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

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Strauss: Ein Heldenleben [Maighréad McCrann, Cornelius Meister] [Capriccio: C5208]
Strauss: Ein Heldenleben [Maighréad McCrann, Cornelius Meister] [Capriccio: C5208]
Price: £13.32

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Young Maestro Meister displays impeccable Strauss credentials in this highly rewarding set in excellent recorded sound., 21 Jan. 2015
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This attractive recording gives the listener an opportunity to experience the conducting talents of rising star Cornelius Meister, the young German Conductor who has already received high praise for his conducting in the Vienna State Opera, and since his accession to the Music Directorship of the RSO Wien his concerts have been sold out. UK Opera Goers will have the chance to hear him conduct The Magic Flute at Covent Garden in 2015, but here we have a chance to hear him in mainstream Strauss repertoire.

This orchestra has shown its mettle in Strauss under its previous Director Bertrand de Billy, and in the recording of Ein Heldenleben made at a 2013 concert in the Musikverein, it demonstrates yet again its credentials in the richness of tone and virtuosity of playing. The sound is Viennese in that the string tone is “dirty” (lots of vibrato) and the brass is rich, but of course it is not quite the VPO with its unique instruments.
The solo violin part in this work is crucial, and here it is executed with consummate ease and beauty by the orchestra leader Maighread McCrann, Dublin born and sounding every inch a Viennese!

The interpretation is sound-swift to medium paced and is thoroughly enjoyable. The recording is excellent and well detailed. The problem is that on its own this work has to face a veritable army of competition from Karajan, Reiner, Kempe, Maazel, Bohm and a host of other fine recordings, not least the recent Barenboim which I have praised so highly, and justifiably so.

I would have to say that it is not so individual as to warrant an overriding recommendation, but the picture changes with the Metamorphosen.

This was recorded in 2014 in the renowned “Funkhaus” (also known as the Radio Kulturhaus) which boasts a beautiful bijou concert hall in Art Deco style reminiscent of cinema architecture of the 1930s. The acoustics are superb, and this results in a superb recording of a superb performance!

The recording note states that this is the standard 23 string version, but if it had indicated that it was the Strauss approved Karajan 36 string version I would have believed it, such is the weight of tone.
The aural perspective is closer than for the Heldenleben but still spacious and detailed.

Meister launches into the work with passion and emotion-no gentle melancholy here!-this is a work in which Strauss is angered and frustrated yet again at man’s inhumanity and cultural dereliction.

Die Frau Ohne Schatten was the Strauss response to the First World War, a paean of hope and reconciliation. Metamorphosen in this reading is filled with sorrow and anger mixed, and the great central section of nostalgia recalling happier times has a frenetic and tragic gaiety about it.
The ending is not so full of hope, but rather resignation and just a glimmer of optimism in the last notes.
It is a wonderful performance, and reveals a different aspect of this late masterpiece as compared to glorious readings by Karajan, Blomstedt (Dresden), Previn (VPO), Barbirolli and various chamber orchestras.
This makes this pairing especially attractive, and it becomes a disc with individual and highly recommendable characteristics.

So, a very fine but not SO remarkable Heldenleben is coupled with a truly inspired Metamorphosen, and it would be churlish to award less than 5 stars. I recently reviewed the Jansons BRSO pairing of Heldenleben and Don Juan with 5 Stars, but given the choice between the 2 recordings it would be this one that I would choose.
The future looks bright for Maestro Meister! 5 Stars. Stewart Crowe.

20th Century Portraits: Falla, Bartok, Stravinsky
20th Century Portraits: Falla, Bartok, Stravinsky
Price: £12.36

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Briiliant recording and playing from the earlier years of Maazel's career combine to make an irresitable bargain !, 19 Jan. 2015
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Universal Australia’s Eloquence Label comes up trumps again with this set entitled” 20Th Century Portraits”, but a title which could scarcely be more accurate would be "20th Century Masters" as every aspect of this set is infused with complete mastery!
Issued as part of the current retrospective of recordings by Lorin Maazel triggered by his sudden death in 2014, these recordings are from the earliest part through to the mid-part of his exalted career.

The earliest recordings date from 1957 (his first stereo sessions-there was an earlier Mono recording) and 1965 feature the former RIAS (Radio in The American Sector) Orchestra renamed as The Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra.
At the end of the war, Radio Berlin and its iconic “Funkturm” located in the East of the city were occupied by the Russians who controlled broadcasting from then on. In 1946 the Americans sponsored and financed the foundation of the rival RIAS station to combat the propaganda being broadcast from the East, and American largesse allowed for the formation of a crack orchestra under the leadership of Ferenc Fricsay.

By 1957 it had been confidently renamed “Berlin Radio “and was independent. The orchestra was by now firmly established as a World Class Band and it certainly emerges as such in the 2 Stravinsky pieces from those early sessions. The remastered recorded sound is astonishing-enormous dynamic range, detail, weight and brilliance abound. The playing is superb-from the hushed ppp’s in Firebird through to the glorious brass chorale at the conclusion, recording playing and conducting are nothing less than dazzling!

The Firebird was a Maazel “party piece” and he recorded it at least twice more, but this is the best interpreted though the BRSO version has great strengths too.
Maazel also performed the “Rossignol” frequently and recorded it with the VPO and NYPO, but this recording does full justice to Stravinsky’s “Chinoiserie“fantasy. I do not even miss the VPO!

By 1965 Maazel was Music Director of the orchestra, and as a hallmark of its quality the Concert Master was Gerhart Hetzel who later went on be First Concert Master of the VPO until his tragic death in 1992 in a climbing accident. The improvement in sound is not just in recording-the weight of tone, especially in the strings is markedly increased.
Maazel gives the most seductive and idiomatic readings of the two Falla works, and he is assisted by a lustrous Grace Bumbry in the “Love the Magician” songs.

In the “Song of Sorrowful Love” Bumbry adopts a deliberate vibrato in the style of the Flamenco which is very effective, but reverts to her full creamy fluidity in the Finale. The 2 works are a triumph, the Magician even challenging my affection for the Stokowski/Shirley Verrett version.

Before commenting on the Bartok presented here, I would like to recall that Maazel performed the Second Violin Concerto with Gerhart Hetzel as soloist with the VPO, and this is available on Orfeo in very good recorded sound, and it is a truly great performance.

The set skips to the 1977 recorded Bartok works, recorded this time with Karajan’s Berlin Philharmonic and both recorded like the preceding items in the glorious acoustic of the Jesus-Christus Kirche Dahlem.

It opens with the underperformed “Two Pictures “from 1910-11. The first picture is heavily influenced by Bartok’s acquaintance with Debussy, and “In Full Bloom” is a gloriously rich movement which utilises thematic material Bartok reworked in Bluebeard’s Castle of the following year.
If you like the opera, you will love this work. I can’t stop playing it in this version!
The Second contrasting picture is of Hungarian Village Dances, full of jaunty and playful rhythms, but with an undercurrent of melancholy. Both “Pictures” draw the best from Maazel, and the playing is wonderful.
The same is true for Bartok’s last great work, the Concerto for Orchestra.
The same characteristics apply as for the Stravinsky-soft is very soft, and detail is extensive.

Maazel draws out the utmost virtuosity from the BPO-he takes the second movement, “ The Game of Couples” at a furious lick, faster than Reiner and he gets the most vulgar trombone “ raspberry” in the 4th movement parody of Shostakovich 7. The string tone in the 3rd movement Adagio will bring tears to the eyes in this music infused with longing, nostalgia, melancholy and even bitterness as Bartok longs for his homeland!
In the finale, Maazel observes all the quirky changes of tempo without over emphasis, and drives the BPO to ever greater brilliance.
When the last chords have died away, you will think-just fantastic!

A truly remarkable set and a real bargain, once again restoring some long absent recordings to their rightful place! The youthful genius –and I use the word advisedly-of the young Maazel permeates the earlier recordings, and the wiser more mature head is evident in the Bartok.
Unreservedly recommended! 5 Stars. Stewart Crowe.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 2, 2015 11:10 AM BST

Rimsky-Korsakov: Symphonic Suite Scheherazade Op.35; Balakirev: Oriental Fantasy Islamey
Rimsky-Korsakov: Symphonic Suite Scheherazade Op.35; Balakirev: Oriental Fantasy Islamey
Price: £14.99

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A curiosity with some interesting and attractive elements, but overall far from a top recommendation-sadly., 15 Jan. 2015
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The splattering of brief comments on this disc-scarcely reviews if I may observe-do not give a fair reflection of this disc.

Scheherazade has been from the earliest era of recording one of the most popular and frequently recorded works. Famous recordings from the stereo era include those by Beecham, Paul Kletzki (Gramophone Magazine First Choice for over 20 years), Stokowski Phase 4 (with extra tam-tam and more harps than Rheingold), Svetlanov, Kondrashin (RCO), Mackerras, Gergiev and the controversial Karajan-controversial because it was the work he used as an excuse to leave EMI as he didn't want to record it when they tried to "force"him to. He NEVER conducted it in the concert hall, but made a "spite" recording for DG with the BPO-the only time he performed it. It is of course predictably fabulous.

I have a great fondness for the Previn with the VPO-largely because it is the VPO!
There are dozens more choices, but if it is a sonic spectacular that is sought then Gergiev or Eji Oue with the Minnesota Orchestra on Reference HDCD will do admirably.

What this adds up to is very stiff competition for any new recording, and while I have nothing but praise for the enterprise in this case, I am not so enthusiastic about the results!

Sascha Goetzl is an up and coming young Viennese conductor, who is doing the rounds of "the repertory" orchestras if I may term them as such, gaining experience and adding to his obvious talent.
His Directorship of the very welcome Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic has been highly praised and their appearance at the London Proms in 2014 was extremely well received.

We have to judge the purely audio experience- and there are limitations.
The recording is good though at times a little harsh, and Goetzl gives a very sound performance of the main work, though some passages in the Tale of The Prince and Princess are a little pedestrian. The orchestra sounds very much like a Russian ensemble of today but without the lush string tone that usually accompanies such a band.
The brass is soupy-the low brass sound very "muddy"- the strings are numerous but a little wiry (and not always together!), the clarinet has a very thick almost saxophone like tone that I don't care for etc.- all of which detracts from the enjoyment.
On the other hand, the Concert Master is superb, delivering his solos with silverine beauty.

If this work were not exotic enough, many traditional Western instruments are replaced by Asian counterparts-quite noticeably in the case of the important harp-and there is the added attraction of exotic obligato fragments on said instruments between 3 of the movements. They are very brief and add little or nothing, but neither do they spoil anything and are separately tracked.

It was a monumental mistake to programme Balakirev's Islamey-the orchestra really is found wanting! It is always thought of as possibly the most technically difficult piano piece, and the orchestrated version is hardly less so. Strings are taxed, the sound is wiry and they are hardly together. Even the lush slow central section lacks-well, the requisite lushness!
Gergiev's Kirov (then so titled) give us the best version.

The Ippolitov-Ivanov really goes for exoticism with the flute in the opening number indulging in very Eastern decoration in what is a simple melody-it doesn't work for me, I find it irritating.

The best piece is the Erkin, not least because the orchestra is suddenly galvanised and plays out of its skin- I surmise that it is very popular in Turkey and the players respond accordingly.
The piece is really reminiscent of 1950's Epic Movies, "Full of Eastern Promise", with more than a nod to Rimsky, Enescu and Miklos Rozsa. It is 12 minutes or so of orchestral pyrotechnics and well worth a listen.

However, the whole disc is more interesting than it is rewarding in terms of recording and playing.
It is beautifully presented in a really lovely folder with good notes etc., and if curiosity is your prime reason for buying, there is some enjoyment to be had.
While I hate to be a killjoy, those seeking a superb Scheherazade would do better to look elsewhere, and first choice for modern sonics and a great performance remains Gergiev/Kirov (with Islamey).

Hopefully this orchestra and conductor will go on to greater things- I was at a superb Swan Lake under his direction in the Vienna Staatsoper in 2010 so the big 3 ballets might well suit, but once again competition is stiff. On the strength of the work presented here, I would be happy to explore Erkin's Symphonic Works and this would be the team to do it!

Meanwhile, I can only award 3 stars and a very cautious recommendation-but having said all that I am pleased to have it in my collection as a curio! Stewart Crowe.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 12, 2015 3:11 PM GMT

Lorin Maazel / Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra - Stravinsky: The Rite Of Spring. R.Strauss: Le Bourgeois Gentilho [Japan CD] UCCD-7248
Lorin Maazel / Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra - Stravinsky: The Rite Of Spring. R.Strauss: Le Bourgeois Gentilho [Japan CD] UCCD-7248

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating curio restored to great sound and worth seeking out-if the price is right!! Unmissable for Maazel fans!, 12 Jan. 2015
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IF you can find this set at a modest cost, go for it!
The Rite of Spring is today routine repertoire for any self-respecting orchestra- but it was regarded as a technical challenge even in the 1970’s. The difficulties-and resistance from many of his players-encountered by Karajan on his 1960’s recording have been well documented, but they pale into insignificance when compared to the difficulties surrounding the Maazel VPO recording.

In 1974, Decca was approached by Alfred Altenburger, Vorstand of the VPO suggesting that a recording of the Rite of Spring would be an interesting project. They had never recorded it-most of the orchestra members had never played it! Decca were not enthusiastic, but when firebrand Lorin Maazel jumped aboard the project, the green light was given.

Maazel was ALWAYS a strong minded individualist, but the music of Stravinsky was in his blood and his first stereo recording in 1958 had included the Firebird Suite-a calling card throughout his career-and the Song of The Nightingale.

Maazel later revealed in an interview that he had had to devise a special interpretation for the VPO, or they would not have done it justice.
The VPO is a “slow” orchestra-the leader draws his bow across the strings well after the downbeat, and this enables even more of the famed “Dirty String Tone” and the rich full brass we expect from this great band.
At that time, it made the crisp rhythms of the Rite difficult for them to execute so Maazel adopted an unusual and highly dramatic approach, with broader tempi, massive textures and exaggerated rubato-the much referred to “agogic gestures.”

What Maazel attempted was a symphonic approach reflecting the actual drama-divorcing it entirely from any concept as a ballet with results which shocked the critics as much as the notorious premiere.
Part of the problem when the disc was released in 1976 that for once Decca’s famed technical expertise had let them down-the LP was dull and muddy, with undefined bass and muted top.

This Japanese re-mastering-all the text is in Japanese-strips away the veils and lets us hear the results in the glorious sound it should have had from the outset-and it is stunning!

It IS controversial-tempi are slow, detail is different, the sound is angry Vienna-quite disconcerting.
This truly dystopian view of the work is the most “horrible” or “awful” in the true sense, and about as far removed from Stravinsky’s rather mechanical reading or Karajan’s fluid lyricism as could be imagined. The sound world is MASSIVE-the dynamic range is colossal-be careful that you do not destroy your speakers or your eardrums.

Maazel relinquished most of the unusual interpretative gestures for his later Cleveland recording on Telarc, and altogether for the superb live BRSO recording on br klassik and these later recordings will stand the average listener in greater stead, but for an unusual and fascinating alternative view and to hear the VPO in their only recording of the work to date, this is worth seeking out at reasonable cost.

The unlikely coupling is Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme from 1963-the only relevance is that it is broadly contemporary to the Rite in composition date and confirms that Strauss was composing in a Neo-Classicism vein well before Stravinsky.
It is better heard on the recent Eloquence Strauss album from Australia-cheaper too!
It IS the best version bar none.

So worth seeking out by the adventurous-I love it. 5 Stars though not for cost! Stewart Crowe.

Neujahrskonzert / New Year's Concert 2015
Neujahrskonzert / New Year's Concert 2015
Price: £12.21

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Unexpected 5 Stars swayed by the excellence of the unusually large selection of worthwhile rarities!, 12 Jan. 2015
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I could never be described as an out and out Mehta fan-while I found many of his earlier recordings with the LAPO and Israel Phil to be superficially exciting, the emphasis was on superficial and as time went on it seemed to me that Mehta settled down to being at best decent and reliable in terms of performance.
He did of course complete his musical studies in Vienna under Hans Swarowsky (who else?!) and he was invited to conducted the VPO at an early age-in that very non " PC" city, the novelty of an Indian Artist conducting was and is a great attraction.

To be fair to Mehta, if you give him a great orchestra that he does not need to train (he is NO orchestra builder!), and music he loves he is well capable of producing a satisfactory performance, and in recent years his conducting of Salome with the BPO, The Ring in Valencia and a Gurrelieder with the IPO have all been very fine, and from the past much of his Mahler and Richard Strauss has been praiseworthy.
I have not bought any of the recordings of his previous 4 New Years Day Concerts, for I have felt that they lacked the natural lilt of a true Straussian and have been a bit dull-and I was prepared to think the same way about this.

In fact, it started out looking that way for the opening Suppé Overture is very run of the mill, but a combination of glorious playing-truly glorious- excellent recording yet again by Teldex Engineers and the choice of repertoire combine to make this a highly attractive collection.

This concert marked the last selection to be chosen by former Orchestra "Vorstand" (President) Clemens Hellsberg and he has included even more rarities than ever, and unlike in previous concerts where so many of these rarities demonstrate all too well exactly why they ARE rarities, the selection this year is highly memorable-indeed 2 of them, "Tales from The Orient" and "On the Elbe" are the undoubted highlights of the set.
I commented on what a wonderful piece the "Orient" is in my review of the Robert Stolz Volume 8 CD, conducted when he was 90. Stolz gives the work much more lilt and passion, but Mehta too does a good job and the playing and recorded sound is exceptional.
On the Elbe is redolent of the music of Brahms,but as Mehta is prone to conduct very "straight" this works well. It is a glorious discovery.

Brahms is called to mind too in the first part of the not so rare "Wine, Women and Song."
Mehta does not impose too much rubato, thankfully, because when he does it sounds very self- conscious-even in The Blue Danube.
The Lumbye Champagne Galopp, his best known work is welcome though I could not help but reflect that it is MANY years since we had the Strauss Champagne Polka in the concert, a long time favourite.
There is a judicious mixture of lively fun numbers with familiar stalwarts-Annen Polka, Village Swallows from Austria, Perpetuum Mobile and the Acceleration Waltz all make welcome reappearances , Eduard Strauss gets more than his usual share and of course the there are the " Encores" -Explosions, Danube and Radetzky (with unsynchronised clapping!)

With the exception of the two outstanding numbers I mentioned earlier, all the familiar works can be heard to better advantage elsewhere, but all of them are decent to good if on occasion a bit pedestrian in this recording and the rarities swing the verdict.

This was an "A "team complement for this concert-the 2 senior Concert Masters (Rainer Küchl and Rainer Honeck), all 3 Principal Horns (Janezic, Stransky and Tombock Jr.), Hellmsberger, Kovacs etc.- a truly star-studded band and it sounds it.
The recording is as ever taken from the 3 concerts and rehearsals, so the horn crack at the beginning of the Blue Danube on New Years Day has been corrected and the packaging is very colourful with photographs in truth not all from this concert-but this matters not.

It is not as great a concert as Barenboim last year, and there has been a recent reissue of the First Harnoncourt Concert well worth having-and of course if you only ever buy one Strauss Disc it HAS to be the 1987 Karajan Concert which is incomparable, but against my expectations this set is very satisfying in a number of areas and I will revisit some of the rarities frequently.
On that basis-5 Stars. Stewart Crowe.

Strauss: Tone Poems
Strauss: Tone Poems
Price: £15.77

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Restoration of much loved-and much missed- recordings to the catalogue in glorious sound-from Australia. Indispensible!, 9 Jan. 2015
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This review is from: Strauss: Tone Poems (Audio CD)
I will not pretend to have any insight into the internal-or external-workings of Universal Music, custodians of the vast library of recordings from Decca, DGG/DG, Koch Schwann and the Philips recordings not " sold" to Pentatone, to name but a few.
The various arms of this cultural octopus (should it be tentacles?) act seemingly unilaterally, with Eloquence Germany re-mastering and re-issuing sets in AMSI meant for the German Market, Universal Japan producing extraordinarily high quality re-masterings only available in Japan and we recently had Universal Italy issuing the" Maazel in Vienna" set.

Universal Australia has commissioned SBS, a super quality Media Enterprise to re-master and reissue a whole galaxy of superb recordings mainly from the Decca catalogue in a sound format comparable to AMSI on a variant of the Eloquence label, and in much more refined livery than the German Eloquence.
Not all of these releases have made it to us "Poms", but the ones that have are very, very welcome!

This late 2014 release meets a number of needs. For a few years I have been seeking re-mastered versions of 3 great Maazel/VPO recordings-The Rite of Spring, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme and Don Quixote.

I recently triumphed by finding a Japanese 100 KHz re-mastering of the unlikely combination of The Rite and the Gentilhomme-at GREAT expense-but worth every penny! These unlikely bedfellows are contemporary works, but have little else in common.( The much maligned Rite emerges as sensationally good in this brilliant reissue!)

The Gentilhomme now reappears in perfect company on this superb 2 disc set of Strauss works, including the recordings that so many of us lamented were not included in the earlier Vienna box set from Decca Italy.
The only duplication is the Don Juan, but the re-mastering on this set is far superior to that on the earlier Decca box.

The recordings range from 1964 to 1981 in the case of Macbeth, recorded by DG in the Musikverein, produced by Wolfgang Stengel and originally released as the filler to the live 1983 Sinfonia Domestica. This reissue restores it to the catalogue, the Sinfonia having been partnered with Zarathustra when it was reissued in the DG Masters series.
This early work is not Strauss at his best, and resembles a Liszt Tone Poem as much as anything, but Maazel had a fondness for it and recorded it again in his BRSO series, though it was omitted from the fabulous re-mastered set by Sony. No matter, for this glorious reading is as good as it is ever likely to get-which is to say superb!
I am trying to ration my superlatives, but am struggling!
The remaining items are all Decca Sofiensaal recordings produced by Erik Smith and Michael Woolcock and engineered by Gordon Parry.

The Tod und Verklarung appears on CD for the first time-unbelievably- for a more high powered and dramatic account you will struggle to find! The massive weight of tone in the transfiguration passage is staggering-the recording is magnificent.

The Don Quixote is one for connoisseurs of great music making. Maazel follows Strauss's original concept of not employing a "star" soloist by having the principals from the orchestra play the cello and viola roles, in this case Josef Staar and Emanuel Brabec, legends both.

A comparison with the 1958 Kempe BPO recording I recently reviewed is startling. Maazel opens with a broad tempo, exaggerated rubato and a portentous intensity which is at the opposite end of the interpretative scale from Kempe. However, comparative timings reveal that Maazel takes only 7 seconds more overall, and this is because Maazel whips up the tempo in many of the episodes requiring utmost virtuosity from his Vienna players. Don Quixote emerges as a much more modern work in his hands- whole sections are redolent of the Second Viennese School, who derived more from Strauss than they cared to admit.
The results are a beautifully expounded work which is definitely an orchestral piece, not a hybrid cello concerto, and Maazel displays astonishing maturity in the shaping of each section.

He was 38 years old at the time! It is one of THE great recordings of this masterpiece.

The other Don swaggers again in better sound, and this time the "Decca Sound" has been subtly tamed to provide a more realistic image without affecting the lush tone.

The cover recreates the LP artwork for the pairing of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme and the First Waltz Suite from Der Rosenkavalier.

In Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme Maazel includes the 2 Lully adaptations omitted by some conductors, including Reiner, and treats the work very much as a chamber trio with orchestral accompaniment.
The piano of Friedrich Gulda has a prominent role, no background accompaniment this, and he brilliantly captures the schmaltzy nature of the comedy, and the virtuoso brilliance of the hectic pieces. Boskovsky and Brabec are "hors concours" and the whole work is a joy.
I have no hesitation in awarding it "Best Ever" for this work. Maazel conveys the Joie de Vivre and charm-not to mention catching the humour-to perfection aided and abetted by a peerless group of musicians-Roland Berger's Solo Horn deserves mention as well!

The First Waltz Suite from Der Rosenkavalier was intended to be the only one by Strauss, but he concocted the Second Suite in 1944 for commercial reasons. The First Suite is adapted from music from Act 3, and does not include Ochs's "Ohne Mich..." waltz. What is included here is in fact the 1944 Second Suite which adapts music from Acts One and Two, and extended variations on the Ochs Waltz.
It is a brief but delicious "bonbon", recorded in the same year as the recently reissued Bohm BPO recording (intended for the German Market!)of the true First Suite I reviewed recently. Both are staggeringly great, transforming what is essentially a Strauss pot boiler into a musical gem in each case.
It makes a perfect dessert to a glorious feast!

This set is a triumph in every sense, as a further reminder of the greatness of Maazel who displays such insight and maturity for one so young, as yet another reminder of the glorious Decca Sound from its heyday, and in restoring so much missed great performances to the catalogue in brilliant sound and at modest cost.
Well done the Aussies! Cultural Desert?-I think not!!

Totally and UTTERLY recommended on SO many levels. Unlimited Stars. Stewart Crowe.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 11, 2015 12:06 PM GMT

Don Quixote, Till Eulenspiegel (Kempe, Bpo)
Don Quixote, Till Eulenspiegel (Kempe, Bpo)
Price: £15.81

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Glorious conducting and playing in superb re-mastered sound make the Testament issue First Choice-perhaps of any!, 8 Jan. 2015
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I've lost count of how many times I have heard or read comments from Strauss admirers to the effect that while they realise that Don Quixote is by consensus his best tone poem, it is not their favourite or worse that they cannot get " into it" at all!

I actually understand their reservations-as a young man it was a long time before this work " grabbed me" in the way the others had, and that was down to the Decca Maazel/VPO recording now splendidly reissued in an Eloquence Australia 2 disc set along with the other works left out of the 2014 Decca " Maazel in Vienna " set.

The work straddles two genres rather uneasily at times-cello concerto or tone poem, and let's not forget the virtuoso viola part?-and while all the tone poems are episodic many of the episodes in Don Quixote are very brief, and it is easy to feel that the work never gets going and when it does it is very " bitty."
The skill in a great interpreter is to give the work momentum while making it as seamless as possible but still retaining the character so marvellously crafted by Strauss.

I have invested my preference for many years in the Karajan/Fournier recording, now sounding more resplendent in its new remastering in the DG Strauss Karajan luxury set, though I greatly enjoy interpretations by other artists, not least by Kempe and the Dresden Staatskapelle also newly remastered in greatly improved sound.

I am grateful to uber-reviewer SFL (who has now abandoned the shores of amazon) for bringing to my attention the issue of this set on Regis, which I bought. This was taken from an LP copy as it is out of copyright, and while the sound is good, I felt it could be better. I discovered it was available in a 2 disc EMI compilation and on this set re-mastered in 2003 (at 24 Bits) by Re-Sound for Testament from the original tapes-the matrix numbers are even specified!

You have by now divined that I have all 3 versions for reasons to shameful to relate, but I can assert that the Testament version is SO superior as to render it automatic first choice for this version-and I will go on to say for ANY version!
Recorded in 1958 in the superb acoustic of the Grünewald Kirche in Berlin by Electrola engineers supervised by HMV's Peter Andry, the recorded sound is warm and glowing, rich in detail with wide dynamics and rich bass-in fact it could have been recorded in 2008 such is the sound quality.

The performance finds Kempe at his most exalted-it is much more driven than his later Dresden version, and what is especially gratifying is that Paul Tortelier and Gusto Cappone are integrated in perfect balance into the sound picture-this is no grandstanding performance with a giant projected cello as is the Rostropovich/Karajan version glorious though that is, and resolves the problem of having the cello part played either by the principal cellist or a renowned soloist-Strauss approved both-as it has a great soloist in the aural perspective of a principal cellist. Simple!

The BPO is glorious-many of the musicians in 1958 had played not just under Furtwangler of course, but under Strauss himself and there is an old fashioned glow to the orchestral sound that is pure joy.
Kempe never lingers too long in any passage, and in terms of tempo variation he steers the best course I have heard in avoiding awkward transitions, and gives the piece even more architectural integrity than Karajan, no mean feat.
You sense that Kempe loves the music and that orchestra loves making it with him.

Needless to say Tortelier combines utmost sensitivity with virtuoso musicianship, and because he is less highlighted than in the Dresden remake, the tone of his cello is sweeter and more mellow-just perfect in fact!

The coupling is a sparking and witty Till! Once again, there is an air of sheer enjoyment about the playing and conducting.

This version is shorter measure than the Regis issue, and more expensive than in the compilation-but it can be had for as little as £10 or perhaps less, and the remastered sound is worth every penny.
I have not enjoyed any performance more than this one, and though it is invidious to categorise it as " the best of all" as subjectivity always plays a part, I would certainly recommend this version above any other to a newcomer to the work, or to anyone struggling with it. 5 Glorious Stars. Stewart Crowe.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 28, 2015 8:39 PM BST

Strauss:Don Juan [Mariss Jansons, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks ] [BR KLASSIK : 900127]
Strauss:Don Juan [Mariss Jansons, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks ] [BR KLASSIK : 900127]
Price: £16.36

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another "Great Pair of Heroes" battle not so much cuckolds & critics as the rivals in the catalogue-and competition is stiff!, 5 Jan. 2015
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The first major orchestral release of 2015 covers familiar territory, and begs the question "does the catalogue need another recording of these two works?"
In the last 2 years there have been 6 or 7 different new recordings of Ein Heldenleben and even more of Don Juan, and while no one is more pleased to encounter these old friends than I, there has to be a limit surely as to what the market will sustain.
The most obvious reason why so many popular works are recorded again and again is that very few recording projects start out as such in the modern era-they are recordings taken from live concerts and reflect what the programmers put together in a concert season, and since more and more labels are orchestra "own brand" entities it is natural to want to maximise sales by appealing to a wider audience than the crazy diehards such as me! "Here endeth the rant! "

In this case, what we have is the most potent conductor/orchestra partnership before the public of today bar none-the BRSO has scaled even greater heights under the baton of Mariss Jansons and there is no greater orchestra performing today! (Please note that I use the phrase "no greater" not "as great as".)
Jansons has demonstrated his Straussian credentials with his first RCO Live recording of Ein Heldenleben, a 2010 BRSO Strauss collection and a live Till with the VPO only available from them direct. His earlier Ein Heldenleben was a beautiful but rather subdued performance, and since in my experience where Jansons has recorded works with both RCO and BRSO the latter are invariably more dynamic and exalted performances, I had hoped that this would prove to be the case in this live performance from 2011 in the case of the Heldenleben, 2014 for Don Juan.
I am not disappointed!
The recording team is headed by Producer Wilhelm Meister, a near guarantee of sonic excellence and so it proves-from the first opening sweep of cellos and basses the recorded sound is rich, detailed and beautifully plush-the perfect Straussian sound world. The Don Juan was recorded in the plush acoustic of Herkulessaal, the Heldenleben in the more problematical Philharmonie Gasteig but both recordings are technically superb, with little detectable difference, though the Heldenleben has a little more " punch."

Jansons is indeed more energised than in 2010 and sweeps us into an opening motif driven with energy, but not hard pressed in the manner of Solti. Strings, brass and woodwind are simply awe -inspiring-the weight of tone contrasting with gossamer transparency is as near to perfection as makes no difference, and I say this with the sound of Karajan's BPO and Bohm's VPO in my immediate memory.

The critics are a band of jagged edged harpies, the sensual "Pauline" section borders on the pornographic in its sensual excess and leads us invigorated (or exhausted!) into a battle notable for its thunderous percussion underlying the brilliance of detail exposed as never before, not even in the recent superb account by Barenboim, the triumphant but magnanimous hero recounts his previous accomplishments with wit and seriousness nicely balanced and the final withdrawing from the world will bring tears to the eyes as it must in the best recordings-the duet between violin and horn will have you holding your breath so as not to break the spell. The violin solos are beautifully taken throughout, with some of the most impassioned and characterful playing in any recording.
The "State Funeral" closing bars added by Strauss as an afterthought following the work's premiere bring the work to a thunderous conclusion! Breathe again!

This is a stunning performance and recording by any criteria, and it is coupled with an equally fine account of the exploits of Don Juan-I have run out of superlatives on this occasion-choose your own, they will be appropriate!

Of course, this is a 5 Star recommendation on grounds of artistry and technical accomplishment-you won't buy a better recording of either work, though interpretation subjectivity is another matter.
The problem is that competition is VERY stiff for both works and at 64 minutes and full price this is an expensive set!
Karajan immediately comes to mind of course, but I would suggest that for not much more you could buy the superb re-mastered set of ALL the Strauss Tone Poems with the same BRSO under Master Strauss Conductor Lorin Maazel on Sony. They are at least as well recorded and have all the depth and brilliance one could wish for.

So, while welcoming this disc on a personal level-I am really glad to add it to my collection-I advise caution as superb recordings can be had for less outlay, or better value offered by recently reissued compilation sets offering more music for little extra cost.
Fans of this pairing-artists or works-or indeed anyone who buys this disc will nonetheless be wholly satisfied with their purchase!
5 Stars but recommended with caution. Stewart Crowe.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 10, 2015 5:54 PM GMT

Price: £10.51

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Jewel from The Golden Age of Wagner Performances and First Choice for the Dresden Version !, 17 Dec. 2014
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This review is from: Tannhäuser (Audio CD)
My recent disappointment at the new recording of the Nelsons Flying Dutchman was tempered by my returning to the Konwitschny recording of that work which is always a pleasure, and this has prompted me to re-examine his 1960 recording of Tannhauser.

This was recorded by Electrola, EMI’s autonomous German company which had ignored EMI’s vacillation over stereo recording (largely the fault of Walter Legge) and already by 1960 they were at the cutting edge of stereo technology. By the time this recording was made, Decca had already recorded and released Das Rheingold but in the UK EMI deigned only to release this set in Mono!

The re-mastering of this set demonstrates how good the recording was-and is-and although there is some indulging in widescreen” effects, balance and ambience are superb. There is nothing “historic”
about the sound quality! There are wonderful distant church bells when as the pilgrims pass by Heinrich in the meadow in Act One-truly magical.

The version used is the 1847 Dresden Version with ho additions from the Paris revision. While preferring the Paris version there are gains in the Dresden version in Act 2, where we get to here Walther’s big number excised in the Paris Edition-and when Walther is sung by Fritz Wunderlich as here, this is PURE gain!

As with the Dutchman, the Church location and forces used are the same-the Berlin Staatskapelle Orchestra and Chorus and frankly, the VPO and Bayreuth notwithstanding, they have NEVER been bettered! The weight of tone, the heft of the chorus offset by the beauty of the women’s voices is unsurpassed in any other recording.

Konwitschny at Age 58 was THE most experienced Wagnerian-Music Director In Leipzig, Dresden and the Berlin Staatskapelle simultaneously-and it shows in every bar.
Every tempo, every bar, every nuance is judged to perfection-the momentum never ceases, even in suspended moments and I am frankly perplexed at another reviewer’s comment that there is no sense of an overall performance-no other recording has as MUCH sense of this, with an ensemble cast used to working together in that period before the Berlin Wall when co-operation in the arts between the two Germanys was much freer.

More than this, Konwitschny understands what it is to deliver a performance-by this I mean that he understands that the audience wants to be thrilled by the “big moments”-fabulous horns when the Landgrave’s hunting part arrives-no offstage trumpets in the Entry of The Guests-off to the side but not distanced so that they thrill the listener-the chorus never too distant to become no more than a special effect-just a few examples of how this great technician understood how to deliver the performance goods!

Seen with hindsight, this is a dream cast, but this needs qualifying.
DF-D sings a noble, lyrical and touching Wolfram with no “ barking” and refulgent tone-yet another performance by this artist that I don’t get on with that I absolutely love (there is a message to me somewhere here!).

Frick is the perfect Landgrave, rock steady and as noble as he was “black” and evil as Hagen, I have already alluded to Wunderlich who is of course superb, and the Knights are all first rate.

Elizabeth Grümmer is as touching an Elizabeth as she is an Elsa for Kempe, and Marianne Schech is a well sung somewhat shrewish Venus making up for in anger what she perhaps lacks in allure, and there is luxury casting for the shepherd boy in Lisa Otto.

Of course, the crux of the work is the casting of Heinrich and I have in the past been vocal in my lamenting the casting of Hans Hopf in this role-and indeed any role save his fine Herod for Bohm.
Revisiting this set after so long, I am no longer so critical-and indeed I have a new found respect for him.
His baritonal tenor is the real deal-a genuine Heldentenor-and he copes superbly with murderous tessitura of this role. He has ringing, secure top notes and a rich firm middle and lower range-BUT-he is clumsy in many of the changes of register, frequently breathes in the wrong place, and at times there is a rather lisping quality to his diction.

Compared to the likes of Lance Ryan, Christian Franz, Stephen Gould and others of the recent essayers of Wagner tenor roles , these frailties become a blessed relief and I enjoyed his performance from start to finish this time around-in fact I played it through again immediately and enjoyed it even more!

So, as a sum of its parts this set is an absolute triumph! The sense of vision of the conductor is especially marked, and the orchestral contribution is magnificent. The price of the 3 CD set is modest-sadly no libretto is included and will need to be sourced-and the notes are perfunctory, but this matters not.

The recent Janowski is very fine but expensive-the reissued Sawallisch 1962 Bayreuth recording is superb and is at super bargain price, but this is a confection of Dresden and Paris versions and I am confining myself to pure Dresden comparisons.
The Haitink is dull and has a poor Heinrich, and the Gerdes is not at all recommendable as my review indicates, so that means that this set is the “Best Buy”. I suggest buying the Sawallisch also at its modest cost!

Taking all comers and all versions into account, the Solti “Paris “(in reality “Vienna”) version remains absolute first choice.
Do try this one-5 Stars of course. Stewart Crowe
Comment Comments (20) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 8, 2015 9:56 PM GMT

R. Strauss: Orchestral Works
R. Strauss: Orchestral Works
Price: £21.05

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A super bargain box of renowned performances in rejuvented sound-but the best ever? I'll leave that up to you!, 17 Dec. 2014
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The title of this set is misleading, as it does not represent anything like the complete orchestral works of Strauss, the complete recordings of Strauss by Kempe, or even his complete Strauss recordings released on EMI-there is at least a BPO Don Quixote also with Tortelier from 1958 on an earlier EMI mixed box set!

Nit picking aside then, what we have is a 2013 24Bit re-mastering of the much admired Kempe recordings from the early 1970s recorded by VEB of the then DDR and released by EMI who financed the project and retained copyright to the recordings.
The earlier digital masterings had been licensed to Brilliant Classics, who included them in a massive Strauss Box set at a real bargain price, but EMI/ Warner have produced these new masterings and released an equally bargain priced 9 disc set.

When I prepare to listen to a newly mastered Strauss recording by Karajan, Reiner or Maazel it is with air of excitement at the grandeur, drama and intensity of the performance to come.
With Kempe recordings it is with an anticipatory smile, for he was by all accounts the most amiable of artists and that comes across in his performances of Strauss.

The recordings included were rapturously received on their release and have continued to enjoy iconic status, not least because the silken playing of the glorious Dresden Staatskapelle.
The recordings were and are excellent, but I note some extra brightness at the top end which just avoids becoming glare in the new versions. However this is offset by greater detail exposed and they are a definite improvement.
There are caveats-the horn tone of this East German orchestra had become very "blousy" in the Slavic manner, and this is sometimes cruelly highlighted, but overall the playing is lithe and silky.
It frequently does lack weight however when compared to the likes of Karajan's BPO, especially in some of the more densely scored passages, but is at its best in the more chamber like episodes which permeate Strauss's works.

In my view, few if any of the performances could be regarded as "First Choice"-in the case of Ein Heldenleben and the Alpine Symphony Kempe's own live recording from 1975 on Profil of the former and his earlier RPO Alpine Symphony recording from RCA and now remastered by Testament are superior by far, and many adjudge his BPO Don Quixote to be the better version also.

When it comes down to it, the good nature of Kempe results in performances which to my ears just lack the last element of dramatic excitement to make them outright winners!
Best in the collection are Aus Italien, Don Quixote, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme and the later chamber works. The music from Capriccio has that blousy horn, as do the 2 concertos and much though I admire Kempe, there is no one performance that I feel I cannot be without as I do with many other eminent Straussians.
On the other hand, there is no performance that is anything less than very fine, and there are glorious passages in each work that equal the best, and as a body of work it is a remarkable achievement.
The works for piano are excellent, though the Burleske lacks the fire of Argerich, Janis or Leonskaja, let alone the fireworks of Lang Lang, but like so many of the performances is beautiful and cultured, with a charming elegance to the lyrical passages from Malcolm Frager.

The big symphonic poems all have sweep and grandeur, but there is a definite suggestion of reduced personnel and the lack of weight translates into a lack of necessary gravitas on frequent occasions.
This is of course further nit picking as I seek to defend myself against those who will be crying for my blood for daring to suggest that Kempe was not the ultimate Straussian, but I would say to them that if Kempe's approach is the ultimate in your ears, I do not complain.

In conclusion-it is a tremendous bargain with great performances in revived sound, and at less than £2 per disc at time of writing it is surely irresistible. Make no mistake-I love every performance on this set, and if you love them more than I do, no-one will be happier.
The perfect entry to the music of Strauss, and a "must hear" addition to any Strauss lover's collection-so 5 Stars. Stewart Crowe.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 29, 2014 9:07 AM GMT

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