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Brahms: The Piano Concertos
Brahms: The Piano Concertos
Offered by jim-exselecky
Price: £8.99

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great music placed in very capable hands, 18 Aug. 2015
I should like to sidestep the usual thorny question: do we really need an umpteenth recording of these works – I mean, with Arrau, Brendel (times two), Zimerman and (Bishop-)Kovacevich already in the bag. Instead, let me laconically state that these are thoroughly delightful performances of two of musical history’s most monumental works ... and I, for one, would hate to be without them.

That said, this is Barenboim’s fourth endeavour into the universe of the Brahms concertos, and I must admit that I’m not entirely convinced by many of the little quirks and idiosyncrasies added since his, to my ears, most satisfactory - and certainly rather less mannered - one conducted by Zubin Mehta back in the early 1980’s ... the 1967 recording featuring a, to my taste, hurried and in places superficial Barbirolli, and the 1991 version (available on DVD) being marred by a for that time characteristically cranky and past-his-prime Celibidache. Still, Barenboim is Barenboim and in general nothing if not convincing. He certainly knows his Brahms like very few other living artists, and as on other occasions I may still come around to his point of view given time and a few more concentrated listens.

The real delight of these discs, though, is Gustavo Dudamel, whom I must admit gave me some sleepless nights when I first read about the imminent release of the set. Always an honest and impassioned interpretor of music ranging from Vivaldi to Revueltas, I have to say I rather feared an over the top performance when faced with Brahms - the at the same time most muscular and artistically intellectual of the great romantics. Instead Dudamel admirably manages to infuse especially the score of the D minor concerto with a very personal but always finely balanced intensity that fits both the music and his soloist celèbre to a T. At the same time his attention to detail in these massively scored concertos should raise an eyebrow or two, and he has my personal clearance to move on to the symphonies any day – preferably sooner than later.

Barenboim is no Solomon and no Serkin – but overall he still manages to impress, and both concertos are given consistent as well as passionate interpretations that will delight all but the most hardened of fundamentalists. Buy with confidence.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 21, 2015 11:34 PM BST


Sea Symphony, A (Daniel, Bournemouth So) [Sacd/CD Hybrid]
Sea Symphony, A (Daniel, Bournemouth So) [Sacd/CD Hybrid]

5.0 out of 5 stars ... and then there was SACD, 16 Aug. 2014
Just a handful of quick observations concerning this remarkable re-issue ... unmissable to all in possession of their full wits - and a SACD player.

The recording has already been lavishly - but very deservedly - praised in its CD version. The orchestra, seemingly inspired by the breath and proportions of the work, pours forth a veritable ocean in which the soloists must sink or swim. Fortunately Rodgers and Maltman, incidentally one of the finest duos to sing this piece in recorded history, both very much swim ... and to boot the recording provides them with both wonderful presence and unusual clarity. Paul Daniel takes a fairly personal approach to some of the much loved passages - i. e. the great crescendo of the finale (at "O Thou transcendent") is taken at an remarkably slow pace - but all in all I have to admit that it works and leaves us with an unusually coherent and in every way first rate performance.

Given time one could probably find recordings with a tad more of the original VW atmosphere - Boult (certainly), Andrew Davis, Bryden Thomson ... even (at least in part) Previn and Haitink. Never the less, a member of a younger generation, Daniel's take on the symphony is most rewarding, and in his hands the details of this huge and sometimes uneven work really do come together - not just organically but very beautifully as well.

And what about the whole SACD thing; is it really worth ponying up the extra dough? The answer is ... a resounding and unqualified YES. Rarely have I heard a transfer to this medium bloom and swell like this one, and for shere quality of sound it's an undisputed winner in the present field of Vaughan Williams firsts, head and shoulders ahead of the closest competition.

What more can I say ... get it while it's hot. It's presently out of stock at Naxos - so I wouldn't wait too long.


Dusapin/Messiaen: Elegiaque
Dusapin/Messiaen: Elegiaque
Price: £14.44

5.0 out of 5 stars A quartet for all times, 15 Nov. 2013
A music critic once quibbed that if the oevre of Messiaen was truly art, his style wouldn't be so ridiculously easy to parody. Be that as it may - the quartet "for the End of Time" undisputedly IS a work of art; moreover, it's a wonderful example of religious symbolism, artistic purpose, and simple bare necessity coming together in a successful bid for excellence. A rare achievement in 20th century classical music.

Much has been written about the circumstances of its composition as well as its agonizing birth: the freezing cold of the prisoner of war camp in Görlitz, the partially broken upright piano, Étienne Pasquier's cello with the missing string, and the wooden clogs Messiaen had to wear at the first performance ... and a thoroughly fascinating tale it is. What's even better, though, is the way in which the work so resoundingly speaks for itself, a forceful statement of fervent belief in the bliss of the eternal kingdom of Christ rising after the Apocalypse the German fortunes of war made seem only all too imminent. The unconventional (but not unheard of) forces - piano, violin, cello ... and clarinet - fuse like never before in a composition of bittersweet longing as well as great emotional poignancy. The fifth part "Praise to the Eternity of Jesus" is scored for piano and cello only; pregnant with a strange and potent mixture of sorrow and exhilaration it somehow manages to match the seemingly contradictory heading: "infinitely slow, ecstatic", and it is placed high on my list of all time favourites.

The quartet has been well served in numerous recordings over the past half a century, the one featuring the composer at the piano being an unmissable reference, of course. Like many other composers in performance, though, Messiaen seems, in my opinion, reluctant to release the music's full potential, and I personally favour the slightly more recent recording on the French label Arion, benefitting from the superlative violin of Régis Pasquier - nephew of Étienne, the cellist for whom the work was originally composed. Sad to say this rendering incomprehensibly has never appeared on CD.
The present recording with the Trio Élégiaque, purely apart from being seeped in the French chamber music tradition, shows many of the best qualities of both versions listed above, and for the moment it would be my best recommendation to those showing an interest in the "Quartet for the End of Time" - newcomers as well as seasoned Messiaen'ites. All through the playing is first class, the clarinet of Jean-Philippe Vivier is absolutely second to none, and the sweetness of the cello of Virginie Constant leaves me with a lump in my throat every time. The really jaw dropping quality of this performance, though, is the extraordinary synchronization displayed by the four instrumentalists, which in movements 1 and 6 in particular approaches a superhuman level.

To boot the CD provides a very intense interpretation of Pascal Dusapin's "Trio Rombach" (written in 1997), which - undeniably the junior partner of the project and not exactly easy on the ears - proves itself not only a fine match for the Messiaen quartet, but also a work of integrity and some interest.


Pascal Dusapin - Olivier Messiaen
Pascal Dusapin - Olivier Messiaen
Price: £11.72

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Messiaen quartet for all times, 13 Nov. 2013
A music critic once quibbed that if the oevre of Messiaen was truly art, his style wouldn't be so ridiculously easy to parody. Be that as it may - the quartet "for the End of Time" undisputedly IS a work of art; moreover, it's a wonderful example of religious symbolism, artistic purpose, and simple bare necessity coming together in a successful bid for excellence. A rare achievement in 20th century classical music.

Much has been written about the circumstances of its composition as well as its agonizing birth: the freezing cold of the prisoner of war camp in Görlitz, the partially broken upright piano, Étienne Pasquier's cello with the missing string, and the wooden clogs Messiaen had to wear at the first performance ... and a thoroughly fascinating tale it is. What's even better, though, is the way in which the work so resoundingly speaks for itself, a forceful statement of fervent belief in the bliss of the eternal kingdom of Christ rising after the Apocalypse the German fortunes of war made seem only all too imminent. The unconventional (but not unheard of) forces - piano, violin, cello ... and clarinet - fuse like never before in a composition of bittersweet longing as well as great emotional poignancy. The fifth part "Praise to the Eternity of Jesus" is scored for piano and cello only; pregnant with a strange and potent mixture of sorrow and exhilaration it somehow manages to match the seemingly contradictory heading: "infinitely slow, ecstatic", and it is placed high on my list of all time favourites.

The quartet has been well served in numerous recordings over the past half a century, the one featuring the composer at the piano being an unmissable reference, of course. Like many other composers in performance, though, Messiaen seems, in my opinion, reluctant to release the music's full potential, and I personally favour the slightly more recent recording on the French label Arion, benefitting from the superlative violin of Régis Pasquier - nephew of Étienne, the cellist for whom the work was originally composed. Sad to say this rendering incomprehensibly has never appeared on CD.
The present recording with the Trio Élégiaque, purely apart from being seeped in the French chamber music tradition, shows many of the best qualities of both versions listed above, and for the moment it would be my best recommendation to those showing an interest in the "Quartet for the End of Time" - newcomers as well as seasoned Messiaen'ites. All through the playing is first class, the clarinet of Jean-Philippe Vivier is absolutely second to none, and the sweetness of the cello of Virginie Constant leaves me with a lump in my throat every time. The really jaw dropping quality of this performance, though, is the extraordinary synchronization displayed by the four instrumentalists, which in movements 1 and 6 in particular approaches a superhuman level.

To boot the CD provides a very intense interpretation of Pascal Dusapin's "Trio Rombach" (written in 1997), which - undeniably the junior partner of the project and not exactly easy on the ears - proves itself not only a fine match for the Messiaen quartet, but also a work of integrity and some interest.


Nielsen: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 3 (LSO/Colin Davis)
Nielsen: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 3 (LSO/Colin Davis)
Price: £8.12

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A worthy conclusion to a worthy endeavour, 19 Feb. 2013
This (SA)CD sees the end of Sir Colin Davis' dash into the world of Carl August Nielsen - consummate trumpet, horn & fiddle player AND, in his capacity of composer, THE national icon of 20th century Danish music. In many ways this must be characterized as a daring initiative on the part of a conductor well into his 83rd year at the time of the first recording, and from the start I have been greatly excited to see if Sir Colin's legendary grasp of Nielsen's contemporary Sibelius would show in his treatment of the great Dane. So far I've found it difficult to reach a clear conclusion, having found much to praise in the symphonies nos. 5 and 6, while the fourth (being slightly overdone) and the first in particular, as I see it, missed the mark somewhat. Consequently, I have in my reviews of both the earlier issues found that a cleaving of the disc - though difficult - might be in order, and interestingly this is also the case with the material in hand.

The second symphony, composed in 1901/02 - exactly 10 years after its predecessor - is, while not a work of youth, still the work of a composer trying for a style of his own. Nielsen had been looking for a suitable subject for a symphony for some time, and as fate would have it he came upon the needed inspiration in an inn in Sjælland (Zealand) where he stayed with his wife and some friends. In the common room Nielsen found a "most amusing coloured picture divided into four squares, in which the temperaments were depicted and given the titles "The Choleric", The Sanguine", "The Melancholic", and the "The Phlegmatic". The choleric was riding a horse; he had a long sword in his hand, and with it he was slashing wildly at the empty space around him. His eyes seemed close to popping out of his head, his hair was blowing insanely round his face, which was so distorted with anger and a devilish hatred, that I couldn't keep myself from laughing. The other three pictures were painted along the same lines, and my friends and I were heartily amused by their naivety, their exaggerated expressivity and their comical seriousness." (in-part translation of Nielsen's program notes (1931) for symphony no. 2). The composer's wife Anne Marie was quick to remark: "This might be just the thing for a symphony" - and less than a year later, it became exactly that.

As usual Sir Colin Davis coaxes some first class playing from the LSO - yet alas, something is missing. The interpretation is careful, straight faced, and clean, making very sure not to belabor the points - and that is precisely where - once again - the point is missed by the illustrious maestro. But ... whoa now, hold my horses ... aren't we living in times where less is more and understatement is the new black? Well, WE may be - but Nielsen wasn't; that, however, is not my point, originalism being a most disputed term these days, and rightly so. My point is that the basis for the music is caricature, which by its very nature is overstatement and "exaggerated expressivity" (Nielsen's own words!). That is why, though you might get away with it in some of the other symphonies, the second cannot be played like Mozart or Schubert ... or Sibelius. This music has to be constantly balancing on a knife's edge, constantly within sneezing distance of "too much" - and there Sir Colin (much like in his rather lack-luster rendering of the first symphony) is not prepared to go. If I ever doubted the truth of this, a quick listen to the sadly neglected recording made by Ole Schmidt (Danish conductor and composer (1928-2010), who coincidentally back in the early 1970s held the reins of the LSO, and as such worked alongside Sir Colin Davis for years) proved me right. His Choleric is seething with rage, his Phlegmatic (even though the movement is unusually fast paced) is utterly disinterested in all things, his Melancholic is positively suicidal, and his Sanguine persona shows to a T the other face of the condition: shallowness - the poisonous side dish to perpetual happiness.

That said, the reading does have its moments - i.e. in the first movement at 5'38 where the choleric (in the shape of the kettle drum) after a minute of relative quiet bangs the table shouting "Now, damn it, do as I say", and at the end of the fourth movement at 4'00 where the larder window is forced by a seemingly very clumsy burglar, leaving the sanguine personality to stop dallying for a moment - but, of course, what could possibly be wrong. Life is wonderful, right? And on we go - into the sunset. It is done better by another neglected Nielsen conductor (incidentally also a Brit with a very capital B) Bryden Thomson, who to boot does a wonderful peacock strut finish ... away from the problem, naturally. But still, nicely executed, Sir Colin.

The "Sinfonia Espansiva" is probably by a wide margin the most popular of Nielsen's symphonies, and it is not difficult to see why: it has everything. There is rural frolicking and sunlight galore, there is wonderment and serious philosophizing, there is daydreaming and contemplation of shapes in drifting clouds - in short: the best of pre-WWI Denmark ... presented at its very best. Sir Colin's version is fairly close to exemplary (and to my ears every bit as good as the recently much publizised recording by Alan Gilbert) - though arguably not quite on a par with some of the home grown issues - Schønwandt or Schmidt ... or my personal favorite: the live recording by Yuri Ahronovitch and the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra (Unicorn-Kanchana), sadly - and incomprehensibly - still only available on LP. Sir Colin suddenly (and almost equally incomprehensibly) sounds 50 years younger and the music is positively brimming with sunny joie de vivre. The second movement seems strangely rushed in places (frankly, where's the fire?!), but the two singers, appropriately distant, manage their bucolic vocalising quite beautifully.

So again: one case of "nailed it" and one case of "so-so".

It is perhaps no surprise that the two earliest and most carefree works should be furthest from Sir Colin Davis' worldview; I mean, we all get to delight in our understanding of complexity as we grow older, and simple light hearted fun tends to appear just a tiny bit suspect. If you take a general view of the Nielsen symphonies there is great depth and strong feelings aplenty to be found, and that tends to be where conductors prefer to go when interpreting his music. No wonder then that the last three - written after the implosion of Nielsen's nationalism and the birth of his quasi-pacifist humanism - tend to get the most thorough servicing. In the fourth Sir Colin even manages to slightly over-sharpen the bayonets (if that is possible; I'm not a military man). In the case of the symphony no. 1, though, there's a definite inclination towards a Dan Brown-like shoehorning in of tortuous riddles and devious intentions under the motto: there must be more to this than meets the eye. I sincerely think there isn't - and nothing in Nielsen's diaries or voluminous portfolio of writings and letters suggest to me that there is. In the case of symphony no. 2 one often sees what I imagine to be an attempt to turn this musical "scherz" (for lack of a better word) into elevated absolute music. It isn't, and it never will be! On that count Sir Colin stands guilty as charged - to be fair, along with numerous others. As for the symphonies nos. 3-6 I can only recommend that you give them a try. Sir Colin Davis has much to give and even more to say; where that is warranted(!) he deserves a very thorough listening.

As in the case of the two previous discs of symphonies the sound of the recordings is good in SACD - though not exactly spectacular - and I'm told that the CD sound is fine as well. Should one want to hear what SACD can do when wielded by experts try the Sibelius symphonies nos. 2 & 5 - or the Beethoven symphonies - with Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra (BIS). Even in two-channel stereo it's an awe inspiring experience.
Comment Comments (14) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 28, 2013 2:29 PM BST


Ravel: Complete Piano Music
Ravel: Complete Piano Music
Price: £19.70

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishingly deep - and far from the crowd, 30 May 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Not at all well known outside France, Alice Ader is today deservedly ranked among the finest interpreters of French piano music, and her Debussy recordings in particular have met with considerable acclaim. With the passing of Vlado Perlemuter in 2002 the last of what could be termed the "Ravel pupils" - that is to say pianists who knew Ravel personally and played his music to him - left us, and the field is now wide open to the interpretational views of the younger generations ... views that tend to differ rather considerably from those of the composer, for better or worse.

Alice Ader first came to my attention with her recording of the Franck Piano Quintet, which for the first time made me fully enjoy this wonderful, but forbidding, chamber work. Her approach to these the most inspired piano pieces of the 20th century (along with those by Debussy) is one of debth and contemplation more than the clarity and simplicity Ravel always advocated. This, however, generally works very well for me, with the possible exception of the "Valses", which tend to be rather more sentimental than noble. Only Pogorelich, to my knowledge, have ever done them slower, and his version is dangerously close to getting fatally stuck in the mud. In works like the "Sonatine", "Le Tombeau de Couperin", and "Miroirs", though, Ader really penetrates to the very bottom of the music, and pieces like "Oiseaux tristes", "La valée des cloches", and the "Forlane" (from Le Tombeau) have rarely - if ever - been played more convincingly. To my pleasant surprise the more showy tracks ("Jeux d'eau", "Ondine", "Scarbo") are most impressively done as well, with all the wit they require - and only a smidgen less sparkle. All in all I would say that this set ranks among the very top ones in my collection alongside those by Rogé, Lortie and Pludermacher, and, perhaps because it is so very different, it complements them in so many unexpected ways.

The recording is both full and detailed, almost giving one the impression of being seated right next to the piano. This may infuriate some, but personally I never understood why producers today prefer to record piano music as if one as a listener was seated in the 27th row to the far right - with a Sumo wrestler in front of one. I know they like to call it "realism", but since I don't have to pay extra for the CD to be in the front row, why not give me the chance to hear all of the details and nuances of the music for once - as the composer took the trouble to write them in the first place. So, full marks from me to the recording crew; Ravel lovers with closeness issues ... beware!


Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No.2, Sonata for Violin & Piano, Concerto for Piano, Trumpet & String Orchestra
Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No.2, Sonata for Violin & Piano, Concerto for Piano, Trumpet & String Orchestra
Price: £13.25

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top marks - and no mistake, 24 Mar. 2012
With the fine efforts of Bernstein, Previn and Eugene List lazing in the soft autumn light of the historic display cabinet, many a fine recording of the two piano concertos have appeared over the last twenty years, the ones by Bronfman, Marshev, Hamelin, and - lately - Helmchen to be found at the top of my recently updated list of front-runners. This disc, which to boot benefits from the addition of the second violin sonata, however, cannot be ignored and must be awarded its rightful pedestal in the same luxurious penthouse department.

Alexander Melnikov, by now firmly established as a first-class interpreter of Shostakovich thanks to his brilliant set of the 24 Preludes & Fugues, finds the pianistic equilibrism for the fast-paced outer movements spot on (less overtly showy than Hamelin, but still pretty impressive at that!), while the slow ones give us a rare and rarefied atmosphere of melancholy introspection that Shostakovich avoided in his own recordings, but which is undeniably there and should by right be addressed. The recording quality is absolutely first class as well, warm but, for once these days, not bass-heavy with a fine and sensitive spotlighting of the solo instruments. On that note, a particularly hearty "well done!" should go to Jeroen Berwaerts for his trumpet playing in the first concerto, truly a soloist performance deserving of a mention on the front cover - which, rather strangely, it hasn't.

I am not particularly partial to the otherwise much publicized violin of Isabelle Faust, having found her input on the recent CD-set of Beethoven sonatas a rather underwhelming experience - especially when compared to the show-stopping simultaneous issue featuring Frank Braley and Renaud Capucon. In Shostakovich, though, it seems she has found her proper sea legs, and her handling of the sonata ("despair set to music") is both empathic, moving and in places desperate, while the histrionics often encountered in recordings of this music are wisely discarded.

In short: superbly played concerto performances, aptly presenting the broader view, and a sonata displaying an appropriate depressiveness but giving hysteria a wide berth. Move over, Denis Matsuev - even if you are in Super Audio.


Nielsen: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 6
Nielsen: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 6
Price: £8.86

5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A work of youth - and a work of contemplation, 19 Mar. 2012
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As the music of Carl Nielsen gradually spreads to the rest of the world, and more and more foreign conductors take up the challenge of interpreting his symphonies, it must in the nature of things be the particular duty of his compatriots - of whom I am one - to sample and weigh such endeavours, weaned on these national edifices as one is. As expressed in my earlier review of the first disc of symphonies, the now octogenarian Sir Colin Davis certainly digs into Nielsen con gusto, hitting the all-embracing fifth very close to the mark while I still find the fourth to be precipitate and lacking in concentration and detail.

The coupling of the symphonies Nos. 1 and 6 is a popular but fiendishly difficult one, as the works are all but diametrically opposite in nature. The first, begun when the composer was only 25, is a real barnstormer, fearless and impetuous as only youth can be, and much more so than the early works by Sibelius, an exact contemporary to whom Nielsen is often compared. No doubt Nielsen took much of his inspiration from Brahms, whose fourth symphony (of 1885) he greatly admired, but there the common ground sort of ends. Unfortunately Davis' grasp - of the orchestra undisputedly second to none - doesn't quite extend to the post-adolescent excesses of the great Dane. Though the music is very well played it comes over as way too ponderous and marinated in a late-romantic "Weltschmerz" entirely alien to pre-WWI Nielsen. When taking in this recording of the G minor symphony I couldn't help wondering if Sir Colin had perhaps Mahler's first - or Rachmaninov's second even - in slightly too fresh a memory; and that is not suitable company for the care-free Nielsen. One of the early promoters of the symphonies, the conductor Erik Tuxen (1902-57), was once asked what he felt the first symphony was about, particularly compared to the warlike image of the fourth. Tuxen dramatically put a hand to his forehead, closed his eyes and said: "I see before me a dog, not a very big one, mind you, running along the fence of a chicken run". He may have been joking (probably was), but somehow the picture to me is closer to the essence of early Nielsen than Davis' rather grey-faced one. For a performance brimming with the Champagne-sparkle required one must turn elsewhere, and Michael Schønwandt (Dacapo), Jukka-Pekka Saraste (Warner) - and Esa-Pekka Salonen (Sony), in particular - can be trusted to find the right atmosphere of jovial invincibility. For sure-footed navigation through the emotional minefield of the Nielsen symphonies in general, Herbert Blomstedt is still well-nigh unequaled.

The sixth symphony, on the other hand, is a work right up Sir Colin's alley, technically tortuous and minimalistic at the same time. Nielsen was equally horrified and morbidly fascinated by the musical expressions of the Second Vienese School; in the "Sinfonia semplice", however, he does take us for a stroll through the zoo - never too close to the cages, though. Trough a finely ballanced combination of normal and extended tonality, plus the odd unexpected dissonance - not infrequently interpreted (probably correctly) as vitriolic stabs at Schoenberg - he presents us with a work that is both new, exciting, puzzling ... AND securely anchored in the traditional musical ideom. At the time of composition Nielsen was already a marked man due to congestive heart failure, and there is a certain frailty and perseverance - an almost desperate reluctance to let go - in the music along with the occasionally rather brash statements. Sir Colin never recorded much of the early 20th century avant-garde himself, and his insistence on a basically romantic sound succeeds in highlighting the scattered instances of modernity that keep the symphony rather unevenly suspended - much like the poles of a circus tent. Others like Blomstedt and Salonen have made fine recordings of the sixth, but Davis provides a certain old-school charm that I personally find very appealing. In the field of Nielsen six'es you need look no further.

The sound of the recordings is fine - slightly better in SACD, without the mind-blowing effect of recordings such as Osmo Vänskä's recent Beethoven and Sibelius symphonies (BIS) - and as usual the cooperation of the LSO and its illustrious conductor is a wonder in and of itself.

Again we have a disc that should rightfully be cut in half, but as that tends to result in a somewhat inferior sound reproduction, I'll keep the first symphony as a reminder that most things conceived by the young are perhaps best handled by the young. Being youthful isn't always enough. Sorry, Sir Colin.


Dohnanyi: Variations (Variations On A Nursery Song/ Suite/ Symphonic Minutes)
Dohnanyi: Variations (Variations On A Nursery Song/ Suite/ Symphonic Minutes)
Price: £8.68

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Anything goes - with a little help from a great predecessor, 11 Mar. 2012
As Mr. Bonsor correctly states the Variations have today more or less become Dohnanyi's calling card; still, it isn't exactly abundantly repressented in the catalogues. I was always happy with the disc made by the late Earl Wild (plus the New Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi, the composer's grandson) - and I very much still am. This new version, however, purely apart from being splendedly recorded, benefits from a veritable cornucopia of emotions ranging all the way from the coquettishly lighthearted to the morosely serious, and, as an added bonus, it very cogently demonstrates Dohnanyi's indebtedness to Richard Strauss, whose "Burlesque" the Variations at times resemble to the point of pastiche.

Eldar Nebolsin once again proves himself to be an excellent pianist indeed. His Chopin recordings have already provided many a fine illumination, and his performance on this disc deserves nothing but the highest praise. Sir Georg Solti, during his student days a pupil of Dohnanyi at the Budapest School of Music, often descibed him as brilliant - but also the laziest pianist he knew. Solti took paticular delight in an anecdote from one of Dohnanyi's foreign tours, during which in three consecutive performances of a Beethoven concerto he lost his way at the exact same spot and had to improvise the rest of the movement. Leaving the stage the third night he was, allegedly, heard murmuring: "I should probably take the time some day to learn that piece." Dohnanyi may not have known his Beethoven, but Nebolsin sure knows his Dohnanyi - in and out.

The Symphonic Minutes and the Suite are rarely played but thoroughly delightful works, well worth the attention. JoAnn Faletta's direction is full to the brim with passion as well as an admirable attention to detail.

A feast for all senses - warmly recommended.


Elgar: Pomp and Circumstance (Marches Nos. 1-6)
Elgar: Pomp and Circumstance (Marches Nos. 1-6)
Price: £16.27

5.0 out of 5 stars A few steps off the beaten track, 18 July 2011
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When I first heard that Vladimir Ashkenazy had turned his fairly far reaching attention to Elgar, I must admit my first thought was "Uh oh! Leave the perhaps most quintessentially English composer since Purcel to the tender mercies of an apparently omnipresent Rrrrussian pianist. Cruisin' for a bruisin', are we? But when in Rome ..." (though Sydney is perhaps not exactly the Rome of the Commonwealth, I'd say close enough for jazz). OK, Ashkenazy is also a fine conductor, but very few non-anglophones have done Elgar over the last century of recorded music and got away with it. Daniel Barenboim counts as an exception, as his only relation to things British was that he married one (rest in peace, JdP); Bernard Haitink does as well, though, after 35 years in London (1967-2002) and a KBE he is perhaps more British than many born and bred in the isles. Still, a fresh view can be quite a blessing at times, and as I hear it a fresh view is precisely what this issue represents.

I'll get around to reviewing the two symphonies some other time. At this juncture, suffice to say that they are well done and well recorded, though arguably not of a stature to unseat Barbirolli or Haitink. The reason The Pomp and Circumstance Marches have caught my interest is primarily that though they can't exactly be catalogued as masterpieces, conventions about their performance are so maddeningly strict. As is the case with the waltzes by Johann Strauss there seems to be only one approach: the right one - and like fine wine they tend to travel badly. In that light it is little short of a wonder that Ashkenazy manages to dust off these imperial golf trophies and, from the other side of the globe, no less, present them newly minted - complete with the smell of car fresh off the assembly line. Some of them are played as if Ashkenazy never heard the music before (which I deem unlikely), and his refusal to build up to the climax of the great anthem of the hallowed first march is blissfully refreshing (no soccer fans joining in here), and reminds one that the music was actually written a year before - and not intended for - the song ("Land of Hope and Glory"). Also the famous centre themes of the fourth and fifth marches are stripped of every hint of moist eyes and saccharine and played with the smooth discipline of a military exercise. Never really made for marching, I suspect (at least I shouldn't care to try), these pieces demand a malleability when it comes to tempo that will turn them gooey in the wrong hands. Ashkenazy chooses to stress their proud and - dare I say - slightly belligerent sides and thereby, in my opinion, spotlights a shine of Victorian nobility that is truely imperial. The sixth march (completed from sketches by Anthony Payne) is markedly different from the rest; all hints of Sunday brass bands are dispensed with from the word go and the mood seems rather dark and somehow closer to the empire of "Star Wars" than the "Empire of Good Intentions". Still, late Elgar was often quite a tangy experience compared to early Elgar, and the music certainly is well constructed. The Serenade for Strings is played very beautifully and with great sensitivity - the perfect draught after close to fourty minutes of standing to attention.

The technical quality of this Exton SACD is absolutely first class, and as the music undeniably tends more towards display than depth of emotion, a recording that is full (but not booming) and crystal clear (but not metallic) is that much more of a plus.

All in all a most enjoyable disc that deserves a place near the top of a not exactly extensive list of recordings of these invigorating miniatures.


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