There's always a last minute when Christmas creeps up on us. Here are six terrific sets of classical CDs or DVDs that are possibilities for the tardy shopper and for anyone wanting to leave 2013 in the right spirit and prepare for a sustenance-filled new year.
"Selected Signs III-VIII": This strange title for an arty white box holding six CDs of sophisticated selections is taken from an exhibition in Munich, Germany. Musically, it consists of a compilation of selections from the ECM label that are heavily weighted toward spiritual Eastern European minimalism and spiritually minimalist Western jazz as an aural environment continuing hour after enthralling hour. ($61.50)
"Belshazzar": Handel’s “Messiah” owns Christmas. But on Dec. 26 it’s time to move on to something else. This new recording of Handel’s Babylonian oratorio is the first release from Les Arts Florissants, a new label that conductor William Christie has founded to release recordings by his ensemble. The performance is a revelation, sung and played with remarkable theatrical finesse, beautifully packaged and including a special booklet with an essay on Babylon by the graceful French novelist Jean Echenoz. ($24.99)
"Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts With the New York Philharmonic, Vol. 2." With this nine-DVD set of 27 more television shows from 1960 to 1972, Bernstein engages not only young people but all people in Bach, Beethoven, the anatomy of the orchestra, Aaron Copland, acoustics, Charles Ives, foreigners who write French music, the kazoo, you name it. There is not a dull minute. ($132.79)
"Boulez: Complete Works." It’s not really complete. The 13-CD set from Deutsche Grammophon leaves out an enchanting recent Ravel orchestration as well as older big pieces that Boulez has removed from his catalog (but were once recorded and can still be found) and other marginalia. But what is here, in consistently outstanding performances, is an overview of the great French composer -- who is still with us and maybe still, at 88, writing – known not only for the formidable complexity of his music but its ear-popping color and fanciful dramatic gestures that stimulate the ear with startling immediacy. ($52.63)
"Busoni: Late Piano Music." Marc-André Hamelin, the killer Canadian virtuoso is the soloist, and for keyboard fanciers who can’t get enough of 10 fingers doing what it should take 20 to do, that’s all they need to know. But the revelation for many will be how this Hyperion three-CD set brings the inventive and sometimes flamboyant 20thcentury Italian modernist composer so much to life that it becomes unimaginable that Busoni could be so neglected. Amid the dozens of works here, based on everything from Bach to music by Native Americans, are two short Christmas gems. ($40.04)
"Orient-Occident II: Hommage á la Syrie." The Spanish early-music viol master and cult figure Jordi Savall (who will be coming to Walt Disney Concert Hall in March) has a passion for early music, a passion for Middle Eastern music, a passion for producing recordings presented in gorgeously illustrated and vastly informative books and a passion for peace. Here, from Naxos, are all the above in a project that brings together traditional Syrian musicians with Savall’s period instrument ensemble Hespèrion XXI. It works brilliantly, reminding what it means to be a crossroads, as Spain once was, rather than a battlefield as Syria now is. ($8.99)