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D. S. CROWE "Music Lover" (UK)
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Wagner: Meistersinger
Wagner: Meistersinger
Price: 36.44

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Difficult Set to Assess-3.5 Stars overall. That which is good is Great, that which is bad is very bad!, 16 Nov 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Wagner: Meistersinger (Audio CD)
Let me commence by pointing out that this set differs in musical content from the previously released DVD/Blu-ray version in that it is compiled from all the performances and dress rehearsals etc. as opposed to the one-off performance that was filmed.

In this anniversary year, even late in the day the flood of fascinating releases continues.
Even the post 2000 enlarged house at Glyndebourne makes performing Wagner there a daunting and unlikely task, perhaps none more so than Die Meistersinger with its cast of over 160 and huge orchestra, and which Wagner disingenuously described as his " little comedy. "That it was achieved with masterly results is evidenced by the filmed version and to some extent by this purely audio version, though I will state immediately that this is a "niche" recording and will not suit everyone's taste.

The recorded sound is beautiful, with technology compensating for the reduced forces involved to a large extent, but the smaller orchestra results in greater transparency than is usual, and the same applies to the attenuated chorus. The smaller stage brings the chorus much more to the fore, and their added presence brings real dividends in the opening chorale and in the final scene, though their laughter and jollity does overwhelm the orchestra at times.
On the whole though, the recording is superb-it does get confused in the Act 2 "Eve in Paradise" soliloquy where the asides by Eva and Beckmesser are too inaudible to be clearly heard, and have the effect of sounding rather like audience heckling, but this is a minor cavil.

The LPO plays with luminous beauty, authority and technical excellence. The ears soon adjust and the lesser weight of sound is accommodated easily, and the conductor Vladimir Jurowski does not put a foot wrong. Every tempo is absolutely apposite, the balancing is perfect, and he elicits playing of world class from his superb band. No other version is better conducted and played!

There is no recorded version that is universally well cast-even the much fancied Kubelik has a Walther who sings with a sob in every line and a rather under characterised Beckmesser-infinitely preferable though to the gross caricature of Geraint Evans for Karajan.
Only the 1968 Bayreuth Recording Bohm comes near to the perfection we all seek in vain, and this current set has its major deficiencies also.
There are many performances in this reduced scale performance that could happen ONLY in this type of production-and are not likely to happen again either!

Gerald Finley is familiar to us primarily in Mozart, Rossini and Britten and in Lieder, and he is no Bass. The argument for a younger, more virile sounding Sachs is a strong one-he is supposed to be in his late 30s- but one must remember that men aged more rapidly in that era, and one can add 15-20 years to a man of 35 of 1870 and it will be an accurate representation of how he would have looked and sounded! The late Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau refused to tackle the part until he had reached Age 50.
The point I'm getting at is that I personally miss a richer voiced more mature sounding Sachs, full of wisdom, humour and compassion, and while Gerald Finley IS superb, I find a slight lack of gravitas in the "Wahn" and "Flieder" Monologues.
This is purely personal taste, and Finley's secure singing is a joy and he certainly conveys the bonhomie of Sachs perfectly. It is a performance that works wonderfully well in this context. I cannot recall a better sung Company of Masters on ANY recording, and their interjections are wonderfully clear. Alistair Miles is a warm voiced and secure Pogner, the Night watchman is a Hunding and Hagen in the making (with an offstage Steer Horn no less!), the David is good and the Lena adequate-she does wobble from time to time.
The Eva of Ana Gabler is very attractive, mostly secure of tone bar an occasional tremor and very well acted if not in the same class as Janowitz, Donath and surprisingly a radiant Gwyneth Jones for Bohm.

The absolute Gold of this set is the Beckmesser of Johannes Martin Kränzle. He sings wonderfully portraying the character as a puffed up buffoon-this is after all Wagner's caricature of his Arch-Nemesis Eduard Hanslick, doyen of Viennese Critics-not a pantomime villain.
He is genuinely hilarious even in pure audio, and his rendition of his own composed entry and his purloined version of "Morgenlicht Leuchtend ..." are the highlights of the set.
The set is worth it for his performance alone.

The problem lies with the Walther of Marco Jentsch. His light, reedy tenor would hardly pass muster in G&S-he frequently sings flat and sharp by turns, struggles to reach the highest register and cannot sustain notes without developing a tremor.
He makes Klaus Florian Vogt sound like Melchior.
He is to be fair very involved in the role, and makes a convincing job of the acting, but I don't want to hear his"Am Stillen Herd..", "Fanget An!" or Prize Song again-ever!

In the context of such an engaging performance his performance is just about tolerable, but one wants more than that from a Walther! I don't think he'll be cast in this role again anytime soon.
(Actually, these days I'm probably wrong!)

The set is beautifully presented as a Hard Back Album, with lavish colour artwork and pictures, background notes, synopsis and full libretto in German and English, plus head shots of all the largely British cast and each CD wrapped in a plastic bag which protects it in the album slot. The price is very reasonable, and there is enough in this set to warrant a strong but qualified recommendation as a niche performance.
The usual cuts apply in Act One, but Sachs' closing monologue, often a victim, is left intact.
5 Stars for Recording, Playing, Chorus and Conducting. 5 Stars for Sachs, Pogner and the Mastersingers save Beckmesser, 4 Stars for the remaining cast save Walther.
10 Stars for Beckmesser, 1 Star for Walther. How do I sum up?-3.5 Stars overall.
Kubelik, Bohm, Karajan, Keilberth and even Sawallisch make good alternatives, but obsessive Wagnerians will want this in their collection. I will certainly return to it for Act 2 (my favourite) and Beckmesser in the Prize Song! Stewart Crowe
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 23, 2013 11:22 AM GMT


Wagner: Siegfried
Wagner: Siegfried
Price: 29.93

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine recording and performance, with a few minor caveats-but excellent by the standards of today!, 12 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Wagner: Siegfried (Audio CD)
To my ears, Janowski's conducting style with Wagner is best described as "brisk and brusque", and all too frequently "perfunctory". He seems to want to get through it as quickly as possible and with as little expression. Ernest Newman opined, and many have reiterated that in the Ring tempo is not important, it is "pulse" that counts, and I fully concur with this view. The Ring can emerge as a triumph in the hands of Knappertsbusch or equally well under Bohm, but in hands of Janowski I generally find that there is a lack of pulse and that the patient has died!
I am happy to advise that on this occasion, the patient is alive and well, though not without minor complications on the road to recovery!
The set is presented in the attractive uniform Pentatone packaging, on 3CDs only, and with a cast drawn from the pool (more like a puddle) of front rank performers of Wagner in the current era, which last is sadly not saying much. More of this anon.

Janowski sets a tempo which is on the faster side, but not unduly so, and the dark smoky opening of the work is wonderfully captured and enunciated, with the Dragon Motif leaping out at one with real menace. Indeed, Janowski structures the whole of the first two acts uncommonly well, with some extended passages rivalling the very best! He shapes the Forest Murmurs beautifully, with the "Love of Woman" motif which he glossed over so irritatingly in Loge's Narration in Rheingold here played with a chamber like delicacy, with string portamento and a translucent beauty.
He is rewarded throughout by the orchestra which gives its best account of the whole epic series to date-it still sounds a little thin on the ground on occasions, and the concert balance does throw up some sonic anomalies, but the warm rich sound palette is ideal for Wagner.

By the way, the engineers at Pentatone could show the lads at EMI/Warner and DG a thing or two about capturing beautiful and detailed sound in the Berlin Philharmonie!

The prelude to Act Three takes me aback every time I play it on this set-it is medium paced, with a rather rum-te-tum rhythm and lacks totally the blazing brilliance we have come to expect in this passage, and which I expected from Janowski in particular, mindful of his previous recording.
Instead he opts for a rather careful approach, but gets the orchestra to play with a transparency that reveals a whole seam of string counterpoint which is normally swamped by the over-riding brass.
It doesn't capture the storm driven violence of the Wanderer's final surge through the world of men and impending severing of the last vestiges of his power, but it is quite an interesting take on the passage.
The rest of Act 3 is well executed by Janowski-this time he reins in the tempo for Siegfried's ascent of Brunnhilde's Rock through the Magic Fire, a passage he ruined for me on his earlier recording by rushing through it. Thankfully, he does not dwell over long on the awakening of the erstwhile Valkyrie, and his sensible no-nonsense tempo in the remainder of the act is effective and welcome.
So far, so good- very well conducted and played, and state-of-the art recording, especially in SACD.

Now we return to the puddle of vocal talent. The minor roles in Siegfried can badly affect a performance if not performed well-the uninvolved Fafner and wobbly, unfocussed Woodbird all but ruin Barenboim's otherwise superb performance, but there is no such concern with this set.
The vocally immortal Matti Salminen at near 70 is a perfect Fafner, and though Sophie Klussman lacks the vocal glamour of Joan Sutherland for Solti or best of all Katherine Battle for Levine, the role is actually not intended for such voices-indeed, it was conceived with a boy soprano in mind!
Ms Klussman has a bright, clear and steady soprano which is very effective in the role, though I do miss the wonderful coloratura of the exponent on the recent Thielemann Vienna set.

I found the Alberich of Jochen Schmeckenbecher to be very well acted but poorly sung on the Weigle Rheingold, but very fine with firm tone on the Weigle Siegfried, and exactly the same applies to his assumption of the roles on the Janowski cycle-I really did not care for it at all in Rheingold-but here, where he does not have sustain so much legato singing, he is very fine indeed.

Anna Larsson has become the default Erda of her generation-and with good reason. She is superb.

No-one can deny that Tomasz Konieczny's Wotan/Wanderer is firmly sung-his lighter bass voice is absolutely secure in all registers-but to my ears his nasal tone has the effect of making him sound like he is snarling in anger with every phrase, even when he intends to portray compassion and nobility. This is unfortunate, as it robs this role of much of its beauty, but certainly the vocal duel with Mime works well, and his confrontation with Alberich works too, but he sounds too hectoring in his scene with Erda and it's not surprising that Siegfried doesn't take to this bad tempered wayfarer!
Still, others are not so allergic to this, and it is undeniably well sung.

The casting of Christian Elsner is somewhat of a surprise-this fine tenor has sung Siegmund for Rattle, Parsifal for Janowski and as late replacement for an indisposed Kaufmann in Vienna to great acclaim all in the last 12 months!
His Loge for Janowski was very much a "straight" characterisation and the highlight of that uneven set, but I had doubts about his tackling the role of Mime-or even wanting to.
This set could reasonably be re-titled "Wagner's Mime" such is the strength of the characterisation.
He initially adopts a distorted voice and I feared that we would plunge to the depths of Wolfgang Schmidt, but there are no such fears for he sings most the role "straight", with refulgent full and firm tone (almost too much!) allowing the text and his vocal acting to do the characterisation.

There is little sympathy to be had for this Mime- he is a nasty piece of work indeed, and I have to say that any vestige of the humour, however heavy handed, that we know Wagner intended especially in Act One is totally absent, and I miss that but am more than willing to buy into this darker view when it is so stunningly well crafted. This is a tour de force.

Violeta Urmana is typical of a mezzo who has "bigged up"-she can thrill us with top notes, but has difficulty sustaining legato in lower registers. Her voice, bigger and darker than Petra Lang's, sounds powerful and mature, more a Valkyrie than awakened maiden, and too often there is the threat of an inherent tremor disintegrating into outright wobble. She just gets away with it though. She's typical of what we have come to expect today-she is uncommonly similar to Linda Watson on a good day, which means not bad, but not great.

Finally, we come to Stephen Gould's 3rd commercial recording (all live) of the title role. It is his best by not miles, but light years! His entry in the Vienna recording was very much his aiming at the notes and missing with the first half of that act being little more then unintelligible gabble.
Here he enters with firmly focussed, accurate tone and gives a highly creditable account of the whole act, even the Forging Song. His slightly nasal tone is always "dry" in the very top register, but perhaps aided by the concert venue and not needing to act physically, he maintains a firm tone throughout and is far from the poor assumptions of his earlier 2 sets. He is tiring towards the end, with a few more snatched notes and shouts, but overall it is a very pleasing experience.
Act 2 is as fine-he croons again an appealing Forest Murmurs, is thrilling in his confrontation with Fafner and only in the final long soliloquy do we detect signs of tiredness and some snatched notes which he only just makes, let alone sustains.
His Act 3 solo narration shows signs of tiredness, and his closing scene with Brunnhilde is not a thing of beauty-from either participant-but then these days it seldom is!
Elsner is inherently a better singer than Gould, and as so often the thought occurs that the roles could be reversed, but in truth this not a realistic prospect.
Stephen Gould is not the Siegfried of our dreams-but on this occasion, neither is he the Siegfried of our nightmares! Unlike other current exponents of this role, he has a sound technique and has actually improved rather than rapidly deteriorated as so many of his contemporaries have.
He deserves great credit for this.

Tuned anvils give them a nice musical ring, and the balance between voices and orchestra has been nicely managed by the excellent engineers. Audience noise is non-existent, with applause excised until the finale.
I like this recording a lot -I won't be returning to the final duet often, but the rest of the performance is very enjoyable. I count this as Janowski's best Wagner conducting to date, better than his Tannhauser and Walkure both of which I enjoyed.
Overall, it's not of the very highest possible standard-by the criteria of today it's probably about 8 stars, but viewed objectively it is a 4 Star recommendation with unquestionably the best recorded sound. Worth exploring with an enthusiastic recommendation, if not quite to "unmissable" standard! Keilberth, Bohm, Solti, Karajan and Barenboim have more to say about this work with performances from the "Golden Age." Stewart Crowe


Humperdinck: Konigskinder [Oehms Classics: OC943]
Humperdinck: Konigskinder [Oehms Classics: OC943]
Price: 37.48

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A 5 Star Recommendation is only prevented by cost versus competition!, 29 Oct 2013
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The opera Königskinder, best but not strictly accurately translated as " The Royal Children," is probably the only other work by Humperdinck that can be called to mind by most collectors after Hansel und Gretel and in recent years there has been a spate of revivals especially in Germany as the quest for neglected masterpieces continues.
The plot is yet another "charming" folk tale from the Brothers Grimm which we know as "The Goose Girl" and involves a witch who lives in an enchanted forest who has enslaved a kidnapped princess whom she forces to tend her geese while training her as an apprentice witch.
The usual confused prince who is wandering incognito fetches up and falls for the heroine who has to reject him because of the spell. The prince takes this as personal rejection, and leaves in the huff after giving the Goose Girl his crown. (Don't ask-it is a fairy tale).
The witch uncovers this and forces the heroine to bake an enchanted loaf of death!

A lot of shenanigans take place-but the nub of it is that the re-united couple are rejected as King and Queen of Hellabrunn because they promise to treat their subjects with respect and not tax them heavily, misjudging that what their potential subjects really want is serfdom and oppression, and they are driven out to wander in misery eventually ending up back at the witch's cottage-she's been burnt at the stake by the happy townsfolk of Hellabrunn-and as they are starving, eat a mouldy loaf that they find-which is of course the dreaded loaf of death, whereupon they sink into an ecstatic endless sleep, united in love and death (sound familiar?) and are buried by a kindly minstrel!
This plot actually makes Tristan und Isolde seem like a "romcom."

I've left out a whole raft of characters that complicate the plot, and there is splendid brawl over a supposed unpaid tavern bill (the prince really is a twit) reminiscent of Die Meistersinger, and it has the makings of a really red-blooded drama-but sadly in this work they remain makings!

The problem is that Humperdinck tries to recreate the charm of the earlier Hansel und Gretel, and although the style may be described as post- Wagnerian, there is none of the intensity of Wagner's music. Worse than this is the whole score, though charming, is at best inoffensive and at worst anodyne and unmemorable. He indulges throughout in what Richard Strauss described as "note spinning" and weaves a luxurious carpet of unresolved melodic invention. Putting it simply, there are no decent tunes!
However, there is obviously a constituency for this work, and on a certain level it is enjoyable enough-certainly preferable to some of the modern fayre that is served up to a gullible public, and this new recording goes a fair way in doing it justice.

Recorded live in 2011, it is well recorded, beautifully played with rich sonorous tones, engagingly conducted by Sebastian Weigle as ever from this source-and is almost unbelievably well sung by a cast of singers totally unknown to me.

Julia Juon sings an almost too beautiful Witch-and she is abetted by Humperdinck's writing which is not dark enough for the work itself, and she is joined in the opening duet by an exquisitely sung Goose Girl in Amanda Majeski, a beautiful lyric soprano with bell like top notes and utterly secure legato. She would be a perfect Gretel, Sophie and even an Eva in Meistersinger.
Her Prince is Daniel Biehn, who has a slightly nasal but pleasing light tenor in the German mode-not a Heldentenor (admirers of Klaus Florian Vogt please note!)-but in the current climate no doubt it will not be long before he is singing Lohengrin and Siegmund! He is very fine, and the "would be lovers" are a very attractive pairing and within the limits of the work a pleasure to listen to.

Indeed, this applies to the whole cast, and as I have noted from past recordings from this venue, the "home team" of this house should be the envy of many nominally more illustrious names.

So, a work that is of interest to many, and I acknowledge that there are those who enjoy it more than I, such that a firm recommendation would seem to be in order for this beautifully played and sung version, which is certainly the best recorded.
There are two snags-the cost and the competition. This 3 disc set, beautifully presented but with the libretto only in German, is very expensive and the alternatives are much cheaper and have their very strong points.
There is an early Jonas Kaufmann recording superbly conducted in decent sound by Armin Jordan but with a less than accomplished orchestra and a variable supporting cast, and a classic Electrola recording under the ever reliable Heinz Wallberg and starring Helen Donath at her best and Alfred Dallapozza as the most elegant and accomplished Prince, and has a supporting cast of excellent quality for about a 3rd of the cost of this set currently. The remastered sound is warm and detailed and it is to this set that I would turn for those exploring this work anew.

Devotees for whom price is no obstacle can add this set to their collection with joy and enthusiasm, for it is arguably the best overall performance, Kaufmann and Donath notwithstanding elsewhere!
5 Stars for artistic and technical quality, 3 stars for comparative value-4 stars overall. Stewart Crowe.


Strauss: Ein Heldenleben/ Macbeth [Sebastian Weigle, Frankfurt Museum Orchestra] [Oehms Classics: OC888]
Strauss: Ein Heldenleben/ Macbeth [Sebastian Weigle, Frankfurt Museum Orchestra] [Oehms Classics: OC888]
Offered by makropulosuk
Price: 5.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well played, well conducted and well recorded-but well enough to dislodge the competition?, 24 Oct 2013
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OEHMS has done the record collector immeasurable service with its releases from Munich, Hamburg and Frankfurt, and following a collection of works from the opera house, has now embarked on a new series of orchestral performances of the works of Richard Strauss with the cumbersomely titled Frankfurt Opern-und Museumsorchester (this is one orchestra which has 2 guises-the "Museum" is not a building full of relics, but the title of an Arts Society which promotes performances inspired by the "Muses"-hence Museum-much in the way of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna. It would be like saying the "Vienna State Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra").
The conductor is again the ever improving Sebastian Weigle, and in what the attractive "Jugendstil" packaging describes as Volume One, the series commences with the attractive coupling of Ein Heldenleben and Macbeth-arguably the finest distillation of Strauss's orchestral genius coupled with one of his earliest efforts.

Weigle sets off at a spanking pace in the opening Heldenleben, though not quite as hard driven as Solti's 1979 VPO recording, and maintains forward momentum throughout the work. It has to be said that this approach loses some the sheer romantic glory in the "Pauline" section and in the Works of Peace" section, but the critics are a spiky, sharp-tongued chattering bunch, and the battle is definitely a cavalry charge, not serried ranks of infantry taking pot-shots at each other.
It is very well played and the live performances from 2011 are well recorded with just a touch of dryness about the sound-but there is a noticeable lack of weight of orchestral sound compared to the big guns of the BPO and the VPO for example.
Macbeth is barely recognisable as the Strauss of only a few years later, and suggests more of a Liszt Tone Poem. Weigle gives again a brisk efficient performance which is highly enjoyable within the limitations of the work itself.

The problem with this disc is that it's very good-but not truly great in ANY department-conducting, playing and recording-and it has to face FORMIDABLE competition especially in Ein Heldenleben.
Truly great recordings abound-6 from Karajan in stereo and 2 in Mono, Kempe, Reiner, Haitink (the Philips not the disappointing CSO) and for stunning sound, Eji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra to name but a few. My personal favourite is the Karajan live RFH performance from 1985, but there are many others that I cherish and would not relinquish. This is sadly not one of them.

The Macbeth can be heard to more convincing effect in a stunning performance by the BRSO with Maazel, coupled with an underrated Alpensinfonie and in Dolby Surround sound for hi-fi enthusiasts.

There is pleasure to be had from this disc which is very reasonably priced, and if the combination appeals then it is a good candidate. It will deliver efficient, well played performances which have passages of great beauty and occasional power, and the fact that it has left me distinctly underwhelmed may not be everyone's experience, so it receives moderate enthusiasm and a cautious recommendation of 3 stars. Those seeking a brilliant Ein Heldenleben at a comparable cost would do better to choose Karajan on The Originals, or his EMI recording which I like even more or Reiner coupled with Zarathustra on the Living Presence SACD re-mastering to suggest but a couple.
Hopefully the series will improve. Stewart Crowe.


Bruckner - Symphony No. 8 / Wagner - Siegfried Idyll
Bruckner - Symphony No. 8 / Wagner - Siegfried Idyll
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: 37.97

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Slack ensemble, rushed tempi,dated recording-how good can this recording be? Read on!, 21 Oct 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
There is little that I can add to the outstanding reviews of both Bernard and Ralph-assuming that I understand Bernard's review, but he gives it 5 stars so we all get the picture-well, a picture at least!

There are one or two areas that both have touched upon which could be elaborated upon however.
Knappertsbusch was never at his best in the studio-in this case the sound stage of Bavaria Film, frequently the venue for recordings in Munich, and which has a marvellous acoustic-as he regarded recordings as a necessary evil, a gimmick that did at least bring financial rewards, but which were no substitute for the spontaneity of the "in the moment" artistic fusion in a concert or opera performance.
This is amply illustrated by the difference between his live and studio recordings.
His reluctance to rehearse was cited as a desire not to "rehearse the life out" of the eventual performance, but was in fact because unlike artists such as Giulini who loved rehearsing but performing not so much, Knappertsbusch disliked the rehearsal process-he just couldn't be bothered preferring to play cards-Schnapps or Skät-usually with his old sparring partner Richard Strauss!
While this may have resulted in extra spontaneity, it also all frequently resulted in lax ensemble.

There is a famous concert incident in a Beethoven symphony when half the Vienna Philharmonic played the repeat and half didn't-chaos ensued and Kna blamed over- rehearsal!

The Munich Philharmonic of this 1960s was not a crack orchestra as it is today, though it had all the right sonority, and it has to be said that the ensemble is slack throughout. Time and time again entries are not crisp, strings are not together and there is a slack feeling about the whole discipline.

Knappertsbusch is indelibly associated with extremely drawn out tempi, largely from post-war recordings of Wagner, and in that Parsifal in particular.
However, by these later years of his life, his Wagner had speeded up-his 1964 Bayreuth Parsifal (my favourite) is faster than Kubelik's recording, and he had always adopted swift tempi for Bruckner.

Listeners should not expect the languorous tempi of the 1957 Karajan 8th recording-this is nearer to Harnoncourt's in tempo, and the Wagner is breakneck-one of the swiftest Lohengrin preludes ever!

Then there is the Josef Schalk revision of the 1882 Original Version of the symphony, complete with cymbal clash that Knappertsbusch doggedly adhered to-no truck with Haas or Nowak for him.
To be fair, this version is not the most criminal that the Schalk brothers perpetrated on Bruckner, but it would not be any sane Bruckner lover's choice.
So, in sum-Kna in his detested studio, slack ensemble, swift even rushed tempi, dated recording (though very good re-mastering), flawed edition of the symphony-not much to recommend?

Just ignore everything I've written-I'm minded to suggest that this just might be the greatest Bruckner performance ever recorded by anyone of any of Bruckner's works.
How does this come about with all the demerits I have recounted?
Magic-the magic that makes the innate spiritual and artistic sensibilities of a unique artist such as Knappertsbusch manifest themselves against all odds.
No recording illustrates more the power of personality overcoming the distractions of which we often complain-audience noise in live recordings, orchestral fluffs, conductor's groans-none of this matters when the sheer impact of the inspired music making is as powerful as in this recording.

The sheer power, the grip on the architecture and the harmony with the composer are clearly demonstrated in this historic document. There is nothing anodyne about this performance-it is "warts and all", but would that there were more such wart bearing performers and performances today.
Seek it out at any cost.
Unlimited Stars. Stewart Crowe.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 23, 2013 6:34 PM BST


Mahler: Totenfeier Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
Mahler: Totenfeier Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
Price: 8.94

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 5 Stars for artistry, 3 stars for value even at its modest cost-but a must for Mahler scholars!, 20 Oct 2013
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Whereas the large orchestral work in the form of a symphony Mahler christened "Titan" (NO "Der") is radically different from Mahler's revised version that we know as the First Symphony (which should NOT be entitled Titan even if Blumine is included), and warrants inclusion in its own right in the collection of any ardent admirer of Mahler's music, the 1888 tone poem "Totenfeier" (Funeral Rites) which became the first movement of the Second Symphony was not so heavily revised, and most collectors will have acquired it as an add-on or a filler to other works if they have acquired it at all!
Mahler conceived it originally as depicting the funeral of the eponymous hero of "Titan", and even considered incorporating into the revised First Symphony, but its music fits perfectly into Mahler's depiction of the Resurrection. Whereas most will know the piece in this context, no conductor has yet had the temerity to record the Second Symphony with HIP forces (or rather HAP as we must designate them apparently-"Historically Aware Practices"), so this recording has the field to itself and may thus have wide appeal.

The musicological argument for performing the work in this manner is tenuous-by the late 1880s all the main orchestras were utilising modern string and brass instruments. However, the strings were gut, the brass instruments though valved were narrow bore, woodwind were just that-made of wood!-and timps were of the closed kettle-drum type played with small headed "hammers" and delivering a "thwack" rather than a resounding boom. In addition, smaller provincial orchestras such as in the Austrian town of Laibach (now Ljubljana in Slovenia) where Mahler held his first conducting post frequently had a mixture of modern and outdated instruments which made tuning and playing together doubly difficult, all of which combines to mean that it probably would have sounded nearer to the performance recorded here than in recordings by the RCO and CSO if it been performed at the time of its composition. However, it was only rediscovered in the 1980s, so even that argument becomes stretched!

Vladimir Jurowski, in an interview before the 2011 concerts from which the recording is made, when asked for his justification for using HAP forces was disarmingly honest in his reply stating that there was no particular justification-he was just curious to hear what it sounded like!
Now, I'm no fan of HIP/HAP practice when applied to Romantic works, especially ones as late as this.
Attempts by Norrington in particular have filled me with horror, and an ill-conceived notion by Herreweghe to record Bruckner 7 still rankles as a monumental waste of time and resources.

Utilising a band such as the OAE herein brings interpretation strictures that override artistic sensibility by the very nature of the instruments-no vibrato, different pitch, no sustained chords etc. and so despite Maestro Jurowski's formidable reputation built up during his tenure with the LPO and as Music Director of Glyndebourne, I was sceptical and fascinated in equal measure.

The results are certainly startling in the Totenfeier at least. There is an immediate awareness of a lack of weight in the sound, certainly as compared to its incarnation in the second symphony.
This is offset by a wiry transparency that is in fact very appealing, and the piece launches at a pace and with a staccato rhythm that one does not expect, even from Boulez in his CSO recording.

In fact, Jurowski manages to extract some vibrato from his period strings, and his breakneck pace throughout, peppered with effective use of rubato transforms the piece from a solemn funeral procession punctuated by grief into a sort of "Dance Macabre".

The playing of this accomplished orchestra can be taken for granted-it is flawless with none of the pitch problems and cracks from the brass which used to permeate HIP performances. The recording in the improved acoustics of London's RFH is excellent as is usually the case with Signum Classics.
I like it enormously, and in this guise it certainly justifies its existence as a stand alone work.

The Lieder Eines Fahrenden Gesellen shares musical content with Waldmarchen from Das Klagende Lied and the First Symphony, and is Mahler's earliest song cycle, the first derived from the Des Knaben Wunderhorn collection of poems so makes a fitting contemporary makeweight.
Only the Ruckert Lieder is a shorter collection-usually-and the marginally swifter than usual tempi employed by Jurowski make it pass in a very short time. Sarah Connolly, who is ubiquitous at the moment, gives a very accomplished reading, her fine mezzo voice being ideally suited to these works, but the overall effect is less unique and less distinguished than for the orchestral work, and it is for that work for which I mainly return to this recording.

I must warn that is VERY poor value at 38 mins playing time, even at budget-price, and so notwithstanding the excellence of the recording and performance, I can only give a cautious recommendation other than to " Must have at all costs Mahler nuts"-we know who we are!
5 Stars for artistry-3 Stars for value-4 stars in sum but highly recommended. Stewart Crowe.


Wagner: Das Rheingold (Mariinsky Orchestra/Gergiev)
Wagner: Das Rheingold (Mariinsky Orchestra/Gergiev)
Price: 27.76

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gergiev constructs a Rheingold of inexorable power and grandeur that is exquistely sung and played, rivalling the very best., 16 Oct 2013
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Having rushed to judgement with the first instalment of this cycle, I have taken a long, hard listen to this set to ensure that I was not carried away by my enthusiasm of hearing the work so beautifully sung as I was with Gergiev's Walkure. Longer acquaintance with that set has brought home to me that despite the undoubted beauty -by modern standards-of the singing and playing, and the excellent recording-those who found it lacking in drama have a good case. It is a bit staid in its overall characterisation, and perhaps 4 stars would have been a more realistic appraisal.

I am delighted to advise that there are no such reservations with Das Rheingold, which is again beautifully sung and even better played and recorded. Certainly, Gergiev takes a measured and darker approach to this work than many, but I feel that he captures the essence of it wonderfully.

Many observers bemoan the homogenisation of orchestral sound that has developed over the last 40 years-where are those horns that sounded like saxophones in French orchestras and the braying, tinny brass of Slavic orchestras?-but it is fair to observe that the former Kirov orchestra does maintain some of the characteristics of Russian orchestras that use to endear and exasperate in equal measure. There is still the slight sharp edge to the trumpets (though the horns are wonderful) and a metallic glint to the strings that let us know we're not in Germany! This is an observation not a criticism as the playing on this set is one of its finest features, and the recording is spacious with a wide dynamic range.
The cast is all Russian bar Wotan and Loge, sung here by René Pape and Stephan Rugamer respectively. Pape captures well the nobility and lofty insouciance of the young Wotan, for which character his voice is ideal, better suited than in Walkure and Rugamer provides a well sung, intelligent Loge, full of character and lyrical beauty offset by a real sense of lurking danger.
His "who knows what I'll do?" carriers real menace.
Nikolai Putilin was the most terrifying of Klingsors on Gergiev's Parsifal, and here he gives us a fiery, bad tempered Alberich which is well sung and well acted, especially in the curse scene.
There is a trend nowadays to make Alberich totally unsympathetic as he is here, but my own view is that was not what Wagner intended. He was fond of this character -the first scene in Act 2 of Siegfried is totally unnecessary in terms of the drama, but Wagner wanted to bring back a character for whom he had affection-the little man from the dark depths who craved acceptance in the upper echelons of the light but was rejected, duped and humiliated for all his ambition!
Neidlinger captures this to perfection, as do Pernerstofer, Nimsgern, and Wlaschica but only Wolfgang Koch seems currently to following this style of injecting some sardonic humour into Alberich.
Nevertheless, it's a great performance and unlike Schmuckenbecher for Janowski, he sings the role with assured steadiness.
The giants are mightily impressive as one would expect from Evegeny Nikitin and Mikhael Petrenko, and Gergiev ushers them in with a lumbering massively slow tread that outdoes even Furtwangler for sheer imposing weight, but he picks up the tempo for Fasolt's narration. Donner and Froh are good, though Sergei Semishkur has a classic pinched and nasal Russian tenor voice which takes one aback-but he sings well and ushers the Gods over the Rainbow Bridge beautifully.
The women are ALL excellent-in tune, mellifluous-and very Russian sounding in a good way!
Gubanova's Fricka is a very intelligent, powerful Goddess who is bitingly scornful and Bulycheva's Erda is one the finest I've heard-full of foreboding and power, while wonderfully alluring.
The Rhinemaidens are a very feisty bunch of sirens, very much "in your face" in the concert recording, but they sing with beauty and allure. The Mime and Freia make much of their smaller parts.
From the inexorable dark flowing waters of Gergiev's Rhine in the prelude through to the hair raising climax, the conductor adopts a style that reminds one time and time again of Rudolf Kempe.
Measured, controlled -and breathtakingly beautiful. Grand moments are just that-the descent to Nibelhiem (great anvils!), Donner's summoning of the winds, the Rainbow Bridge with all 6 harps clearly audible and the introduction of the sword motif as Wotan greets the castle-ALL are spectacular.
Other reviewers have commentated on a lack of excitement, and certainly if compared to Solti's "a climax every 2 minutes" approach (which I love!) that is an accurate observation. What it does have is an overwhelming sense of the architecture of the work, an inexorable slow descent into the tragic events which will ultimately lead to the destruction of the Gods, a hollow grandeur permeated with bitter irony and in that sense it evokes memories of not just Kempe but of Knappertsbusch.
Audience presence is all but undetectable, and some of the dramatic effects are either a bit tame (Donner's hammer blow) or absent (the screams of terror of the scattering Nibelungs)-but they are not in the score and are no more than common stage and recording practice so perhaps we should not complain.
This is in a different league from the recent mediocre Janowski recording, and is a different take on the work from the likes of Solti, Bohm, Karajan and Simone Young, all of which are superb.
The new Thielemann Vienna recording tops this one for me, but is not available as a "stand alone" option, but the Gergiev Rheingold joins the ranks of the very best and I have enjoyed and will to continue to enjoy returning to it. Highly recommended with 5 Stars. Stewart Crowe.
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Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Juan
Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Juan
Price: 13.08

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A "dud" from Dudamel in these flaccid perormances., 10 Oct 2013
Gustavo Dudamel has received, deservedly, universal acclaim for his work with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra in his native Venezuela. The social implications of the enlightened project that led to its creation have been immense, and the lessons learned have resonated throughout the world.
If we are brutally honest, when it comes to that particular orchestra Dr. Samuel Johnson's famous remark about having seen a dog dancing on its hind legs is appropriate, that being" the issue is not how well it was done, but that it was done at all".
In an era when so many conductors are "faceless", Dudamel's engaging personality is a welcome relief, but a major component of the key to great conducting is being able to inspire the musicians to translate the personality of the conductor into their playing as much as into the interpretation.

Any conductor who tackles Strauss tone poems in Berlin is potentially on a hiding to nothing as the spectre of Karajan hovers malevolently over the proceedings. Just as in Cleveland with Szell, no matter who conducts these works in Berlin, Karajan always gets a review!
Whatever one's opinion of Karajan as an interpreter, it is beyond question that his performances of Strauss were infused with HIS personality, which was manifested in the intensity of the playing, each individual note being played through and an atmosphere of tension relieved by ecstasy particularly in Zarathustra, which with Don Quixote is the most challenging of the Strauss tone poems to bring off, needing careful balancing between darkness and light and especially careful avoidance of the traps that can lead to musical longeurs.

I'm sorry to say that the word to best sum up this performance of Zarathustra is flaccid.
I find it devoid of energy, inspiration and for me-interest. I have waited for some time to compile this review, as I have returned many times to this recording to ensure that I was not affected by temporary mood etc, but each repeat hearing has reinforced my conviction.
From the very opening, the mystery and grandeur of the sunrise are totally absent, and if this fails to grip, things are bad indeed. There is a lethargy about the whole performance which has infected the players, and the playing sounds to me as if the orchestra was uninvolved.

The passage described as "Von der Wissenschaft" seems interminable as the fugue drags on, and the Tanzlied lacks spring and liveliness. It's not just the slow tempi-that can work as Tennstedt demonstrates in his gripping recording with an inspired LPO-it's the lack of energy and inspiration not being conveyed to the players.
Of course, the Berlin Philharmonic plays with flawless accomplishment and the recording is very good though there is some opaqueness in more congested passages, and it is not demonstration class, so on a superficial level it is a pleasing experience.
The Zarathustra is not dreadful-but it IS dull and to me that is unforgiveable.
A similar state of affairs pertains to the 2 fillers which are at best routine and competent. The Don Juan totally fails to arouse any excitement; Till Eulenspiegel is a dull fellow whose pranks fall flat.
Again, very well played and recorded and pleasant enough but not inspiring.
I can imagine the Spectre of Karajan thumbing its nose in the manner of Petruchka over the whole proceedings.
Karajan was a master of these works, particularly Zarathustra with 4 commercially released CDs, plus DVD and "unofficial" recordings. For me his finest performances are the Decca VPO recording, stunning in the 24 Bit re-mastering made in Japan which can be had as an import at huge expense, and his live Salzburg BPO performance released on Testament, but obviously his re-mastered Digital recording is sonically the best. Conventional wisdom has the 1970's performance on Originals as the best choice, and indeed it was BBC Radio 3's Critics Choice as Best Overall Choice in 2012. They are all superb.
My own top recommendations besides the Karajan recordings are the aforementioned Tennstedt contained in an astonishing bargain box, Previn with the VPO on Telarc which is not just artistically superior but sonically also and both Digital Recordings by Maazel are superb-the VPO recording coupled with a superb Sinfonia Domestica and Dolby Surround recording with the BRSO a very different reading, with a transparency and chamber-like approach which is revelatory in many passages and with glorious climaxes juxtaposed.
Famous performances by Reiner, Ormandy and Steinberg are all excellent but not in the very best of sound comparatively.
For Don Juan and Till, Reiner and Solti both with the CSO are hard to beat and if you want an eccentric view of Don Juan, Klemperer shows how slow tempi can be effective when an inspirational conductor is on the podium (it's actually my favourite performance and the recording and playing are superb!)
I'm afraid that to my ears, and not just in this recording, there is an element of " Emperor's New Clothes" about the work of Dudamel-I find his Mahler unlistenable, with his performance of the Second in London absolutely stultifying-I hope it does not get Resurrected in any form. (Sorry!)

The good that this conductor has done on a social level and in bringing great music to a wider and unlikely audience is immense, and I wish him well and am mindful that he is young and could well mature into a really fine artist.
Here I have to advise on this recording, and I would not recommend it to any but his ardent fans and those who cannot resist any recordings by the BPO.
I would award 2 stars for performance, but the recording and playing are good with a wide dynamic range (though no SACD) so a generous 3 stars.
Stewart Crowe
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Wagner: Overtures & Preludes
Wagner: Overtures & Preludes
Price: 19.94

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb recording of a glorious concert confirming Thielemann's pre-eminence in Wagner even 10 years ago!, 8 Oct 2013
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The Wagner Festival continues in this anniversary year, and as it draws to a close, there is no let up in the volume of fascinating and attractive releases, with the completion of both the Janowski and Gergiev Ring cycles to look forward to.
Meanwhile, it's another retrospective from the rich bounty that is Austrian and German Radio Recordings beautifully mastered and issued by Orfeo.
This type of collection of Overtures, Preludes and Orchestral Confections used to be meat and drink to the big recording companies from the earliest days of LP to the mid-90s when the classical recording industry as we knew it effectively ceased to exist.
Conductors who rarely if ever conducted Wagner "from the pit" so to speak were ever anxious to put their stamp on these popular concert items-and to reap the financial rewards of so doing.
These included the likes of Stokowski, Ormandy, Szell, Boult and Tennstedt, and they were joined by the great Wagnerians of the day from Furtwangler through to Bohm, Solti and Karajan (who recorded and re-recorded many such collections).
In this set we have a live concert from the conductor who can lay claim to being the foremost Wagner exponent of the current era, recorded nearly 10 years ago in the glorious acoustic of the Musikverein in Vienna with the orchestra of which he had been Music Director for some 7 years.
Even at this earlier stage of his career, Christian Thielemann had conducted all 10 major works in the Wagner canon in the Deutsche Oper Berlin where he had tenure as Music Director, and there is ample evidence of his assured touch displayed in this concert.
The recorded sound is sumptuous, and the rich glowing tones of the orchestra banishes any regrets that we are not listening to the VPO as would be usual from this venue.
In this lengthy programme which straddles 2 CD's, Thielemann includes an overture or extract from each of the main works bar Dutchman, if we count the Ring as one, and provides a fascinating journey for the listener as a result.
From the opening gravitas of Rienzi through to the joyful conclusion of the concert with Overture to Die Meistersinger everything sounds "just right."
Thielemann was of course a student under Hollereiser and Karajan, but these performances have the stamp of Knappertsbusch to my ears-the breadth, the weight, the great sense of musical architecture and knowing when to draw back just before a great climax and then "letting the climax rip", so to speak are all characteristics common to both artists.
Both the Tristan and Parsifal extracts are musically more satisfying that the same passages in his subsequent complete recordings, notwithstanding the omission of voices, and the same would be true of the Gotterdammerung excerpts were it not for the added weight of the VPO in the latest set-they are far superior to his Bayreuth set. The Tannhauser is one of the finest I can recall, and I hope we get a CD release of the complete work under his baton at some stage.
The Good Friday Music is particularly affecting and finally displaces the recording by Jochum and the BRSO as my all time favourite for this music in its concert entity.
This is a record of a live concert, and effusive applause has been left in between each item but otherwise audience noise is minimal to nil.
I do not care for Thielemann's earlier released collection with the Philadelphia on DG as the recorded sound was stodgy and opaque, but this set is outstanding.
Though collections such as this abound, and so many are recommendable, this takes its due place of honour among the pantheon of great Wagner concerts.
The listener may find it all a bit cloying to endure at one sitting, but this is the kind of collection that can be explored when the need to wallow in any of the included works grips the listener, who is then likely to find himself compelled to listen right through the collection.
If this is the kind of thing you like-you're going to like this!!! (Sorry.)
5 Stars and unreservedly recommended. Stewart Crowe
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Parsifal (Kegel, Kollo)
Parsifal (Kegel, Kollo)
Price: 18.39

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Parsifal that time forgot-well I did anyway-and if you are open to a highly individual view, you need not hesitate!, 7 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Parsifal (Kegel, Kollo) (Audio CD)
For reasons inexplicable to a Wagner "old lag" like me, this reissued set has slipped under my radar until now.
Recorded in 1978 in the Great hall of Leipzig Radio (actually a former church!) the set has been reissued by Berlin Classics in 2008 in its new re-mastering, with really sumptuous packaging in a faux leather folio cover. The whole work, uncut, is on 3 CDs only as opposed to the usual 4, and this will immediately give an indication that the reading is a swift one.
The recent scholarly " Gesamtausgabe", or " guide to performing" reveals that over the decades performance style has become much slower than Wagner envisualised or intended particularly with regard to the Ring and Parsifal, and in a sense the swift approach of Boulez and Kegel can be deemed to have the air of authenticity.
Of course, it becomes difficult to invoke the spirituality of the work at these tempos, but we would do well to remember that the so-called spiritual elements are complete artifice-humbug if you like!
Wagner was a staunch atheist, and such religious background as he had in his youth was Lutheran, far removed from the Catholic rituals of Parsifal.
Furthermore, the whole Grail saga was a piece of hokum never intended by Chretien de Troyes or Wolfram von Eschenbach to be anything other than a rattling good yarn, but such were the times that it was prudent to couch any writings-or even thoughts-in the most orthodox religious terms or all too easily the author could find not just his tall tale but himself being stretched, leading to the worrying smell of burning firewood arranged around the tootsies!
By Wagner's time, long before the turgid prose of Dan Brown was inflicted on a gullible public, the whole Grail Saga had become subsumed into the religious consciousness of the Catholic Church, and Wagner exploited this in his usual ruthless and cynical manner.
Bayreuth is in the heartland of Catholic South Bavaria, and Wagner was viewed with suspicion by Church and authorities alike -as an exploiter of King Ludwig's largesse, and as a challenger of Catholic Orthodoxy particularly in The Ring and the earlier Tannhauser (was that a dig at The Pope?).
Not only was he suspected of atheism, but worse- of being a Lutheran!
Wagner, seeking to secure the future of Bayreuth and thus his legacy, rode over these suspicions by composing a quasi-religious epic that incorporated definitely Catholic ritual and had more than a subtle whiff of anti-Semitism for those who chose to see it as such-meat and drink to both Church and authorities!
The point of all this is that it is perfectly legitimate to take a more red-blooded operatic approach to this work, treating the religious symbolism in the same way as the Nordic legends of the Ring, and under the regime of the then DDR, there was really no alternative. This does not in any way invalidate Herbert Kegel's swift but beautifully shaped account of this endlessly fascinating work, and in this recording I find it totally convincing.
The recording was made live with an audience as a concert performance, and the sound is rich and transparent. The Leipzig Radio Orchestra (now the MDR Symphony Orchestra) covers itself in glory, with resplendent brass, lustrous rich string tone and plangent woodwinds, and recorded in what is essentially a resonant Church acoustic, the voices too have plenty of air around them and are very well balanced, as are the various superb choruses. The overall sound is breathtakingly beautiful.
The cast is excellent-there are no weak links. Kollo is a little rougher of tone than he was for Solti, and there is a hint of tiredness by "Nur eine waffe taugt..", but he is a fine Parsifal, far better than Peter Hofmann 3 years later for Karajan. Ulrich Cold is a lighter voiced Gurnemanz than some with a vocal quality reminiscent of Karl Ridderbusch and like him he has a secure voiced delivery that is a pleasure to listen to. He may lack the greatness of Moll, particularly for Kubelik, but he is a fine exponent of the role. Gisela Schröter, well known from many Dresden recordings, is a superb Kundry-her scream in Act 2 with Kingsor is blood-curdling-and she has a fine rich voice with just a hint of vibrato and she handles the scope of the role from tortured visionary through seductress to penitent with absolute conviction. The Klingsor is terrific, but rather surprising is the excellence of Theo Adam's Amfortas.Of course, no opera could be recorded in the DDR without Theo Adam, whether miscast or not, but in this case the casting is fortuitous.
He starts somewhat wobbly-this was live and the voice was " cold", but he quickly gains control and delivers an impassioned, highly dramatic rendition that rivals the best (London, van Dam) and is better than Weikl for Kubelik.
The remaining cast and various choral groups are superb, and only the bells disappoint a little, but then certainly convey the impression of a theatre performance.
The conducting of Herbert Kegel will be for some just too fast-but unlike Boulez (who is overall SLOWER!), he shapes each passage beautifully, knows when to ease back to allow dramatic emphasis, and there are no sudden switches of tempo such as Boulez indulges in during his all too " enfant terrible" Bayreuth recording, beautiful though much of it is.
Kegel was not a regular Wagner conductor-he was far more renowned as an interpreter of contemporary music (though he has the distinction of being the conductor of the first Digital Beethoven Symphony set released in the UK, on Capriccio)-but the rather pretentious booklet notes, reprinted from the original set, explain that he was taken by Adorno's view that Parsifal was a work that looked to the future and was not bound in the past.
His fresh, bright and highly dramatic approach clothes this work in sensuality rather than spirituality, and if that appeals, do not hesitate to acquire this excellent set.
If you are inured to the readings of Knappertsbusch (his 1964 Mono performance for me!), Karajan and Kubelik-wondrous all-then this may come as a shock and a step too far .
This performance goes further than Solti, Gergiev and even Boulez in driving the drama forward in a thrusting and exciting manner, and while it is not how I always want to hear it, I absolutely love this performance and as recording, vocal and orchestral performances are absolutely first rate, I have no hesitation in awarding it 5 Stars. Stewart Crowe.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 5, 2014 9:32 PM BST


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