Decca's five-CD set Ultimate Beethoven is a respectable beginner's introduction to the music of Ludwig van Beethoven because it presents his greatest masterworks in complete performances by major artists. Where some other collections present only short, thematic excerpts or single movements taken from larger works, obliging the listener to put in additional effort to hear the whole compositions, this set leaves nothing incomplete. Central to Beethoven's output are his symphonies, and the Symphony No. 5 in C minor; the Symphony No. 6 in F major, "Pastoral"; and the Symphony No. 9 in D minor, "Choral" have long been regarded as essential works.
Five discs - five conductors - four orchestras - nine composers - 28 works: Decca's collection Ultimate Baroque is as one might imagine a mixed bag. The best of the set is I Musici's sweet and fresh 1996 recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, with Mariana Sirbu as the lighter-than-air and younger-than-springtime soloist and Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields' stately yet sprightly 1971 recording of Bach's four Suites for orchestra, and Raymond Leppard and the English Chamber Orchestra's robust and rambunctious 1970 and 1972 recordings of Handel's Water Music suites and Music for the Royal Fireworks.
Billy Eckstine was looking back more than forward by 1960, and his second record for Roulette featured two remakes of familiar hits he'd enjoyed almost 20 years earlier. He also covered two average themes from forgottable movies, the first being the title song (from a Yul Brynner vehicle), the second being "Secret Love" (from a Doris Day film). It may read like a desultory date, and indeed it would have been if not for the presence of a solid jazz band and the surprisingly sympathetic arrangements of big-brass auteur Billy May.