But our chief reason for arguing against compilations is that one often gets incomplete works. To choose an example at random, take Classical Music for the Reader 3, also offered on Amazon. It seems like a very nice album, and would probably work well for its stated purpose of being music to read by, so we are not criticizing it per se; but for someone wanting to deepen one's familiarity with classical music, it is more of a tasting than a repast. We do not get the full Carnival of the Animals, just The Swan. We do not get the full Piano Sonata No.8 in C Minor, "Pathétique", but only the second movement, and so on.

Bach Guild offerings - we cannot bring ourselves to call them box sets, because there are no real boxes - are not like that. In general, when a work appears on a recording, it is the full work. For instance, on the Little Big Sibelius Box, which contains over four hours of music, one hears the entire Karelia Suite, and the entire five symphonies. So yes, they are compilations, but not compilations of what one might view as mere, "snippets."


Purchasing from Want Lists

We admit it; at 99 cents, the Bach Guild downloads are impulse buys. For the price of a candy bar, and for much less than the price of a Starbucks macchiato, one can purchase seven hours of chamber music, eight hours of Nikolaus Harnoncourt recordings, etc. Are we buying things we really don't need, when we should be buying things we do?

That's a difficult question to answer. On each of the offerings, we've found a great deal of music we did want, along with a small amount that we could probably have lived without. Did we mention that these often cost only 99 cents?


Best Available Recording

The question here is, are the Bach Guild recordings the best available of a particular work? Surprisingly, some are. One can read the Amazon reviews (and for the Bach Guild recordings, the reviews are usually very well-written) and often find remarks along the lines of, "The performance of such and such by so and so is worth the price alone." This has been our experience as well. Obviously, the downloads are in MP3 format but, given that the source is pre-digital anyway, that is hardly an issue.

In sum, we are guilty of violating our own guidance to some degree, and must view the Bach Guild recordings as particularly harmless guilty pleasures.



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