MOZART: Complete Sonatas for Keyboard and Violin – Rachel Podger, v./ Gary Cooper, fortepiano – Channel Classics (8 CDs)

MOZART: Complete Sonatas for Keyboard and Violin – Rachel Podger, v./ Gary Cooper, fortepiano – Channel Classics CCS Box 6414 (8 CDs), 562:46 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] (11/11/14) ***1/2 : 

The original SACD releases of most of the material included here have been covered by myself and others over recent years, so I’m not going to rehash the obvious, and it’s very easy to do a search here on this site to access the individual reviews. Both Rachel Podger and Gary Cooper are superb musicians, and their decision to take the historically-informed approach here by employing the baroque violin and fortepiano is the correct one. This material runs the gamut from what was once considered very “immature” Mozart to much later in his career, and the very virtuosic performances are as entertaining as they are enlightening! This eight-disc box set features the standard Red Book CD versions of these performances, and clocking in at just over 9 hours total, it’s a lot to digest, even for the most ardent Mozart fans. However, with the kind of soul-stirring performances that are so generously in evidence here, it feels a little unjust to complain about such an embarrassment of riches, especially given the very attractive midline pricing of this box.

My only quibble with this otherwise superb – and probably definitive (for baroque instrument performance of this repertory) set – is that, from a strict standpoint sound-wise, the sound does suffer a bit in comparison to the truly magnificent SACDs. I ripped these discs using dB Poweramp to my music server, with replay through the excellent HRT Music Streamer HD, and the sound quality is exemplary for a 44.1-based source. But the really immersive experience of hearing these recordings in multichannel sound adds so very much to the overall listening experience that it makes it tough to return to the confines of standard CD. Even though I strongly feel that my current stereo-only setup offers outstanding, seriously good sound for two-channel playback, when (via the multichannel SACDs) you’ve sat in the room virtually alongside Ms. Podger and Mr. Cooper, there very well may be no going back.

—Tom Gibbs

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