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Andrew R. Barnard (Leola, Pa United States)
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Bruckner: Symphony No.9 (LSO/Haitink)
Bruckner: Symphony No.9 (LSO/Haitink)
Price: £10.25

8 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars *** 1/2 Calm and controlled Bruckner with lovely sounds, but Haitink is too serious and straightfoward, 14 Feb 2014
Bernard Haitink has a musical temperament that is easygoing and fairly relaxed, qualities that at a quick glance could seem detrimental in Bruckner. But his patience and ability to gently master long lines has enabled him to produce some great Bruckner recordings. He's been a bit variable, as it tends to go with older conductors, so one never knows when he will be inspired.

A quick listen to this new 9th on the LSO Live label reveals Haitink's ability to expertly voice and balance the orchestral sound. This is transparent Bruckner, far removed from the overwhelming sheen of sound produced by Karajan. Some audiophiles have found the sound from the LSO Live to be bad overall, but I find it to be clear and natural, if not aiming for extra impact. I have no problem praising the orchestral sound, even if it falls rather short of the impact of Rattle and the Berliners on EMI, a reading that is virtuosic enough to be enjoyed on that merit alone. All the same, Haitink's greatest gift is in the quiet passages, where he achieves a kind of religious hush.

But the drawback to this recording is that Haitink simply sounds a bit tired. I can admire his skill in careful phrasing, but ultimately this reading is underwhelming and rather staid. It's hard for an interpreter to be moving enough while being emotionally subdued. Haitink chooses slow tempos all throughout the symphony, which adds to a feeling of lethargy. It's a gift of Haitink's to be able to progress through the symphony while sustaining a definite control, but he never builds the intensity. I wish for fervency to truly ignite this symphony, make it the kind of wrenchingly emotional experience it is under a master like Karajan, or Harnoncourt in the modern era. As it is, Haitink strikes me as simply admiring the cathedral, wallowing in sound that truly is captivating, all while missing the potential for passion and even catharsis.

Haitink is best when the music is gentle and elegiac, in keeping with his temperament, which means that he is at his best in portions of the Adagio, and at his worst in the Scherzo, which feels heavy and buttoned-up. I'll confess I was disappointed by this reading, which would be a complete pass if it wasn't for the gorgeousness of the sound. In recognition of the playing and voicing, I'm adding half a star as a compromise
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 15, 2014 10:16 PM GMT


Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3 - Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 2 (Cd/Dvd)
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3 - Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 2 (Cd/Dvd)
Offered by MEGA Media FBA
Price: £11.80

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lang Lang and Rattle finally unite on disc with compelling readings the celebrate the heights of virtuosity, 23 Oct 2013
Lang Lang and Simon Rattle have worked together for years, so this new disc on Sony Classical comes after the two developed a fondness for each other. Listening to Rattle's thoughts on working with Lang Lang, he seems almost in awe of his gifts and pleased to be working with him. My fear was that Rattle would simply go along with the ride and succumb to fussiness, thereby dragging down the whole enterprise.

But Rattle has shown affinity for both Prokofiev and Bartok in the past and thankfully in this case he is at the height of his game. From the start of the Prokofiev 3rd Concerto we hear music-making that is truly mesmerizing. Lang Lang plays with command boosted by his dazzling technique, delving into the work with a true sense of adventure. He is a chameleon of the keyboard, finding many shades of color and elaborating with his combination of nuance and sheer charisma. One might find his pianism less individual than past readings from Kissin and Argerich, who both mastered the work, but for dash and energy, Lang Lang probably surpasses them both. The decisive factor in making this album a success may be Rattle, actually, who is sparkling and idiomatic, more so than Abbado with the same orchestra for both Kissin and Argerich. He finds great variety all throughout the score but his naturalness caught me off guard--there's none of his afflicting self-consciousness. The Berliners are beyond words and with the wonderful recorded sound, the experience could hardly be bettered.

This Bartok 2nd comes on the heels of a great reading from Leif Ove Andsnes and Pierre Boulez with the same orchestra a few years back. This reading is less precise and direct but the flexibility in the phrasing is truly remarkable. Is it a bad thing that the scoring doesn't sound as percussive? I don't think so, because we enter a whole new sound world that has plenty of energy, only it's less exhausting for the listener. We've reached a point where musicians can afford to play challenging works like these without struggling to reach the end. The danger is that we could lose some of the novelty in the process, but here are two skilled modernists who skillfully make their way through the score, finding more meaning instead of less. Rattle sees this music as having many facets of rich instrumental color, so once again the orchestral playing is simply gorgeous. Lang Lang doesn't sweat his way through, playing instead with captivating control that is carefully guided and adept. In all, I don't think of Bartok as having so much contrast; there's an almost whimsical feeling that makes every bar fresh and often unexpected.

I had apprehensions about the coupling of Lang Lang and Rattle, fearing they would feed off of one another's tendency towards fussiness. Instead we have consummate musicianship that jumps to the top of the list for lovers of these concerti.


Brahms: Piano Concertos
Brahms: Piano Concertos
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £12.22

15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Grimaud is masterful in both concertos, at once authoritative and intensely poetic, 2 Oct 2013
This review is from: Brahms: Piano Concertos (Audio CD)
It must be an emotional experience for a gifted, dynamic pianist to approach the heights of the piano repertoire recording Brahms with a talented young maestro and two of the best European orchestras. Helene Grimaud clearly views these concertos as life-changing works, and here we have a serious major release that asks to be the most attractive one of both concertos since Pollini and Abbado, also on DG.

Approaching the 1st Concerto, we soon realize that Grimaud boasts great magnetism. She takes this beast of a concerto with an authoritative technique that leaves no doubts about her control. Every bar has the undisputed mastery that defines the greatest pianists. But what is most striking is her imagination, which defies the common conception that this is a ponderous, rambling concerto. She grabs the ear with phrasing that weaves the most beautiful lines without ever becoming self-conscious or losing her grasp. It's hard to fathom a more perfect marriage, "invincible yet vulnerable", as she put it. Everything is majestic, yet personal to the point of being nearly painful. And the variety she displays is breathtaking, from moments of near stillness in the gorgeous slow movement to the towering force of the finale, which sounds titanic yet gloriously adventurous--has anyone bettered it? At the podium, Andris Nelsons lets Grimaud carry the show, with accompaniment that is never aggressive. He prefers gentle refinement to open drama, which sounds like a bad idea, but it is the perfect compliment to Grimaud. He shares her sensitivity, to be sure, so the Bavarian Radio Symphony never sounds stiff. He conducts with great finesse, choosing sweet lyricism that truly sounds free.

Coming to the 2nd Concerto, we get a very similar approach, only the music is more inspiring and we now have the Vienna Phil. Actually, Grimaud logically views this concerto as more intimate than its predecessor, so this reading is rich, colorful, and always reflective--very autumnal, really. A quick listen makes this reading sound low key and it almost is. There's not much barnstorming. But Grimaud uses reflection as a vehicle to exploit the most captivating emotions. She's as mesmerizing when she phrases with tenderness as when she displays her full powers. She seems to be searching for meaning, using the concerto's nobility to communicate on a level of the deepest sincerity. It's grand and soaring with freedom, yet there's an element of fragility caused by the complete emotional vulnerability. It's hard to describe how gripping she is for those who haven't heard it. Nelsons adds to this feel with conducting that is surprisingly resigned. He sounds natural and fluid, yet he rarely produces sheer excitement. Sometimes it may catch the listener off guard, especially in the 2nd movement where he breathes a quick prayer where one expects blazing triumph (the start of the new theme in D around 4:45). Some will think he goes too far in his refined ecstasy, but what might not work by itself sounds perfect with the volatile Grimaud at the keyboard. I don't hesitate to place this reading with the best from Gilels, Barenboim, and Pollini.

At the end of the day, this is Grimaud's show, and her pianism is unforgettable, transforming these indisputable masterpieces. Other pianists may be more dazzling, but few have been as poetic, much less while still maintaining such astonishing control. Bravo.


Verdi: Requiem
Verdi: Requiem
Price: £13.25

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A less bombastic, more personal Requiem with incomparable singing, 24 Sep 2013
This review is from: Verdi: Requiem (Audio CD)
Among other Requiems, Verdi's composition has always seemed like a sort of noisemaker. Interpretations have tended to display the work's extrovert nature, sometimes to the point of vulgarity. Daniel Barenboim's previous recording of this work, with the Chicago Symphony, was a true exemplar of this tradition, with blaring brass and definite extrovert nature.

From the first bars of this new La Scala disc, we hear a big difference. There's actually tenderness to Barenboim's phrasing, which builds with natural emotion that is quite moving. We notice how fresh and clear the choir sounds, caught in very good sound. Things get even better when the soloists enter. Jonas Kaufmann is full of passion and commitment that should make a casual listener stop and take note. He goes on to deliver an Ingemisco that is heartbreaking and virtually beyond compare. The rest of the soloists, Anja Harteros, Elina Garanca, and Rene Pape, are also top of the line. Listening to the quartet is the kind of vocal experience that is rare these days. I can't over-stress the conviction and sincerity each singer displays, though it's clear that Kaufmann represents the very height.

Moving through the work, we realize just how many layers of varied emotion are waiting to be uncovered. By removing the usual hysterical style, we no longer feel exhausted by over an hour of choral frenzy. Instead we witness just how much beauty and grief are in the work. I feel we are actually listening to a requiem, which is a true compliment. That's not to say that the excitement has been drained. It's simply that instead of making impact through volume and power, Barenboim makes his point by moving with a feeling of near-spontaneity that deftly maneuvers through the tosses and turns with hushed expectation. If anything, the experience is more intense, actually. There's none of the self-consciousness or gaudy phrasing that can afflict Barenboim.

In all, here is a recording that combines the height of vocal powers with conducting that makes the score sound fresh and altogether new. It's hard to countenance higher praise.


Stravinsky / Stokowski - The Rite Of Spring / Bach Transcriptions
Stravinsky / Stokowski - The Rite Of Spring / Bach Transcriptions
Price: £13.25

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An encouraging new Le Sacre from Nezet-Seguin, but the Stokowski transcriptions are a bit tame, 24 Sep 2013
It's very good to see the Philadelphia Orchestra back in the hands of a major label after years of being restricted to minor labels like Ondine. They have a star conductor in Yannick Nezet-Seguin, who has been rising to international prominence and brings a new DG record contract with him. There have been doubts about Nezet-Seguin's true talent though, so I viewed this disc as a test of his abilities.

Certainly this reading of Le Sacre should help to boost his reputation. There's a definite sense of inspiration from the podium and Philly fans will be overjoyed to hear the orchestra in such good form. There's no mistaking this orchestra for the Berlin Phil (which released a staggering Le Sacre with Rattle earlier this year) but they play with freedom and don't struggle getting around the notes. As for the interpretation itself, Nezet-Seguin doesn't attempt to make the score truly shocking, but that's the norm as we celebrate its centenary. In its own right, this is a thrilling reading that has true energy to guide us through a palette of gorgeous colors. Thankfully Nezet-Seguin doesn't linger over the notes or come across as at all studied. If anything, this reading could use a bit more cohesion. Nothing sounds savage yet there's a strong disjunct feel--the notes seem to fly out of nowhere. We don't experience the racing pyrotechnics of Salonen with the Philharmonia, but this reading certainly sounds more jagged than most. Some things jump out at the listener, especially the slow hammering at the end of the "Mystical Circles of the Young Girls" contrasted with the sudden surge of speed at the start of the "Glorification of the Chosen One". My only complaint is that we don't get the last thrust of inspiration from the podium. A flaw of this conductor is that he can be frenzied and driven while the backbone of his vision suffers from pretentiousness. That flaw isn't debilitating here, thankfully, but there's a small hint of self-consciousness that keeps this reading from being ranked with the greatest.

It was a nice idea to pay tribute to Stokowski by including some of his Bach transcriptions, but the interpretations aren't special. Nezet-Seguin decided to lean away from the dazzling showiness that distinguished Stokowski, but in so doing he drains much of the excitement and sounds rather plain faced. The chief joy in listening to this transcriptions as interpreted here is the sound of a full, modern orchestra without touches of HIP style. Nezet-Seguin doesn't show any affinity for religiosity so these readings don't resound with the necessary commitment. But again, the orchestra is in perfect form and readings of these transcriptions aren't common.

In all, this disc left me refreshed and hopeful for Nezet-Seguin's future, even if he still has room to grow.


Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Juan
Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Juan
Price: £13.25

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dudamel continues to mature with vibrant, thoughtful Strauss, played with supreme virtuosity by the Berliners, 18 Sep 2013
Gustavo Dudamel has made a big splash on the international music scene and has fostered a great relationship with the Berlin Phil as a favored guest conductor. Despite his reputation as a dazzling showman, it's been thrilling to follow Dudamel as he blossoms into a startlingly mature conductor. Earlier this year we heard a great Mahler 9th from Los Angeles that had the all the commitment of a skilled veteran.

Actually, it's about time to stop viewing Dudamel as up-and-coming and acknowledge that he's already arrived. As a sad commentary on the state of the recording industry, very few discs from guest conductors have been released at Berlin during Simon Rattle's tenure. (EMI wasn't generous with Rattle, either.) Now that we finally can hear Dudamel at the helm of this great orchestra, we hear how masterly he truly is. It must be a temptation for a young maestro to be enamored in the sound of the Berliners and forget to deliver an actual interpretation. But Dudamel conducts with authority that gives no hint of a need to grow. He produces a wonderful, rich sound that brings out the individuality of the Berliners, yet there's no pretentiousness or fussiness. His control is truly captivating.

Karajan was a great exponent of Strauss, with a particularly gripping reading of Also Sprach Zarathustra on Decca with the Vienna Phil, but neither Abbado or Rattle have recorded it. Dudamel has the advantage of impeccable modern sound from DG which produces maximum impact. The thrill of hearing the most dazzling virtuosos in the world give their all is twice as mesmerizing when we feel we can hear each individual instrument no matter how crushing the total volume. Dudamel certainly deserves a lion's share of the credit for achieving dramatic continuum that revels in each moment without either loitering or becoming impatient. In a promotional video, Dudamel said he viewed this live recording as one of the high points of his career. It's easy to agree in the face of conducting that is so natural and effervescent. I'd have to agree with the previous reviewer who finds Dudamel particularly thoughtful and measured. I'd also agree that the fillers don't have the same impact, but they're still a treasure in their own right--readings on this level aren't released every day.

At this point I think Dudamel's boyish image as portrayed by the media has traces of inaccuracy, at least in relating to his actual style. All throughout this disc there is a feeling of abandonment but also of complete confidence. Dudamel comes to the core of the Germanic repertoire with freshness, to be sure, but with definite indications of experience. It's a marvel hearing him guide the orchestra with adeptness that balances everything perfectly while still welding everything into compact, intense whole.

Considering that Berlin is searching for a new conductor in 2018, a major new release like this one makes one wonder if Dudamel is posing as a candidate. He's a dark-horse candidate to be sure, but I have no doubt that he is better prepared for the task than Christian Thielemann , the current favorite. In the meantime, we have a Strauss disc that is truly unforgettable.


Rachmaninov: The Bells; Symphonic Dances
Rachmaninov: The Bells; Symphonic Dances
Price: £12.04

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rattle fills a void in the Rachmaninov catalog with impressively virtuosic readings, 27 Aug 2013
Despite being some of Rachmaninoff greatest works, there are few virtuoso recordings of The Bells and Symphonic Dances. The Berlin Philharmonic has never had a principal conductor known for Rachmaninov and to my knowledge this is their first recording of The Bells. Rattle has barely touched Rachmaninov, so has he been able to acclimate to the Russian temperament?

Rachmaninov considered The Bells his favorite composition, but it hasn't been recorded by today's leading Russian maestros, particularly Gergiev, Petrenko, and Jurowski. On ICA Classics there is a memorable recording from Svetlanov and the BBC Symphony that is full of dark, Russian soul. Jose Serebrier and Gianandrea Noseda have contributed readings that are likewise idiomatic and very Russian. Naturally, Rattle's account doesn't have the same flavor, given that he's a British conductor working with a German orchestra and choir. Thankfully the soloists, Luba Orgonasova, Dimytro Popov, and Mikhail Petrenko are Russian and very fine. From the opening bars of "The Silver Sleigh Bells", we enter a world that is more exuberant and carefree--there's no trace of darkness. Critics may complain that Rattle isn't Russian enough, but as we progress, we find music-making that is full of orchestral playing better by far than anything else on disc, bringing out a new world of detail. Surprisingly, Rattle ends up sounding more energetic than most of his rivals on disc. His tempos lean on the fast side and he finds his success in reading into the score's modernity and wide range of color. The alarm bells of the 3rd movement, for instance, build with startling vividness. In my estimation, the Rundfunkchor Berlin makes up for not being Russian with its highly accomplished sound that transmits the music with detailed accuracy. The only complaint listeners may have is that the account isn't Russian enough. While it's true that this reading doesn't displace rival Russian readings, I think it fills a unique place. It would be hard to deny the fervor emanated from all involved, recorded from the same concerts as the Le Sacre released in April.

There's not as great a shortage of readings of the Symphonic Dances, but few could truly be described as virtuosic. Ashkenazy's reading with the Concertgebouw was jaunty and lighthearted without aiming for orchestral depth. On the other hand, Gergiev's recent LSO Live recording was grave and serious, not one to highlight the solos or orchestration. The up-and-coming Petrenko almost seemed our best option, with fiery conducting that was dramatic without being heavy-footed, but he didn't have a great orchestra in the Royal Liverpool Phil. Rattle took advantage of his opportunity and we now have a new great reading that utilizes both the individuality and crushing impact of the Berliners. But for all his highlighting of new details, Rattle doesn't come across as fussy, his afflicting flaw. Anyone who finds deficits in Rattle's conducting has found flaws I'm incapable of hearing. The sonority of the Berliners, voiced impeccably, is staggering in full cry, making the most of the dramatic potential. Equally captivating, of course, are the many solos sprinkled throughout the work. I can assure you they are on a level far above anything else on disc.

Since he came to these works with little background in Rachmaninov, I feared Rattle might seem out of touch in these works. But instead we have readings that can be compared with the best, with incomparable playing--bravo.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 3, 2013 12:21 PM BST


Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 | A Hero's Song Op. 111 [Andris Nelsons] [BR Klassik: 900116]
Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 | A Hero's Song Op. 111 [Andris Nelsons] [BR Klassik: 900116]
Price: £14.55

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nelsons gives us a fresh, exuberant "New World" that signifies his rise to greatness, 30 April 2013
Andris Nelsons is one of our most gifted young conductors, but he has been rather ill represented on disc, releasing a few recordings on Orfeo with the CBSO that haven't gotten much attention. He's possibly the most promising of all the young talents on the map today, leading the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics regularly, being cited as one of the leading candidates for Berlin in 2018. I was thrilled to see this disc with the Bavarian Radio Symphony, which isn't nearly as expensive as most of his Orfeo discs.

Nelsons studied with Mariss Jansons, but unlike his teacher, his view of the Dvorak 9th isn't laid back, a contrast from Jansons' two recordings with the Oslo Phil and the Concertgebouw that are decidedly cool in temperature. Nelsons is on a much higher plane, finding considerably more ideas. His Dvorak is warm, supple, and carefree, always sensitive without sacrificing excitement. One of the most distinguishing elements in Nelsons' conducting is his energy, which seems to pour out of him effortlessly. It's wonderful to hear this symphony in the hands of a conductor who sees more than a warhorse to be recorded of necessity.

But Nelsons isn't necessarily out to rethink the work in the way that Nikolaus Harnoncourt did on his burnished, mesmerizing reading with the Concertgebouw. Nelsons finds strength in simplicity, letting the music unfold with touching sincerity. What's so attracting is his naturalness, which enables him to build swelling phrases without the slightest trace of self-consciousness. It's hard to describe his music-making for those who haven't heard it. I can't shake off this feeling that he's one of the greats just beginning to rise. The only thing that hints his age is his boundless energy. His ability to find perfect balance, sustaining the line without loitering or letting go too soon, has all the marks of full maturity. In the 2nd movement, for instance, his mood is tender, carefully letting the music bloom with raw emotion--it's nearly heartbreaking. It's hard to summarize the outer movements because while Nelsons stands out for his vitality, there are moments he lets reflection dominate. His genius is his ability to find gentle beauty without draining any of the drama--he heightens it through his lyricism, actually. He leans slightly on the fast side in the 3rd movement and tends towards expansiveness in the 1st and 4th, but this is music-making beyond the usual stereotyping based on tempo. The Bavarian Radio Symphony plays for him with conviction but it's clearly Nelsons' show, unlike the many recordings of this work where a front rank orchestra needs to make up for a dutiful but uninspired conductor.

The Hero's Song is new to me but Nelsons' interpretation has all the hallmarks of greatness. It's the least familiar of his five symphonic poems, often left unrecorded by conductors who record the other four. Whatever the listener's opinion on this work may be, it would be hard not to be fully enraptured by Nelsons' conducting. It's fresh and dripping with expectation that hurls us into a world of ecstasy.

I hope Nelsons continues to grow, but after hearing this disc, it seems he's already arrived. This is fresh, unpretentious conducting of the highest level.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 20, 2014 4:32 PM BST


Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring / Apollon Musagète / Symphonies of Wind Instruments
Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring / Apollon Musagète / Symphonies of Wind Instruments
Price: £12.35

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunningly virtuosic Le Sacre, with Rattle at the top of his game--a winner, 9 April 2013
Now that Sir Simon Rattle has announced that he is leaving the Berlin Philharmonic in 2018, many of us are wondering in retrospect what kind of legacy he will leave. One of the great paradoxes of Rattle's tenure has been that he has arguably had his greatest successes in the very traditional Germanic repertoire the critics have suggested he doesn't understand. His Brahms, Strauss, Bruckner, and Schoenberg have been revelatory, to a greater degree than his Mahler, Debussy, Ravel, and Stravinsky (up to this point), composers with whom he has long been associated. It's all very strange.

But with this new Le Sacre, Rattle sets out to prove his strengths as a modernist. Rattle was an acclaimed Stravinsky conductor in his early days at the CBSO, and while those readings are touched with freshness, the CBSO is no Berlin Phil. Karajan was too smooth and glib in his attempts at Le Sacre with the Berlin Phil, and in general there seems to be a deficit of recordings that feature both crushing virtuosity and an inspired conductor. So even though countless readings cram the catalog, Rattle has a real opportunity to stand out, perhaps even set a standard.

Thankfully, Rattle seized his moment. His conducting is intense and involved without feeling mannered or fussy--sighs of relief all around. With the stunning sound quality from EMI, Rattle certainly sets a new standard for orchestral virtuosity. Have the opening woodwind solos ever sounded so yearningly expectant? Yet we continue to marvel as we progress through the kaleidoscope of the highs of orchestral sumptuousness. Everything is voiced with impeccable care. We can hear each individual instrument in the whamming chords, but they are still crushing.

After being in the concert hall for a century now, Le Sacre is no longer impossible to play, nor does it cause audiences to lose their cool, much less their sanity. There's a certain thrill to recordings where the orchestra seems to struggle to keep up, but I'd volunteer that hearing the Berliners play with effortless passion is just as compelling. It's amazing how musical Le Sacre sounds in Rattle's hands, even lyrical. In the sections that the work is no longer bellowing but resting amid haunting, ethereal sounds (the opening of Part II in particular) Rattle finds a whole new sound world. In the past, these sections merely seemed to be reprisals from the storm, so it's wonderful to have them bloom as beautiful moments that are equally captivating. Rattle doesn't downplay the eruptions, though, turning them into cataclysmic moments of overwhelming sound. In the end, it would be hard to praise Rattle too highly. I'd place him firmly up with my favorite readings from Stravinsky himself, Monteux, Bernstein, Salonen, and Gergiev. None of the aforementioned comes close to matching the Berliners' playing, though.

After Le Sacre, Apollon Musagete can seem like a setback. (One snobbish British critic dismissed the album solely for that reason.) But thanks to Rattle, it isn't hard to sit up and take note. The dreamy, hazy work is suited to his thoughtful probing and we can bask in the Berlin strings' wonderful sound. Rattle seems almost peerless when leading string orchestras in modern music. (I heard an unforgettable Verklärte Nacht in Carnegie Hall.) Rattle's conducting is patient and touched with melancholy that can be heartrending. I can't imagine listening unmoved. Acting as a bridge between the two main pieces is the Symphonies of Wind Instruments, played by the incomparable Berlin Phil wind players. It's hard to imagine it being bettered.

I'm thrilled to recognize this new disc as a solid win for Rattle, his greatest success in the standard modern repertoire since he took Berlin. Let's hope his remaining five years in Berlin continues in this line of excellence.


Mahler Symphony No.9
Mahler Symphony No.9
Price: £9.30

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dudamel takes a surprisingly inward and successful look at the Mahler 9th, 19 Feb 2013
This review is from: Mahler Symphony No.9 (Audio CD)
While Gustavo Dudamel's rise has been fast and dazzling, many will be surprised that at his young age he feels prepared to tackle Mahler's 9th, a symphony that deals with darkness and death. But Dudamel has to his credit an exciting 5th with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, a recording that made it clear he connects with Mahler's abandonment. Here he's conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a wise move for DG, since I'm not sure a youth orchestra could accurately plummet the work's seriousness. (We'll see how the Simon Bolivar Orchestra fares in the Mahler 7th, which DG releases later this year.)

But moving on to the interpretation in question, Dudamel's timing of 29 minutes for the 1st movement leans on the slower side. Dudamel doesn't drag, though. Instead, he finds throbbing passion, often to the point of sounding heartbroken. I was deeply moved by his ability to build on Mahler's long melodic lines. Dudamel lets the line expand with fervency that makes the work feel vast. His intensity keeps his slow tempo from becoming ponderous and it helps that he makes the most of the climaxes. I'm very impressed, but quite surprised. Instead of aiming for explosive excitement, Dudamel took an inward look. (It's in this movement that I pick up on some creaking noises during the climaxes that recur in some of the following movements. It's a minor complaint, but one worth noting for those who want perfect sonics.)

I agree with the previous reviewer who remarked that Dudamel doesn't accept Simon Rattle's view that the Scherzo is everything Mahler hated about the country while the Rondo-Burleske is everything he hated about the city. Rattle's look at these movements was biting and intense to the point of exhausting the listener. Dudamel decides to sound more optimistic, and his lack of strong irony makes these movements sound almost cheerful. That's not code for bloodless, though. I enjoyed the 2nd movement especially, finding its airiness refreshing. Dudamel tinges the work with an extra strong sense of melancholic yearning. Instead of sounding desperate and gloomy, we enter a world of confidence threatened only by the foreboding sadness. In all, this is a lighter look but one so inspired I can't complain about missing drama.

I'm not sure the 3rd movement works quite so well. Dudamel remains poised and alert, and doesn't go for violent assaults the way Bernstein, Rattle, and Gergiev did, to list a few of his predecessors. But along with Dudamel's newfound intrinsic sensitivity comes the ability to draw attention to the raw grief that's hidden between the lines. When we're on a visceral ride that pushes the limits of sanity we don't notice these details. My only complaint would be that there's not enough contrast with the previous movement, but that's a quibble.

Moving into the Adagio, we've grown accustomed to Dudamel's sound world, which is more about inner intensity than obvious bravura. The previous reviewer who spoke of Dudamel's "respectful tenderness toward Mahler's setting sun" encapsulated the basic sum of what this movement means to Dudamel. It's calm and reflective, not the lunge of fraught emotion that Bernstein delivered in Berlin. It's in this movement that I miss the best European orchestras, but Los Angeles' playing is always accomplished. For me, what made this movement a success was Dudamel's tenderness that turned it into an elegy notable for poignant resignation.

I'm pleased to greet this disc with my most enthused recommendation. I can't properly stress how surprised I am that Dudamel took this thoughtful, mature view. It's hard to comprehend that this sublime reading came from a conductor barely in his thirties.


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