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Peter Street (West Midlands)

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Symphony 5
Symphony 5
Price: £19.49

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Welcome survivor, 5 July 2013
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This review is from: Symphony 5 (Audio CD)
I was at this concert, as I've described in my review of the EMI recording of the Bruckner made a week earlier. The BBC recording copes well enough with the acoustic, though the upper strings can occasionally sound dry - the unimproved Royal Festival Hall was a tricky environment - and there is, for mono, ample space and range. Importantly the brass is not over-egged, as it disastrously was in the EMI stereo issue. Even at the notorious conclusion of the finale the brass is in proportion, as Klemperer intended, and the last unisons are not hyped up in any way whatsoever. Klemperer's wind players are, as usual, prominent and in solos they have all the tonal space they need, which is vital to continuity, though in the frequent moments of silence we are plunged into digital limbo, not the Royal Festival Hall. Apart from that, this is, on the whole, a pretty fair acoustic representation of what I remember hearing on the night and I don't miss stereo, since the clarity is already exemplary. Some of that is Bruckner himself, and some Klemperer. As Mike Ashman's note points out, it was one of the qualities most admired in his Bruckner throughout his career.

I thought I would sample the Bruckner first. Fat chance. I found I had to listen to the whole work at a sitting, to the exclusion of everything else. I had forgotten how broad Klemperer's tempi had been, though I remembered his response to Bruckner's contradictory tempi in the scherzo, which on the night seemed extreme, and even more so on the disc. The music begins as a parody of the slow movement, but few conductors evoke the remaining power of the adagio so forcefully in the parody waltz which interrupts it. Risk assessment is not involved here. The movement proceeds on a knife edge, but it dances throughout and doesn't plod, though at this tempo there would have been every excuse to. Throughout the whole work there is a sense of organic growth - the orchestration leads us imperceptibly from one stage to the next so that we are always aware of the string pizzicato, the chorale-fanfares, and the woodwind scraps of the opening even when they are not in the immediate context. Klemperer's response to every orchestral event seems entirely just - the strings can go from pizzicato to ample richness of tone without for a millisecond breaking the onward patient progression of of the argument - which is fundamentally about the possibilities of an F sharp inserted into a chord of B flat - or distorting the proportions of paragraph or movement. And this is not a work without its own inner doubts and uncertainties. At the opening of the slow movement the texture Bruckner composed is so close to chaos that most conductors simply fake the woodwind rhythm to match the pizzicato strings. Klemperer flirts more closely with breakdown than anyone, and the tension is such that critics accused the performance of poor ensemble at this point. Klemperer was simply playing what Bruckner actually wrote, and the immensely confident full string subject that emerges from their pizzicati has enormous impact as a result. But the sands under it are always shifting. We are still a long way from the sonata-fugal finale, which, after the introduction, opens with what begins as another bass recitative, which is actually the first fugue theme -and an inversion of the parody waltz motif which stops the scherzo in its tracks - and simply unfolds like an infinite landscape. You may not like the performance if you are a follower of Jochum, Horenstein, or Karajan, but this is what Klemperer had to say about the Bruckner Fifth, as the EMI studio disc is not. There is a performance from slightly later in 1967 with the Vienna Philharmonic in which it is said a little more idiomatically and in stereo. If you can find it at a realistic price, it evokes earlier, famous public performances Klemperer gave with the VPO, the orchestra Ashman suggests had been probably Klemperer's preferred partners in the work. The New Philharmonia performance isn't about that sort of familiarity. It has its own rewards, and it reaches its own goal with its own efforts. I am for both.

The concert began with a performance of the Schubert Unfinished symphony of breadth and grave eloquence, and which, if anyhting, helped to underline the Schubertian strands in Bruckner's symphony. It has lost none of its strength. Irritatingly, Testament thinks it makes sense to put it second in the two disc set.

The four stars are for the sound. Probably the performance will attract anything from one to five. Personally I think I will usually be around five.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 6, 2014 8:04 PM BST


The Heifetz Piatigorsky Concerts
The Heifetz Piatigorsky Concerts
Price: £19.66

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Never quite what you expect, for better or worse., 1 July 2013
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This is the world of cast-iron reputations and it's wise to tread carefully. In the post LP era I used to pick a good few of these issues up in charity shops,and they were usually well played and often a bit worn. I could never quite make up my mind about them. The technique, of course, goes without saying,though the gold folk hear in the tone might just as much be the sound of Maria Theresa dollars piling up as aural generosity - the bright vibrato often goes with a cruising speed which doesn't encourage lingering over subtle details. The up and downsides of this sometimes appear in a single work - the Mozart C major Quintet (though RCA prefers to use a feminine spelling) has a brusque take-it-or-leave-it first movement that raises the hackles a bit, but by the time you get to the minuet the playing is fully engaged with the harmonic ambiguities and you are open-mouthed. It's coupled, as on LP, with the Mendelssohn C minor trio, savaged in Charles Rosen's book on the Romantics, and again the playing takes no prisoners, but the long paragraphs are perfectly expounded. The work, which is poorly recorded for the time, as are a good many of these discs, comes across as much better than its reputation. I'm not so sure about these performances of the Beethoven String Trios - I never was. At one time I wondered whether Heifetz had ever played in a string quartet - a genre absent from this box - but the booklet, which appears well integrated with the Heifetz official website, as you would expect, assures us that he not only had, but in public - Beethoven's Op 127, no less. I wonder what it was like.

At the moment I think the best chamber playing I've heard in the set is in the Brahms double concerto, with an anonymous band under Wallenstein, a one time cellist, who understands the work and the players from the inside and from all the other angles too. Everyone is relaxed, the soloists sing and phrase as though spontaneously and despite the occasional rough patch of recording, everything works. An orchestral piece, but it's a Heifetz-Piatigorsky disc, isn't it? If only RCA had tried to improve the sound a bit. And if only some of the chamber pieces had been a little less tense throughout.


Concertos Pour Piano: Beethoven Br
Concertos Pour Piano: Beethoven Br
Price: £18.21

4.0 out of 5 stars For the record, but if you get a good price, buy the set for the Prokofiev., 25 Jun 2013
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Disc 1 accommodates the Beethoven 3rd and 5th Piano concertos recorded in the early 1960s with Bernstein. In the C minor concerto Bernstein flexes his muscles for stereo and Serkin seems wayward and often not completely engaged (as a performances the reissued Ormandy mono is much better). In the E Flat concerto both are fully engaged, and the result is one of Serkin's better Beethoven concerto recordings: he was always up for the battle in this concerto, and none of his recordings of it let you down. The second disc offers the Mendelssohn D minor concerto, with Ormandy, from 1959, in which Serkin is in excellent form, (and the work's alleged weaknesses don't intrude), with the Brahms B flat concerto accompanied by Szell and the Cleveland from the mid sixties, which is earnest and - in recording terms - a little clangorous. Many folk have a higher opinion of it, though. The third disc pairs Prokofiev's 4th concerto, written for the left-hand, and the Reger. The Prokofiev is worth the price of the set on its own. This is Serkin, as he so rarely was in the studio in his later years, at his absolute best. On LP it was paired with Bartok's First Concerto, but this set ( allegedly prepared for Radio-Television Luxembourg) includes the Reger concerto from 1959 instead. On LP, in terms of recorded sound, that was nothing short of torture to listen to, and in the UK it piled up in the discount bins. The recording has been considerably improved by digitisation, and Serkin - not to mention his father-in-law Adolf Busch - knew and understood Reger, so it's worth giving it a go. But the Bartok would have been much better.


Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15 & Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15 & Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37
Price: £4.55

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Overdue reissue sloppily presented. Mondo ladro., 29 May 2013
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I like Col Russell's review - it accentuates the positive and doesn't mess with Mr In-between. I agree about the performances too - the mono Serkin-Ormandy recordings of No 2 and 4 should have been on CD years ago. The recordings are not, with all due respect, shining examples of early 50s mono, but they don't, at first playing, sound any worse than once they did.

But this is one of the super-multi-nationals. God knows who owns it now - I've lost track. It goes to the trouble of a beautifully produced colour-insert, with flawlessly evoked marketing nostalgia aimed at the grey (sorry - accentuate the positive - silver) dollar and the old certainties of fifties sleeve geometry, and when it comes to checking whether they've got the music on the disc in the right order, it can't be bothered to. Interesting set of priorities - if it looks good, who cares what it actually sounds like. And, deep in the small print, is the claim that it's ADD Stereo - which I hope is a lie, though I can't be sure it hasn't had a little two channel intervention from an engineer too young to know what Ormandy's Philadelphia or Serkin, (who I actually did hear play live) sounded like in the flesh.

But, all the same, what kind of a world is it when you actually cross your fingers and hope your friendly neighbourhood multi-national is lying to you? Where music making of this quality is treated like stylishly packaged junk, and ministers of culture have been brainwashed into thinking the job of the arts is to make money?

Buy this, whatever its faults, and escape for an hour.


Sibelius - Symphony No 7
Sibelius - Symphony No 7
Price: £7.74

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A legend, 23 May 2013
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This live performance of the Sibelius Seventh from 1932 is one of the great monuments of recorded music. It would vindicate Koussevitzky as a conductor for any jury (possibly even one including Stravinsky, who said some tart things about him to Craft) - even for rescoring the coda, with a trumpet Sibelius didn't call for added in. It doesn't sound that bad, either. The "Pohjola's Daughter" is from a later thirties session with Koussevitzky's own Boston players, in the aggressive sound favoured by RCA in the period, but it is another landmark recording for the piece -like the Seventh, originally a "Symphonic fantasia". "Tapiola", as it should be, is inexorable. The transfers are not the last word, but they are good. Koussevitzky was a great Sibelius conductor at a time when these scores had few other champions, and his Seventh has never been surpassed.


String Quartet No. 3/Piano Quartet (Busch Quartet)
String Quartet No. 3/Piano Quartet (Busch Quartet)
Offered by MUSIC DIRECT
Price: £26.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, 23 May 2013
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These are postwar recordings from the late 1940s when the reconstructed Busch Quartet was playing again in Europe, after its wartime trials in the US. (The cover image, of the Serkin-Busch Duo only is pre-war, but I suppose it is intended to convey venerability and authority and authenticity and all the traditional assets of classical marketing). It's probably still worth pointing out that Busch did have some personal contact in his youth with Brahms's great friend Joachim, for whom most of his string music was written, and heard him play - in fact he turned pages for him on occasion. This doesn't bring back anything resembling the rich tone still audible on Joachim's few, late, and compromised discs - he was having physical problems by the time they were made. But it offers in the quartet perfectly poised Brahms playing - not particularly slow, but giving the music ample elbow room to make its points, and, without even needing to stress it, to come first and to explore itself and its world. In the 1930s the Budapest Quartet made a marvellous version of this B flat quartet, brisk, with great tonal variety, rhythmic life, and brilliance - a quartet for the big audience and a constant pleasure to hear even now. This one couldn't be more different - or more individual,but it grips you even more surely. The Piano Quartet replaced, for most 78 rpm collectors, the famous old Rubinstein-Pro Arte set, played for Hungarian brilliance in the finale at breakneck speed. Again, this is more moderate - Serkin is, however, as brilliant as and more searching than Rubinstein and the complexities of the music are not shirked. For anyone interested in composer or players, this can't be missed.


Samsung SE-S084C, External USB 2.0 Slimline 8X DVD Writer, Black
Samsung SE-S084C, External USB 2.0 Slimline 8X DVD Writer, Black
Offered by Fast Link
Price: £20.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Dubious, 23 May 2013
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Initial impressions are that a lot of reviewers like it, (and if they said more than that it would help) and a few don't. I bought it on the strength of the likes and after an afternoon with it I don't. I think I've got it working OK with my Vista laptop, but it has so far burnt three DVDs which my Mac will not recognise - "this is not a DVD". VLC, not withstanding, will play them on the Mac, but with maddening dropouts in the sound. Flip4Mac turns up its nose. The Nero software, if that is what it is, advises that if you opt for a 'mastered" DVD it will play on any computer and quite a few DVD players. It won't. So if I want to watch DVDs on Windows Media Player on a 17 in laptop I'm OK. Not otherwise. I actually bought it to clean out the storage in the laptop which has a good few videos which the Windows burner takes three hours to burn, if it feels like it, and two hours to reject. At least this thinks in minutes rather than hours. But the claims it makes are close to fraudulent.

Later - and it gets worse. If you overload the burning file it doesn't recognise that you have removed anything. It will then claim that it cannot burn what is, as your own screen tells you, an empty file, because it doesn't have that much capacity. It seems also to prefer short measure - never mind that it says it has a total 4.38 gig capacity, you will only get 1 hour 42 minutes from a two hour source- after which it will freeze the screen AND GO ON RECORDING TO THE END OF THE FILE. This is on Windows Vista.

Everything that folk say about the Nero software is true - it's a rip-off, even coming free. It also has to be gouged out of Windows - unisntalling it seems to produce a message saying it hasn't finished being installed yet.

It's going to have to go back.


Trifles in Verse
Trifles in Verse
by Alexander Stuart Baillie
Edition: Unknown Binding

1.0 out of 5 stars Another piece of exploitation, 14 May 2013
This review is from: Trifles in Verse
Marianne Baillie (nee Wathen), daughter of an actor, and granddaughter of Malthus's aunt, is an interesting woman and in her day a modestly successful travel writer. No one seems to be sure exactly who her husband Alexander Baillie was, or what became of him, but he printed her poems himself in a very limited number of copies. The entire publication runs to 48 duodecimo pages. Admittedly the source is rare enough, but even so, to reprint just the preface for separate sale is Robert Maxwellism gone mad, and the opposite of sensible and responsible scholarly publishing. If you need it, borrow it.


The Letter-Book of Bailie John Steuart of Inverness 1715-1752
The Letter-Book of Bailie John Steuart of Inverness 1715-1752
by William (editor) MacKay
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars A surprise., 9 May 2013
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For those interested in Highland Local history this is a famous and frustrating publication. William Mackay was one of the figures behind the growth of the professional exploration of the Scotttish Gaeltachd's past, and his subject here ( a Jacobite) was also the father of one of the key figures in the history of Charleston, S.C. in the immediate pre-revolutionary years. Mackay published what was in 1915 terms a generous selection from Baillie Steuart's working correspondence, but his principles were also those of 1915, and we do not know what he left out, because, if they still exist, Steuart's letter-books are now inaccessible. Even so, they indicate that merchants in a modestly sized Highland burgh in the years around the two Jacobite episodes of 1715 and 1745 were trading successfully with the Baltic, France, and the Mediterranean, supported by relatively smoothly working financial structures, and facing the risks - which were considerable - with a fair degree of equanimity and confidence, though occasional Steuart does seem to be worried about being taken up on letters of caption, and towards the end of his career is seriously short of money.

The surprise was to get a copy in near-perfect condition, 98 years after publication, still completely uncut. I'm a bit reluctant to take a paperknife to it, but very grateful to the supplier, all the same.


Mozart: Symphonies & Serenades (Klemperer Legacy)
Mozart: Symphonies & Serenades (Klemperer Legacy)
Price: £16.42

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not about 'Amadeus', but masterly., 5 April 2013
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I reviewed the earlier GROC box-set of symphonies from EMI and I think I stand by what I said. Some of these recordings I did not know until I got this box-set, which is consistently fascinating, even when one feels obliged to disagree.

It's a bit of a shock listening to the massed ranks of the Philharmonia in stereo in some of these works. I think No 33 (which belongs to the world of the serenades and was first recorded by a chamber orchestra, Edwin Fischer's, in the 1930s) is overloaded, but everything else just about stands up, or you are persuaded, by something like the slow movement of no 34 (one of the most beautiful recorded Mozart movements imaginable, so fine textured you can hear everything and utterly seamless in its phrasing) that it does. You are caught out from time to time by Klemperer's ear - Gwydion Brooke's bassoon can be unexpectedly prominent when you least expect, and you wonder why. But soon, if you know them, you recall Bruno Walter's pre-war Paris 78s of the Haydn's 'Oxford' symphony, where the bassoon is equally prominent, and begin to speculate - I kid you not - about Klemperer and 'period performance'. Beethoven expected the bassoon to double for then unplayable notes on the horn in the Fifth Symphony - what did Mozart's orchestras really sound like? Or some of the horn-playing in the earlier recording of the G minor symphony. The impression grows that you are listening to gigantic chamber music, formally and seriously presented, even when you expect wit and brilliance. Modern ears need re-adjusting for this after decades of experiments with chamber orchestras and replica instruments. Don't expect to be charmed even most of the time. One of the most gripping moments in the set is the opening of the Freimaurertrauermusik and what follows establishes the seriousness of the approach throughout. You don't even think about an orchestra when you hear it. It is, I suppose, 'neue Sachlichkeit' from one of its leading radical practitioners, and it shows how lasting the idea was, and still is.

And then listen again to that first recording of the G minor symphony, which immediately precedes it, a model for Beethoven's Fifth as Klemperer sees it, and played as though it is. This is a great conductor at work.


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