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D. S. CROWE "Music Lover" (UK)

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Symphony No.1:Titan
Symphony No.1:Titan
Price: £15.16

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE most glorious Mahler recording in decades!-a life changing view of the precursor of the First Symphony, the tone poem Titan!, 22 Oct 2014
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This review is from: Symphony No.1:Titan (Audio CD)
I'll stick to a shortened version of my usual pedantic rant against record companies (and complicit artists!) who brand Mahler's First Symphony as "Titan", "The Titan" or "Der Titan"-they are ALL wrong. The work composed by Mahler entitled Titan-A Symphonic Poem in The Form of A Symphony is NOT the First Symphony as we hear it today in Mahler's 1906 final revised version.
I elucidated this at length in my review of the 2012 release of the highly creditable De Vriend version with the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra.

This recording is of not quite the same version as the De Vriend-the 1893 Hamburg Revision, the last before the title Titan was dropped by Mahler-for this is the first recording of The New Critical Edition of the International Mahler Society meticulously prepared from the surviving Autograph Score of the Hamburg version.
This earlier work has an underlying theme similar to Also Sprach Zarathustra, but was yet again a failure with critics and public with the exception of the short second movement we have come to know as "Blumine", ironically the movement Mahler excised from his later revisions when the work left behind the Titan identity and morphed into the First Symphony.

This earlier version is a much more astringent work, leaner and sparer of orchestration and much more percussive than the later plusher revision. Melodic line varies in places too, and there is enjoyment to be had by any die-hard Mahler lover in playing "spot the difference."
This is not to suggest that this is the only value in the work-it is a bracing and exciting piece in its own right. Thankfully Mahler abandoned his plan to add another finale-the tone poem "Totenfeier" which actually went on to become the opening of the Second Symphony in a revised form!

This is the first recording of any version of Titan to be played by a truly world class orchestra, and there is a fitting symmetry in it being with an orchestra from Hamburg- in a sense this work has finally come home, though the recording was actually made in Lübeck by Studio Hamburg!

The NDR Symphony Orchestra (Hamburg Radio Symphony as was!) has enjoyed great success under a succession of renowned Music Directors-Wand, Eliot Gardner, Eschenbach, Eji Oue and Dohnanyi in recent years and now finds itself since 2011 under the direction of musical polymath Thomas Hengelbrock. Violinist, Composer, Stage Producer, Festival Intendant, Member of the Consensus Musicus Wien, Founder of HIP Ensembles and now "Conventional" Conductor are but a few of his accomplishments.

He is exactly the right conductor for this work-normally I do not respond to conductors steeped in HIP practice when they take on the Romantic repertoire, but Hengelbrock's bracing and acerbic approach to some sections of this piece, contrasting with an exquisite but apposite lyrical touch does full justice to Mahler's intention and inspiration.

I had feared that the conductor might apply HIP strictures on his players in the manner of Norrington or JEG, but thankfully just the opposite applies. He allows his strings to play with vibrato and to play through notes and phrases in the true Romantic manner, and brass are played with richness and the ripest of tones. The playing is overall just breathtaking.

Although the scoring is for a lesser band than in the Symphony, the sheer exciting impact of this forceful reading banishes all longing for the lushness of the VPO (and it takes SOMETHING for me to admit that!). In fact, Hengelbrock elicits such a weight of tone from his strings that at times the fact that they are less numerous is not at all evident.

Hengelbrock takes quite a broad approach to the wonderfully atmospheric opening-an immediate surprise is the offstage horns rather than clarinets, and the Woodbird effects are differently phrased.
There is no repeat of the opening-this was added later in deference to sonata form.
After the long, still passage, the entry of the theme which will form the climax of the movement is again offstage-on trumpets-and is in accordance with Mahler's detailed performance notes.
The climax is stunning!

The second movement (Blumine) in this version seems entirely apposite, and is played quite swiftly but liltingly and again differs from the known version.

The third movement-second in the symphony-is the most familiar in terms of content, but here in accordance with Mahler's wishes it is played brilliantly fast, forming a real scherzo. The melodic lines shine through differently in the more transparent scoring, and this forms a brilliant end to the first part.

The eerie cello that opens the second part is played swiftly, but not unusually so, and the huntsman's funeral procession is wonderfully ironic. The conductor does not up the tempo much for the second section, so the klezmer music seems at normal tempo and is wonderfully schmaltzy without overdoing it-there is portamento and rubato aplenty.

The climax is simply magnificent-the horns are superhuman, the percussion thunderous and thread after thread of musical invention is uncovered that we do not normally hear in the later version.

The recording is state of the art - not from live performance for a change these days-with a wonderful bloom to the sound, plenty of "headroom" and superbly detailed.

I love this disc-I find it difficult to express how much joy and pleasure, not to mention satisfaction it brings on each hearing. If asked to recommend a Mahler One, I would spite my own pedantry and be tempted to recommend this recording, it is THAT good.
There are detailed and informative notes, and I will forgive the title juxtaposing "Symphony" with "Titan" as the sleeve and the notes make clear what the work is.

There is no other recording of this authoritative version, and there are differences of score between this version and the De Vriend, but even if that were not the case, the performance and playing are in a different league, with apologies to the estimable Netherlands Symphony.

All collectors of Mahler should rush to buy this-you don't have it already!-but ignoring academic considerations, it is just SO enjoyable, a fabulous performance of a great piece of music.
It prompts the thought that Mahler got it right first time after all!!! Unlimited Stars. Stewart Crowe.

Mahler: Symphony No. 9
Mahler: Symphony No. 9
Price: £14.42

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb performance & recording with only minor imprecisions resulting in a half star deduction-but this is nit-picking!, 21 Oct 2014
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This review is from: Mahler: Symphony No. 9 (Audio CD)
Perusing the discography of conductor Michael Schonwandt (I'm sticking to the English spelling) one might think that he is a specialist in Danish music-especially the modern composers-to the exclusion of all but an occasional foray into the less obscure repertoire.
His concert and opera performances however give a very different picture, and in the major opera houses of Europe from Bayreuth to Vienna he is highly regarded as a Wagner and Strauss interpreter, and in the concert halls of Berlin to Vienna he is known for his wonderful conducting of Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Bruckner and Mahler to name but a few, though of course the music of Neilsen features frequently in his programmes.
The recording released by Chandos of his Danish Radio performance of Salome ranks alongside the very best-Karajan, Solti, Leinsdorf-no mean achievement, and not least in the superb conducting and sumptuous orchestral sound elicited by London trained Schonwandt.

Finally we have a chance to hear him tackle one of the Titans of the late Romantic repertoire, a work that is certainly a candidate for the title of greatest symphony of the 20th Century.
He leads the orchestra which like their French colleagues has dropped the "Radio" from their title and is now known as the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, a 100 strong World Class band with exactly the right rich glowing sound for this music, and much of the virtuosity to do the interpretation full justice-back to that anon.

The symphony is split over 2 discs despite coming in at just under 80 minutes, but is priced as a single full price release.
The recording was made in Copenhagen's spanking new Concert Hall and is confected from live performances in 2012 for which Schonwandt deputised at the last moment for a sick colleague. The recorded sound is excellent bordering on stunning-spacious and detailed-though it does pick up a little audience noise at unwanted moments.
Mahler's 9th differs from Bruckner's 9th in its ethos-Bruckner's anticipates the terrifying ordeal of death followed by Judgement, with the hope of Salvation and Eternal Life.
Mahler's is a bitter, ironic railing against the vagaries of man's inevitable fate ending in a resigned but nihilistic expiry-or at least that's what it means to me!

Schonwandt is on the swifter side of the interpretative spectrum, driving through the neuroses of the first movement with dramatic pointing and extraordinary changes of tempo,very fast in the middle section and is rather too quick in the 2nd Funeral March episode for my liking, but it remains a nonetheless a gripping and effective reading.

There are minor issues of ensemble-momentary imprecision does not exactly blight the first two movements, but does occur. Fortunately in the nightmare world of this symphony, imprecision is almost inevitable, (consider the stunning Bernstein BPO live recording, where among mishaps a member of the audience collapsed into the horn section causing them to miss a major entry, but the band played on and the performance is one of the finest ever), and recovery is swift.

The second movement also begins crisply, far removed from the tread of my favourite reading by Klemperer and the VPO (live in 1968 and wonderfully caught in stereo in a deleted 2005 Testament box set), so that the change of tempo is less startling, but it is a blistering reading, with a really demonic waltz proving that once again the Devil has all the best tunes.

The 3rd movement is at breakneck tempo, dazzlingly virtuosic and the orchestra covers itself in glory in this movement, with buzz-saw precision from the high brass in particular and the ripest of horn tone.

The finale does not dawdle, and Schonwandt applies ample portamento and rubato, so that this emerges as the most intense section of the symphony and brings it to a very effective conclusion, thankfully avoiding the ever increasing extremes of Bernstein. It is beautifully played throughout.

So, what we have is a very fine recording and a superb performance, with the minor caveats about technical precision not sufficient to rule it out of contention, and it certainly confirms that the conductor has plenty to say to us about Mahler.
In a sense it is a shame that this last minute substitution is the first Mahler performance that we have had from this superb musician, as it does not bode well for there being a cycle, and he deserves one as much as Gielen (whose SWR orchestra frequently struggles)- and more than Dudamel!

The competition is fierce, with exalted recordings from Karajan (either or both), Bernstein, Giulini, Sinopoli (live in Dresden on Profil), Levine (Munich Phil on OEHMS and hopelessly underrated) and classic versions by Klemperer and Walter-to name but a smattering.
Therefore, I would recommend it as a first choice only to those dedicated to this conductor or the orchestra, with the rider that anyone who DOES opt for it will not be disappointed, but it makes a fine addition to a collection of this work and provides a very rewarding experience. 4.5 Stars. Stewart Crowe.

Wiener Musik Vol 8
Wiener Musik Vol 8
Offered by MMT-UK
Price: £20.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A heart warming collection from a genuine " Old Master!", 17 Oct 2014
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This review is from: Wiener Musik Vol 8 (Audio CD)
The life of Robert Stolz reads like the plot of an opera, let alone an operetta. Born into a family of Viennese musicians in the 1880s, as a child and teenager he was a regular guest in the Strauss household, studied composition under Engelbert Humperdinck and was appointed Music Director of the Theater An Der Wien in his late 20s succeeding Artur Bodanzki.
After being drafted into military service during the First World War (as a band master!) he left Vienna in 1920 for Berlin, where theatres performing light opera proliferated as in no other city.

He was hugely successful as a conductor and composer, but returned to Vienna in 1933 as while not Jewish, he was strongly anti-Nazi in his convictions. Success continued until 1938, when the Anschluss caused him to leave for Paris-where in 1940 he was interned as an enemy alien!
Friends in the USA with influence-including Schoenberg, Korngold, Max Steiner, Kalman and even Stravinsky enabled his diplomatic passage to the USA, where before long he was scoring a huge success in Hollywood!
The post war era saw the elderly Stolz’s energies dimmed not one bit, and he continued to compose, conduct and appear on TV back in his native Vienna and throughout Europe.

As a composer he is best remembered by 2 numbers-“Salome” which emerged as song for Petula Clark in the 60s entitled “Romeo”-and “Adieu Mein Klein Gardes Offizier” which was a big hit for Mario Lanza and David Whitfield in the UK as “ Goodbye, I wish you all the best…”
and which now closes every concert by Andre Rieu. (We must not hold this against Stolz).

He made countless recordings throughout his life, but none are more persuasive than the vast collection reviewing lighter music of Vienna recorded when Stolz was a mere stripling of 90 by Eurodisc, utilising East Berlin’s Symphony Orchestra alternating with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.
All the discs are excellent, but if one has to be singled out it is volume 8, the superb collection above of Strauss favourites and lesser known works.
The recordings from 1970 and 1971 have come up superbly well in this digital re-mastering, and the playing is extraordinarily idiomatic-in fact the Sanderling’s Berlin Symphony players really do “smile” and are if anything more convivial in this repertoire than their Viennese colleagues.

Volume 8 includes an Emperor Waltz, Seid Umschlungen Milionen (sadly minus the opening chorale later added by Strauss as a tribute to his friend Brahms), an exotic and rarely heard Oriental March, “ Mind How You Go” a compilation from the “ Waldmeister” operetta again rarely heard, and the must infectious “ On Holiday” ever-join in and yodel! The judicious mixture of the familiar and rare really works-there are no rare numbers that should stay rare (or rarer!) as is sometimes the case with the New Year Concert.

The orchestral sound is not as plush as the VPO, and Stolz favours lively tempi in a manner more akin to Boskovsky than to Karajan or Barenboim in 2014, but this also works in creating an atmosphere of jollity and goodwill. It is no hardship to listen through the whole disc repeatedly, there is sufficient variety. It was awarded a “Grand Prix Du Disque” on its release.

These discs are now a rarity, and are quite expensive-but worth every penny.
Stolz was laid out in State in The Foyer of The Staatsoper before his funeral, a signal honour.
His contribution to music and uplifting the human spirit is immense, and is heard to great effect on this wonderful recording. Recommended Stewart Crowe.

Mahler: Symphony No 10
Mahler: Symphony No 10
Price: £29.24

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 5 Stars for performance and recording adding yet more glory to the reputation of this great artist-but cost is an issue!, 26 Sep 2014
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This review is from: Mahler: Symphony No 10 (Audio CD)
Over the year 2014, I have acquired 20 or more recordings from the Weitblick catalogue, searching on amazon UK, USA, France & Germany since a selection first cropped up on amazon UK.
Only one has been disappointing-a Shostakovich 7 conducted by Kegel-but live recordings from Tennstedt , Svetlanov, Dorati, Bertini, Jochum, Giulini and Pretre to name but a few have been little short of revelatory.
One recording tops them all however-a truly magnificent Mahler 3 conducted by Sinopoli with the SWR Stuttgart Orchestra in 1999, which when I reviewed it filled me with so much joy that I nominated it as “ First Choice”-a position from which I have not deviated.

Now it is joined by this belated UK release of a 2010 compilation set of earlier performances by the same forces of the Adagio from Mahler 10 and the Mahler 6, both recorded live in the same hall as the Third and in DDD sound, but in 1981 for the 10th and 1983 for the 6th.
The re-mastered sound is superb-warm, spacious and very detailed but there are obvious differences in microphone placement between the 2 performances.
For the 10th, it is similar to the ideal 3rd but the 6th has a much closer balance-as if one were on the podium with the conductor.
This slightly closer sound picture results in a tad less sumptuous tone but compensates by a very sharp, pinpoint and detailed sound picture very appropriate to the work.

The playing is just fabulous-World Class –with rich string tone, fabulous brass (the best muted trumpets ever in the 6th-really sinister!), woodwind and percussion to match.
One slight cavil-the use of the cowbells is very subtle, no bad thing, but it has strayed over into the barely audible and this might not be to some listeners’ taste. I can live with it happily, as it is obviously the effect Sinopoli wanted.

A word about the notes. I have mocked in past reviews the garbled translations from Japanese which are obviously not by a native English speaker, and this is perhaps a little unkind, but they are in addition full of misinformation and factual errors. The author in this set, the usual culprit in fact, makes great play of the slow tempo adopted by Sinopoli for the first movement of the 6th, and presents a vigorous defence of the tempo choice.
Let me assure readers that it is not in any sense a slow tempo-faster than Karajan, and almost identical to that of Boulez, Abbado, Maazel, Jansons and a host of other conductors. While it is certainly slower than Bernstein VPO and Solti, compared to Barbirolli and Chailly it is breathless!

Secondly the learned author asserts that despite having written that Mahler should always be played with the classic orchestra setting-divided violins-for this performance Sinopoli inexplicably adopted the modern or “American” setting- lower strings to the right of the conductor, massed violins to his left.
He then attempts a hypothesis as to why he opted for this setting on this occasion.
The explanation is in fact simple-he didn’t. It is quite palpably clear that the classic setting was used, with violins divided antiphonally. Once again the notes are best read for their comedy value!

These performances were recorded during the period in the early 80s when the traducing of Sinopoli’s reputation as a musician was at its height and most virulent in the UK, and they serve to underline what a despicable outrage that period was in terms of critical response to this artist.

Both performances are utterly convincing and rank among the finest available, reinforcing Sinopoli’s status as one of THE great Mahler interpreters.

The Tenth Adagio is played with a richness of string tone comparable to the greatest orchestras, and Sinopoli delivers just the right amount of urgency in pushing the tempo along. As one might expect the emotional climaxes in this movement are searing-there is no better word-and-the moments of suspended animation do not stray over into stagnation. It is a triumph.

There is a switch of mood and sound picture for the incisive 6th. Any recording has to square up to Bernstein’s incomparable VPO recording, and this performance does not open with the sheer weight of tone that the VPO generates-but that it is because Sinopoli is structuring the work differently, beginning leaner and sparer and saving the full fury of the orchestra until later.
The Alma Theme is beautifully shaped-rubato and tempo shifts abound in this movement and every one works perfectly. Climaxes are shattering.

The second movement-the Scherzo as it should be-is simply the finest I have ever heard. The Brass are superhuman, and Sinopoli doesn’t miss a trick in generating a spiky, sinister atmosphere-oh, those wailing trumpets-and it has left me unsettled every time I play it.
The third movement is beautiful-languid and passionate by turns-and there is at times a hushed intensity which has found me holding my breath.

If the yardstick for the opening of the finale is the instant neuroses and angst generated by Bernstein, then initially this performance might seem to disappoint-but wait just a few bars and you will jump out of your skin! Sinopoli generates just as much angst as Lennie, but in a subtler more insidious manner. With Lennie, it’s all out there-with Sinopoli it creeps up on you unawares.
When the tempo picks up, the movement blazes with again playing that way exceeds this orchestra’s reputation.
The hammer blows-only 2 sadly-are effective without being shattering (Maazel has the best-Dohnanyi the worst), but the final chords are speaker bursting.

This is an unusual pairing, the only one if memory serves, and recordings of the 6th are many.
At opposite extremes are Bernstein and the classical approach of Karajan, both superb, and in between there is the eccentricity of Tennstedt, the beauty of Abbado BPO( which I also find utterly lacking in drama ), the virtuosity of Jansons and the RCO and the hard driven Solti to name but a few alternatives-and they all have one big advantage in that they are cheaper than this imported 2 disc set (you can buy various complete cycles for near the same price), so a “ must buy” recommendation is difficult to justify.

For admirers of this sadly missed conductor and lovers of Mahler with an insatiable demand for great performance recordings however, this set is indispensible. 5 Stars awarded for artistry and recording-if cost is no object do not hesitate-but half a star deduction because it is expensive. Stewart Crowe.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 2, 2014 7:40 PM BST

Brahms: Symphonies; Piano Concertos; Violin Concerto
Brahms: Symphonies; Piano Concertos; Violin Concerto
Price: £20.55

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Looking for a great bargain set of Brahms? This is it! Looking for a great set at ANY price?This is it! GLORIOUS!!, 25 Sep 2014
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Sets of the 4 Symphonies of Brahms abound in the catalogue, as these great planks of Romantic concert repertoire continue to move and inspire audiences worldwide-indeed they are as built into our musical DNA as the symphonies of Beethoven.

Like the symphonies of Bruckner, who admired Brahms almost as much as he revered Wagner, they respond well to extremes of interpretation, from the massive architecture of Giulini through the eccentricity of Bernstein to the" lean and lithe" interpretations of Mackerras and Harnoncourt utilising the Meiningen Editions of the works. There are countless others versions in between-and then there is of course Karajan!

However, one set has dominated the "First Choice" position since its release in the 1970s-Sanderling and the Dresden Staatskapelle. The warmth of the playing, the sanity of the interpretations, and the flexibility of the conducting have combined to make it a front runner in the face of very stiff competition.

Recent sets from Chailly and Rattle a couple of years back divided opinion-mine was on the negative side overall-but now comes a set From the same glorious orchestra as Sanderling under its current Director-and let me assure you that it is something special.

Recorded at live performances in 2011 and 2012, thankfully in the generous acoustic of the Semper Opera, the recorded sound is full, lush but not over so, and captures the glorious playing of the magnificent orchestra better than any recording from DG in recent years.
I hesitate to use the word perfection, but in terms of recording and playing this comes as close as is possible.

I greatly admire Thielemann's Vienna Beethoven set, and I expected more of his ultra-conservative style with Brahms, but I was utterly taken aback by the thrust and dynamism of these readings!
I have recently been wallowing in sets by Maazel and the BRSO (only available from Germany though a new release is expected soon) and Svetlanov with the Swedish Radio Orchestra, both very dynamic in approach-but they take a distant second place to this new set.

Thielemann takes a distinctly "classical" approach-more so than he did with the Beethoven set-but there is no sacrifice of warmth or beauty. He does not take a rigid metronomic approach, but when rubato and changes of tempo are applied, it is done subtly and effectively.
The First Symphony is bold and dynamic, the Second is truly joyful, and the Third a triumph-for me the platinum performance of the set- and the Fourth is thrusting, exciting and highly dramatic in the finale.
Okay, the Second could take a slightly more lyrical approach perhaps, as the approach is very redolent of Klemperer's Philharmonia account-Karajan in the 1960s is unsurpassable to my ears, though I LOVE the Giulini-and in the opening of the Fourth, no-one has ever moved me the way Karajan does again in his 1960s recording-but then again the Scherzo and Finale of the Fourth are breathtaking with Thielemann.
There is warmth, humanity and an overwhelming sense of the good that lies in the human soul throughout, without exaggeration and with a sure touch to every phrase.

The 3 discs are generously filled, and the 2 Overtures are very fine, particularly the Academic Festival which is indeed a festival of student bonhomie in this performance.

All of the works on the CDs are among the very best-and in the case of the Third, I am tempted to suggest that it is the finest yet!
No set is better recorded or played; few are as good in this respect.
It does not end there-there is a bonus DVD featuring concerts of the Piano Concerti with Pollini, and the Violin Concerto with Lisa Batiashvili already released on CD in past years to great acclaim (I commend you to reviews by Santa Fe Listener).
These are very well presented and can of course be played as "sound only" on the right player, which is what I propose to do in future. They are superb, all 3 though they do not displace my favourites.
I am not an unreserved Thielemann admirer-there are a few recordings by him that I positively dislike-but I am taken aback by the superb conducting on this set, which is not in any sense "safe" meaning dull, and this set now becomes an absolute top recommendation-and at a bargain price too!
5 Glorious Stars. Stewart Crowe
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 25, 2014 9:12 PM BST

You Mean the World to Me
You Mean the World to Me
Price: £7.98

17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Lush Kitsch-Fest from the leading heroic tenor of the era! Not for the diabetic!, 16 Sep 2014
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In the strange world of German light entertainment, certainly since the 1950s, it has become almost compulsory for renowned tenors especially to "cross over" into the world of operetta, show tunes and even popular songs. Rudolf Schock led the way hosting a long running radio then TV variety show, but great names such as Fritz Wunderlich, Nicolai Gedda, Rene Kollo, Peter Hofmann, Siegfried Jerusalem and very recently the highly regarded Piotr Beczala have all dipped their toes into this highly popular-and lucrative- market.

I remember a fascinatingly awful experience of watching a German TV show in the early 90s hosted by a vocally decrepit Peter Hofmann, who opened proceedings by murdering the song "Delilah" made famous in the UK by Tom Jones, and in Europe also by tenor Karel Gott.

Now THE German tenor of our era has stooped, sorry, crossed over to the light side in a splendidly filled collection of largely musical kitsch from the 1920s onward. Many of the usual suspects are present, with liberal portions of "schlag" from Lehar, Kalman, Tauber and Robert Stolz, with several numbers in very decent English.
To add credibility to the proceedings, musicologist Thomas Voigt has researched original "Urtexts", so that each number appears in the original scoring for its version. If authenticity matters in this repertoire, then this has it in spades.
It is beautifully recorded and played, and Kaufmann's baritonal tenor recalls the all time prime exponent of this repertoire, the great Tauber himself. Kaufmann has adapted his style-he doesn't launch himself fearlessly into these numbers in the manner of Wunderlich, but inasmuch as subtlety can be applied, he succeeds expertly.
There is inevitably a fair amount of crooning, but this is what the repertoire calls for.

3 numbers stand out-the song from Abrahams' "Die Blume von Hawaii "is a riot, resembling a sort of German "The Boyfriend" or "Salad Days" (Cabbage Salad Days?), the number from Kunneke's "Die Grosse Sunderin" which is a dramatic aria worthy of the opera stage, and Korngold's "Marietta's Lied" from "Die Tote Stadt ", in which he is joined by Julia Kleiter as in 2 other numbers.
I don't know anything about her-but I intend to, as she is FABULOUS!

For me, her contributions are the highlights of the disc!

The Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra plays idiomatically, and is well conducted by Jochen Rieder, and the presentation is attractive, especially if you find photographs of Herr Kaufmann appealing.
Here we go-If this is the sort of thing you like, you'll like this-a lot! It's better sung and much more interesting than the recent Beczala collection, and while I think it's a bit much for one sitting, there are numbers which can be picked out for individual playing and these will give great pleasure.
Within its context, it has to be 5 Stars.

Strange to recall that first time I heard Kaufmann was in a performance of Schoenberg's "Jakobsleiter!"
This collection is about as far removed from that as is possible (for which I hear a collective sigh of relief from several eminent reviewers!). Recommended to those with a sweet tooth. Stewart Crowe.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 18, 2014 11:21 PM BST

Brahms, Bruckner, Wagner, Strauss, Schmidt 1970-1981 (Karajan Official Remastered Edition)
Brahms, Bruckner, Wagner, Strauss, Schmidt 1970-1981 (Karajan Official Remastered Edition)
Price: £13.35

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just when we thought Karajan recordings could not get any better......Umissable!, 11 Sep 2014
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If one were putting together a collection to best showcase the unique qualities of Karajan’s genius as a conductor, and the glories of his collaboration with his orchestra The Berlin Philharmonic it would have to include music by Bruckner, Strauss (Richard and “ The Family”), Wagner, Brahms and a few “ lollipops “of lighter music at which he was so adept.
As if on demand, here is such a collection newly re-mastered and sounding absolutely magnificent-indeed it’s dangerously easy to forget the music and just wallow in the sheer visceral impact of the sound.

Most though not all of these recordings were reissued between 10 and 14 years ago in various series by EMI using their so-called “art “technology” (ar=Abbey Road), and sounded very good then, but the cost of this 6 new disc set would not have bought 2 of the earlier discs, so even if they had not been newly remastered this set represents a real bargain!
Of course, it doesn’t end there-this is not merely a bargain but a triumph.

It contains at least 3 performances which are not just arguably the best in the catalogue, but are important milestone recordings-the Bruckner 7 and the two Strauss Tone Poems. This is not to suggest that that the other performances are anything other than fabulous-Karajan and recording at their very best, but there are no better recordings of the 3 works I have already mentioned.

All the recordings emanate from Karajan’s second period at EMI, free of the influence of Walter Legge whom Karajan had come to regard as a major negative factor, despite their earlier friendship and the debt Karajan undoubtedly owed him.
The two “lollipops”-The Humperdinck and Schmidt- are actually Digital recordings from 1981, and with the exception of the Sinfonia Domestica recorded in Paris while on tour by Paul Vavasseur of EMI France, all the recordings were engineered by Wolfgang Gulich and there can be no higher recommendation on technical grounds.

Although we think of Karajan as a modern conductor in that he was media savvy, embraced the cult of personality and was technically forward thinking it must be remembered that his career was grounded firmly in the era of 78 records with a 4 minute limit on “takes”, and he found this practice hard to shake off in the initial post-war era, much to the consternation of members of the Philharmonia orchestra.
Indeed, abetted in this outdated and unnecessary practice by Walter Legge, it was not until his first BPO recordings for EMI/Electrola in Germany that longer takes were forced on him, and the association with John Culshaw at Decca finally convinced him to adopt the longer 20 minute or longer “ take” process.
However, on one point Karajan was all but immoveable-live recording!
Karajan took the view that the spontaneous and peculiar elements of a live performance were not what was wanted on a recording, but rather that the recording should be the “reference” of the conductor’s view of the work, devoid of momentary mannerism and forming a sort of “Platonic Form” of the architecture and balance to which the listener could return repeatedly.
There can be few if any greater examples of this philosophy “ made flesh” so to speak, and while Karajan’s few official live recordings and those taken from radio recordings display even greater fantasy and inspiration, the stature and worth of these “ studio” recordings is immense.

The Bruckner 4 is magisterial and grand, but the Seventh is a revelation. For so many years it has had the reputation of being a “slow” Seventh-in fact though slower than both his later recordings, the 3rd and 4th movements are more dynamic and a shade faster!
The mood is exalted and wistful in the first 2 movements rather than tragic and threnody like, and they have never-and I mean never-sounded so glorious. The Scherzo blazes with energy juxtaposed with picaresque lyricism, and the Finale blazes with glory and dismisses any thought of its being banal as is often expressed. The recordings are stunning, SO much better than their earlier incarnations with wider dynamics and colossal impact.

Of the 8 recordings of Ein Heldenleben that I possess with Karajan, this one remixed from an SQ recording is far and away the best sonically, even above the later DG digital version, and is also the best played. It is the peak that Karajan reached with this work, played by the orchestra that he had created by then and which could produce playing unsurpassed before or since, with the same applying to the weight of orchestral sound while retaining transparency.

The Sinfonia Domestica is also from an SQ remix, and I am delighted to report that where the previous mastering got a bit confused in the final section with its brilliant fugue, this has been corrected and the underlying melodic line shines through as it should. There is no performance or recording that comes near it in greatness, no matter how fine they may be.

There are no better versions of the Brahms pieces in the catalogue.

The Wagner works are magisterial-the Lohengrin Preludes are not those from the complete recording-and unusually Karajan chose to perform the Parsifal Act 3 Prelude as a concert piece, and both the Parsifal Preludes are interestingly different from those on his later complete recording.
He chooses the Paris Tannhauser Overture and Bacchanal-the elided 3 rd version which omits the climax of the overture. This is not my preferred option, but he does it brilliantly of course emphasising how much we missed not having a stereo version of this work from him.

Johann Strauss was more feted if anything in Berlin than in his native Vienna, and most of the concert versions of his works were scored for full orchestra with Berlin in mind, where had access to the largest orchestral forces that could be commanded.
While his recordings with the VPO are unsurpassed, especially the 1987 New Year Concert, these Karajan Berlin performances have poise, grandeur and warmth a plenty-and the playing has heart stopping beauty.
Finally, in this performance the Humperdinck attains a Wagnerian depth and grandness, and if the earlier DG Schmidt recording had glamorous string tone, this one has a weight and density that almost defies credibility!

I have commented already on the technical excellence, but this cannot be emphasised enough-these new masterings are stunning, with enormous wide dynamic range and less compression than previously.
The presentation slleves have photographs of the Maestro by Lauterwasser, actually more associated with his DG recordings, but very handsome. The brief notes are translated from French, and strangely include a comment about Karajan’s association with the work Ein Heldenleben by the BPO member who banged things (I cannot bear to write his name!) and who orchestrated the ill judged coup against Karajan in his last years.
I have to say that including this in the notes, which are inevitably inadequate, is also very ill judged in a set of this nature, but this is of no consequence. Don’t bother to read them is my suggestion-you won’t miss anything!
By any set of criteria this is a bargain-that it contains some of the greatest performances ever recorded adds to its being indispensible addition to anyone’s collection.
Umissable. Unlimited Stars. Stewart Crowe.
Comment Comments (16) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 18, 2014 2:34 PM BST

Zemlinsky - Lyric Symphony
Zemlinsky - Lyric Symphony
Price: £7.15

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seething intensity juxtaposed with exquisite lyricism masterfully conducted and gloriously played in a superb recording!, 7 Aug 2014
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First a word of warning! To those whose only experience of the music of Zemlinsky is the early post-Humperdinck Opera "Es War Einmal" then let me warn that the Lyric Symphony of 1922 is about as far removed from that idiom as Beethoven from Boulez!
This is a typical overheated, overloaded seething confection of erotic symbolism- inspired by the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore in this case- that characterised so much early 20th Century Music especially emanating from Vienna.

Musically, it stays within the bounds of tonality -just-and conjures up illusions of late Mahler and early Schoenberg of Pelleas and Verklarte Nacht laced with Scriabin and briefly straying into the atonality of Berg of the Altenburg Lieder! The scoring is for a massive orchestra paired with soprano and baritone, and the work's form is a seven song cycle with extended purely orchestral passages-if his work "A Florentine Tragedy" appeals, then this is likely to also.
It is a great, decadent late Romantic wallow that strays into Modernism briefly, and I love it!

This reissue on Brilliant Classics from an original DG Digital Recording of 1980 produced by Wolfgang Stengel is a perfect entry point to the work, and a " must have" for those who already love the work.
It was recorded, unusually for that period not in the Philharmonie but in the wonderful acoustic of the Jesus-Christus Kirche Dahlem, venue for so many great earlier BPO recordings, and the space around the orchestra and singers is magical, capturing the full lustrous glory of what was Karajan's BPO at its zenith.

Lorin Maazel was frequently criticised for his concentration on exposing detail at the expense of drive and structure-there can be no such criticism here as he thrusts the work forward from the shattering chords that provide the opening and the work's motto theme, wringing the most exquisite and sensuous tone from his players juxtaposed with overwhelming weight when the score requires. His reading is a triumph, and emphasises all the more what a Titan we have lost.
I could argue that he never conducted better than here.

The soloists are as so often husband and wife Julia Varady and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Varady has the more tender lyrical songs and acquits herself wonderfully, matched only by Deborah Voigt on sadly unavailable Sinopoli VPO recording. DF-D's performance is a little more difficult to assess-the high tessitura of some passages is difficult for him at this stage of his career, and he does resort to crooning at times. On the other hand, his lower register has added weight and richness, he sings securely-there is as yet no wobbling-and of course he emotes with great intelligence. There are no exaggerated final consonants either (the bane of my life!), and while he is not the very best in this part (that honour goes to a young Terfel for Sinopoli again), he uses his technique and experience to give a very accomplished performance.

The disc is short measure at just over 44 minutes, but the musical experience is INTENSE and overwhelming-orgasmic comes to mind as appropriate!-and the cost is now bargain price, and it is just that-a great bargain. Unreservedly recommended. Stewart Crowe.

Lorin Maazel In Vienna
Lorin Maazel In Vienna
Price: £24.50

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A selection of Maazel's early Vienna Recordings reflecting the dynamism of youth-and the Decca Sound of the era!, 4 Aug 2014
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This review is from: Lorin Maazel In Vienna (Audio CD)
This set was scheduled for release before the sudden rapid deterioration in health of Maestro Maazel, and was not intended as a tribute, but as the first posthumous release it will be seen as such by many.
It's origin is strange-the various divisions of Universal in different countries seem to be operating unilaterally-Germany has re-mastered the Bohm Ring and Sinopoli Mahler not originally intended for UK release, Australia has released recordings on the Eloquence Label not actually available in Europe, and as for Japan, there is a whole plethora of remastered discs from the Decca and DG catalogue which they advertise as being at 24Bits/100kHZ and which are only available from Japan at great expense -as I can testify!

This set emanates from Universal Italy, with the perfunctory notes a translation from Italian, for example. The set does not state that it is re-mastered at 24Bits, but Decca's promotional material does, and the sonic results confirm this!
The Italian source is perhaps not so strange, as Maazel was revered in Italy perhaps as nowhere else-he could do no wrong in La Scala Milan for example.
This brings me to my next point.
The rush of obituaries even in the UK have emphasised his direction of 3 great American Orchestras-but to my mind his greatest achievements were in Europe with orchestras with which he worked here, none more so than the VPO featured on this set and the BRSO which he led for nigh on 10 years.

This set is not even a smattering of the recordings he made in Vienna, and Decca have even omitted some glorious recordings contemporary to the featured performances, but the Tchaikovsky and Sibelius sets-the only complete sets ever made by the VPO of these composers-have always enjoyed legendary status, and it is easy to hear why.

Recorded between 1963 and 1972 by Decca's crack recording team in "studio conditions" in the famed Sofiensaal acoustic, these performances show the young Maazel at his most dynamic.
It is worth noting that during this period, he had already recorded Zarathustra with the Philharmonia of which he was Principal Guest Conductor, Schubert, Schumann and Prokofiev with the BPO, various sets including a sensational Firebird Suite with the Berlin Radio Symphony of which he was Director as well as of the German State Opera Berlin, French Music with French National Orchestra of which he was also Director-and had conducted Mozart in Salzburg and Lohengrin and The Ring in Bayreuth, all before Age 40- and this is but a few of his accomplishments.

This meant that he came to the works in this set as a fully rounded artist-they may be a younger man's performances but they have an assuredness about them which is palpable-and thrilling.

There is not time and space to analyse each performance, but all are at least worthy, many are just fabulous. I will single out the full version Manfred for particular praise, and the first two Sibelius Symphonies are "reference "performances-they have never been bettered.
The Fifth of Sibelius splits opinions-some find it too fast and thrusting, lacking the sense of suspended animation that they believe the work such embody, but others find it revelatory in the glorious and joyful sonorities that Maazel and the players-unfamiliar with the work in this period-conjure up. I love it.

The Strauss pieces were held as sensational on their release, particularly the " Tod und Verklarung"-and remain so today, though why they were included over the Karelia Suite and Tapiola is a mystery.

You don't have to find every work on this set totally convincing, and you probably won't-but it is never less than fascinating, certainly not dull and overall brilliant.
There is another appealing factor-the sound quality. These were all recorded under the "Culshaw Doctrine"-indeed one of the discs was produced by John Culshaw himself, and all were engineered by Gordon Parry, the High Priest of Culshaw Doctrine! The conviction was that full frequency stereo was a medium in itself, not a means of replicating concert conditions, and balances were manipulated to provide what they deemed as ideal sonics only otherwise possible in the composer's mind!

When Decca still existed and had its own technical team under the late James Locke, in re-mastering recordings of the Culshaw period they carefully reversed much of this process as the taste and expectations of the listening pubic have changed, not least as a result of the move to live performance recording. Perspectives and balances were altered to a more natural state, not always to the delight of those who treasured the original LP releases, but in this release the original intentions of Erik Smith, Culshaw and Parry have been left unaltered.

This really is the legendary Decca sound of the 60's and 70's with all that this entails-a massive organ sound in the Manfred finale, cellos at least 3 metres tall surely, etc.
It is glorious, not as extreme as Phase 4, but not the rather homogenised results of the modern era.
The set is worth it to experience this alone!

If you are looking for a complete set of either works by the same artists, there are few if any better overall. Together in this bargain box they make a compelling choice and will thus appeal not just to admirers of Maazel, the VPO or Decca recording techniques.
The Tchaikovsky and Sibelius are superior in every respect to later versions by the Maestro, the Strauss the equal at least.
Hopefully more of Maazel's enormous recorded legacy will reappear sonically revitalised, and at time of writing we still await the release of his final Mahler recordings, including Das Lied Von Der Erde which I had to the privilege to hear live at the concert in London.
Strongly recommended-5 Stars. Stewart Crowe.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 29, 2014 11:54 AM BST

Elgar: Symphony No. 1 [Sakari Oramo, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra] [BIS: BIS1939]
Elgar: Symphony No. 1 [Sakari Oramo, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra] [BIS: BIS1939]
Price: £15.18

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Technically superb, but some interpretative points do not work for me, and thus my recommendation is qualified., 30 July 2014
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I had nothing but praise for the brisk and vibrant reading of Elgar's Second Symphony which preceded this release some months ago. While I have enjoyed this new release of the First in many respects, my enthusiasm is somewhat more tempered than it was for the Second.
The recording is excellent-at times almost too excellent!-and the playing is superb, though the orchestra is balanced differently from the earlier release and at times seems to lack a little weight.
Some pp sections are SO quiet as to be almost inaudible particularly in the Adagio, and when Elgar adopts a more chamber like scoring, Oramo really highlights this with the recording giving us a very close sound picture at these points.

However, this is not the cause of my reservations. Oramo takes a medium paced approach to the opening Nobilmente March but then whips up the tempo in a very exciting manner, with brilliant execution from his Stockholm Players and he makes this movement sound very modern indeed-a triumph.

Things do not go so well in the Second. The opening theme and March blaze away at a fast tempo, but when Elgar introduces the dancing picaresque second subject in the Major Key, Oramo slows down markedly-and for me this does not work. Worse still, when the second theme returns in the Full Orchestra-a glorious moment-Oramo makes as a sudden rallentando-quite extraordinary!- and instead of rushing ahead as Elgar intends, he slows the whole proceedings down markedly. I don't like it-end of!!

The Adagio is beautiful without becoming mawkish or lugubrious, with exquisite string tone, and when Elgar finally introduces THE phrase in the coda-you know the one I mean-it is so quiet I had to strain to hear it. Very effective if a touch too extreme I feel!

The Finale is generally good but Oramo glosses over certain key moments-and the coda does not blaze with the grand sonority that others conjure up, though it is impressive.
So overall, enjoyable enough but with some interpretative points that don't work for me.

The Cockaigne filler is lively, cheery and very well played though the brass is restrained compared to other readings and the climax lacks a little weight.
Oramo makes no allowance for Elgar's programme-he has no build up to encountering the mighty brass of the military band but on both occasions blasts through it at breakneck speed-it is more like a cavalry charge than a mounted band! The organ in the finale IS audible-but lacks bass pedal reverberation hence my comment earlier about lack of weight!

My favourite First Symphony recording remains the late Sir Colin Davis with Dresden Staatskapelle, but any number of recordings by Boult, the famous Barbirolli, the brilliant Solti, The Elder and the Sinopoli all make better alternatives, as does a most underrated Mackerras with the LSO on Argo, which has a superb Cockaigne also as its filler.

Others may feel that the, to me, contentious and misjudged interpretative points work better than I do, and technically it is superb and in SACD too, so recommended with raised eyebrows. 4 Stars. Stewart Crowe.

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