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JM Olmesdahl
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Mozart: Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) / Jacobs
Mozart: Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) / Jacobs
Price: £19.87

28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Just how do you like your Mozart?, 22 Oct 2010
The first thing that strikes you about this set is the oversize box featuring three CD's and a substantial booklet. Gosh! Part of that is because Rene Jacobs includes all the original dialogue thereby necessitating the use of 3CD's. And that in itself would not be such a problem were it not for the fact that, in order to bring all this dialogue to life, numerous studio tricks have been deployed. So, in the opening act, and then later on again, we get an array of chirping bird sounds which, quite honesty, I could have done without, especially as, after a while, they start sounding like squeaky toys - very irritating on repeated listening! Then there is the intermittent sound of dripping water (which curiously only seems to drip when no one is speaking!) from act two onwards, and a hooting owl! How can we be asked to believe in the sound world of the 18th century (the use of period instruments and the attention to details such as tempi and phrasing as described in the booklet) on the one hand, while being subjected to 20th century studio gimmickry on the other? It just doesn't work for me. Then there is also the pulling to and fro of tempi and odd eccentric touches Jacobs is now notorious for. The three ladies in the first act, for instance, instead of delivering their lines in the way we are used to, sing some phrases in a contrived campy manner which I found a little overdone and consequently quite irritating. Rene Jacobs tells us in the booklet that Mozart, for some reason, abandoned the idea but that he (Jacobs) has reinstated it! Or what the later Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa-Papagena duet, as performed here, gains from its deliberately mannered opening I do not know!

So while I appreciate the conductor's attempt to reinvigorate the work - and he certainly succeeds in bridging the disparity between the spoken and the sung parts of older recordings - part of me also wished he had just gotten on with things and allowed the music to speak on its own terms. One feels in many places that the music would do just as well, if not better, if it had not been tampered with. I mean, afterall, this is Mozart we are talking about and he needs no spicing up in the way some obscure baroque composer might! So, yes, while there are elements that work wonderfully, there are other elements that are unnecessarily distracting. Some have commented on the unconventional use of the fortepiano continuo. I did not find this bothersome.

I think where the set gains is through the use of singers who, while not international names, sing reliably and sensitively and so bring us to a more intimate closeness with the text. Some reviews have singled out the singing of Marcus Fink (Sarastro) as too lightweight but I did not find this to be a problem. I did however find Anna-Kristina Kaappola as the Queen of the Night to be slightly underwhelming in her first aria. She takes a while to get off the ground and so fails to impart the otherly quality necessary to make the characterisation work. In the first section of her aria, where the colour in the voice is meant to convey pathos, she sounds completely routine and so fails to create any contrast between the subsequent section of fiery colouratura. Fortunately by her second aria she fares much better bringing in a great variety of colour. I found the singing of Daniel Behle (Tamino) in Tamino's first aria to be rather flat towards the end, sounding more thoughtful than impassioned! Daniel Schmutzhard as Papageno is somewhat dry and wanting in humour. Of all the soloists, Marlis Peterson as Pamina is the most exceptional, singing with a silver-toned elegance that surely rivals the greatest accounts.

Overall, I'd say you need to investigate this set carefully. While the Harmonia Mundi recording balance is superb and the chorus and orchestra come off with vitality, moving the drama along nimbly, there is a want of 'personality' in some of the singing and an overabundance of `special effects' giving it an overly produced feeling.


Verdi: Messa da Requiem
Verdi: Messa da Requiem
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £12.73

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pappano's conducting is not enough to save this!, 19 Oct 2010
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This review is from: Verdi: Messa da Requiem (Audio CD)
The only decent thing about this recording is the punchy conducting of Pappano. The soloists are a variable lot and a little disappointing, most particularly, Villazon who here is a very dull dog. There is just no gusto or flair in his restrained singing. The female singers do an adequate job but they are not particularly memorable. There is better to singing to be had on other recordings. Because of the hype around this, and because I have enjoyed Pappano's conducting elsewhere, I was drawn into buying it, but honestly I fail to see how it could win a Gramophone award!


Orff: Carmina Burana
Orff: Carmina Burana
Price: £10.30

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent credentials all round ensure that this one is a winner!, 17 Oct 2010
This review is from: Orff: Carmina Burana (Audio CD)
To be honest, while the Eugen Jochum version of this work (a recording endorsed by the composer himself) - Orff: Carmina Burana - for me long stood above other versions in its excellence, I never particularly enjoyed all parts of Orff's work itself. Or so I thought until I heard the piece as performed here under Daniel Harding. For while the Jochum account is admirable in its sharply etched rhythms and the precision of its soloists (even if with a somewhat overbearing Fischer-Dieskau), there is an added sense of atmosphere and spatial dimensionality to be found in the newcomer. Indeed, listening to the Harding was somewhat of a revelatory experience for me finding as he does a tremendous sense of depth and light and shade while nevertheless still managing keep the rhythms taut. The aural fatigue arising from fierceness of the Jochum reading is gone thanks to more updated recording techniques which allows for a more believable, three-dimensional sound picture. To aid matters Harding has at his disposal a German orchestra and chorus who can't but help ensure that Germanic spirit of the piece remains ever present. Of course Harding also has an excellent teams of soloists. Here pride of place must go to Christian Gerhaher who seems to bring not only the kind of vocal strength and shaping of a Fischer-Dieskau, but also much greater shading and humanity. One revels in the sheer command of his singing. Petibon, as the soprano, is also excellent bringing out a kind of pristine clarity. While I still feel that the Jochum is an important `document', Harding's version has a more nuanced appeal without ever letting anything slip. Overall there is a feeling of 'rightness' and occasion (a `live recording', yes, but with virtually no audience intrusions or applause) about this new account. I have played it from start to finish several times now and been thoroughly involved each time. I urge you to try this if, like me, you have tended to approach Orff with a certain wariness. This has changed all that for me.


Arias For Rubini
Arias For Rubini
Price: £16.22

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Caution: Ear balm required after listening to this.., 8 Oct 2010
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This review is from: Arias For Rubini (Audio CD)
Having much enjoyed Florez's previous bel canto album, Una Furtiva Lagrima - Juan Diego Flórez - Una Furtiva Lagrima: Donizetti & Bellini Arias - and never having been a fan of the beefy hectoring of Pavarotti in these roles, it was with eager anticipation that I awaited this album. While there are no questions about Florez's technical ability, nor about the quality of the Decca recording, which here is clean and bright, I must confess I am unable to get through the whole disc in one sitting such is the unremitting brightness of the singing. Yes, the liquid agility of the voice is here, but there is also a sense of routine, the character in one excerpt easily exchangeable for the character of another as Florez treats us to one unbearably glaring vocal climax after another. I found the singing much less affecting than that of the earlier album. It is as though Florez, having firmly established his credentials, is simply plying it to one aria after the next, all too often leaving the ear wanting respite from the metallic glare of his voice.


Ubers Meer
Ubers Meer

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Max Raabe in a laid back program of songs for voice and piano.., 9 Sep 2010
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This review is from: Ubers Meer (Audio CD)
This CD, featuring song arrangements for voice and piano only, finds Max Raabe in relaxed form compared to his other appearances with the Palast Orchester. Nevertheles, to his credit, he manages to avoid the monotony that can so easily creep in to such parred down arrangements. The recording too (for Decca) is excellent. My only grumble (and hence my reason for 4 stars) is the very short playing time of 42'22"! Surely, for a full price CD, a few more songs could have been included? The booklet too (in German only) is inadequate.


Haydn: 12 London Symphonies
Haydn: 12 London Symphonies
Price: £26.99

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easily a first choice for the `London Symphonies', 27 Aug 2010
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Finally a complete set of London Symphonies on period instruments that fully captures the ebullience of Haydn's wit, well recorded (live recordings but with very little audience noise and applauses removed) and consistently performed. These are not versions that linger but press ahead always keeping the music afloat generating as they go lots of gutsy sounds. I find that modern orchestral versions (e.g. Dorati, Davis) tend to smooth over the rough edges of this music too much. There is none of the striking timpani that one gets here.

I do however have TWO MAJOR RESERVATIONS that spoil an otherwise exhilarating set. The first is the scream in the slow movement of the `Surprise' symphony. I can understand that this novelty in a live performance might be an equivalent surprise tactic in today's terms as Haydn's (now tame seeming) strike was in his day. But do I really want to hear a scream every time I listen the symphony!? For the purposes of CD and the repeated listening that it implies, this novelty is extremely irritating and should have been edited out! My other reservation concerns the extended drum sequence in the `Drum-Roll' symphony, surely not the brevity Haydn intended? Be that as it may, these hesitations are easily brushed aside given the consistent strength of the playing here. I certainly hope we will get a set of Paris Symphonies from these players. An absolute must!


Vivaldi: Griselda
Vivaldi: Griselda
Price: £23.75

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This one mostly succeeds... but Spinosi is still a liability, 21 Jun 2010
This review is from: Vivaldi: Griselda (Audio CD)
Thanks to a stunning cast of singers this opera manages to emerge out of the dross conducting of Spinosi. While his dynamic contrasts (quite extreme in some of his earlier Vivaldi opera recordings) are less apparent and less irksome here, he is still no Rinaldo Alessandrini, and I found some sections rather weedy and wanting in dignity. Surely Mr Spinosi would have learnt by now that there is more to Vivaldi than crude emphatic bowings? Still, the arias themselves - Vivaldi was always more of a 'sprinter' than a 'long distance runner' - are quite fun if you can get through the many uninteresting sections of recitative.


'Ah! mio cor' Handel: Arias
'Ah! mio cor' Handel: Arias
Price: £8.27

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A lovely voice but the accent fails to allow words to fully shine, 9 Jun 2010
As one would expect from Archiv, this is a well recorded disc of Handel arias. Unfortunately Ms Kozena, for all the loveliness of her voice, lacks the final measure of italianateness with words sounding thickset and her deliberate accentuations of 'r's hardly offering compensation. Even more disturbing are the English arias where her diction lacks clarity and the words slip into sludge. If you are one of those who believes that opera is just about the music since the words are inaudiable anyway then this probably will not bother you much. But Handel's vocal lines definitely deserve better.


Antonio Vivaldi: Gloria
Antonio Vivaldi: Gloria
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £11.50

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alessandrini excels in a completely new recording of Vivaldi's two Gloria settings, 4 Jun 2010
This review is from: Antonio Vivaldi: Gloria (Audio CD)
I had initially dismissed this album thinking it was a reissue of the same recording Alessandrini had made for Opus 111 over a decade ago also featuring Sara Mingardo (record companies are notorious for doing this and the Vivavldi edition has been no exception already featuring a few older recordings under new artwork). But these are entirely NEW recordings (made in March, 2009) and very fine they are. Again we get Sara Mingardo, one of the most arresting contraltos around, along with other excellent soloists such as Monica Piccinini and Anna Simboli, singers who've more than proved themselves on other Alessandrini recordings. And thanks to a well balanced recording, textures are beautifully transparent and the choralwork really imposing. These must now be the best recordings around of these works as well as being one of the best releases to so far have come out of the Vivaldi Edition and surely a serious contender for a Gramophone award!


Vivaldi: Concerti per vari strumenti
Vivaldi: Concerti per vari strumenti
Price: £14.99

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Uninspiring playing fails to bring these concertos to life, 21 May 2010
You know things are not as they should be when, listening to a disc of Vivaldi concertos, you're already bored even before the end of the first concerto. Thats exactly how it is here! What a pity because the combinations of soloists called upon by Vivaldi to play in these works should conjure up an exciting aural palette of colours. But what we get from these musicians is a rather laid back approach. There is a linearity to their playing rather than the kind of dynamism you need to drive the music forward. Alas, worst of all is the harpsichordist whose playing is not only unimaginative, it is set backward from the woodwinds and strings such that I don't know why they bothered to include it. This is not the kind of stuff we get in recordings by Andrea Marcon or Trevor Pinnock where there is real personality to the continuo. Take concerto RV 548 (track 13 of the disc) as a comparison with the same concerto recorded by Trevor Pinnock and Simon Standage on Archiv all those years ago - Vivaldi: Concerti; "Alla Rustica". It's immediately apparent that, despite their lack of Italian bloodedness, Pinnock and his players give the music such a lilt that it seems to dance and sparkle. Sadly, being Italian, as most of the players in this group seem to be, is not enough in itself to pull off a disc of Vivaldi concertos! The recording, apart from the recessed harpsichord, is decent.


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