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A Brahms fan (London, England)

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Beethoven - Complete Masterpieces
Beethoven - Complete Masterpieces
Price: £43.67

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a bargain!, 12 Jan 2009
Let me add a few words to the reviews written by others about the virtues of this set:
I bought this box mainly for David Zinman's recordings of the symphonies, and when I bought it only cost £1 more for all these extra disks - it would've been rude not to!

The highlights for me:
1) The symphonies sound so remarkably fresh, and reminded me of why I liked Beethoven so much when I first started listening to classical music. I gained a new perspective of these symphonies that I was familiar with already - they became "new" again - always good! I have enjoyed these performances very much (especially symphonies 4 and 8). Truly, each one of Beethoven's 9 symphonies is a masterpiece. (However, I would say I found the 9th a little disappointing here).

2) The Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II" - a hidden gem. It was written when Beethoven was only 20 (which suprised me very much - a work of great skill). The movement entitled "Venit Joseph" is very exciting, and the aria that follows it is really beautiful. A cracking performance here, too, by NYPO and Thomas Schippers. Sometimes you have to put up with mediocre performances as the only way of hearing more obscure works - but not in this case!

3) The string trios - I had never heard them before - good, clean perfomances.

[Just to correct the other customer's track listing - disk 28 doesn't contain a piano quartet Op.16 (with Emanuel Ax/Isaac Stern/ Jaime Laredo/YoYo Ma) but in its place...]

4) The Piano Concerto No.0 (WoO 4) - also very interesting - it is like one of Mozart's (but still Beethoven) - another hidden gem in the set, and well played.

5) The regular arrangment for piano and winds of Op.16 is present, with a good performance by Stefan Vlader and the Ensemble Wien-Berlin (members of the great VPO and BPO).

I was impressed by the sound quality of many of the recordings here. Although I think this has the downside of making middle-of-the-road performancess more clearly so, when you can hear every detail.

Personally, I still wouldn't be without my other recordings, especially of the chamber music - the (4) EMI budget sets are all fantastic, and I think they are the recordings that I will want to hear in years to come:
Beethoven: String Quartets (Alban Berg Quartett - playing as one instrument!)
Beethoven - Piano Trios; Cello Sonatas; Violin Sonatas (Barenboim, Du Pre, Zukerman)
Beethoven - Complete Piano Sonatas (Barenboim)
I also really like this 4th (and final Beethoven) set in the series:
Beethoven - Symphonies. Piano Concertos (Klemperer, Barenboim)

But I'm glad I have this set for the symphonies and various other pieces listed that would be more expensive to buy seperately.

I doubt many customers would be disappointed with this set, and I can't see how it could be made much better and still be offered at this amazing price!

Panorama: Camille Saint-SaŽns
Panorama: Camille Saint-SaŽns
Price: £13.89

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Premium recordings, 19 Mar 2008
This CD is an excellent compilation of Saint-SaŽns' most popular/famous works from the Universal Classics catalogue.

The main attractions here are the gramophone recommended recordings of the Organ Symphony (Barenboim & Chicago Symphony Orchestra), Le Carnaval des Animaux (Argerich, Kremer, Maisky et al) and the 2nd Piano Concerto (Rogé, Dutoit).

Aswell as those, (as if that wasn't enough), you also get the Havanaise and Introduction et Rondo Capriccioso (played brilliantly by Perlman with Mehta and NYPO) and a handful of tone poems (Danse Macabre, Le Rouet d'Omphale and the Bacchanale from Samson et Delila - aswell an aria from the same).

So, this is definitely a one-stop-shop for great Saint-SaŽns and great recordings.

If you're looking for these particular recordings, this CD is by far the cheapest way of obtaining them. If you're looking for some famous Saint-SaŽns, then there really is no competition from the "Best of Saint-SaŽns" disks that feature on other labels. Get this one!

Edition Staatskapelle Dresden, Vol 12
Edition Staatskapelle Dresden, Vol 12
Price: £10.03

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly performed Schumann, 11 Jan 2008
I second the other reviewer's opinion - this is an excellent recording of the Konzertstück.

In my opinion this is the finest version of the work available. There is also a good period instrument performance (which comes second), conducted by Gardiner: Schumann: Symphonies Nos 1 & 4, Konzertstück for 4 Horns (Part of the complete set of Symphonies: Schumann: Complete Symphonies)

Mozart: Great Piano Concertos
Mozart: Great Piano Concertos
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £11.82

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mozart Concertos, 10 Jan 2008
Mozart is deceptively hard to play - everything is so exposed and must sound clean and polished. I have a lot of respect for Ashkenazy as a pianist, because in these Mozart concertos he has achieved just that. Perfect legato, even playing. I find these recordings so satisfying to listen to, as he is in utter control of everything. The playing of the Philharmonia is beautifully refined (Ashkenazy conducting from the keyboard) - every melodic line is brought out, and the emphasis on phrases is exactly where it should be. I would say that the orchestral playing in the Ashkenazy cycle is superior to that of the revered Murray Perahia cycle - Mozart - The Piano Concertos.

The D minor concerto has to be one my favourites of Mozart's 27, and it is given an amazing performance here (as are the rest). I found it more satisfying than Perahia's - Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 20 & 27. The work itself is so good, Beethoven wrote a magnificent set of cadenzas for it! I particularly enjoy listening to how Ashkenazy executes these cadenzas with so much expression and real virtuosity.

Ashkenazy's performance of these works sound perfect to my ears. Go on treat yourself! Once I heard this selection of concertos, I jumped at the chance to purchase the Ashkenazy box - Mozart: The Piano Concertos from Amazon for a crazy £16! I highly recommend that purchase too. I notice Amazon's prices fluctuate from time to time...

Mendelssohn: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2
Mendelssohn: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2
Offered by Naxos Direct UK
Price: £5.99

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Good, 9 Jan 2008
This is one of those NAXOS CDs that receives a non-budget performance. The 2 solo piano concertos and two concert pieces are excellently played by a certain Mr Benjamin Frith (who has masterfully recorded all of the Mendelssohn concertos for piano for NAXOS, aswell as many other solo works and the piano trios).

These works are exciting, romantic pieces with fiery sections complimented by melodies of great beauty. The performances are a close rival to the celebrated Stephen Hough recordings, but about half the price. (N.B. the Hough includes 1 other work for piano and orchestra: Serenade and Allegro giocoso in B minor Op.43, which I've never heard)

I also recommend Frith's NAXOS recording of the Mendelssohn early concerto for violin, piano and strings - also masterfully played on all accounts. There is great piano playing and also a beautiful sound on the violin (Marat Bisengaliev). It is a work looking back to Mozart and Bach, displaying a great deal of understanding of musical composition, and a good grasp of effective counterpoint, even though it was composed at the age of 14! It also has a stamp of Mendelssohn's own character. It is coupled with his early violin concerto, which isn't bad either.

Go on, explore some great music by an unjustly dismissed and neglected composer!

Beethoven: Violin Concerto
Beethoven: Violin Concerto
Price: £8.24

31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As Close to a Perfect Recording as Possible, 29 Oct 2007
While I do not think there is ever such a thing as a perfect recording (even if one is "definitive"), this is as close as you can get! Barenboim is a master in interpretting Beethoven, the Berliner Philharmoniker are, without a doubt, one of the world's best orchestras, and Perlman is an amazing virtuoso violinist, possessing such beautiful sound.

The result: Beethoven's lyrical violin concerto sounding "as it should" - the tempi are perfect, and there is so much expression. The soloist is never drowned by the orchestra, which is a possible danger with concertos. The way Perlman plays the famous Kreisler cadenzas is unbelievable - fast, but not showy, with beautiful sound - really impressive.

What's more - the violin concerto is a LIVE RECORDING! That's real skill - not hundreds of retakes in a studio. Don't worry about noise from the audience - there is none, apart from the excellent "Bravo"s and applause that come at the end - I like that. The climactic finish and the playing of the whole provoke a "Bravo" or two!

What's more, this CD comes with studio recordings of the two romances for violin and orchestra, making this set complete - also excellent performances. Highly recommended!

(Customers who like this title may be interested in another excellent live performance by the same artists, playing Brahms - Violin Concerto; 4 Hungarian Dances. The video recordings of both concerts also available together on DVD: Beethoven/Brahms - Violin Concertos (Perlman, Barenboim) - it's quite interesting to see the masters at work!)

Brahms: The Piano Concertos 1, 2: Haydn and Handel Variations
Brahms: The Piano Concertos 1, 2: Haydn and Handel Variations
Price: £9.57

36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvellous Brahms!, 15 Oct 2007
How do you like Brahms to sound?
For me, it must be played with full, rich, warm tones - after all, it is weighty, expressive and truly romantic music - and the many passages of extreme delicacy and utter beauty must be brought out too.

So what about this recording? I would say that this recording amply fulfils all those requirements. Dealing first with my absolute favourite of all piano concertos, Brahms' second, this recording (for me personally) outstrips all others that I have heard (YES, even the widely acclaimed Gilels/Jochum/BPO on DG: Brahms: The Piano Concertos; Fantasias Op.116).

There is such beautiful sound - the opening solo horn, the solo cello in the 3rd movement, not to mention Ashkenazy's tone on the piano. Ashkenazy exacts so much power from his keyboard without whacking the thing to death or giving us a horrible, harsh tone - for me, Gilels does not do so well in this respect, when comparing the two readings. Ashkenazy has a beautifully warm and weighty sound; every note resonates as it should. The piano holds its place with fine, firm tone against the orchestra in the louder, more energetic passages, yet also sounds with such sensitivity and delicacy in the 3rd movement, and the "quiet after the storm" in the second movement. (Sample the from 5'40'' to 6'10'' in the second movement to see what I mean - what a beautiful melodic line in the right hand set against the arpeggios in the left!).

I also love the execution of the opening of the piece - that lovely resonant sound of the bass notes, almost at the very extreme of the keyboard, which answer the horn. Then there are the dense, virtuosic passages, in which Ashkenazy characteristically delivers clarity and excellent voicing. What energy and excitement too! And then there are the trills - astonishing! This is the kind of playing and tone quality Brahms piano writing should receive, especially in the second concerto, of all pieces.

So what of the orchestra's playing? The Wiener Philharmoniker, as you would expect, play superbly - what beautiful string and brass sections! Haitink's interpretation is marvellous. Decca have given us an excellent digital recording in capturing this marvellous account.

I do have a few very minor niggles about this recording. Firstly, the staccato notes in the right hand of the piano, just after the first entry of the woodwinds and strings in the first movement, don't really happen, but it sounds good nonetheless. (Incidentally, Gilels does a little better here, but there's not much in it). Secondly, had the first and second violins been separated, then those dialogue runs of descending scales in the first movement would have been yet more effective.

The playing of the first concerto here is perhaps not quite as good, but I feel no need to buy another, as it is not by any means bad. It is very powerful in places, and the last movement suites Ashkenazy's style of playing. The interpretation seems more restrained, like Ashkenazy is holding back a little. Some prefer the first as a work itself, but I feel it is (despite being a grand work) marginally eclipsed by the second concerto.

The fillers here are good - Ashkenazy conducts the Cleveland Orchestra in the "Haydn" and "Handel" variations. The Handel variations were orchestrated by Edmund Rubbra from Brahms solo piano variations in the style of Brahms' orchestration of the Haydn variations - an interesting listen. Both are well played, although the Haydn is a little quicker than usual, but I quite like the tempi chosen.

So why do I prefer this interpretation of the 2nd to the Gilels/Jochum? I mentioned the sound on the piano first of all, which is very important. I also feel the playing of the whole piece is better with Ashkenazy and Haitink, the other seems rough in some places. The finale in particular is far superior in Ashkenazy's hands - it is Hungarian-sounding, as it should be (like his recording of some of the Hungarian dances with Perlman on EMI: Brahms - Violin Concerto; 4 Hungarian Dances - also a strong recommendation). I found Gilels not very convincing in this movement. For me, Ashkenazy and Haitink manage to serve a fuller palate of passion, power, beauty and relaxing serenity throughout the whole piece, which is the quality in Brahms' music that is so appealing to me. Let your tastes be your guide...

All in all, this is one of my favourite disks - one that I will never tire of, and will return to time and time again. I would recommend this recording above any other to anyone looking for an exceptional performance of the Brahms' 2nd Piano Concerto. For quality of playing, beautiful sound and good price - I feel this is unbeatable!

[Decca's website has 1'30'' samples, if you want to hear previews]

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