When the USSR launched Sputnik, brainchild of Vasily Ryabikov, at the height of the Cold War, the U.S. launched Harvey Lavan Cliburn Jr., brainchild of Rildia Bee O'Bryan Cliburn. Although his apogee was not as high as the Soviet satellite's, pianist Van Cliburn still soared during his 20-year career. From 1958 when he won the Tchaikovsky Competition to 1978 when he retired after the death of his father and manager, Cliburn was a true classical superstar, playing for thousands of people and selling millions of records. This two-disc set, The Essential Van Cliburn, includes excerpts from many of Cliburn's most famous concerto performances on the first disc -- his spectacular Rachmaninov "Third" and his fabulous Tchaikovsky "First" with Kiril Kondrashin conducting the "Symphony of the Air," along with his Rachmaninov "Second," Brahms "Second," and Beethoven "Fifth" with Fritz Reiner conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra -- plus his most popular solo performances on the second disc -- his barn-storming Chopin "Heroic Polonaise," his jaw-dropping Liszt "Mephisto Waltz," his window-rattling Rachmaninov "C sharp minor Prélude," and his senses-shattering Debussy "Feux d'artifice," along with eight others. Although for some listeners Cliburn's rhetoric may seem a bit strident and his virtuosity may appear a tad questionable, for most listeners these are the performances that won the cultural cold war, and thus are beyond criticism. It should be added that RCA's stereo sound is uniformly big, bold, and brilliant.