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Irmgard Seefried - Salzburg Recital, 1957
Irmgard Seefried - Salzburg Recital, 1957
Price: 10.49

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars worth it for Gretchen alone., 27 Mar 2006
Irmgard seefried is a name to conjure with. Great lieder singers put her in a special category - all of her own. I bought this cd, partly to find out what the fuss was all about.
As recorded, the voice is distinctive and what you notice straightaway is the immediacy with which she delivers the words. This is exemplified in her rendition of Gretchen. It is simply astonishing and the reason for buying the disc. She really is not merely singing, she is "living" the song. It's one of those performances stays in the mind's ear long after it has finished.
Not everything else is on such an exalted level. This was a live recital and she takes a little time to warm up. Occaisionally her intonation is a bit wayward and there is something about the vocal production (German rather than italian school) which for me is a bit contrived. But these are quibbles. There are dozens of more recent singers with "better" voices who cannot convey a fraction of the meaning that Seefried finds. I urge anyone interest in great singing to buy this album.

Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen
Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen
Price: 78.71

69 of 81 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but not great, 27 Sep 2005
Three stars only? For the Solti ring? Surely not? Well yes actually.
How to explain this? Solti's was the second set I brought - largely because it was so famous that I thought that I simply had to have it. The first set I acquired was a ludicrously cheap version of Furtwangler's set from Turin (with Martha Modl, Ludwig Suthaus, Ferdinand Franz et al). I really didn't know anything about the Ring at the time except a few bits that I'd heard over the years. Having it all meant that I could dip in and out and out and gradually, with the help of the ENO guides, I found my way round these astonishing works.
It's very difficult to be objective about Furtwangler. If I had to summarise what is great about him in the Ring it would be that he understands how the symphonic development of the music as a whole is allied to drama as it happens moment by moment. The sound of course is pretty terrible. The orchestra about what you'd expect from Italy in the immediate post-war period. And the singers are variable, although none is terrible and all are absolutely committed. I think the fact that each act was recorded live also helps enormously.
Years later I came to Solti. My expectations were sky high. Even on sale, it represented a considerable investment. The first thing I noticed was the sound - it was astonishing. The second thing was that no effort has been spared in trying to re-create sonic performances of the operas. And the singing is of a standard which one can only dream of hearing on stage today. And yet...
It took me a long time to work out what i didn't like about Solti. Firstly I thought that it was all about highlighting the climaxes at the expense of the whole. Actually I think this still pertains, although there are numerous felicitous touches: the depth of the oar strokes made by the hero in the Rhinefahrt in Gotterdammerung is but one of many.
Then I wondered about whether he really was "inside" the drama. After many listenings I'm still not sure about this. There are very few of the great moments where you feel that he's missed the point - or at least not by much.

So what was it? Well for my money it's about how his conducting works against the singing of the text. Not the music but the text. When I compared scene by scene with Furtwangler what i found over and over again was that the later seemed always to have the right speed for the intelligible delivery of the words. If it doesn't sound too ridiculous, they are allowed to "speak". Consequently the drama grips from start to finish. Given Solti's proclivities for driving tempi forward, I have found it astonishing how often he seems to hold his singers back. And whipping the orchestra up into a frenzy isn't quite the same thing as building the climaxes with symphonic inevitability.
So three stars. Not because there's anything bad about it. Not even because it isn't good - it is. But simply because for all the glossy production values and sumptuous singing and playing, the drama (as drama) doesn't grip me.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 15, 2010 11:23 AM BST

Zelenka: Trio Sonatas
Zelenka: Trio Sonatas
Price: 21.12

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing music, astonishing performances, 27 Sep 2005
This review is from: Zelenka: Trio Sonatas (Audio CD)
What fantastic music this is. Inventive, complex, rapturous. It is quite unlike anything being written at the time and a million miles away from the "composed by the yard" feel of much baroque music. Here speaks a truly original voice.
For any double reed player these six sonatas represent one of the pinacles of the repertoire and are extremely challenging. Holliger, Bourgue and Thunemann have led the field for decades and on this showing have lost none of their abilities. Indeed listening to these recordings, one can only marvel anew at their simply dazzling mastery. Sample any movement from any of the six sonatas and one is amazed and delighted at how the complexities of these pieces are delivered for the listener. Great musicians working together at white heat.
It only remains to add that the ECM sound is wonderfully warm and truthful, giving a bloom around the sound without it being smothered with reverberation.
All in all, cannot be recommended too highly.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 5, 2012 8:16 PM GMT

Nothing To Be Afraid Of
Nothing To Be Afraid Of
by Will Eaves
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book. Read it., 14 Sep 2005
This is Will Eaves second novel. And very good it is too. It satisfies on many levels. The writing is crisp and lively. He has a great eye for telling detail as well as a flair for narrative complexity.
Hard to condense what it's about. My reading of it was that it was a study in the deceptions which people create about themselves and their place in the world - sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously.
Set in a brilliantly described theatrical millieu, Eaves can be screamingly funny about the vanities and vagaries of luvviedom. He can also be poignant and touching about human frailty. And he has a forensic eye for relationships and why they succeed or fail.
He certainly knows how to write a good story. This one is multi-faceted and keeps you guessing until the very end.
If I have a criticism it is that in weaving together a number of narratives he has set himself a real challenge in pulling them all together in a completely satisfying way.
That said, the authors affection for late Shakespearean plays (and those who try to bring them to life on stage) is abundant and the writing is at once economic, elegant and lively. Above all it is very satisfying to read. Can't wait for the next one.

Great Recordings Of The Century: Verdi, Aida
Great Recordings Of The Century: Verdi, Aida
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: 53.95

43 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heavenly Aida, 13 Jun 2003
If you love Verdi and great Verdi singing then this is simply not to be missed - the casting is unbelievably strong. But for this listener the one overwhelming reason to buy this set is Montserrat Caballe. I've lot count of the number of times I've played the Nile scene - it seemed miraculous the first time and seems so still. There are some things in life that one simply has to be grateful for and this is one of them.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 11, 2008 3:22 PM BST

Roberto Devereux (Lpo, Mackerras)
Roberto Devereux (Lpo, Mackerras)

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beverly Sills in Roberto Deveraux, 10 Jun 2003
From the opening with thunderous chords making way for the national anthem played ominously in the minor key, to the stupendous final scene, this is has to be one of the great bel canto operas. And this recording really does it justice.
Charles Mackerras is a first rate conductor in this repertoire. He gives not only sprung rhythms and forward momentum but also allows the music to breathe, giving moments of lyrical pathos - all of which illuminate a marvellous score.
And the cast is first rate. All seem completely involved in the drama with almost universally good diction and sense of style. Beverly Wolff was a name new to me but I will look out for more of her recordings. A firmly produced, warm mezzo with forwardly produced italian resonance, as Sarah (Elizabeth's rival) she is a great foil to Sills' spiteful, slightly unhinged Queen. Peter Glossop brings a beefy yet italianate presence as Nottingham. Robert Ilosfalvy was also unfamiliar and if he makes less impression it's largely because the role is underwritten. Nevertheless he sings both stylishly and well.
And then we come to Miss Sills. In a way this is my favourite of the three Donizetti Queens that she's portrayed on disc. Recorded in 1969, the voice was at it's pristine best and somehow the overtly neurotic writing she's given suits her down to the ground. And there's not one dull phrase from beginning to end. The technique is simply astonishing: it's all there - even trills, scales, flawless attack and elaborate decorations. Above all it's about commitment to the music and the words. Never once does one feel that it's some empty display - it all serves a dramatic purpose and sometimes you feel she works the voice to it's abosolute limits. She sings slow music with a firm line and impeccable diction (unlike Sutherland) and creates moments of heart stopping beauty. Given that the voice has a basically bright coloration, she uses it with immense skill to bring out the different facets of the character. By the end of the opera you really feel for this woman. I'd urge anyone to buy it.

Bach: Violin Concertos, BWV1041-1043 & 1060
Bach: Violin Concertos, BWV1041-1043 & 1060
Price: 8.87

53 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant style and consumate artistry, 16 Jan 2003
The violin concerti by JS Bach have long been cornerstones of the repertoire. Countless recordings and come and many have gone. This one has stayed - and for good reason.
Arthur Grumiaux was Belgian and studied the violin there, joining a long line of distinguished performers who formed an important school of playing. The characteristics of that school were an unforced yet full-bodied tone production which is quite different from the super-charged New York school which seems to hold so much sway these days. By contrast the playing of Grumiaux et al seems to be redolent of a byegone, more civilised age.
What he brings to this music is a warm, vibrant tone completely at the service of the music. He retains throughout a poise which is at once both aristocratic in its bearing and human in its response to these fantastic pieces. The fast movements are characterised by a lively, italianate sensibility with a strong rhythmic sense. The slow movements are simply manner from heaven.
For this reviewer the real gem is the concerto for oboe and violin where Grumiaux is joined by the great swiss player, Heinz Holliger. The sheer accomplishment of the playing is breathtaking and there is a real sense of partnership, of two great musicians handing over ideas to each other.
At budget price this is a steal and should be in every music lovers collection.

Puccini Arias
Puccini Arias
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: 12.95

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply glorious, 8 May 2001
This review is from: Puccini Arias (Audio CD)
Inspite of the rather luridly 70s cover image, this is a desert island disc if ever there was one. Caballe was absolutely at the height of her powers when this recording was made and the results are simply stunning. Those familiar this the diva's singing will be astonished by the level of detail she brings to each aria. For anyone who hasn't heard her, be prepared to be amazed. Her famous quiet high notes are much in evidence, as is her stream of gorgeous, silvery tone. And the selection includes practically everyone's favourites. Not to be missed.

Songs Of Ned Rorem
Songs Of Ned Rorem

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful songs, wonderfully performed, 8 May 2001
This review is from: Songs Of Ned Rorem (Audio CD)
Like the previous on-line reviewer, I too had only come across the composer's name tangentally. These songs are a revelation. They are by someone who clearly loves the words he has set and has responded to them with a disarming simplicity. As a lover of the music for the human voice, it is a huge relief to find a contemporary composer who really understands how to carry meaning through the vocal line. The performances are first rate, with Susan Graham's voice caught in its absolute prime. Don't miss it.

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