Profile for J Scott Morrison > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by J Scott Morrison
Top Reviewer Ranking: 167
Helpful Votes: 8383

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
J Scott Morrison (Middlebury VT, USA)
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20
pixel
Bach: Suites n°4, 5 & 6
Bach: Suites n°4, 5 & 6
Price: £7.49

5.0 out of 5 stars The Beautiful Bach Lute Suites, Nos. 4-6, Played Gorgeously on German Theorbo, 25 Feb 2013
First, I must admit that I have a strange quirk: I'm not particularly attracted to the sound of plucked instruments -- guitars, lutes, harps -- but for some reason, which I think I can discern, this album of the second three Bach lute suites (so often played nowadays by cellists) attracts me like just about no other plucked-instrument album I've ever heard. Needless to say, Hopkinson Smith is a master of his craft and art; it's hard to imagine anyone doing a better job of playing this music. But perhaps the main reason I am drawn to this performance is that it is played on the theorbo, and particularly, as on this disc, the German theorbo with its thirteen (or sometimes more) courses of strings, the lower-tones of which are double-strung, that is to say, tuned in octaves. The German instrument differs from the more common French/Italian lute (sometimes called the chitarrone) in that those double strung courses give the instrument's lower tones a nobler, richer sound. And this is what particularly appeals to me.

All that said, one needn't say too much about the thrice-familiar Bach lute/cello suites. They are among the glories of music. Hopkinson Smith gives them a a fittingly glorious reading, intimate and emotionally expressive. There is little indication of the effort of playing them, which is so common for cellists who have to play lots of awkward double-stops, and so the music flows seemingly effortlessly and mellifluously.

This CD, and its companion of Suites 1-3, are a treasure.

Scott Morrison


Bach: Suites n°1, 2 & 3
Bach: Suites n°1, 2 & 3
Price: £7.49

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Extraordinarily Beautiful Performance in Extraordinarily Beautiful Sound, 25 Feb 2013
First, I must admit that I have a strange quirk: I'm not particularly attracted to the sound of plucked instruments -- guitars, lutes, harps -- but for some reason, which I think I can discern, this album of the first three Bach lute suites (so often played nowadays by cellists) attracts me like just about no other plucked-instrument album I've ever heard. Needless to say, Hopkinson Smith is a master of his craft and art; it's hard to imagine anyone doing a better job of playing this music. But perhaps the main reason I am drawn to this performance is that it is played on the theorbo, and particularly, as on this disc, the German theorbo with its thirteen (or sometimes more) courses of strings, the lower-toned of which are double-strung, that is to say, tuned in octaves. The German instrument differs from the more common French/Italian lute (sometimes called the chitarrone) in that those double strung courses give the instrument's lower tones a nobler, richer sound. And this is what particularly appeals to me.

All that said, one needn't say too much about the thrice-familiar Bach lute/cello suites. They are among the glories of music. Hopkinson Smith gives them a a fittingly glorious reading, intimate and emotionally expressive. There is little indication of the effort of playing them, which is so common for cellists who have to play lots of awkward double-stops, and so the music flows seemingly effortlessly and mellifluously.

This CD, and its companion of Suites 3-6, are a treasure.

Scott Morrison


Clementi: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2 (Overture In D) (Francesco La Vecchia, Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma) (Naxos: 8573071)
Clementi: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2 (Overture In D) (Francesco La Vecchia, Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma) (Naxos: 8573071)
Offered by Naxos Direct UK
Price: £5.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Pale Imitation of Mozart, 23 Feb 2013
Muzio Clementi, a pianist and manufacturer of pianos, was a skilled composer, but he was not often an inspired one. Some of his music -- his piano sonatas, for instance -- are mostly worth hearing and playing. And of course his works for students are given to young pianists to this day. But his orchestral works, as evidenced in this recording of two of his symphonies, suggest that orchestral writing was not his forte. He probably knew this, too: he worked on his six symphonies for many years and never published them or perhaps even finished them. Indeed they were thought lost until four unfinished manuscripts were found in the Library of Congress. Two of them, the ones heard here, were finished by Italian composer Afredo Casella in the 1930s.

The music clearly derives from the Classical period -- Clementi was born in 1752, four years before Mozart -- but does not have anything like the inventiveness or spirit of Mozart's work. There is far too much oompah, far too much alternation of tonic and dominant with little else to leaven the harmonic landscape. Add to that his uninspired orchestrations. It's not for nothing that Mozart had called Clementi a 'mechanicus'. So much of his music sounds like it could have been composed by a modern-day computer given the task of composing 18th-century music.

Francesco La Vecchia is conductor whom I admire for his recent recordings of Sgambati's First Symphony Giovanni Sgambati: Symphony No. 1 / Overture Cola di Rienzo. But he can do little for these symphonies and, sorry to say, neither can his orchestra, the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma, which sounds raw and dispirited much of the time.

Give this one a miss, even if you otherwise like Clementi's music.

Scott Morrison


Schumann: Fantasiestücke - Kreisleriana - Brahms: Theme & Variations from String Sextet No. 1
Schumann: Fantasiestücke - Kreisleriana - Brahms: Theme & Variations from String Sextet No. 1
Price: £7.49

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary Performances of Great Music by a Great Pianist, 17 Feb 2013
Imogen Cooper is one of the best pianists currently before the public. Although she is now in her sixties, I'd never even heard of her until just a few years ago when she began recording a series of admirable Lieder discs as accompanist for baritone Wolfgang Holzmair. Her abilities as a sensitive equal partner in those recordings was notable. Then she began recording a series of Schubert sonatas and they, too, were remarkable. Now comes, on the admirable Chandos label, the first in a new series: Cooper playing all of Schumann's solo piano works. The two major works here -- Fantasiestücke, Op. 12, and Kreisleriana, Op. 16 -- are from that group of works in which Schumann's poetic alter egos -- the sensitive, feminine Eusebius and the rash, masculine Florestan -- are easily discernible. Each of the works was inspired, at least partly, by Schumann's inner turmoil in regard to a real or potential love object. The Fantasiestücke were inspired by a piano student from England, Robena Laidlaw, for whom Schumann had feelings. (Although, later, after she had returned to England, there is some indication that Schumann also was thinking about the absent [in Vienna] and forbidden long-time inamorata, Clara Wieck, the still-young daughter of Schumann's former teacher who eventually became his wife. And Kreisleriana was in fact written for Clara. He wanted to have a dedication to her on the published score, but her father forbade it and thus it was dedicated to 'Herr F. Chopin'.

There have, of course, been many recordings of these works and many are outstanding. What, if anything, could Cooper possibly bring to her performances that could shed any new light on them? Well, I think some of the hallmarks of Cooper's style are her ability to convey, without shouting, her deep feeling as well as her maturity and wisdom. Generally, these pieces are played from, so to speak, the viewpoint of an adolescent or young adult. Cooper plays them with an almost autumnal quality, a remembrance of things past, and this is, I feel, a valid approach. This is not to say that her playing is muted or low energy. Rather, there are feelings transmuted by the inevitable changes of passing time.

The other work on the CD is by Brahms, his solo piano arrangement of the slow movement, a theme and variations, from his First String Sextet, Op. 18. What, you might ask, is it doing on this Schumann disc? Well, Brahms, in 1860, made the arrangement for Clara Schumann née Wieck, now a widow, who was a beloved touring piano virtuoso. Cooper plays it deep in the keys with correspondingly rich tone, absolutely appropriately for this rich music. This is aided, as all these performances are, by the Hamburg Steinway she plays, an instrument located at the Aldeburgh concert hall, the Maltings. There are those who complain about the ambience of Chandos's recorded sound. I've never had a problem with it and in fact have been very pleased with the sound on most Chandos recordings. That remains true here.

This is a treasurable disc and it makes me eager to hear more Schumann by Imogen Cooper as it comes along.

Scott Morrison


Piano Works Vol.9
Piano Works Vol.9
Price: £14.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Oppitz Plays Relatively Obscure Schubert, 9 Feb 2013
This review is from: Piano Works Vol.9 (Audio CD)
I'll be honest, I have not been overly impressed with the playing of Gerhard Oppitz in the past, but a friend of mine heard him play all of Brahms's piano works at Tanglewood last summer and was laudatory. So when this CD came along, with music of Schubert that I was completely unafamiliar with, I got it. I have to say that although the works themselves are mostly chips from the young Schubert's workbench, the playing gave them a more than fair outing and I came away charmed with a goodly amount of it.

A word about the CD's contents. The list is, of course, contained on the image on the back of the CD case and you can see that here at Amazon's product page. But what you can't discern is that there are some musicological issues not made clear. For instance the A Flat Sonata, D 557, in three movements, may simply never have been finished by the composer. So, in place of a fourth movement we get some incidental movements -- six brief German Dances, a charming minuet (D 600), and two marches.

Then there is the puzzling matter of the E Major Sonata, D 459. It has only two movements, but probably originally had the usual four (or five) and they may be contained in the D 459A opus, which were originally published as Three Piano Pieces (long after Schubert's death) and may indeed include the THREE concluding movements (unusual in itself) of the sonata. It is no matter here, of course, because the five movements are played in order here and so one has the sense of a single multi-movement work. This is early Schubert, of course, written in his teens. It does not have the breadth and emotional depth of his familiar late sonatas, but it IS Schubert after all and worthwhile in its own right.

I will say that Oppitz gives these works good performances and, possibly because I'm not familiar with these works as I have been with the other Schubert works Oppitz has recorded, I was mostly charmed by the music because it was new to me and less critical of the playing. That said, this is not deathless music but it does help us to understand Schubert's development as a composer.

Scott Morrison


Chopin Edition, Vol. 9
Chopin Edition, Vol. 9
Price: £7.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some Wonderful Moments Alongside Some Dull Playing, 8 Feb 2013
Eugéne Mursky apparently is recording all of Chopin's works for Profil and it appears that he uses a different maker's piano for some of the volumes, that is to say one is on a Sauter piano, another on an Érard or a Pleyel piano. This one is, thankfully, on a wonderful sounding Steinway D. Mursky is a disappointingly uneven pianist as I've indicated in some of my earlier reviews: Chopin: Waltzes & Chopin: Polonaises. He certainly has the digital technique to play any of this music, but his expression, phrasing and pedaling are at times almost amateurish sounding. Sometimes he plays brilliantly, as in the first movement of the Third Sonata, other times his playing is simply dull (and with smeared pedaling), as in the Second Sonata's ghostly Finale. The Marche funèbre in the Second Sonata is a bit of a trudge, which I suppose is appropriate for a funeral march, but it's a long movement and that approach begins to pall. Frankly the best playing here is, for me, in the First Sonata, the most Beethovenesque of the three, written when Chopin was only seventeen. Mursky makes as good a case for this least familiar Chopin sonata as anyone I've ever heard.

Sound, like on the Waltzes disc, is quite good.

Scott Morrison


Sgambati: Symphony No. 1 (Cola Di Rienzo Overture) (Francesco La Vecchia/ Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma) (Naxos: 8573007)
Sgambati: Symphony No. 1 (Cola Di Rienzo Overture) (Francesco La Vecchia/ Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma) (Naxos: 8573007)
Offered by Naxos Direct UK
Price: £5.99

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Shamefully Neglected Composer, 6 Jan 2013
Over the years I've discovered composers who have been neglected unjustly and I have become obsessed with them and their music; Wilhelm Stenhammar was such a one. Well, here's a new one for me. I'd heard Sgambati's name as an Italian who didn't write operas (like Martucci) but I swear I'd never heard a note of his music. So, I gave this one a try and truthfully was gobsmacked by the beauty of the music. Giovanni Sgambati (1841-1914) wrote mostly instrumental music -- symphonies, chamber music -- and one Requiem Mass. This was highly unusual in mid-19th century Italy where opera was king; for instance, the first performance in Italy of Beethoven's 'Eroica' Symphony was in 1867 a full 62 years after its premiere! And Sgambati was its conductor. His music was praised by Wagner and Liszt. But as far as I know it sank without a trace, at least outside Italy. This recording of his first symphony and of an early overture is music of unfailing beauty, impeccable craft and discernible personality.

The CD starts with a work from 1866, the Cola di Rienzo Overture, which was never performed and whose manuscript was only recently discovered in a Rome library. It is simply gorgeous. The work presents a fecundity of music ideas which Sgambati was perhaps not able to control adequately formally, but it is highly melodic and emotionally moving. In particular one notes in some sections a touching serenity that one hears again in the Symphony.

The first of Sgambati's two symphonies was written in the mid-1880s and although there is much that sounds Germanic, especially as to formal working of the musical materials, the melodies are often recognizably Italianate, with long cantilenas and phrases that reflect Italian prosody. The work is in five movements: fast-slow-fast-slow-fast. And it brims with hummable melodies. The orchestration is masterly, especially in the middle movement, the Scherzo, which in places sounds a bit like Berlioz. But it is the slow movements where Sgambati really shines. This is music that sticks in one's aural memory.

Francesco La Vecchia, the conductor who has already recorded much of Martucci's music, e.g. Martucci: Orchestral Music Vol.1, does us a real favor by bringing us these luscious scores. I can only hope that we will get a recording of more of Sgambati's orchestral music in the not-too-distant future.

Heartily, even urgently, recommended.

Scott Morrison
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 4, 2013 10:15 PM BST


Pulcinella
Pulcinella
Price: £7.47

4.0 out of 5 stars Nice to Have This Seattle Performance Available Again, 4 Jan 2013
This review is from: Pulcinella (Audio CD)
This recording of Stravinsky's ballet with vocal soloists, Pulcinella, was originally issued in the early 1990s with Gerard Schwarz conducting the Seattle Symphony and with soloists mezzo Susan Graham (who went on to a brilliantly successful career in the world of opera -- as I write this she is appearing at the Met as Didon in a strikingly beautiful revival of Berlioz' 'Les Troyens'), baritone Jan Opalach and tenor Gran Wilson. This is a sprightly, intelligent performance and would be a choice to consider if it weren't for the impossibly fierce competition from other recordings: Abbado/London SO Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps (Rite of Spring) / The Firebird / Jeu de cartes / Petrouchka / Pulcinella, Boulez/Chicago SO Pulcinella: Symphony in Three Movements / Four, and Robert Craft's recording also on Naxos Stravinsky: Pulcinella; The Fairy's Kiss, the latter coupled with a delectable Fairy's Kiss.

All that said, I'm glad I got this recording, but it won't be my first choice when I reach for a Pulcinella recording.

The CD couples Pulcinella with Stravinsky's early Scherzo fantasque -- in the Delos release it was coupled with Rite of Spring -- which is given a suitably colorful reading.

Scott Morrison


Stravinsky: Le sacre du printemps, Bartok: Sonata for two Pianos and Percussion
Stravinsky: Le sacre du printemps, Bartok: Sonata for two Pianos and Percussion
Price: £13.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This One is Outstanding!, 27 Dec 2012
Put simply, these are the best recorded performances I've ever heard of both Stravinsky's Sacre de Printemps for Piano Duo and the Bartók Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion. Further, they're by a piano duo I've never heard of before: Frank-Immo Zichner and Frank Gutschmidt, along with percussionists Dominic Oelze and Torsten Schönfeld in the Bartók. The Sacre is so alive and immediate that I was actually shocked by it, the same way I was the very first time I heard Rite of Spring sixty years ago. The thing about the piano reduction of the Stravinsky is that it accentuates the score's rhythmic complexities and, for its time, utter novelty. Of course the orchestral score has all kinds of instrumental subtleties but always for me it is the rhythmic ingenuity that makes the score so amazing, and that's what one hears anew in this recording. The recorded sound is outstandingly lifelike and even in the harshest, loudest passages the piano never clatters or clangs. This, too, is amazing given the dynamic range of this performance.

Basically the same thing applies to the Bartók performance. Both pianists and the excellent percussionists play beautifully. The performance is so alive, so filled with subtlety and yet immediacy that it is almost as if I've never heard it before.

I cannot recommend this set of performances too highly.

Scott Morrison


Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 4 (Ingrid Jacoby) (ICA Classics: ICAC 5086)
Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 4 (Ingrid Jacoby) (ICA Classics: ICAC 5086)
Price: £12.25

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine, Unexceptionable Beethoven Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 4, 19 Dec 2012
All five Beethoven concertos have been recorded hundreds of times since the beginning of recorded music. Here we have fine performances by Ingrid Jacoby and the Sinfonia Varsovia conducted by Jacek Kaspsyzk. Jacoby is a conmplete pianist with virtuosity to spare and musical instincts. We are told on her website that this is the first in series of recordings that will comprise all of the Beethoven concertos.

The question, of course, is whether Jacoby brings anything particularly new and striking to her performances, and the answer is 'no.' These are entirely conventional, albeit beautiful, performances by both the pianist and the fine orchestra (whose recordings we are increasingly hearing these days, particularly those conducted by another pianist cum conductor, Ian Hobson, e.g. Don Gillis: Symphonies 1, 2 & 5 1/2).

I must add that I have reviewed one previous Jacoby recording and panned it. But this was not because of her playing, but rather because of the playing of the orchestra involved Concerto in F / Symphony No 2 / The Age of Anxiety.

Scott Morrison


Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20