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Firebird / Bartok - Two Portraits
Firebird / Bartok - Two Portraits
Price: £13.10

5.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Firebird from Dohnányi on the Danube, 1 Oct. 2010
Which orchestras come to mind in connection with performing the works of Igor Stravinsky? Suisse Romande Orchestra? The Philharmonia? Royal Concertgebouw? Boston Symphony? And which (living) conductors? Boulez, of course, and Robert Craft. Tilson Thomas? Dutoit?

Any answer to the first question would probably have the Vienna Philharmonic, that bastion of Classical through Late Romantic Central European music, towards the bottom of the list. Any answer to the second question would probably not include Christoph von Dohnányi, a stalwart conductor of Classical through Late Romantic Central European music.

And yet here we have Dohnányi teaming up with the Vienna Philharmonic for a superb performance of The Firebird. The renowned Vienna sound--woodsy woodwinds, burnished brass, sumptuous strings--is here in the service of crisp, carefully detailed, delightfully atmospheric conducting. The result is a fully engaging, often thrilling performance.

The sound is clear, spacious remastered late 1970s analog, although it is distant. You would want to have the volume set above the one-fourth point to catch the moody opening bars.

This compact disc is filled out with an early Bartok work, Two Portraits, which offers insights into that composer's developing art.

This recording of The Firebird is one of the top choices, along with Stravinsky's own version; Boulez/NYPO (Sony); Craft/Philharmonia (Naxos) and ______(your choice here)______.

Decca/Eloquence has also reissued another Stravinsky/Bartok coupling with Dohnányi conducting the VPO which was made two years prior to this session. That compact disc has Petruschka (1947 version) and The Miraculous Mandarin. Those are also excellent performances and together with this release make a nice set.


Barber: Violin Concerto, Op. 14; Cello Concerto, Op. 22; Piano Concerto, Op. 38
Barber: Violin Concerto, Op. 14; Cello Concerto, Op. 22; Piano Concerto, Op. 38
Price: £8.33

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Bounty of Barber, 26 Sept. 2010
There are two major label releases with the Samuel Barber concertos currently on offer: this eclectic collection and the RCA release with Leonard Slatkin and the Saint Louis Symphony accompanying Kyoko Takezawa, Steven Isserlis and John Browning. This compact disc offers advantages in the performances of each of the concertos.

The Stern/Bernstein/New York Philharmonic collaboration is a richly realized performance, fully consonant with Barber's blend of Late Romanticism and modern music. Bernstein encountered the Violin Concerto when it was a work-in-progress at the Curtis Institute of Music, where Bernstein was a student and Barber was on the faculty. (Bernstein's mentor, Fritz Reiner, conducted the early performances of the Concerto at Curtis.) Bernstein was often at his best conducting twentieth-century music; his conducting here perfectly complements Stern's appropriately mercurial performance--now sweet, now steely. There is simply no comparison between this and the Takezawa/Slatkin version: Takezawa/Slatkin is nicely done; Stern/Bernstein is a gripping idiomatic performance.

Yo-Yo Ma and David Zinman give a smashing performance of the Cello Concerto, one of the best things Ma has recorded. Ma nimbly makes the tricky passages of the Concerto sing, while Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra expertly frame his work. As good as Stephen Isserlis is on the Slatkin version, Ma handily takes the prize here.

John Browning "owned" the Barber Piano Concerto: it was written for him, he premiered it, and he made it famous with this recording with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. This performance, recorded after a tour with the Cleveland Orchestra, is a fleeter, livelier, more focused account than Browning's remake with Leonard Slatkin and the Saint Louis Symphony some twenty-five years later.

The brightness of the mid-1960s Columbia Records sound in the Violin Concerto and the Piano Concerto has been softened somewhat in this remastering without any loss of clarity. The late-1980s digital sound in the Cello Concerto is on the airy side. You will have to turn up the volume a bit to keep the cello fully present.

Barber was a composer who didn't have much regard for mid-twentieth century trends in music: he continued in his aesthetic path of basically harmonic, often ravishingly beautiful music-making. Because he followed this path, he was out of favor in some circles for long stretches of time. With the abating of some of the passions of certain culture wars, Barber's music has come to be appreciated and enjoyed by a large audience again. This disc is an excellent way to be acquainted with Barber's music, or to savor three of the finest recordings of Barber's music that have ever been done. A basic "can't miss," "must have" selection.

Note to Sony: Why isn't this available in the United States?
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 21, 2012 6:54 PM BST


Bruno Walter: Brahms, Symphonies Nos. 1-4
Bruno Walter: Brahms, Symphonies Nos. 1-4
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £8.51

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bravo for Bruno's Brahms with a Better Band, 19 Sept. 2010
Bruno Walter was esteemed for his conducting of Brahms. Walter recorded a stereo Brahms cycle in 1959 - 1960 which is rightly regarded as a string of pearls in the classical music catalog. This monaural cycle was for the most part recorded six years prior to the stereo cycle (No. 4 was recorded in 1951). Comparisons between the two cycles are inevitable, so...

What might be a clichéd expectation turns out to be true in these recordings: the earlier performances tend to be fleeter than the stereo set. Almost every movement in this monaural set is shorter than in the stereo set (the fourth movement of Symphony No. 2 is almost a minute-and-a-half shorter).

The sound in this set is clear, clean and warm (the last quality probably owing to the recordings having been done in Carnegie Hall), although on the distant side. The digital remastering has produced a noise-free listening experience. The stereo set has a more spacious atmosphere, with more dynamic "thrust." The Columbia producer of the stereo cycle, John McClure, favored a bright sound which can verge on the edgy as dynamic levels rise. Dynamic levels are kept more in check in the monaural set, which can be considered as more pleasant or as frustrating, depending on taste. There is a mellow, lightly patinated quality to the sound of the monaural set, with the orchestral details shining through.

For the stereo cycle, Columbia accommodated the octogenarian Walter, who had basically retired a few years earlier, by doing all the recording in Los Angeles, where Walter had settled in the late 1930s. This necessitated the forming of a West Coast edition of the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, i.e., an ad hoc assemblage of freelance musicians. The composition of this ensemble is by now the subject of speculation and legend. The All Music Guide states: "This group was an ensemble of 50 to 70 members, assembled from the best freelance musicians on the West Coast, many of whom typically never took on orchestral work, but made the exception to work with Bruno Walter." Does the phrase "many of whom typically never took on orchestral work" give the reader pause? This cycle was recorded with the New York Philharmonic, all of whom were thoroughly experienced in orchestral work at a high level.

The Columbia Symphony Orchestra for the most part played very well for Walter; The New York Philharmonic for the most part played beautifully for Walter. Walter had a long-standing and deep relationship with the NYP, going back to his first visits to America in the 1920s, and continuing into the 1950s. Walter was Musical Advisor to the Philharmonic, a sort of bridge between the Musical Directorships of Artur Rodzinski and Dmitri Mitropoulos. (Walter wisely avoided the searing spotlight that came with being the NYP Music Director, having seen John Barbirolli abraded in the post, and then Rodzinski resigning after only four seasons, despite their achieving artistic distinction directing the orchestra.) The upshot is that the ensemble work on these recordings is generally tighter, many details are more sensitively performed, and the overall orchestral sound is fuller and better balanced than in the later stereo cycle. Listen to the last two minutes of the first movement of Symphony No. 1, for instance. While the Columbia Symphony Orchestra sounds lovely in this passage, the NYP plays it with even more finesse. There is a sense of the orchestra breathing as one with the conductor, beautifully conveying the subtle tensions of the music.

This set may not be a first choice because of the monaural sound, but it should be high on the list for anyone looking for another Brahms cycle.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 15, 2011 2:17 AM GMT


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