Friday, December 23, 2011

Bruckner: Symphony nº 5 - C von Dohnányi/Cleveland Orch (1993)

This was Davide's Christmas rip for Chamaeleo (and all the rest of us have a chance to hear it as well).

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hommage à Scott Ross (orgue et clavecin)

Time here for some earlier music again, I think.

These are part of the French Institut National de l'Audiovisuel's INA/mèmoire vive series, released from their incredibly rich recording archive. They're beginning to disappear from the catalogue; hope to find a few more before they're introuvable.

Ross plays Bull, Blow, de Cabezón, Correa de Arauxo, P de Araujo, Frescobaldi, Scheidt, JS Bach and d'Anglebert on the first CD (organ; recorded 1974-75), and Forqueray, Duphly and JS Bach on the second (harpsichord; recorded in several sessions in 1979, 1981 and 1983). The set was issued in 1999.

Out of print, as far as I can tell. One file per disc, .flac+cue (small covers and a tracklist in the first folder; scans in a separate link -- see comments).

Rachmaninov: Piano concerto nº 3 in D minor Op30 - Sgouros/Simonov, Berlin Phil (1983)

From Davide:

This one is a favourite lost recording of mine. Greek forgotten mega-virtuoso Dimitris Sgouros was 15 and at the peak of a promising career which alas didn't last for the same obscure reasons which brought to unexpected oblivion the name of too many pianists... pressure? Sudden fame when still too young to cope with lots of engagements in the concert halls of the world instead of - say - playing football in the courtyard with your pals? Who knows....

Sure enough, this stunning recording from 1983 (here ripped from the Japan CD of the time) shows a superb technique, an intense musicality, paired with a youthful energy which has the Berliner Philharmoniker (no less) struggling to catch up with! The Karajan orchestra, here conducted by Yuri Simonov, is a pleasure to listen to, displaying a full tone warmer sound than in the DG recordings of the same golden years. My Neapolitan friend Giorgia Tomassi, who won the Rubinstein Competition back in 1992 with this very piece, loved it too! Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Granados: Goyescas/La Maja dolorosa - Berthold, Medina (1992)

One more from Davide's library of "extinct" recordings.

His comment:
A true masterpiece of the Spanish piano literature – Granados’ Goyescas. This is indeed a most beautiful ultra-rare CD by the German virtuoso Beate Berthold. Born in 1964, we know very little of her. She put out three albums in the early 90s for EMI (1 Rachmaninov/Tchaikovsky solo works and 1 Chopin) and this one here. She was, and I guess still is, a beautiful woman and a superb musician, and well worth listening to before she's forgotten. None of her albums (boasting a stunning recorded sound too) have ever been re-published by EMI. So here's a good chance from 1992 to have her playing for us all the sublime piano suite by the Catalan Maestro. The disc is even more precious as it features the three tonadillas of the Maja dolorosa, where Berthold is joined by Argentinian soprano Graciela Medina - Here’s the APEs and scans…

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Brahms: Symphony nº 1 - Abbado/Wiener Philharmoniker (1973)

The next of Davide's LPs:

Here's the agile and passionate Brahms 1st with the young Abbado and the Vienna Philharmonic from 1973 (DG).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Tchaikovsky: Symphony nº 4 - Barenboim/New York Philharmonic (1979)

A recommended LP rip from Davide, who says:

Another "introuvable" for the lovers of the New York Philharmonic. I transfered a CBS LP from 1979 with a stunning performance of Tchaikovsky's 4th under Daniel Barenboim. The orchestra had just passed from Boulez's to Mehta's tenure, and showcases its beautiful rich string section, the natural affinity with Tchaikovsky's music, and of course the flexible and legendary brass section, powerful yet always in full control of the dynamics. A beautiful disc, gone completely missing after this 1979 issue (this one I bought in an old English countryside bookshop). Try the 4th movement, hope you'll love it as I do.

(FLACs and label)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Brahms: Symphony nº 3, Haydn Variations - Abbado/Staatskapelle Dresden (1973)

This LP was transferred by Davide in response to a request from visitor Katamarano.

Davide said:
What a pleasure to listen to this glorious recording again!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Prokofiev: The War Sonatas - Rare LP recordings (Toradze, Szidon, Zeltser)

The next in the series of LP rips from Davide.

Davide's comment:
Prokofiev's sublime War Sonatas (#6, 7, 8) in my transfers from rare nowhere-to-be-found LPs by three stunning pianists showing similar approaches in their early performances here. No. 6, by Brazilian virtuoso Roberto Szidon from his 1975 DGG début album; No. 7 from Alexander Toradze's 1986 EMI début album; No. 8 played by Russian virtuoso Mark Zeltser, in his 1978 CBS début LP. Such beautiful music...

The file includes the LP rips (one sonata per track; .flac), a cover for Toradze and a Gramophone review each for Szidon and Zeltser.

Friday, December 16, 2011

R Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra - Prêtre/Philharmonia Orchestra (1983)

Another LP transfer from Davide:

So, here's another gem, another lost treasure: Georges Prêtre conducting the wonderful Philharmonia Orchestra in 1983, in an awesome early digital recording for RCA Red Seal of Strauss' immortal Also sprach Zarathustra. Enjoy the spaciousness and colourful sound of this great London orchestra (recorded at the Walthamstow Town Hall) and the passionate approach by the French Maestro, with his unmistakable tempo changes (e.g., in "Of the great Longing"') and luscious and dynamic sound...

LP rip (.flac) + covers

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sibelius: Symphonies Nos.2 & 6 - Helsinki Phil. Orchestra, Segerstam

Jean Sibelius
Symphonies Nos.2 & 6
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Leif Segerstam
Ondine CD

No comment from me.
They liked it over at classicstoday.com ('course they did: after all, it doesn't go against any of their dogmas, and neither the Helsinki Phil. or Segerstam are on their 'enemy-of-the-people list').

Classics Today Rating: 9/10

Leif Segerstam's new Sibelius cycle continues in strength with this fine pairing. Symphony No. 2 receives a first-rate performance that offers biting energy and taut rhythms despite the generally relaxed tempos. In fact Segerstam's natural and idiomatic phrasing and the fulsome sound he draws from the Helsinki Philharmonic gives the music a special vitality, whether in the first movement's climactic development (where the strings soar sweetly and the brass offer golden-toned declamations), in the andante's somber drama, or in the finale's grandly sweeping rhetoric. The great performances of this symphony remain those of conductors such as Barbirolli, Bernstein, and Szell, but Segerstam's handsomely played rendition stands as a fine modern alternative, worthy to take its place beside them.

The Sixth is an outright marvel. Again, Segerstam employs relatively slow tempos, but such is the beauty of sound and rhythmic vibrancy that the music maintains a fluidity that defies the pacing. Segerstam's careful rendering of Sibelius' precisely calculated balances draws you irresistibly into this symphony's special sound world. The tranquil slow movement achieves a near-hypnotic effect through the exceptionally vivd woodwind detail. The gently dancing scherzo here suggests Debussy, while the slightly relaxed finale evokes a uniquely refined euphoria and gentle melancholy. This Sixth is a triumph, one of the finest available. Ondine's realistic recording perfectly complements Segerstam's ravishing sound concept.

--Victor Carr Jr

Stravinsky: Petrouchka -- Levine/Chicago SO (1977)

MIMIC is pleased to welcome a new contributor -- Davide recently began posting links in the c-box to out-of-print recordings of performances he treasures and recommends.

Davide's comment on this one:
A stunning LP, out-of-print from 1977, transferred here for you all. James Levine conducts the Chicago Symphony in Petrushka. A rare album, a superb recording, used in the old days by Gramophone (no less) as a reference performance for this wonderful Stravinsky ballet score.

If you need more than that, David Hurwitz also liked it (!!):
"James Levine's Petrushka is amazing, one of the most brilliant, hard-hitting, rhythmically sharp performances that you are ever likely to hear. The crowd scenes in the two outer tableaux sizzle with energy, while the more intimate moments feature some stunning solo work from the CSO principals, flute and trumpet especially."

LP rip, includes front and back covers.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Schumann: Symphonies Nos.2 & 3 - London Philharmonic Orchestra, Masur

Robert Schumann
Symphonies Nos.2 & 3
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Kurt Masur
Teldec CD

As someone said in a comment to Schumann's symphonies by Bernstein. There is never enough Schumann.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra, Don Juan - Berliner Philharmoniker, Karajan

Richard Strauss
Also Sprach Zarathustra, Don Juan
Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert Von Karajan
Deutsche Grammophon CD (out of print)

Today Mr. should be born. I think Zarathustra could be a nice birthday present for Mr. 7 billion (or mister 7KKK). And maybe some contemporary Don Juan has also played a small-not-completely-irrelevant role in all this...so....: a classic, if there ever was one.
Nowadays it has almost become fashionable to dismiss Karajan, af if he was more a marketing/commercial phenomenon rather than a great conductor. Not that fashion should ever be taken too seriously, but a recording of this stature should suffice to shed any doubts.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Brahms: Symphony No.4 - NDR Sinfonieorchester, Wand

Johannes Brahms
Symphony No.4
NDR Sinfonieorchester, Guenter Wand
RCA CD (out of print)

For me, Wand's last Brahms cycle is possibly the best currently (un)available.
This closes the cycle.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Brahms: Symphony No.1 - NDR Sinfonieorchester, Wand

Johannes Brahms
Symphony No.1
NDR Sinfonieorchester, Guenter Wand
RCA CD (out of print)

For me, Wand's last Brahms cycle is possibly the best currently (un)available.
No reviews. But don't say you like Brahms aloud if you don't try this one.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mozart: Requiem - Berliner Philharmoniker, Abbado

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Berliner Philharmoniker, Claudio Abbado
Deutsche Grammophon 463 1812 6 GH

No review. Just music. Sorry to disappoint those who'd prefer it the other way around. Life is tough. And I'm 100% sober. Therefore life is very tough....

Monday, October 24, 2011

Dvorak: Symphony No.6, The Golden Spinning-Wheel - Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Mackerras

Antonin Dvorak
Symphony No.6, The Golden Spinning-Wheel
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Charles Mackerras
Supraphon- SU 3771-2 031(CD)

Classics Today Rating: 10/10

In his equally laudatory review of this fantastic new release, my colleague Christophe Huss salutes Supraphon for managing to remain true to its dedication to Czech music while at the same time upholding the highest standards of performance quality. To this observation I can only add "Amen!" The label already has a couple of noteworthy versions of Dvorák's luminous Sixth Symphony with the incomparable (in this music anyway) Czech Philharmonic--a very good one by Neumann and a classic account by Ancerl. In fact, this symphony has been very well-served on disc, with excellent recordings by Kubelik, Rowicki, and Suitner, to name three of the best that come immediately to mind. Nevertheless, this newcomer bids fair to move right to the top of the available discography.

Recorded live, the rapport in evidence between Charles Mackerras and the orchestra really is the stuff of legends. There are so many outstanding moments that it's hard to settle on just a few, but consider the fortissimo counterstatement of the opening tune, just a touch "pesante" for added emphasis, or the gorgeously natural rubato between phrases of the same movement's second subject, and the way the coda really takes off and builds in energy straight through to the final climax. Then there's the usual gorgeous wind playing from the orchestra, so evident in the Adagio. Mackerras drives the scherzo with exhilarating abandon, and although he never bears down on the rhythm too heavily (always maintaining the lilt of the dance), the clarity of texture allows such characterful touches as the offbeat timpani in the reprise to register with full impact. I also love the extra punch he brings to the principal section's return after the trio.

Best of all, Mackerras treats us to what must be the most thrilling account of the finale yet captured on disc. It takes off like the wind and never looks back, simply accumulating energy as it goes. The great string fugato that initiates the coda flies by as if on mighty wings, and the grandiosity of the closing pages never loses that vital rhythmic impulse that gives the music its inner life. I wish that Supraphon had not included the applause at the end, but when you consider that all of this, and so much else besides, is happening in real time you will understand that anyone who believes that the era of "great" conductors is past simply hasn't been listening. If this sort of artistic communion between conductor and orchestra in the service of a brilliant interpretation isn't greatness, then we need to ask whether the term has any meaning at all.

The Golden Spinning Wheel (a studio recording this time) also receives what is arguably its finest performance on disc, even considering Harnoncourt's outstanding recent version. The opening, usually a blur of muddy rhythms in the lower strings and indifferently played percussion, here sounds as crisp and clean as a spring morning. I have never understood why some performances cut the central episode wherein the holy hermit gets back the heroine's various body parts (so he can patch her together again) in exchange for the components of the golden spinning wheel. The threefold musical repetition is not literal, and the orchestration is enchanting. The section is, in effect, the slow movement following the scherzo in which poor Dornicka gets hacked to bits in the first place, and it's a necessary four minutes of contrast. Finally, this is the moment where we encounter most of the "spinning wheel" music of the title. Mackerras rightly doesn't delete it, and hearing those deliciously chubby brass chorales and lovely wind solos alongside such characterful phrasing, you can't imagine why anyone would. The last few minutes offer as pure an expression of joy as you'll ever hear.

Supraphon's engineering is outstanding in both works, a touch warmer in the symphony (perhaps as a result of the presence of an audience), but in all respects as fine as any from this source. That audience, by the way, is absolutely silent, and with music-making of such spellbinding quality going on it's no wonder. Coming hard on the heels of his sensational Janácek double CD a few months ago, it's clear that Mackerras' Supraphon recordings will comprise a small but outstanding legacy worthy to stand beside the great recordings of such legends as Talich or Ancerl, and that the great Czech tradition is very much alive both in Prague and at Supraphon. Buy a few of these: they make terrific gifts for special occasions, and you can be sure to get a hearty "Thank you!" from the lucky objects of your affection. But first, treat yourself. [6/11/2004]

--David Hurwitz

Friday, October 21, 2011

Brahms: Symphonies Nos.2 & 3 - NDR Sinfonieorchester, Wand

Johannes Brahms
Symphonies Nos.2 & 3
NDR Sinfonieorchester, Guenter Wand
RCA CD (out of print)

For me, Wand's last Brahms cycle is possibly the best currently (un)available.
No reviews. Austerity. And laziness. Expressed in bytes.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Good news for opera fans

Belgium's La Monnaie/De Munt, recently named "Opera House of the Year" by Opernwelt magazine, has announced they'll be streaming all their operas this season (from after the performance, for three weeks). Free.

Announcement on La Monnaie's website: http://www.lamonnaie.be/en/402/Free-Online-Streaming

They'll be doing Oedipe (Enescu), Cendrillon (Massenet), Salome (R Strauss), Rusalka (Dvorak), Theodora (Handel), Thanks to my eyes (Bianchi), Orlando (Handel again), Otello (Rossini), and Il Trovatore (Verdi).

Check the program for directors and casts: http://www.lamonnaie.be/en/opera/

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dvorak: Symphony No.7, Suite in A major ('American') - Budapest Festival Orchestra, Fischer

Antonin Dvorak
Symphony No.7, Suite in A major ('American')
Budapest Festival Orchestra, Ivan Fischer
Channel Classics- 30010(SACD)

Classics Today Rating: 9/9
Unlike the release of the Eighth and Ninth symphonies, which are reissues of earlier Philips recordings, these performances are new, and quite beautiful. The Suite never has been done better; its melodic freshness and rhythmic verve leap from the speakers, and like all of Dvorák's supposedly "light" music it proves rather more substantial than you might at first suspect, especially when it's this well-played. As the title suggests, this is a late work, dating from the composer's stint in New York, and it's full of the same kind of tuneful, possibly African-American inspiration that we find in the "New World" Symphony, the Cello Concerto, the "American" Quartet, and the contemporaneous String Quintet.

There's a great deal of competition in the symphony, and Ivan Fischer does particularly well in two particular ways. First, he doesn't monkey with the orchestration in the powerful coda of the finale or in the fortissimo counterstatement of the first movement's opening theme. Amazingly, in this latter passage the winds cut through the texture with perfect clarity, bespeaking the performers' thorough preparation and attention to details of ensemble balance. Second, his scherzo is amazing: fleet, gorgeously light on its feet, and (at the return after the trio) simply exciting as hell. Only in the first movement does Fischer sometimes sound a touch stiff (though again, the climax toward the end is powerful).

Sonically, there's plenty of warmth and depth (particularly in SACD multichannel format), but the loud tuttis turn a touch opaque. A bit more presence from the trombones and timpani could have turned an otherwise very fine performance into a great one. Still, this is awfully good, and if the coupling interests you then by all means enjoy this release without qualms. [6/15/2010]

--David Hurwitz

Friday, October 14, 2011

Dvorak: Symphonies Nos.8&9 - Prague Symphony Orch., Mackerras

Antonin Dvorak
Symphonies Nos. 8 & 9
Prague Symphony Orchestra, Sir Charles Mackerras
Supraphon- SU 3848-2(CD)

No comment from me.
I didn't even get get a chance to listen to this one yet...

Classics Today Rating: 10/10

At 80 years young, Charles Mackerras remains one of the great conductors of our era, not to mention one of the most unheralded. His unfailing musicality, intelligence, and sheer joy in performing communicates vividly in these two glorious performances, beautifully recorded live in September, 2005. They are the kind of interpretations that make you listen as if for the first time to music you probably know well. This isn't just because Mackerras opts for the Urtext editions of both scores, most noticeable in the finale of the Eighth Symphony, where after the central climax he has the cellos play the variant of the main theme contained in Dvorák's autograph (Harnoncourt and a few others do similarly). What really distinguishes these performances is their sheer excitement and vital sense of flow, a function of rhythmically characterful phrasing allied to ideally transparent textures.

This is as true of the bucolic first two movements of the Eighth Symphony, where the woodwinds are especially delightful, as it is in the tremendously physical and passionate initial allegro of the Ninth. Has this movement's coda ever sounded more stormily agitated? And notice how marvellously Mackerras judges the tempo of the ensuing Largo, perfectly poised between rapt contemplation and easeful forward motion. Rhythmic acuity is the hallmark of both scherzos: a deliciously pointed waltz in the Eighth, and a swiftly vivacious Slavonic dance in the Ninth.

In the two finales, so often turned into stop-and-start affairs by less adept conductors, Mackerras creates an irresistible feeling of culmination, choosing rousing initial tempos and then for the most part sticking to them. The Eighth's concluding variations seldom have come across more cogently, particularly the lazy last three, which never bog down in excessive Romantic reverie. The Prague Symphony Orchestra responds to Mackerras' direction with amazing gusto, as if it doesn't already know the music backwards and forwards, and the audience is admirably silent. There are other wonderful performances of this music out there, but this truly is as good as it gets. [12/01/2005]

--David Hurwitz

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hindemith: Mathis der Mahler, Symphonische Metamorphosen, Nobilissima Visione -Berliner Philharmoniker, Abbado

Paul Hindemith
Mathis der Mahler - Symphonie, Symphonische Metamorphosen, Nobilissima Visione, Berliner Philharmoniker, Claudio Abbado
Deutsche Grammophon 447 389-2


Sank decided to cut on the scans. This time I'm cutting on the reviews. Fiscal austerity is making itself felt...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Vivaldi: L'Estro Armonico - L'Arte dell'Arco, Hogwood

Anotnio Vivaldi
L'Estro Armonico
Federico Guglielmo, L'Arte dell'Arco, Christopher Hogwood
Chandos CHAN 0689(2)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Veracini: Sonate Accademiche - The Locatelli Trio, Wallfisch

Francesco Maria Veracini
Sonate Accademiche
The Locatelli Trio, Elisabeth Wallfisch
Hyperion CDS44241-3

Fascinating inventive works, showing their little-known composer as a great deal more than a historical figure. The recording is vividly real and immediate. - The Penguin guide to Compact Discs

This ambitious and beautifully realized set is certainly going to be met with the same enthusiasm as has their previous work...clearly a must for collectors of Baroque music. - Fanfare USA

The performances by the Locatelli Trio respond with spontaneity and expressive warmth to the wide-ranging affects, sometimes playful, at others sober and occasionally harmonically idiosyncratic of these fascinating pieces. Violinist Elizabeth Wallfisch articulates Veracini's melodic line with clarity and communicative charm. - BBC Music Magazine

Saturday, September 17, 2011

JS Bach: Das Wohltemperirte Clavier, Book 2 - Angela Hewitt

Johann Sebastian Bach
Das Wohltemperirte Clavier, Book 2
Angela Hewitt
Hyperion CDA67303-4

'The first recorded performances by a pianist of Book I that have made me want to hear them many times over. Strongly recommended' (Gramophone)

“Admirers of Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt's lightly articulated and elegantly phrased Bach playing won't be disappointed by this recording.

These qualities characterise the playing of each and every one of these profoundly didactic yet sublimely poetic pieces. Her restrained use of the sustaining pedal, her consequently clearly spoken articulation, and the resultant lucidity of musical thought, bring to mind the recorded performances of Edwin Fischer. Hewitt certainly sounds more comfortable in a studio than Fischer ever did, and her technique is more consistently disciplined than his was under these circumstances. Her reflective view of the more inward-looking fugues, such as the lyrical one in E flat minor, is most attractive. Taut, but with a suppleness that's entirely devoid of stiffness, this is indeed cogent and gracefully beautiful playing of a high order. You may sense, from time to time, an overtly intense element of subjective thought in her understanding of the music, a quality which seems to be endorsed by occasional references in her lively, illuminating and detailed introduction, to Bach's 'sense of inner peace', and so on. However, to conclude on a thoroughly positive and enthusiastic note, these are performances of Book 1 that you'll want to hear many times over. The recording and instrument sound well, too.

Hewitt's Book 2 is a delight to both ear and mind. Everything is in the best taste and free of exhibitionism. There are subtle tonal nuances, natural rises and falls of dynamics, well-defined differentiation of contrapuntal lines and appreciation of the expressive implications of Bach's chromaticisms. Throughout her playing of these preludes and fugues – several longer, more mature and more demanding than those of Book 1 – there's a sense of unhurried poise, with flowing rhythm. The air of tranquillity is underlined by her frequent adoption of very quiet openings, many of which then take on a warmer tone towards the end – even the E major Fugue, which Landowska labelled 'combative', is handled quietly, yet she's able to sound contemplative (as in the E major Fugue) without lapsing into Tureckian reverentiality.

Just occasionally Bach's more intense movements tempt her into emotional rubatos which, though musically affecting, take Bach out of his century, and not everyone will care for the big allargandos she makes at the ends of some of the earlier movements. Otherwise these are musicianly and imaginative performances.”

Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

Thursday, September 15, 2011

JS Bach: Das Wohltemperirte Clavier, Book 1 - Angela Hewitt

Johann Sebastian Bach
Das Wohltemperirte Clavier, Book 1
Angela Hewitt
Hyperion CDA67301-2

'The first recorded performances by a pianist of Book I that have made me want to hear them many times over. Strongly recommended' (Gramophone)

“Admirers of Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt's lightly articulated and elegantly phrased Bach playing won't be disappointed by this recording.

These qualities characterise the playing of each and every one of these profoundly didactic yet sublimely poetic pieces. Her restrained use of the sustaining pedal, her consequently clearly spoken articulation, and the resultant lucidity of musical thought, bring to mind the recorded performances of Edwin Fischer. Hewitt certainly sounds more comfortable in a studio than Fischer ever did, and her technique is more consistently disciplined than his was under these circumstances. Her reflective view of the more inward-looking fugues, such as the lyrical one in E flat minor, is most attractive. Taut, but with a suppleness that's entirely devoid of stiffness, this is indeed cogent and gracefully beautiful playing of a high order. You may sense, from time to time, an overtly intense element of subjective thought in her understanding of the music, a quality which seems to be endorsed by occasional references in her lively, illuminating and detailed introduction, to Bach's 'sense of inner peace', and so on. However, to conclude on a thoroughly positive and enthusiastic note, these are performances of Book 1 that you'll want to hear many times over. The recording and instrument sound well, too.

Hewitt's Book 2 is a delight to both ear and mind. Everything is in the best taste and free of exhibitionism. There are subtle tonal nuances, natural rises and falls of dynamics, well-defined differentiation of contrapuntal lines and appreciation of the expressive implications of Bach's chromaticisms. Throughout her playing of these preludes and fugues – several longer, more mature and more demanding than those of Book 1 – there's a sense of unhurried poise, with flowing rhythm. The air of tranquillity is underlined by her frequent adoption of very quiet openings, many of which then take on a warmer tone towards the end – even the E major Fugue, which Landowska labelled 'combative', is handled quietly, yet she's able to sound contemplative (as in the E major Fugue) without lapsing into Tureckian reverentiality.

Just occasionally Bach's more intense movements tempt her into emotional rubatos which, though musically affecting, take Bach out of his century, and not everyone will care for the big allargandos she makes at the ends of some of the earlier movements. Otherwise these are musicianly and imaginative performances.”

Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

Friday, September 9, 2011

Stanley: Concertos for Strings, Op.2 - CM90, Simon Standage

John Stanley
Concertos for Strings, Op.2
Collegium Musicum 90, Simon Standage
Chandos CHAN 0638

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Leclair: Violin Concertos V3 - Collegium Musicum 90, Standage

Jean-Marie Leclair

Violin Concertos - Volume 3

Collegium Musicum 90, Simon Standage

Chandos CHAN 0589

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Leclair: Violin Concertos V2 - Collegium Musicum 90, Standage

Jean-Marie Leclair

Violin Concertos - Volume 2

Collegium Musicum 90, Simon Standage

Chandos CHAN 0564

Friday, September 2, 2011

Leclair: Violin Concertos V1 - Collegium Musicum 90, Standage

Jean-Marie Leclair

Violin Concertos - Volume 1

Collegium Musicum 90, Simon Standage

Chandos CHAN 0551

Monday, August 29, 2011

Marin Marais (1656-1728) - The 250th Commemoration

If the analogy can be made that the contributions of Marais to the literature and technique of the viol are in some way similar to Chopin's contributions to the piano, then this recording must reflect the interpretation of these works by the "Rubinsteins" and "Horowitzes" of the viol. Most of us are familiar with the reputation of August Wenzinger as a performer on the viol for more than fifty years, as a teacher at some of the world's most prestigious institutions, as a first-class scholar, and as director of many recordings for Deutsche Gramophon's Arkiv series. Appearing with Wenzinger on this recording is harpsichordist James Weaver, Director of Concerts in the Music Division of the Smithsonian; and Oberlin Baroque Ensemble members Marilyn McDonald (baroque violin), Robert Willoughby (baroque flute), James Caldwell (viola da gamba), Catharina Meints (viola da gamba), and Lisa Goode Crawford (harpsichord). The performers have all served as faculty members at the distinguished Baroque Performance Institute held at the Oberlin Conservatory each summer since 1972. The contents of the recording are the Pieces a trois violes in G major from Livre IV, Pieces a une et trois violes (1717); two Pieces de viole d'un gout Etranger (Livre IV), the Pieces en trio in E minor of 1692, and the Sonnerie de Ste. Genevieve du Mont de Paris (1723).

This reviewer can only think of superlatives to describe the playing of this music. There are several points which deserve special mention. The performance of the many ornaments seems completely effortless, allowing them to take on their true role as ornaments and not to sound forced or overly virtuosic or to obscure the melodic line. The performers' tasteful use of limited vibrato is likely to satisfy all but the most radical on either side of the vibrato controversy. The tempos are very convincing-neither too fast nor too slow. This is especially in evidence in the Sonnerie, which is here performed slightly faster than in other recordings, resulting in an entrancing, hypnotic performance of this ostinato piece which could, in less able hands, easily become boring. Catharina Meints extracts a very good bell effect from the bass viol in this piece. In the Pieces en trio in E minor, Wenzinger displays his mastery of the treble viol by producing an unusual richness of tone in the lower register of the instrument, and by frequently matching the tone quality of Willoughby's flute.

In addition to the fine performances, the disc itself is a wellmade product. The copy received for review is a flawless pressing, an item becoming increasingly rare these days. The balance is good, although perhaps a bit more volume would be welcome from the harpsichord. The tone quality is rich and satisfying, leading one to speculate that the recording engineers may have taken the time to grasp a basic concept of the ideal sound of the viols. This product of a small new company compares favorably with those of the major European and American recording companies.
John A Whisler in J Viola Gamba Soc 1979; XVI, 76-78 (from his review of the 1978 LP)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Smetana: Ma Vlast - Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Kubelik

Bedrich Smetana

Ma Vlast

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra

Rafael Kubelik

Supraphon 11 1208-2 031 CDC


Some more Czech music.


As so often with live performances, the freedom of pulse and moments of pointed emphasis are hallmarks of a great occasion, and the sort of thing one seldom finds (or which seldom work) in studio recordings. Subtlety is the order of the day: there’s drama in plenty, but no bombast! So the weaker moments (and let’s not pretend that there aren’t any) often emerge with real strength, and the patriotic shouting (at the end of Blaník, say) is never marred by noisy over-statement.

As I commented in my review of the Ančerl recording (11 1925-2 011: same label, same orchestra), our familiarity with the timbre of the great ‘Western’ orchestras often leads us to question the sonorities of the great East European and Russian orchestras. And yet the extraordinarily distinctive colours of the Czech Philharmonic are precisely what Smetana would have heard and wanted. Their range of colour (from the moonlight scene of Vltava to the dark introduction to Tábor) is to be wondered at. And throughout, the playing is wonderfully secure and committed, with distinguished and characterful solos far too numerous to mention.

The recording is digital, but you may nevertheless find that it lacks the bloom, warmth and depth that this music of all music needs and deserves, and which Supraphon have commonly been able to deliver in other issues of similar vintage – such as the Mackerras recording of Má Vlast on Supraphon 3465-2 031. Regrettably, both audience and ambience are intrusive, sometimes when least welcome (such as in the delicate opening of Vltava, where coughing and shuffling mask all the musical detail), and applause – which is (unsurprisingly) rapturous! – is not edited out.

The booklet notes are unhelpfully brief, including as they do nothing about the music itself. Black marks here, I’m afraid.

At the end of the proverbial day, no recording of music so varied and so vital as this deserves to be singled out as a ‘winner’. So I hope no one’s wanting me to declare this the ‘best recording’, or not, as the case may be. But it is, literally, incomparable. Buy it, whether or not you have a Má Vlast already on your shelves!

Peter J Lawson

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dvorak: Symphonies Nos. 7, 8, 9 - Neumann, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra

Antonin Dvorak

Symphonies Nos. 7, 8, 9

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra

Vaclav Neumann

Supraphon- SU 3705-2 032(CD)


Filling and embarassing Dvorak vacuum here at MIMIC. Even Hurwitz agrees it's a goody! We can now safely aim for unanimity.

Classics Today Rating: 10/10

Václav Neumann concludes his remarkable Dvorák symphony cycle on a high note, turning in what is arguably the finest and most consistent set of the last three symphonies since George Szell. All of the competition in this area has problems: Kubelik's Seventh isn't fabulous, and neither is Kertesz's (who did a better "New World" in his earlier VPO rendition). Rowicki, also less good in the Seventh than in the later two works, like Kertesz has an LSO whose playing is no match for that of the Czech Philharmonic. Colin Davis and the Concertgebouw offer a stunning Seventh and a decent "New World", but an unremarkable Eighth. Järvi turns in fine accounts of Nos. 8 and 9, but makes heavy going of the Seventh, and he's cavernously recorded too. Neumann, by contrast, shines in the Seventh, perhaps Dvorák's greatest symphony. His attack on the first movement's climax remains unrivaled, and he milks the finale's tragic foreboding for all it's worth but never lets the music bog down (those marvelous Czech winds help a lot too).

The Eighth is noteworthy for its effortless sense of flow, and also for a finale that, in the Czech tradition of Talich, takes the scherzo variations in tempo yet still has sufficient rhythmic kick to provide an exciting conclusion. Neumann recorded the "New World" Symphony more times than I care to count, his last efforts revealing sadly diminished capacity. This is his best version, a "traditional" performance in the sense that it doesn't bring new revelations to this oft-played symphony, but it's also one whose feeling of "rightness" (note the beautifully relaxed yet seemingly self-propelled Largo and the trenchantly argued finale) married to superb playing places it among the handful of great accounts. Supraphon's first-rate sonics also distinguish this, the most consistently excellent of all complete Dvorák symphony cycles, from the rest of the pack. Supraphon's happy decision to offer the nine symphonies in sets of three also means that you don't have to commit to the whole production until you've had a chance to sample--but sample you certainly should. [3/22/2003]

--David Hurwitz

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mahler: Symphonies Nos. 4 and 2 - Claudio Abbado

Gustav Mahler
Symphony No.4*, Symphony No.2 "Resurrection"^
*Frederica von Stade, *Wiener Philharmoniker,
^Eteri Gvazava, ^Anna Larsson, ^Orfeon Donostiarra, ^Lucerne Festival Orchestra,
Claudio Abbado

La Musica di Repubblica-L'Espresso


I'm on vacation, so I'll look for suitable reviews when I'm back. I hope you enjoy it anyhow. After all, it's Abbado on Mahler: if you don't like it, it's OK. Just a tad eccentric.
If you think you could do better yourself, you probably are Dave "Abbado's-too-damn-good-for-me-to-like-him" Hurwitz's clone. Consider sueing your irony teacher for theft.
Update: now we even have an enthusiastic review, courtesy of our good friend Anchusa:

The Mahler symphony sounds terrific, too—the bass is deep and well defined, while there is a clarity and depth to the soundstage that greatly enhances Abbado’s dramatic conception of the piece. The engineers have provided another vivid experience, which places the listener very close to the action without sounding in the least bit cramped or artificial.

The performance will offer few surprises to admirers of Abbado’s previous Mahler recordings. As before, the lyrical and melodic are given high priority, while Mahler’s dramatic contrast is fully in evidence. In the first movement, Michael Tilson Thomas, in his own recent recording, brings more depth of feeling to the peaceful second theme in the development, and thereby provides even more contrast to the tense first theme material of the exposition. Abbado’s Andante movement proceeds at a free-flowing tempo that certainly evokes the hurly-burly of life but sacrifices some of the Viennese warmth that others (Bernstein, Tennstedt, Thomas) have found here; he does find the gentle humor in the pizzicato section. Where Tilson Thomas contrasted an expansive Andante with a brisk Scherzo, Abbado reverses this, taking the third movement at a moderate tempo that highlights its clumsiness; MTT was able to get more contrast out of the dreamy E-Major interlude. Abbado’s “outcry” section is suitably, convincingly dramatic.

Anna Larsson sings a very sensitively phrased “Urlicht,” equal parts nobility and melancholy. The finale arrives with lightning speed, yet isn’t quite the startling explosion I would have expected—the sound has just a bit less impact here. The episodes that follow comprise a dramatically coherent whole; the off-stage instruments are effectively distanced, especially the “Great Call,” wherein the entire dramatic scenario is marvelously evocative. After the entrance of the chorus, the focus of the recording grows just a little gauzy, with less sharpness and clarity in the orchestra; at the same time, possibly to enhance the more importunate nature of the drama at this point, the tension slackens. But the momentum soon returns, and the “Aufersteh’n” comes to a rousing close. The audience is heard to give its clamorous approval.

Christopher Abbot

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Allegri, F Scarlatti, Viadana, Leo: Miserere - O'Reilly, Ensemble Wm Byrd

The Allegri Miserere, yes, but not the way you know it. And have you ever even heard the Misereres of Francesco Scarlatti, Giovanni Moro da Viadana or Leonardo Leo?

A splendid CD, and marginally still in print, so buy a copy soon. Worth every penny (cent, fillér, grosz, Rappen, ban, haléř, øre, whatever...).

Reviewed at ClassicsToday by the other David (Vernier):

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The man who made music for the eyes

Alex Steinweiss (24 March 1917 - 18 July 2011)

Not quite about music, but a facet that's almost indivisible from its recorded form for many of us -- the cover art.

Alex Steinweiss, graphic artist and album cover designer par excellence, died last week at 94.

A couple of obituary notices:

Visit his website:

Even if you don't have €500 for the book on his work, you can page through it at Taschen Verlag:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mahler: Symphony No.3 - Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Haitink

Gustav Mahler
Symphony No. 3
Michelle DeYoung, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Women of the Chicago
Bernard Haitink
CSO Resound - CSO 901 701


Am I entitled to comment on this one? Not really. No matter how hard I've tried, the 3rd is still on the list of works with which I still have to develop a satisfactory acquaintance.
So I'll let Dave Hurwitz talk, hoping that his reserves will provide the sufficient motivation for you, more competent Mahler listeners, to give it a try. One reason I really hate critics for is that once you've gotten hold of a hard earned CD, you just stumble into a review telling you it wasn't actually worth bothering...

Classics Today Rating: 7/8
The Chicago Symphony under the leadership of Henry Fogel started the trend of releasing its own recordings, initially as a fundraising opportunity, so it was only a matter of time before the orchestra launched its own label more formally. While I certainly welcome the initiative, this first title represents a mixed success. On the surface, the orchestra is leading from strength: both it and Haitink have excellent Mahlerian credentials. But let's face it--the CSO already has one excellent Mahler 3 (Levine's; Solti's was dreadful), and so does Haitink (his first Concertgebouw recording; his Berlin remake was dreadful). Actually, if you throw in Haitink's live Amsterdam recordings and his Berlin video, this is his fifth Mahler Third, which, coming from a conductor often heard to moan about the excesses of the recording industry in this regard, seems little short of bizarre.

Unquestionably Haitink knows the work, and so does the Chicago Symphony, and the orchestra's legendary brass section certainly lives up to its collective reputation, particularly in the closing chorale of the finale. But this is a symphony that thrives on color, and here Haitink is at his weakest. His first recording featured an orchestra (the Concertgebouw) that at the time had such an individual timbral profile, and was so steeped in the Mahler tradition, that he couldn't help but take credit for the excellent results. That performance remains a favorite, if only because it has the most glowing, organ-like final chord ever captured. Here, in the first movement, Haitink misses those touches of color at lower dynamic levels from the percussion and the harps that help lend the work its special character.

There's also a certain staidness to the tempos, a lack of contrast in such places as the vulgar eruption of winds and brass before the first movement's recapitulation, and throughout the scherzo, that risks turning into dullness despite the excellent playing everywhere in evidence. Furthermore, the fifth movement simply lacks the picture-postcard brightness that Mahler builds into his scoring and that creates the atmosphere of brittle unreality that so brilliantly sets up the finale's serene opening (Bernstein I on Sony has never been equaled here). Mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung's voice also has developed what comes very close to a wobble, and this makes her work in both the fourth and fifth movements less than ideal. The engineering is clear and vivid, but also a bit flat in perspective, with the brass at times overbearing (not that fans of these players, who are legion, will care).

In sum, this is a good if flawed performance, but more to the point, a redundant one. If you want Chicago in this music, seek out Levine (particularly the Japanese RCA reissue), which also has a very significant asset in Marilyn Horne in the vocal bits. If you want Haitink, Philips has recently reissued his first and best Concertgebouw recording, coupled with a fine Das Klagende Lied. And if you must have Haitink and Chicago together, then you may want to consider this, but only if the identity of the artists is far more important than the actual musical results.

--David Hurwitz

Monday, July 18, 2011

Live video webcasts from this summer's classical music festivals

Much of the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence is on liveweb.arte.tv.

Some of the Festival de Beaune is on also on liveweb.arte.tv.

Much of the Verbier Festival is on medici.tv.

Some of the BBC Proms will be on the iPlayer.

Six concerts from the Festival de Saint-Denis are still available on liveweb.arte.tv.

Pretty much all concerts are available on demand for a while (between a week and several months) after the event.

Please add other video webcasts of classical music festivals in the comments.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mahler: Symphony No.6 - Wiener Philharmoniker, Boulez

Gustav Mahler
Symphony No. 6
Wiener Philharmoniker, Pierre Boulez
Deutsche Grammophon 445 835-2GH

Say whatever you like. This is my favorite version of my favorite Mahler symphony.

There are inescapable comparisons to be made here between Boulez and Bernstein. Two composer-conducting former directors of the New York Philharmonic, latterly granted carte blanche by the same record company to re-record the music that made them famous (and let's not forget it was sometimes the other way round). Boulez may not be everyone's idea of the perfect Mahlerian, but it is splendid to see DG's ambitious series starting to embrace repertoire he has not previously committed to disc. Conveniently, the yellow label has been responsible for almost every great recording of the Sixth — "the only Sixth despite the Pastoral" according to Alban Berg (and Boulez has not recorded much Beethoven). So Boulez the conductor is in safe hands, the more so since he has the Vienna Philharmonic to offset any tendency to cerebral introspection. The results are fascinating if not exactly compulsive and those sympathetic to his interpretative approach will find plenty to enjoy.
Returning to performing the symphony after a gap of more than15 years, Boulez launches the first movement at a pace slightly slower than the latter-day norm, though he does not seek to emulate Barbirolli's world-weary trudge (now available on CD — to be reviewed shortly). He has the same orchestra as Bernstein in his live 1988 DG version, but at once you notice the different quality of ensemble, adequately precise but softer-grained, lacking the hysterical precision (some would say overwrought quality) of his rival. One might expect parallels with Sinopoli in that Boulez too is concerned to ensure that as much as possible of the score be made audible to the listener. The difference is that he does not see it as his role to choose between competing musical ideas, never spotlighting one significant detail at the expense of another, so that a certain coolness prevails. Nor does he swing into the so-called Alma theme to the manner born — compare the instinctive emotional thrust of a Bernstein or, more surprisingly, a Karajan. It is only the development's interlude of idyllic, cowbell-encrusted calm that finds him at a loss. Seemingly embarrassed by such naïve nature symbolism he puts on the blinkers and keeps going.
The slow movement is placed third. Having been alerted to the prospect of a relatively rapid tempo, I was expecting something unorthodox. True. Boulez disregards Karajan's Brucknerian revivification, but the lighter intermezzo-like quality of his own account is by no means implausible and works beautifully in its own way. The finale will be more of a problem for some listeners. Boulez's structural imperatives do seem to preclude an appreciable sense that there are elemental forces at work here. One would not expect him to identify with romantic notions that limit the scope of the music by presenting it as the ravings of a hero-protagonist-conductor felled by the malign workings of Fate. That said, my own preference is definitely for something more searingly intense. Speeds as such are well chosen, on the fast side but uncontroversially so: l was puzzled only by his unsteady reading of the 'heavy' brass chorale at fig. 106 (23811).
For all the care devoted to problems of balance and articulation, the questions remain. How important is the lack of 'idiomatic' rubato? Is this Mahler limpid or merely limp in its avoidance of 'imprudent ecstasy'? Let's side-step the issue and end on a positive note: DG have managed to squeeze the performance on to one disc — Sony might have done so with the earlier Bernstein but didn't — and there are copious notes by Henry Louis de la Grange. The International Mahler Society Edition (1963) suggests a running time in the region of 80 minutes. In this respect, Boulez is spot on. DSG (David Gutman)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mahler: Symphony No. 4 - Boston Symphony Orchestra, Ozawa

Gustav Mahler
Symphony No. 4
Kiri Te Kanawa, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa
Philips 422 072-2PH


Can't find neither the details of this recording, nor reviews of it. But I hope this doesn't diminish the listening pleasure you'll derive from listening to it...ooopppss! I found a partial endorsement by David "samurai's'r'cool" Hurwitz whose en-passant endorsement should suffice to fill our bosoms with infinite delight for this performance...
...and now we even have a review from the Gramophone.

Classics Today:
Extract from the review of Ozawa's 'Resurrection' with the Saito Kinen
Seiji Ozawa's credentials as a Mahlerian have not received the recognition that they deserve (the same holds true of his Bruckner). His complete symphony cycle recorded in Boston includes two excellent versions of the First Symphony (the one for Deutsche Grammophon slightly better than the later one for Philips), equally superb performances of the Third, Fourth, and Ninth Symphonies, and fine efforts in Nos. 2, 5, 7, and 8. The Sixth would have been very good also had it not been compromised by wretchedly dull recorded sound....

There are aspects of Ozawa's Fourth that I enjoyed greatly. He would seem to be temperamentally better suited to this particular piece, to what Deryck Cooke described as its "neo-rococo" stylizations, than to any other Mahler that I've heard him conduct. Even so, by no stretch of the imagination could Ozawa be described as a natural Mahlerian. He is all too inclined to tidy up the awkwardnesses, temper the extremes, and generally somehow rationalize the music's inherent neuroses (that was especially true recently of his disappointing Second). Take the first movement of this Fourth; there is poise, charm and grace from the very outset, the lower strings tripping lightly over their staccato semi-quavers just after
Tempo I; the phrasing generally is elegant and unfussy, the rubato well-mannered. But what Ozawa fails to catch (and for this you must look to Bernstein/DG—would that he had recorded the piece as written, with a soprano, and not a treble--or Maazel/CBS) is the playful, quixotic nature of this movement. One needs to point-up more the sudden and mischievous shifts in mood and movement, the excitable bursts of energy, those characteristically abrupt Mahlerian 'commas'. Similarly, a higher profile is called for in the wry country dance of the second movement. Ozawa's rustic hobgoblins are rather too lovable; there must be more of 'Death, the friendly fiddler' about the movement with spikier and more acidic woodwinds for one thing.
The slow movement is very lovely, and here Ozawa has caught the equivocal nature of the music; the underlying darkness. Off-setting the warmth and luminosity of those rapt string lines is a profound sense of sadness and disquiet with baleful sounds from low-register horns exceptionally telling at each abortive climax. The climax is certainly thrilling, Ozawa throwing open 'Heaven's Gate' with a truly breath-catching luftpause and ever-assertive Boston trumpets providing the blinding light (the recording is first rate, warm and naturally ambient with an impressive bass extension). And I have nothing but admiration for Ozawa's serene way with those hearteasing final pages: the Boston strings at their very best.
Which leaves Dame Kin. And to my surprise, I find myself more, not less convinced, than I did when she recorded the piece with Solti (Decca). The naturally plushy tones have once more been discreetly pared down, the delivery is fresh and appropriately wide-eyed with only one or two phrases betraying a self-conscious 'girlishness' in the characterization. Technically, this is actually better singing than that provided by Judith Raskin for Szell in his famous Cleveland version of 1966. Many collectors, like myself, will have been waiting in anticipation of its re-appearance on CD—and they will not be disappointed. CBS have come through with a pristine digital remastering of the open and exceptionally well-balanced Columbia original. Some hardening of tone under pressure was always a problem, even on LP, but on the whole you would never credit that this was a 1960s recording. As to the performance, the assurance and precision of its execution is something quite remarkable—an orchestra in the very peak of condition: ensemble absolutely unanimous, rubato finely-turned to a man, not a blemish in earshot. There is no better tribute to Szell's achievements in Cleveland. If I'm absolutely honest, though, it's been some time since I sat down and listened to the performance and this time round I must say it struck me as far more dispassionate and calculated in effect than I had remembered. I'd willingly sacrifice some of the precision for a greater sense of spontaneity at the moment of performance (Szell was always at his best in the concert hall). It's a very subjective reaction, of course, but when I compare the cool, pellucid beauty of Szell's Cleveland strings in the slow movement with the home-spun sweetness of their Vienna Philharmonic counterparts in the CBS recording under Maazel, I know instinctively which reading I would choose to live with. In my opinion, Maazel has put few finer performances on disc.
- Edward Seckerson

Friday, July 8, 2011

JS Bach: Goldberg Variations BWV 988 - Charles Rosen, piano

This one won't be everyone's front runner, but certainly worth a hearing. Some think it's a penetrating view, others say it lacks warmth; some that the lines are beautifully defined, others that he's fussy and overly meticulous. Restrained and rational vs. unexpressive. Intellectual vs. boring...
You get the idea. Only way to find out is to listen to it yourself.

JS Bach Goldberg Variations BWV 988
Charles Rosen, piano
Sony; recorded in 1967 (out of print)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Bartok: Music for Strings, Percussions..., the Miracolous Mandarin - suite, Divertimento - Chicago Symphony Orch., Solti

Bela Bartok: Music for Strings, Percussions and Celesta, The Miracolous Mandarin - suite, Divertimento
Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti
Decca - 430 352-2


I decided to fill a gap in our collection with one of the greatest of works of the 20th century. The present recording has been repackaged in "The Originals", and later in the "Double Decca" collection to also include the Concerto for Orchestra, thus providing a small collection of Bartok's greatest orchestral works.
A review of the "Double Decca" is reported below.

Classics Today Rating: 8/9
These performances by the Chicago Symphony under Georg Solti are of exceptional quality, fusing phenomenal orchestral virtuosity with the conductor's famous authority in this repertoire, in radiant, resonant Decca recordings. The Concerto For Orchestra, Solti's 1980 Orchestra Hall reading, lacks something of the dry humour he injected into the Shostakovich parody section of the "Intermezzo" in his own earlier London Symphony version (generally less well played), but otherwise this is marvelous on all counts. The Miraculous Mandarin suite sounds almost too highly polished at times--trombones near the start haven't the required slithering vulgarity, and the brilliantly executed fugal section led off by the violas near the climax glosses over the music's intended lurid pictorialism. The Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta also brings some incredible playing, with every dynamic detail and nuance in place. But the piano sounds too remote and Solti's clinical precision sometimes robs the music of the raw-nerved vitality that Bartók clearly desires. For that you can always have Ferenc Fricsay's Berlin Radio performances from the mid-1950s (available on DG) on your shelves--but beyond that, you'll find nothing lacking in the rest of this excellent program (the Dance Suite is especially brilliant). [9/23/2002]

--Michael Jameson

Friday, July 1, 2011

Schubert: Piano Sonata D960, Ländler D790 - Leon Fleisher

More post-baroque...
Get it while it lasts -- counterpoint, thorough bass and Affekte could return at any time!

Schubert: Piano Sonata D 960, Ländler D 790
Leon Fleisher, piano (recorded in 1956)

Fleisher's approach to the Romantic repertoire was mature right from this first album given his intepretive options and his sense of drama that nevertheless remained free of pathos. In the Andante sostenuto, each note of the melody resonates as though it were meant to be the last without ever affecting the clarity of line or the precision of the median voices. As for the Allegro vivace con delicatezza, it is played with an irony that verges on mockery whilst consistently maintaining rhythmical rigour, a rich palette and inventiveness.

Finally, and better than most, Fleisher knew how to perform a simple section with simplicity whilst maintaining incredible presence. Even at moments that appear trifling, we are surprised with a feeling of renewed pleasure; the falsely superficial Ländler D.790 intelligently complete the difficult choice of repertoire that this 28-year-old musician had to make.
from the notes by Eric Guillemaud (trans. Christophe Evans)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Schoenberg: Ein Ueberlebender aus Warschau / Webern: Orchestral Works - Wiener Phil., Abbado

Arnold Schoenberg: Ein Ueberlebender aus Warschau*
Anton Webern: Orchestral Works
*Gottfied Hornik, *Wien State Opera Chorus,
Wiener Philharmoniker, Claudio Abbado
Deutsche Grammophon - 431 774-2


This release could actually stake a partial claim at being (partially late baroque, due to Webern's arrangement of the Maestro Bach's Ricercar a 6 from the "Musikalische Opfer".
The rest is your usual, trite, overly popular repertoire, of MIMIC's "Low Empire".

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dvořák: Piano Quintet Op81, Piano Quartet Op87 - Schiff, Panocha Quartet

To entertain these fair well-spoken days...
...we shall continue our series The Late Post-Baroque, or What Happened After 1760?

András Schiff, Panocha Quartet: Jiří Panocha (violin), Pavel Zejfart (violin), Miroslav Sehnoutka (viola), Jaroslav Kulhan (cello)

recorded in Berlin, 1997
(Elatus reissue out of print; the Teldec original still pops up from time to time)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Schubert: Symphonies Nos. 8 and 9 - Sinopoli

Franz Schubert
Symphonies Nos. 8 and 9
Staatskapelle Dresden, Giuseppe Sinopoli
Deutsche Grammophon 437 669-2


Sinopoli was a great conductor. But, influenced by some negative reviews, I once almost sold this CD. Fortunately I didn't, and came to appreciate it again when I realized one should make up his own mind. Sinopoli's readings are clear, with the risk of becoming "dry". But no sense of drama gets lost in this "surgical" approach (Sinopoli was also a physician - a psychiatrist to be precise -, as well as an archeologist). Maybe not the top pick on these works, but worth listening to.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mahler: Symphony No.2, Adagio from Symphony No. 10 - Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Levi

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No.2, Adagio from Symphony No. 10
Barbara Bonney, Mary Philips, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Yoel Levi
Telarc - 80548(CD)


The Adagio of the 10th symphony is the reason of today's post. I think we are getting close to being all set with Mahler's basics.
We are still missing the Lied von der Erde and the Kindertotenlieder at least, but we are getting there.

I know you're waiting for it, so I won't disappoint you...my Hurwitz-jab-of-the-day is...(drumroll and trumpets, Maestro):
"Another recording which proves Hurwitz's value as an insightful sniper...ooops critic. Why else in the world would I have considered purchasing Yoel Levi and the Atlanta Symphony on Mahler's 2nd? 1) The Atlanta Symphony would not be the first Mahler orchestra you'd think of would it? 2) The Gramophone spoke of this recording as 'Mahler-lite' 3) Apart from Hurwitz, no one else ever cared much for this recording".

Classics Today Rating: 10/10
Yoel Levi's Mahler has been a mixed bag: marvelous versions of Symphonies Nos. 4 and 6, a good but not great No. 1, and a dull 5 and 7. The Second is one of the great ones, though, a performance of the type that Bruno Walter or George Szell would have appreciated. It will not appeal to those who need their Mahler to sweat blood, and Levi is not the kind of conductor who makes his interpretive points through attention-getting tempo adjustments and exaggerated string portamentos. Rather, his personal touch reveals itself in scrupulous attention to dynamics, care with instrumental balances, and finely honed ensemble. Such an approach always risks blandness, if only because the result can sound effortless just when the music needs to express tension and a sense of strain; but when it works, as here, it can offer more sheer musical satisfaction and staying power than many more demonstrative efforts.

In order for Levi's approach to succeed, the orchestral playing must be uniformly stunning, and about that there can be no question. The lower strings really dig into their opening riffs, the brass sound full but never coarse, and the winds play with gorgeous smoothness and attention to the niceties of phrasing and dynamics. Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the first movement (and much of the performance as a whole) is the top-to-bottom transparency of texture, even during the climaxes. This permits all of Mahler's coloristic detail (the quiet tam-tam strokes, low harp notes, mysterious suspended cymbal sounds) to make the most atmospheric contribution possible, and it helps Levi sustain the music's tension over the long spans of calmer music. Nor does he underplay the climaxes: the actual point of arrival at the first-movement recapitulation is overwhelmingly powerful, even if a bit more emphasis on those "pesante" brass chords wouldn't have hurt.

The second movement features wonderfully cultured string playing, beautifully phrased and perfectly nuanced. There's no attempt to make more of this charming movement than appears on the surface: it's a lovely interlude. The scherzo features incredible ensemble work by the winds, which pass the music's kaleidoscopic phrases off between instruments with impressive seamlessness. A little more schmaltz would have added character to the trumpet-led trio, but you can only admire the way Levi manages the ensuing transition back to the initial tempo of the scherzo: it's an object lesson in how such things should be done. Telarc correctly places the symphony's last three movements on the second disc, thereby permitting them to be played as Mahler requests, without a break.

Mary Phillips sings her fourth-movement solo sensitively, and how much better the brass playing sounds here than in Chailly's recent recording, with its awful "stick 'em off stage" experiment. The finale erupts with tremendous force, and the purely orchestral episodes have plenty of tension and mystery. Levi doesn't stint on the big percussion crescendos leading to the "dead march", which in turn has real bite and an inexorable forward thrust. The next episode places the offstage trumpets and percussion very far away, exactly as Mahler requests in fact (their sound "scarcely audible as though borne on the wind"), and they actually do come much closer, again as specified, before the next big climax. It's smooth sailing from then on: the Atlanta Symphony Chorus has few if any peers today; Barbara Bonney sounds radiant in her solos; and Levi allows the final climax to develop with a wholly natural, unforced grandeur that's never rushed. The final pages, with crashing tam-tams and excellently balanced organ, set the seal on a superbly musical experience.

If anything, the performance of the Adagio from the Tenth (Ratz edition) is even better. There's nowhere to hide in this music, no special effects or coloristic devices to deflect the attention from the movement's pure Mahlerian polyphony. Levi's performance demonstrates just how superb his Atlanta players are in all departments (how gorgeously those strings play!), and how effortlessly they sustain his very slow (27 minutes) tempo. It all culminates in the single most hair-raisingly intense central climax that this music has ever received, in any performance or edition. Telarc has captured both performances in ideally warm, detailed sound of demonstration quality. There are other ways to play this music, for sure, but of its type this comes about as close to perfection as we're likely to hear.

--David Hurwitz

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mahler: Symphony No.9 - Bamberger Symphoniker, Nott

Gustav Mahler
Symphony No. 9
Bamberger Symphoniker, Jonathan Nott
Tudor - 7162(SACD)

I include three reviews. Two are very positive, one (by Hurwitz) isn't.
He has excellent reasons for this:
1) The Orchestra is European
2) The Gramophone liked the performance a lot
3) Almost everyone else (apart from Hurwitz) liked this performance a lot

Audiophile Audition Rating: *****
The Mahler 9th is a symphonic universe, a summation of that form initiated by Haydn and sculpted by Beethoven and Bruckner. Listener involvement in the 9th is heady stuff. The work deals with the trials associated with living with always the nearness of death. If, as Keats puts it, “death is life’s high mead, then life’s journey is the story. As did Stauss in Ein Heldenleben (1898), the 9th Symphony cites Mahler’s earlier works. But these references, rather than heroic, are invariably ironic. The visceral joy found in the second movement Landler becomes progressively bitter and farcical. The third movement Burlesk reaches an ultimate whirligig of ironic energy. The final movement Adagio initially emulates Bruckner, but becomes increasingly unadorned until it is an empty shell, skeletal, bereft of life. The first movement Andante Comoto summarizes Mahler’s life journey. It is a treatise upon the ebb and flow of human existence, the ups and downs of the body and spirit, an overview of the movements to come.

Familiar with recordings by Walter (two), Szell, Giulini, Bernstein, Dohnanyi, Gielen, Barbirolli and Karajan, I find this new version by Jonathan Nott and The Bamberg Symphony comparable or surpassing those recordings in interpretation and sound quality. Nott reveals a consistently coherent view of the 9th from the opening three notes of Andante Comoto through the terminal hushed string phrases of the final Adagio. He takes great risk with extreme dynamics and tempi to achieve the correct dramatic emphasis . Very fine playing is drawn from The Bambergers. The winds bray and crackle with energy. In the final movement the string section does indeed play stets grossen ton, yet are never strident. They glow throughout the performance.

Tudor’s multichannel SACD recording becomes the ideal vehicle to deliver this magnificent work to the listener. Hall ambience, orchestral placement, depth and balance are magically provided. Only the spontaneity of witnessing the live performance is missing. I cannot praise this recording highly enough. It presents the majesty of the Mahler 9th with near perfection.

-- Ronald Legum

Jonathan Nott’s Mahler cycle has now reached the fourth instalment. Recoridngs have already been issued of the First Symphony (see review and review), the Fifth Symphony (see review) and the Fourth (see review). This is the first in the series to come my way.

Before considering the performance I think a few words about the recording itself may be helpful – I listened to these hybrid SACDs as conventional CDs. When I first started listening I thought that the sound appeared almost too close. In fact, I found that my ears soon adjusted as the performance continued and that I didn’t find the closeness to be as much of an issue on further hearings. I suppose the effect is rather akin to sitting just a few rows back from the stage in the concert hall. The orchestra sounds very ‘present’. There certainly seems to be a good spread of sound from one side of the platform, as it were, to the other but I’m less sure that there’s adequate front-to-back perspective. Another feature of the recording is that Nott has divided his violins left and right – of which I heartily approve. However, until the finale, where the strings dominate the scoring for much of the time, I couldn’t hear much of the viola, cello or double bass lines. In fact the strings as a whole are too easily swamped by the wind and brass sections in the first three movements.

For comparison I put on Simon Rattle’s Berliner Philharmoniker recording, which I so much admired in 2008 (see review by Tony Duggan). Here too the recording is fairly close but much more inner string detail is evident. I strongly suspect that the Tudor engineers have used a limited microphone array in an effort to present a truthful concert hall sound image whereas the EMI team have probably used multiple microphones placed within or above the orchestra in order to capture much more detail. I think the Tudor sound does indeed present the sort of sound that you’d hear in a concert hall – and Mahler’s scoring is very often wind- and brass-heavy – and it depends whether you want a recording for home listening to give you a concert hall perspective or whether you want as much detail as possible.

So you might want to sample the recording before purchasing. However, even if the sound is not quite your ideal – and, as I say, my ears adjusted quite quickly – sonic considerations aren’t everything here for Nott leads a fine performance of this magnificent, complex symphony.

He takes a fairly spacious view of I. In fact, at 29:46 his is one of the longest performances I know. Rattle is slightly quicker overall (28:56) but it’s interesting to note that some, though by no means all, conductors of the previous generation have taken less time over this movement. Barbirolli, for example, took 26:53 in his famous EMI Berlin recording, while Kubelik’s live 1975 reading (Audite) took 26:44. The celebrated 1938 Bruno Walter recording flashes by in 24:47. Have Mahler performances broadened over the years?

Nott may be spacious but throughout the movement his control and concentration are impressive. His reading isn’t as passionate as Rattle can be at times; it’s more patient. There were one or two occasions when I thought his speeds were just a little bit too measured but as a whole his reading is impressive. The climaxes are thrust home – at these points one has the impression that the orchestra is playing flat out – but the quiet passages often impress. For example the ghostly passage between 8: 01 and 9:47 is imaginatively presented with lots of good detail – I like the distanced muted horns, for instance. I think it would be fair to say that sometimes the violins sound just a little thin in alt and the string bass line is certainly underpowered – no doubt because one is so used, with many other conductors, to hearing the cellos and basses prominently through the right hand speaker. But, set against that I must say straightaway that much of the playing is vivid, the orchestra’s response is totally committed and there’s a lot of fine solo playing to admire. I have heard more dramatic, angst-ridden accounts of this amazingly rich movement but drama isn’t the whole story by any means and Nott’s account is very convincing and never less than wholly musical. He seems to see the whole movement in one long sweep and I admire his way with it very much.

The two inner movements go very well. There’s a good deal of sharply etched, piquant playing in II. Nott paces the music very well and he judges the many tempo modifications expertly. His reading of III is dynamic and thrusting. He and the engineers bring out a great deal of the teeming contrapuntal detail in the score. The trio (from 5:55) is taken at a suitably relaxed pace. This is nostalgic music but I like the fact that Nott never wallows in the sentiment; on the contrary, forward momentum is nicely maintained – and praise too for the solo trumpeter, whose silvery tone is just right. When the Rondo resumes (10:23) the music is turbulent and exciting right to the last bar.

The strings come into their own in the finale. The opening paragraphs are full-toned but the emotion is not overdone – Nott doesn’t play his cards too soon. The string playing is very good, the tone just weighty enough - and now we do hear a satisfyingly strong bass line. One rather special moment occurs between 4:05 and 4:54 where Nott obtains the most atmospheric playing imaginable from his strings. At this point the bass line is spectral with a wafer-thin violin line on top.

Nott unfolds the finale compellingly and the Bamberg strings and horn section in particular do him proud. Once again, this isn’t perhaps the most overtly emotional reading I’ve heard but the patience – perhaps even a degree of reserve? – brings its own rewards. Nott’s ability to take the long view and to build the movement incrementally means that when we reach the sustained ardent passage that lies at the heart of the movement (14:18 – 17:03) the effect is all the greater. The closing pages of this movement are always a huge test for players and conductor alike. Here the test is passed very successfully. During the last four minutes or so, starting with the second violin entry at 21:07, the music gradually winds down, all passion spent.

This Mahler Ninth is a very fine achievement. A host of great conductors and leading orchestras have essayed this symphony on disc over the years and though the seventeen versions on my own shelves don’t quite go from A to Z they do go from Barbirolli to Walter. This new version can certainly contend with the best of them and it’s one to which I’m sure I shall be returning frequently in the future.

John Quinn

Classics Today Rating: 6/7
There was a time when it was difficult to find a mediocre performance of this symphony, but no longer. Jonathan Nott's interpretation has many personal touches, but they are all of the same type. Briefly, he emphasizes clarity of texture to the point where he loses sight not just of the long musical line, but also of the passionate intensity of Mahler's tragic vision. There are basically two problems with pursuing transparency at all costs. The first, and most serious, concerns the fact that the kind of control that Nott requires means that all of his climaxes sound inhibited. "With the utmost power", Mahler urges at the climax of the first movement, but this is nowhere near what Nott and his players achieve. They are at their best in the quiet moments between the loud bits, where the texture is less complicated--but then anyone can play the game of "bring out the subordinate part".

Similarly, Nott's subdued opening of the finale is very beautiful, its restraint emphasizing the passion simmering below the music's surface. Unfortunately, that is where it stays, and so the contrast between the main theme and those "without expression" interludes fails to tell as it should, and the coda comes across as expressively bland. Nott's handling of the second movement doesn't come close to doing justice to the first dance's rustic clumsiness (the waltz goes much better), and while the opening of the Rondo:Burleske is a marvel of contrapuntal clarity, Nott's obsessive attention to vertical detail quickly lets the music degenerate into a mere mechanical exercise, choppy and unconvincing.

The second problem with Nott's approach is that he's only partially successful at his own game. Again, it's the tuttis that spell his downfall. Where are the horns (with the "bell" motive) at the forte counterstatement of the first movement's opening theme? Where is the trumpet at that theoretical "with the utmost power" climax? There are other misjudgments as well. Nott's handling of transitions is particularly fallible. Check out the lame trumpet and timpani fanfares and stiff accelerando leading into the opening movement's second "collapse" episode, or the awkward return to the Rondo after the calm central episode. And why does Nott accelerate so obviously and so soon before the point where Mahler actually asks him to?

Finally, there are the sonics. It may be that the diffuse engineering accounts to some extent for the lack of impact at the big moments, never mind the balances that favor the strings (not very flatteringly) at the expense of the high brass and woodwinds. But the fact remains that Nott's interpretation signally fails to inspire the players to surpass themselves. So he must take responsibility for their comparative timidity. I have no doubt that they are better at what they do than he is, and could be more impressive if he would simply get out of the way and turn them loose where the music demands it. In short, this performance has all the hallmarks of being carefully rehearsed in many of its less important details, and neglected in the areas that truly matter.

--David Hurwitz