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...