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Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Bishop's Stortford, UK)
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Don Giovanni / Nozze di Figaro / Cosi Fan Tutte (7CD)
Don Giovanni / Nozze di Figaro / Cosi Fan Tutte (7CD)
Price: £18.87

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a bargain, 16 Oct 2014
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Collected into one box set for the first time in very tolerable mono sound, two being studio recordings and the "Don Giovanni" a live Salzburg performance from 1960, these three recordings showcase Karajan's Mozart at its best. There are two caveats: at Walter Legge's insistence, the pioneering 1950 "Figaro" was shorn of all dialogue so you have continuous music without the recitativo links and thus will need to be familiar with story; secondly, the somewhat fuzzy and occasionally distorted sound of the live "Don" must be excused if one is to hear possibly one of the best casts ever collected to perform that opera, but otherwise these are miraculously sung recordings. Karajan invariably took Mozart fast and some find him even rushed. I don't; I find the sheer pell-mell pace of the overture,in which the VPO strings perform wonders keeping up with their conductor truly exhilarating and he knows when to relax, as you may hear in the tender moments.

Just look at those casts: for many, the real highlight of the "Don" will be Leontyne Price's impassioned, grandly sung Donna Anna but a better kept secret is the virile beauty of Cesare Valletti's Don Ottavio. Schwarzkopf delivers her familiar wild cat Elvira, singing with a slightly tremulous fervour that I find most apt ("La povera ragazza è pazza amici miei!"). Waechter gives us his smooth, suave Don that many will know from the classic Giulini recording, Berry is smart and funny as Leporello and the quickfire dialogue between master and servant sounds very Italianate - indeed there is very little of the Germanic "qvesto" problem here. There is casting in depth: the young Panerai was in the same year already singing Amfortas for Gui at La Scala but adapts easily here to the blustery, wronged contadino. Sciutti is charming as Zerlina, Zaccaria commanding as the Commendatore.

In "Figaro", I particularly admire the way George London frequently reins in his big voice as Almaviva to sing delicately then lets rip; Erich Kunz sings with subtlety and sweetness as a slightly understated but very attractive Figaro; Seefried is cute, sharp and adorable as Susanna; Schwarzkopf sings aristocratically as the Countess; Jurinac is boyish and lovely of tone as Cherubino; and Marjan Rus makes a bluff, black-voiced Bartolo. The supporting cast is generally more than adequate (but Antonio is feebly sung by an uncredited Wilhelm Frieden).

The virtues of the "Così fan tutte" are too widely known to bear repetition here (see my review Cosi Fan Tutte (Von Karajan, Philharmonia Orch./Chorus)) but it remains, after a full sixty years, one of the most desirable and even perfect recordings, superior, I think, even to the famous Böhm set for EMI ten years later; its inclusion completes an irresistible bargain from Forlane. Of course, given that this is a super-bargain issue, no libretti, synopses or notes are provided, only track listings.


Le Nozze Di Figaro
Le Nozze Di Figaro
Price: £20.44

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fierce, superbly sung live performance, 15 Oct 2014
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This review is from: Le Nozze Di Figaro (Audio CD)
Given that Karajan's studio recording turned out for some reason to be a dull, chilly, strait-laced affair, admirers of his fiery way with Mozart need turn to live recordings. There is an excellent, live Salzburg performance from 1977, three years later than this one with almost as good a cast and in considerably sound but it is much more expensive and not everyone warms to Anna Tomowa-Sintow's Countess. The Countess here, Elizabeth Harwood, sounds as if she is fighting a cold as the middle of her voice is a little hoarse, but otherwise gives us poised, aristocratic singing. José van Dam is lithe and lively as Figaro, his beautiful voice dealing easily with those passages in a higher tessitura but also able to descend to suggest a more menacing character. Mirella Freni, also occasionally a little croaky - something in the air that night? - is otherwise delightful and charming as you would expect. Tom Krause occasionally suggests a little too much of Wotan in his stern, brazen Count Almaviva but he is a predator after all. Frederica von Stade proves a crowd-pleaser as Cherubino, marvellously warm and touching, yet still boyish. the supporting cast features luminaries such as Zoltan Kelemen as the gardener Antonio; Michel Sénéchal is a hoot as Basilio and Jane Berbié does her regular old bag shtick as Marcellina. The Bartolo is a bit hammy and rocky but adequate.

The sound is decent stereo radio, perfectly listenable if a bit curdled. Karajan is by no means absurdly fast but he certainly injects proceedings with an urgency comparable to Solti's superb studio recording, which remains my favourite by virtue of its voices, although some find it too unsmiling - presumably they will think the same of this hard-pressed performance.

A fine cast, the VPO and Karajan on form -what more could you wish unless it be better sound?


Tales of Hoffmann (Sills)
Tales of Hoffmann (Sills)
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £21.80

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly beautiful singing, 15 Oct 2014
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I listened through this recording with virtually unalloyed pleasure; it really is a most satisfying account, using the traditional performing edition and in spectacular Westminster sound. Traditional, too, is the use of one soprano for all four roles: Beverley Sills at her best, despatching trills and roulades with consummate ease and with very little shrillness creeping into her voice. Her pure, girlish sound might not make her a natural courtesan, but the part of Giulietta is relatively brief; otherwise she is simply stunning as Olympia (as she was on stage) and perfect as the vulnerable dying songbird Antonia. Stella, again, is relatively small role; for the lead soprano the real meat of the opera lies in the Antonia scenes.

She is worthily partnered by Stuart Burrows, whose plangent lyric tenor is flawless. He might not be the most characterful or indeed Gallic of singers but his French is good and he hits al Hoffmann's big moments securely head on: I find certain passages of his music to be amongst the most memorable and melodic in all opera. This was Offenbach's stab at Grand Opera, and at times he writes some extraordinarily grand, sweeping tunes, of which Hoffmann has several: "Quant aux traits, aux traits de sa figure"; "Laisse éclore ton âme rayons de l'amour!"; " Passer ton haleine, ton haleine embaumée" - these are ravishing moments and Burrows rises to them. When he and Sills are duetting together, we are in operatic heaven.

Treigle impresses me much more here than as, say, Boito's Mefistofele, and I can hear why he was Samuel Ramey's model. He does not differentiate that much between the various demonic characters he plays but they are all supposed to be manifestations of the same malevolent persona in any case and he sings richly in excellent French. Indeed everyone's French is very authentic, not least Susanne Marsee, even in the dialogue, not just sung. She is not the most charismatic Niklausse / Muse but she has a lovely voice and blends well. It is a bonus to hear the young Robert Lloyd's sonorous bass as Crespel; the only real disappointment are the relatively bland and rather feebly sung comic parts undertaken by Nico Castel; he makes me regret the absence of superior competitors such as Hugues Cuenod.

Rudel conducts sympathetically, although I would like just a little more expansiveness in Hoffmann's big lyrical moments as per above; the LSO are first rate.

There are other recordings which demand mention, not least Domingo's warm, passionate performances with Sutherland in the studio recording and the live Orfeo set conducted by Levine on Orfeo, in which Catherine Malfitano achieves a tour de force, providing the most exciting and convincing impersonation of all four soprano roles that I know. There is also the over-complete but fascinating Cambreling version which includes every variation that the wily man of the theatre Offenbach would no doubt have cut without compunction, making it rather cumbersome, but Neil Shicoff there excels himself in his best recorded role.

However, for the general listener, minor flaws notwithstanding, this Westminster set is a winner.


Ravel: Boléro / Debussy: La Mer / Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (DG The Originals)
Ravel: Boléro / Debussy: La Mer / Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (DG The Originals)
Price: £8.36

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unassailable classic, 13 Oct 2014
Apart from a couple of reviews from way back around the turn of the century, whose authors hear flaws in this recording that I do not, nearly everyone concurs that ever since their recording fifty years ago, these performances have remained unequalled and unassailable. Of course there are are other excellent recordings of all three pieces (Giulini's "Pictures" with the Chicago SO and his "La mer" with the Philharmonia, for example) but as a collection this is a testament to both the sonority of the Berlin Philharmonic at its peak under Karajan and to that conductor's chameleon ability to empathise with and elucidate music from outside the late German Romantic tradition in which he excelled. His brief dalliance with the Orchestre de Paris confirms his attachment to French music and his ability to pace and colour both the Debussy and the Ravel emerges as a thing of wonder.

There is of course a neat link in the programming here between the Mussorgsky and "Boléro" as the composer of the latter orchestrated the "Pictures" brilliantly; originally these recordings, made between 1964 and 1966 in the warm ambiance of the Jesus-Christus-Kirche, were issued on two separate LPs, one of French music by Debussy and Ravel and the other with just the Mussorgsky and "Boléro". Any attempt at musical criticism of such seminal recordings would be superfluous after such a long time; it is sufficient to note that the delicacy and nuance of Karajan's evocation of the sea remain extraordinary, and the peroration of the "Pictures" in "The Great Gate of Kiev" remains one of the greatest expositions of the symphony orchestra in full flight ever committed to disc.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 24, 2014 11:17 AM BST


Schubert: String Quintet
Schubert: String Quintet

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still very fine but not without equal, 13 Oct 2014
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This has long been the established top recommendation for Schubert's greatest chamber work and I very much doubt whether anyone coming new to the work would find fault with it. However, there are one or two considerations that might give the experienced listener pause: first, as it was amongst the very first chamber music recordings to be released in digital format, there is an element of shrillness about the sound and subsequent versions have greater depth. Secondly, as was the custom of the time - this was recorded in 1982 - the first movement repeat is not taken, Thirdly, although it is currently available cheaply, there is no coupling .

Interpretatively, I hear very little difference between the playing hear and my favourite version from the Ensemble Villa Musica on Naxos, but the latter wins regarding all three of my reservations: the sound for Naxos is superlative, the repeat is taken and there is a bonus in the form of the admittedly slight but pleasing String Trio D. 584. Otherwise, the approaches of both are very similar although the EVM marginally more lyrical and expressive.

In short, this remains an excellent recording but does not necessarily exceed the competition for the reasons I give above; there are, of course, many other recordings by other great ensembles in superior sound which I have not discussed,confining myself to comparison with own preferred version. The best historical account by far remains the 1951 mono recording by the Hollywood Quartet but this music deserves finest sound and that is what the general listener demands.


String Quintet
String Quintet
Offered by hifi-media-store
Price: £23.82

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still very fine but not without equal, 13 Oct 2014
This review is from: String Quintet (Audio CD)
This has long been the established top recommendation for Schubert's greatest chamber work and I very much doubt whether anyone coming new to the work would find fault with it. However, there are one or two considerations that might give the experienced listener pause: first, as it was amongst the very first chamber music recordings to be released in digital format, there is an element of shrillness about the sound and subsequent versions have greater depth. Secondly, as was the custom of the time - this was recorded in 1982 - the first movement repeat is not taken, Thirdly, although it is currently available cheaply, there is no coupling .

Interpretatively, I hear very little difference between the playing hear and my favourite version from the Ensemble Villa Musica on Naxos, but the latter wins regarding all three of my reservations: the sound for Naxos is superlative, the repeat is taken and there is a bonus in the form of the admittedly slight but pleasing String Trio D. 584. Otherwise, the approaches of both are very similar although the EVM marginally more lyrical and expressive.

In short, this remains an excellent recording but does not necessarily exceed the competition for the reasons I give above; there are, of course, many other recordings by other great ensembles in superior sound which I have not discussed,confining myself to comparison with own preferred version. The best historical account by far remains the 1951 mono recording by the Hollywood Quartet but this music deserves finest sound and that is what the general listener demands.


Schubert;String Quintet D95
Schubert;String Quintet D95
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £14.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still very fine but not without equal, 13 Oct 2014
This has long been the established top recommendation for Schubert's greatest chamber work and I very much doubt whether anyone coming new to the work would find fault with it. However, there are one or two considerations that might give the experienced listener pause: first, as it was amongst the very first chamber music recordings to be released in digital format, there is an element of shrillness about the sound and subsequent versions have greater depth. Secondly, as was the custom of the time - this was recorded in 1982 - the first movement repeat is not taken, Thirdly, although it is currently available cheaply, there is no coupling .

Interpretatively, I hear very little difference between the playing hear and my favourite version from the Ensemble Villa Musica on Naxos, but the latter wins regarding all three of my reservations: the sound for Naxos is superlative, the repeat is taken and there is a bonus in the form of the admittedly slight but pleasing String Trio D. 584. Otherwise, the approaches of both are very similar although the EVM marginally more lyrical and expressive.

In short, this remains an excellent recording but does not necessarily exceed the competition for the reasons I give above; there are, of course, many other recordings by other great ensembles in superior sound which I have not discussed,confining myself to comparison with own preferred version. The best historical account by far remains the 1951 mono recording by the Hollywood Quartet but this music deserves finest sound and that is what the general listener demands.


Schubert: String Quintet
Schubert: String Quintet
Price: £7.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still very fine but not without equal, 13 Oct 2014
This has long been the established top recommendation for Schubert's greatest chamber work and I very much doubt whether anyone coming new to the work would find fault with it. However, there are one or two considerations that might give the experienced listener pause: first, as it was amongst the very first chamber music recordings to be released in digital format, there is an element of shrillness about the sound and subsequent versions have greater depth. Secondly, as was the custom of the time - this was recorded in 1982 - the first movement repeat is not taken, Thirdly, although it is currently available cheaply, there is no coupling .

Interpretatively, I hear very little difference between the playing hear and my favourite version from the Ensemble Villa Musica on Naxos, but the latter wins regarding all three of my reservations: the sound for Naxos is superlative, the repeat is taken and there is a bonus in the form of the admittedly slight but pleasing String Trio D. 584. Otherwise, the approaches of both are very similar although the EVM marginally more lyrical and expressive.

In short, this remains an excellent recording but does not necessarily exceed the competition for the reasons I give above; there are, of course, many other recordings by other great ensembles in superior sound which I have not discussed,confining myself to comparison with own preferred version. The best historical account by far remains the 1951 mono recording by the Hollywood Quartet but this music deserves finest sound and that is what the general listener demands.


Brahms, Bruckner, Wagner, Strauss, Schmidt 1970-1981 (Karajan Official Remastered Edition)
Brahms, Bruckner, Wagner, Strauss, Schmidt 1970-1981 (Karajan Official Remastered Edition)
Price: £17.20

5.0 out of 5 stars Karajan's finest, 12 Oct 2014
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Karajan excelled in many different classical genres but for many this re-mastered compilation will represent the very best and most economical collection of the thirteen boxes issued of his pre-digital oeuvre. His late-Romantic German repertoire remains unequalled and the restoration of two of his finest Bruckner symphony recordings is particularly welcome. The sound of the 1970 Fourth was in desperate need of refurbishment and the 1970-71 Seventh is here re-issued with seven bars cut from the finale now happily restored. Now we need the rest of his Bruckner cycle to be re-mastered so affordably, although of course DG has now re-mastered Karajan's Bruckner recordings for them in their expensive monster set: Karajan - 70s (DG box set)

The choice of the earlier Fourth was a good one. Fine as the 1975 account is, the recording in the Jesus-Christe-Kirche has the edge both sonically and interpretatively; unusually for him, as he tended to stick to his tempi once he had established a modus operandi, Karajan speeded up by some ten percent five years later and I do not think that increased urgency actually enhanced its impact, as the earlier recording has more grandeur and impact, enhanced by the richer, deeper acoustic of the church which now emerges even more strikingly. These are seminal Bruckner interpretations.

He was equally pre-eminent in Strauss and we are here offered two superb accounts of Strauss at his most exuberant. I do not think there is much difference in terms of sound or performance between this and his digital recording of "Ein Heldenleben"; both are stunning and his one recording of the "Sinfonia domestica" is just as indispensable.

Add to these four great works some of the finest Wagner overtures and excerpts in the catalogue and you have an irresistible concoction offered absurdly cheaply. The Johann Strauss bon-bons are a delight; the BPO lean into those sliding 3/4 rhythms to the manner born and of course their tone is simply voluptuous and they really sound as if they are enjoying themselves. Karajan was always happy in Brahms ans the Schmidt and Humperdinck items are all gain; nothing here on these six discs is less than superlative.


Verdi: Rigoletto
Verdi: Rigoletto
Offered by rbmbooks
Price: £34.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A sound and satisfying account with a star tenor, 11 Oct 2014
This review is from: Verdi: Rigoletto (Audio CD)
This recording, made in 1977 for a film of "Rigoletto", is usually overlooked in surveys and by cognoscenti but it is certainly worthy of note for several reasons, not least the excellent Dresden Staatskapelle Orchestra and Chorus and the experienced conducting of Molinari-Pradelli, also at the helm for a noteworthy recording with Cornell MacNeil and a young Joan Sutherland. He knows just what to do with Verdi warhorse; his conducting here is flexible, pacy and responsive to the singers' needs.

The other advantages are a superb Duke from the clarion voiced Franco Bonisolli and Rolando Panerai's biting hunchback. Every time I encounter Bonisolli in a recording I say the same stupid thing about how subtle and nuanced his singing is here, how he seems to have kept bad habits under control and never approaches his can belto reputation. I understand that he is celebrated for a few famous incidents in which he demonstrated temperament (chucking swords at Karajan in "Il trovatore", for instance) but whenever I hear him, whether it be in Rossini, Berlioz or Verdi, he is a model of fine style and executes important little matters like the turn on "punge" in his opening aria with great skill and taste. Apart from that, he has terrific tenor voice which sails up to a C sharp in his duet with Rinaldi without any strain at all.

Panerai has a very handsome, Italianate baritone with a tight, fast vibrato and a tendency towards unsteadiness which is usually under control but occasionally results in disturbance in his legato. He doesn't colour his words or inflect the text with Gobbi's dramatic acumen, but very baritones can or do.

Rinaldi is nothing special: the voice is not especially beautiful and inclined to shrillness but she is a competent artist who acts well with her voice, has the range and suggests wounded innocence. Viorica Cortez brings her rich, dusky mezzo-soprano to Maddalena in a manner that encompasses both seductiveness and "tart with a heart" charm. Bengt Rundgren is an acceptably saturnine Sparafucile without making a great impression of the kind a really black bass can create. A blaring, wobbly Monterone is a weakness and some comprimario parts are decidedly weedy with poor Italian accents.

Panerai is good but I value this issue primarily for Bonisolli, whose refulgent tenor conveys raffish insouciance and masculine "sex on legs" personified; he tends to dominate ensembles such as the famous Quartet but I don't mind that when the voice is so luscious.


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