Guilty Pleasure via Reader’s Digest
The 12 LP box set of “Adventures in Light Classical Music” is everywhere. Thousand upon thousand of these sets were produced by RCA under contract with Reader’s Digests. For years, I passed them over in my hunts through re-use bins and flea markets because – well, because they were Reader’s Digest, the folks that abridged books in the belief that Americans didn’t have time for the full read – the harbingers of the sound bite. If, by extension, they were going to offer highlight teases in music, I wanted no part in that butchery. But then a fellow rummager turned my head and convinced me to give them a go, “If for no other reason, the sound is amazing”, he said.
And he was right. The recordings are excellent, made by RCA sometime in the early 60s (no dates anywhere in set) in Cyclophonic Stereo. This has to be the precursor of Living Stereo, if not the genuine article. The various works are acquitted quite well by the New Symphony Orch. Of London under Gibson and Boult, the Vienna State Opera Orch. under Gruber and Desarzens, the Paris Symphony Orch. under Leibowitz and the Orchestra Filarmonica di Roma under Massimo Freccia.
There are all the standards familiar to nearly everyone including, tons of Strauss waltzes, play it again Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Wagner, Mozart, etc., etc. To their credit, the folks at Reader’s Digest expand on some familiar sound bites. The theme from Alfred Hitchcock’s Presents, is given its full rendition due as Gounod’s "Funeral March of a Marionette". (If anyone wants the complete listing, I’ll be happy to post.)
I paid on the low end of the $3 to $10 range that I’ve seen for this box set and many that I’ve examined are in NM if not, unplayed condition. (Owned to impress and not to play, I guess.) I’m told that there are also a half dozen sets (6 LPs each) dedicated to individual composers that are also recorded in Cyclophonic Stereo – but these are harder to come by as collectors seem to snag up these puppies. Don’t confuse these with the Time-Life/RCA partnership that produced so-so box sets called “Great Men of Music”. Also be advised that the equally prolific RD/RCA box sets of “Music of the World’s Great Composers” (1959) are mono.
“Festival in Light Classical Music” is a box of sparkling gems that will provide many evenings of aural pleasure. Just because these sets are common in number and directed at the common masses, they shouldn’t be overlooked. They contain a parade of uplifting performances that were recorded, mastered and pressed at a breakthrough moment in vinyl fidelity.