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JM Olmesdahl

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Real Chopin: Complete Works
Real Chopin: Complete Works

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entering the historically informed sound world of Chopin, 31 Jan. 2011
This is an extensive, ground-breaking survey, aiming to give us all of Chopin's music on the instruments of his time, namely Erard and Pleyel pianos. Spread over 21 CD's and played by a wide variety of pianists, it is difficult to make an outright recommendation.

However, some points that can be made about the set may be of interest to potential buyers. The reason for 21 discs, and not fewer (as in some other Complete Chopin Edition's), is that there is some duplication of some pieces (played alternatively on either a Pleyel or an Erard). The most glaring of these duplications are the waltzes, played by Marek Drewnowski (Pleyel) (tracks 1-18) on one disc, and Tatiana Shebanova (Erard) (tracks 1-14, omitting the last few included by Drewnowski and ending instead with Ecossaises Op. 72, Barcarolle Op. 60 and Barceuse Op. 57) on another. Comparison shows that overall Drewnowski takes the waltzes much more quickly than Shebanova who gives the music a degree more spaciousness.

Those wanting the Nocturnes or Mazurkas grouped together in self-standing programmes (as DG did in their edition) will be disappointed here. Instead what we get is one disc of Nocturnes (played nicely by Dang Thai Son on an Erard), the rest being interspersed elsewhere and played by other pianists. The same for the Mazurkas, here played (rather disappointingly) by Fou Ts'ong, probably one of the least successful surveys in the box, capturing none of the élan of these pieces. Fortunately several Mazurkas are duplicated elsewhere on other discs to make up for this. The Polonaises and Scherzos are spread across different discs as are each the Sonatas. Complete, self-standing surveys of the Etudes, Preludes, Impromptus and Ballades however can be found, these discs being filled up with a few other pieces.

Comparison with Modern Grand counterparts (e.g. Pollini, Pires and Zimerman) reveals that many of the works, as played here, are slightly slower. Whether this is because the Modern Grand allows for greater fluidity and hence, speed, I'm not sure. Take for instance, the Piano Sonata No. 3, Op. 58, here played by Ka Ling Collen Lee. Comparison with Pollini's magisterial DG account reveals that Pollini is generally faster across movements. The change in tempi changes the feel of the piece especially when the older Erard and Pleyel instruments already have more delicate and quickly evaporating notes and sometimes this can be a diservice to the music. While even at these slower tempi, the pieces mostly still come of well enough, one major disappointment comes in the set of Etudes played by Tatiana Shebanova (Erard) where the famous No. 3 Lento, is almost a minute longer than Pollini's famous DG Analogue recording (Her account comes in at 4'46 while Pollini's is 3'41). Here I have to say that at the slower tempo the piece remains earthbound, sounding rather amateur and cumbersome, not the lyrical singing quality that Pollini finds. It is nonetheless fascinating hearing how the rugged old instruments compare with the more smoothly grained sound of Modern counterparts elsewhere in these pieces. Still I would not want to be without Pollini here and many will find that, while interesting enough, these period recordings do not displace their finest, most cherished accounts. This will be especially true for many of the more well known works.

The two Piano Concertos (played here by Dang Thai Son) and the works for piano and orchestra (played by Nelson Goerner), both featuring the Orchestra of the 18th Century under Frans Brüggen, come off very well. My only quibble is that the applauses (these being live recordings) at the end of each concerto were not edited out. However, fine as these accounts are, I would still not want to be without Zimerman, or more recently, Rafal Blechacz. The chamber works are all collected on one disc and come off excellently. The songs too (shared between soprano and baritone), all on one disc, also come off well but here I found the piano (played by Nelson Goerner) somewhat reticent in an ambience that sounds more concert hall than intimate chamber.

It is impossible, in all fairness, to make an outright recommendation about this set. It is unlikely that it will replace your finest versions based on authenticity alone. But perhaps with time that is a view that will change as Chopin's musical sound world comes to be appreciated for what it was. This set certainly opens the doorway to that and make no mistake, there is plenty to delve into here and enjoy. The playing, considering the array of pianists, is very consistent, as is the recording quality across discs. Moreover, it is competitively priced and attractively packaged with CD's coming in cardboard sleeves that fit neatly into a slip-in box. There is a thick booklet in Polish and English featuring info on the pianos, pianists and an index of works at the end allowing works to be cross referenced with discs. But alas, there are NO texts or translations of the songs!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 10, 2011 4:32 PM BST

Vivaldi: Armida al campo d'Egitto
Vivaldi: Armida al campo d'Egitto
Price: £23.24

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A first rate reconstruction and performance of Vivaldi's Armida, 15 Nov. 2010
This is a marvellous recording. Those familiar with Alessandrini's highly infectious style will know what to expect. Arias come off fresh and alive while the spoken sections never sound like the dull bits between arias. He has a first rate team of singers headed by the now incomparable Sara Mingardo. He has done an excellent job too in reconstructing the missing parts and creating a seamless whole.

Handel: Water Music
Handel: Water Music
Price: £16.02

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Minkowski brings his brand of expressive theatricality to Handel's Water Music, 25 Oct. 2010
This review is from: Handel: Water Music (Audio CD)
A very nice reading of the Water Music and Rodrigo Overture given by Minkowski and his players, one that moves along swiftly, perhaps a little too swiftly in places where it would not have hurt to allow the music to linger a little longer (for this reason I give it 4 rather than 5 stars). This is a less spacious account than say those offered by Pinnock (Archiv) or Gardiner (Philips) whose readings convey more detail but this is how Minkowski tends to do things, focusing on the expressive immediacy of the music and moving things along briskly. I especially like the way the horns bray giving us the sense that, as the booklet tells us, they must have been "a striking novelty for 1717". Top marks to Naive for an upfront and brilliantly clear recording. This, along with the aforementioned accounts by Gardiner and Pinnock, must now go to the top of the list for period instrument contenders. Incidentally, Gardiner's account features timpani too (not present in the Minkowski or Pinnock accounts) which give a stately grandeur to movements like the famous `Alla Hornpipe' but it is improbable that these would have been present, for practical reasons, on the boating party when this music was apparently first heard.

Mozart: Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) / Jacobs
Mozart: Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) / Jacobs
Price: £31.13

29 of 34 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
Price: £10.69

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
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
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: £14.82

5 of 5 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
Offered by positivenoise
Price: £8.75

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Caution: Ear balm required after listening to this.., 8 Oct. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
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

4 of 4 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 Sept. 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: £31.14

19 of 20 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

5 of 6 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.

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