, February 2001
"For over a decade, the Hong Kong-based record company of HNH International Ltd, through its Naxos, Marco Polo and related labels, has brought pleasure to millions of classical music lovers with its extensive range of quality, budget-priced CDs. With those discussed here, however, it has surely exceeded all expectations. Why? Each 2-CD compilation, lasting over 150 minutes, is accompanied by a book providing a vast amount of information, and each set is available at a cost less than that of the average single CD!
"The A to Z of Opera book (760 pages) begins with a historical overview of the growth of opera and its development in various countries. This is followed by information on over 750 operas, including a synopsis, and a list of the characters in some of the more important. Biographical details of more than 200 composers of opera follow and are succeeded by a 30-page glossary of 125 terms found in opera (and other music), a list of the illustrations in the volume and an index of operas, listed by composer.
"Given the number of composers listed in the book, it's something of a surprise to find that 22 of the 38 tracks on the CDs are devoted to the music of only seven composers: five each to Verdi and Puccini, four to Mozart and two each to Gluck, Handel, Wagner and Bizet. The works are in approximately chronological order, from Monteverdi's Orfeo (1607) to Korngold's Die tote Stadt (1920) and are mostly items from the standard repertory. Where relevant, lists of recommended recordings are included, these, naturally, being limited to those on Naxos and its family members. Newcomers to the genre will probably do better to start with the second disc and go to the first once they have become accustomed to the medium. Handel's "Largo" (CD 1, track 4) is sung by the tenor József Mukk, not the soprano named in the leaflet with the discs, but all the other information for this track is correct, as confirmed by Naxos.
"The book of The A to Z of Classical Music is the second, expanded edition and has 562 pages. The first 400 are devoted to "The Great Composers and Their Greatest Works", a title sure to raise eyebrows when some of the entries are considered. Each of the more than 200 entries provides biographical information on the composer and, where relevant, summarises under sub-headings the different types of music composed. Recommended recordings, on the same basis as those for the opera excerpts, are included where available. A 60-page glossary of about 275 musical terms follows and the book ends with a list of classical music used in films, given by film title, and a list of the illustrations.
"The 36 items on these discs are, like those on the opera set, arranged in approximately chronological order, from Gregorian chant to Philip Glass. Many of the (mostly excerpted) works are from the standard repertory and, as with the opera set, newcomers would do well to start with the second disc. In this collection, each composer is limited to a single item; and only seven are common to both this and the opera set. Only one work, Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries", is duplicated. The leaflet with the discs also provides a useful reference to the relevant page in the book.
"The author of both books is Keith Anderson, to whom highest praise must be given for meticulously completing what must have been a hugely time-consuming task. Their value far exceeds the cost of the set of which each is part.
"Whether you're a newcomer to classical music and/or opera, or a confirmed devotee, these two sets, especially with their books, are a bargain not to be missed."