On the back cover of the booklet for this set are ads for other boxes in the series -- "4 CDs for the price of 3," reads one. And you can get another, better yet, at "9 CDs for the price of 3." This box of Italian string quartets, at 10 CDs for the price of three, must therefore be the best of all, right? Actually, all these cheapo boxes generally accomplish is the devaluation of the music inside, but if there's a purpose for them at all, it is to provide overviews of unusual repertoires. This release by the Quartetti di Venezia would seem to do that, for Italy is not the country that springs to mind when one thinks of the string quartet from the late eighteenth through the early twentieth centuries -- the string quartet, with its high-minded aims, was a quintessentially Germanic genre. The set includes the String Quartet in E minor of Giuseppe Verdi, the only really well-known work in the bunch. If you've ever wondered what else was happening among Italian instrumentalists, you can learn a lot from this set, but its range could have been even greater. The first three discs are devoted to the quartets of Luigi Boccherini, all of them attractive works but none actually composed in Italy (Boccherini moved to Paris and then to Spain, where he worked for most of his life). Discs 4, 5, and 6 present the complete quartets of Antonio Bazzini, a composer and violinist who sought to promote instrumental music in a country whose musical life was dominated by opera. His six quartets are inspired by successive waves of Central European music, which he emulates with consummate skill. Not knowing their origin, it would be hard to guess that these works were Italian. By the time of the String Quartet No. 6 in F, written in the 1890s, Bazzini had clearly made the acquaintance of Dvorák's string quartets with their folkish rhythms and pentatonic scales; even this example did not inspire him to try to evoke the vernacular musical world of his own country. Cutting the tracklist back to one or two Bazzini quartets would have permitted the inclusion of other composers, as would the elimination of some of Malipiero's quartets, which are available elsewhere. The strongest discs in the set are the seventh and eighth, which offer the Verdi quartet, an elegiac single-movement quartet piece by Puccini, a student effort by the operatic composer Riccardo Zandonai, and two works by Ottorino Respighi, one fairly youthful and one mature. The latter, the Quartetto Dorico of 1924, is a nice find. In place of the gigantic orchestral palette of his tone poems Respighi deploys a language characterized by rapidly shifting rhythms and musical gestures. It still contains the basic moods of his larger pieces, and it's unlike anything else in the quartet repertoire. The piece perhaps demands a more tense performance than it's given here by the Quartetti di Venezia, but the group is competent in rendering a wide range of material. It is likely that most listeners will find three CD's worth of music they like here.