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Piano Sonatas No 30, 31 & 32
Piano Sonatas No 30, 31 & 32
Price: £15.81

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a convincing beethoven cycle in the making, 7 May 2012
Reviewing Beethoven sonatas is hazardous. Several `definitive' recordings exist, most recently by Alfred Brendel; though experts disagree. Is it a matter of personnel taste or, may be, even of `make believe'? What makes a good interpretation? It is not easy to get a clear idea about the emotional roots of the sonatas. This may not be essential for Beethoven's early sonatas, but, to my mind, increasingly so for the latter ones. Beethoven said: `I compose what I feel in my heart'. For all I have read about the life and works of Beethoven, there is so much controversy that it is still a mystery to me what really went on inside on any particular moment and what `vision' moved him to compose a particular sonata.

One thing is certain: Beethoven has always been intrigued by young and beautiful women. This has clearly found reflection in several of his sonatas. For instance in Op. 27/2 `Moonlight', and Op. 78 `For Therese'. But in his continuous strive for fame and recognition, especially amongst nobility, he also drew inspiration from a mixture of impatience, anger and disappointment. It would be interesting to know how Beethoven himself played his sonatas.

Remarks to that effect from his old friend Wegeler were not always flattering: too rough, too loud. He (Wegeler) once took him to the pianist Sterkel, whose playing was light, gentle and feminine; Beethoven stood by and immediately copied. Others, like Romberg and Czerny were impressed by his ingenuity and virtuosity, though agreed that his playing was more often fierce and savage. And as his hearing grew worse, his hammering on the keys got worse too, until he decided to no longer to play in public.

Another typical phenomenon is that Beethoven's sonatas seem to be a man's affair; complete cycles with women are rare. Annie Fischer's cycle (Hungaroton) is fantastic, but the recorded sound is not optimal. The only new female cycle that I know of, is the one of the young Korean `U Tube' piano acrobat, HJ Lim, to be issued shortly on EMI/RBCD. Does Mari Kodama stand a chance against stiff (male) competition and pre-conceived ideas about `Wunderkinder' from the Far-East?

It is a known fact that the piano is amongst the most difficult instruments to record. Wide frequency spectrum and dynamics are demanding. If we take Arthur Schnabel, whose musical and emotional, yet very personal interpretation, seen by many as a landmark, as an example, we must sadly note that even in the best re-mastered CD form, it still sounds flat, tinny and, in the end, tiresome. Neither recording technicians nor the medium in those days were able to capture the full frequency band and the dynamics of a concert grand, thus losing much of the `real thing'. Other `definitive' recordings (Backhaus, Kempff) suffer, albeit to a lesser degree, from poor sound, as well.

Kovachevich and certainly Brendel profit from modern recording techniques, much more able to convey the real picture. For some, these are `must have' recordings, but I suspect that for RBCD limiters have been used to avoid distortion. (Not everyone is too concerned about that).

For me there is no question that Super Audio, with its superior resolution and dynamics, is by far the best medium for the piano.

In this respect, jubilant reviews of Igor Tchetuev on Caro Mitis are revealing. The more so, because Tchetuev is not one of the current Big Names. Not only is this another example of the fact that there is more talent out there than the big label marketing teams want us to believe, but also that there seems to be another element contributing to his success: Reviewers refer to the recording quality, bringing the beauty of the Fazioli grand piano into one's living room. It would seem, therefore, that sound quality can and, indeed, does play a pertinent role in an overall appreciation.

Back to Kodama.

Some time ago I bought, out of curiosity rather than conviction, Mari Kodama's account of the sonatas 16, 17 (Tempest) and 19 (The Hunt). I was immediately struck by the impact of her playing and the `realism' of the recording. As if I was sitting next to her. Here, too, we deal with the same Polyhymnia people, responsible for the Caro Mitis recordings. This confirms my view that sound quality does not only play an important role in the overall appreciation, but also that `dynamics' are an integral part of conveying `emotion'.

As for her musical credentials: Kodama's playing grows on you. I bought several more of her recordings and the more I listened the more I liked what I heard. She has an elegant and a sensitive, female touch, but does at the same time not shy away from the more powerful passages. She combines a male approach with bringing out gentle and sometimes hidden feminine intentions. Her musical `palette' stretches from searching to assertive. She, furthermore, refrains from unwanted glamour by not turning everything into a speed contest. Her playing resembles that of Alfred Brendel. Not surprisingly so, because he was for some time her teacher and mentor (like Paul Lewis, by the way).

At this stage of the ongoing cycle, I do not think that anyone has any doubts about Mrs. Kodama's virtuosity and technical abilities. Musically, the proof of the pudding may be these complex last three `end of career' sonatas.

Beethoven's style had shifted away from a more structural approach to a kind of `story telling'. (Beethoven has always been surprised that people did not `see' anything but music when they were playing his sonatas). Hence, the interpreter's capacity to convey a story seems just as important as playing the notes. Kodama does not disappoint. In doing so, her tempi are faster than Brendel (decca), but not as fast as Brautigam (BIS). May be due to her cultural, Japanese background, her playing remains delicate throughout, even in the louder passages, and I am glad that she didn't fall for the trap in the syncopated variation in the second movement of the ultimate sonata no. 32, Op. 111, playing it too jazzy like Pogorelic in his younger years. She thereafter takes you by the hand to the end of the road where Beethoven's final piano tones die out in resignation and eternal fame.

Does all this make here a preferred choice? For me, there are no `definitive' recordings. It is hard to believe that since Schnabel cs. there have not been others who are at least equally competent; each one perhaps telling a slightly different story. I think that Beethoven's sonatas are strong enough to accommodate several approaches. And Kodama's is certainly one of them, with the added advantage of glorious and realistic piano sound.

I, for one, look forward to the concluding issues of this cycle, with, among others, Beethoven's best (his own words) and perhaps most difficult sonata no. 29 `Das Hammerklavier'.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 17, 2014 11:03 PM BST


Klavier & Orchester
Klavier & Orchester

5.0 out of 5 stars Top recording of Schumann's A minor concerto (plus highly interesting extras), 10 Mar 2012
This review is from: Klavier & Orchester (Audio CD)
For me, Gerhard Oppitz has long been a first rate accompanist of gifted soloists. I have to confess that, until now, I was less familiar with he himself being the soloist. This disk is an eye-opener; once again an example of how one tends to hover around a small group of super stars pushed into the foreground by skilled marketing and `big money' labels.

Delving into his bio stats I discovered that Gerhard Oppitz has recorded in the past a number of major piano concertos with major orchestras. (For instance: Brahms/Davis/Bayern Radio Symphony on RCA and for the same label: Beethoven/Janowski/Gewandhaus). May be for reasons as mentioned above, these recordings never seemed to have hit public at large. And that includes me.

I'm most grateful for Tudor issuing this Schumann compilation. Not only for widening (like Zacharias/MDG) the scope of Schumann's orchestral compositions for the piano beyond the concerto in A minor, but also for giving me, and possibly others, a chance to judge Oppitz on his soloist merits. This new issue lends itself, furthermore, for an interesting comparison with BIS' recent violin compilation with Ulf Wallin. Especially regarding the benefit that can be drawn from clever balancing Schumann's sometimes awkward orchestral scoring by a `Schumanesque' conductor.

In this respect much praise goes to Marc Andreae and the Tudor/BR Klassik recording engineers, notwithstanding some doubt as to the recorded format. Apart from this being an `original multi-channel recording' we are left in the dark as to whether this is a pure DSD recording. Logic says: if it doesn't say so, it isn't. But the overall result is nonetheless most convincing: no offensive strings, rounded piano tone, well defined sound stage, putting the various instruments in careful balance, thus making the sound less thick than can be experienced in less skilled hands. The piano is, in fact, part of the overall fabric and does not overwhelm the orchestra.

Turning to Gerhard Oppitz: Under his hands the over exposed concerto in A minor gets a new life. I'm not saying that it is the best performance ever, but it certainly fits the upper echelon. In direct comparison with Perahia/Abbado/Berlin Philharmonic (RBCD Sony), Oppitz very much holds his own. His account is full of force and yet intelligently romantic and never overdone. In short: a most enjoyable experience. And, yes, even uplifting cheerful in the third movement, where Perahia sounds a bit `routine'. Oppitz's forward thrust has an undeniable `feel good' factor, aptly supported by the spirited accompaniment of Marc Andreae and the Bamberger players, and, of course, the (far) superior sound, which lets you hear so much better the full dynamics and the carefully balanced instruments.

Like Perahia, this disk includes the two pieces for piano and orchestra composed in 1849 and 1853. The latter a year before the symptoms of Schumann's illness became apparent. Both are largely unfamiliar. Opus 92 has the hallmark of a piano concerto `under construction'. But nothing indicates that that has ever been Schumann's intention. Opus 134 was composed in Dusseldorf where he, not very successfully, conducted the local symphony orchestra. He was at the top and at the end of his creative years. The following year he was admitted to a mental hospital (`Heilklinik') in Endenich. He must have had a presentiment of things to come. It shines through in the melancholy of the scoring. In this the horns play an important part and under Andreae they come out so much better than on the Sony recording, where the piano alone is as loud as all the players in the orchestra together, drowning some of Schumann's better scoring for orchestra.

As a super bonus Tudor added the piano transcription of the `concerto' for four horns. It is thought that it was Schumann himself who transposed the four horn parts into a single piano part. If you are familiar with the original, it takes a while to get used to it, but once accustomed, it does not sound like a transcription, but rather like a `Konzertstück' in its own right.

I have not always been a great admirer of many of Schumann's orchestral scores. At times too thick, too crowded and too awkward, but I cannot but admit (and admire) that most of it disappears under Marc Andreae's baton.

One final point: The front side of the booklet mentions the Bamberger Symphoniker as the accompanying orchestra, whereas the back side of the jewel box says: Bamberger Symphoniker - Bayerische Staatsphilharmonie. Are there two orchestras involved and, if so, which of the pieces is performed with the one or the other orchestra. Neither is the case. Both are one and the same orchestra. In July 2003 the Bavarian State Government elevated the Bamberg Symphony to the rank of State orchestra, since when it has been entitled to add to its name the designation of Bavarian State Philharmonic. The otherwise excellent notes make no mention of it.

Compared to other available Schumann A minor concertos on SACD, this disk surely deserves to be heard. Coupled with the two largely unknown pieces and, last but not least, the transcription of the Concerto for four horns merits, as far as I am concerned, a clear recommendation.


Mozart Piano Quartet
Mozart Piano Quartet
Price: £15.21

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful performances, 27 Jan 2012
This review is from: Mozart Piano Quartet (Audio CD)
When buying CD's it is not always possible to avoid an overlap. As I already had Schumann's opus 47 Piano Quartet (Trio Parnassus with Hariolf Schlichtig, viola; MDG 903 1414-6) I hesitated to buy this one. But as it also contained the first SACD Brahms G minor Piano Quartet, I decided to give it a go, and I'm not disappointed. To start with Brahms: For comparison I listened to the combined forces of Ax, Stern, Laredo and Ma. Their 1989 CBS recording (reissued on Sony in 20 bits) still sounds very well but has nonetheless a clear disadvantage over MDG. Not only is the sound of MDG in 5.1 multi-channel near perfect, but the mix, too, is quite good, placing the piano on equal footing with the other musicians. But what about the playing? Notwithstanding the big names on Sony, I was, right from the beginning, impressed by the `Brahmsian' approach of the members of the Mozart Quartet. Their `ensemble' playing sounded far better than anticipated, with long lines linked with appropriate legato (and not the staccato noticeable in the first movement of the Sony recording). Adding a fair amount of broad `symphonic' power they shed a new light on the otherwise too much chamber-like performances. Arnold Schoenberg, who held Brahms in high esteem, called his G minor Quartet `a budding symphony' and `proved' it by orchestrating it, without any changes in the score, in 1937 (a SACD version is available on EMI(Japan) TOGE-11076). It may be noted that the origin of the quartet, compared to the published version, is misty since Brahms had the habit of destroying earlier and or incomplete sketches. Judging by `the symphonic spaciousness ... especially apparent in its first movement, which is of extraordinary length and melodic richness' (Paul Griffiths, 1985), it may well be true that the original idea was, indeed, an attempt to compose a symphony. Be that as it may, the overall result is a piece of a majestic stature, played with dedication and conviction by the Mozart Quartet. The Scherzo dances; the Andante sings. And the final movement sounds simply stunning. Effortless switching between electrifying `presto' and thoughtful `rondo alla Zingarese', building up tension towards the end. The musicians play as a single unit, leaving you breathless for a while after the last tone. It would be hard to find any better.
Turning to Schumann's Piano Quartet we enter in a different world, a world of romantic chamber music endeavouring to please the audience (which it did when it was premiered in Leipzig). Schumann's wife, Clara Wieck, was an accomplished pianist and it is assumed that Schumann composed his piano quintet and shortly thereafter his piano quartet opus 47 to regain Clara's affection after some months of marital strain in 1842. With today's knowledge Clara may have suffered from a post natal depression. The piano has been given a prominent role and some have even argued that we are dealing with mini piano concerti. I do not share that view, especially not in the quartet. And here, too, the engineers have mixed the members of the Mozart Quartet in such a way that each and every one is evenly present. Whereas the Parnassus lift out the `Lieblichkeit', the Mozart Quartet underline the `Leidenschaft' and the `longing', which is, I believe, under the circumstances more appropriate. They give the quartet the weight it merits and they are able to keep the listener's attention all along. Wonderfully played.
Although all four are gifted chamber musicians, I would like to specially mention the one who is so often `concealed' between the violin and the cello: the viola player, Hartmut Rohde, for his tuneful and sensitive playing.
As I said, the recording is top notch and the liner notes are well documented. Highly recommended!

Adrian Cue, France
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 16, 2012 6:45 PM GMT


Russian Piano Trios - Rimsky-Korsakov and Arensky
Russian Piano Trios - Rimsky-Korsakov and Arensky
Price: £15.84

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The cover is faulty, the music is not, 27 Jan 2012
In the past I have been at loggerheads with Praga Digitals for not always giving correct information, but I suppose that the wrong cover shown is not their mistake, but Amazon's. Be that as it may, I do have to admit that this label is consistently doing lovers of chamber music a great service. And this disk is no exception, and... the sound is perfect. Here we have two piano trios which, in the past, have had little or no attention from the recording industry. The Arensky trio has now found general recognition (my comparison: Bronfman/Lin/Hoffman on Sony SK 53269), but Rimsky-Korsakov's is still hardly ever heard or recorded. This is a most welcome addition to the catalogue.

These pieces have clearly been composed to please the listener. And why not. Composers don't always have to be soul searchers or innovators. Here, delicate melodies compete with heartfelt Russian tunes (listen to the melancholic lines from the cello).

Rimsky-Korsakov was an erudite and, like some other members of the Group of Five to which he belonged, he did not have to live off his compositions, nor seek to become a famous innovating landmark composer. Yet, he was instrumental in bringing about in Russia a more Russian style of composing. He furthermore was a master of orchestration and a highly appreciated professor at the Leningrad Conservatory. However, his output of chamber music is particularly small. And as for his piano trio in c minor, it is remarkable that he was able to write such a pleasing and romantic piece after having lived through such a difficult period in his life, starting in 1890 with serious health problems in his family, leading to subsequent deaths of his mother and youngest child. With the passing away of his friend Tchaikovsky in 1893, he felt (and was) able to return to composing with even more vigour. But, recognizing that chamber music was not his forte, he did not publish the score (in 1939 completed by his son in law) during his life time.

Arensky was a pupil in the composition class of Rimsky-Korsakov. But the latter was, in the end, not very enthusiastic about his abilities. Arensky was much influenced by Tchaikovsky and lacked, dixit Rimsky-Korsakov, a personal style. This may be so, but sometimes things turn out differently. Arensky's lyrical chamber works are most charming and pleasing masterpieces and, as said before, are now more frequently played and recorded than Rimsky-Korsakov's. And let us not forget that Arensky, after becoming a professor at the Moscow Conservatory, taught and passed on his talents to people like Rachmaninov and Scriabin.

The playing in this recording by the young members of the Kinsky Trio (new talent seems to be abundantly available these days!) is in line with the quality of both pieces. Compared to such `old masters' as Bronfman/Lin/Hoffman, they do very well indeed in Arensky's piano trio. I have no comparison as far as Rimsky-Korsakov's trio is concerned. But the playing is fine and articulate throughout. And although there is some question as to the extent of this trio being truly `Russian', one hears Slavic melodic lines shining through in every passage under the interpreters' skillful hands.

These are not `dramatic' compositions, but certainly not lightweight either. I am sure you will like them as much as I do. Especially in such a warm recording (Multi-Channel/DSD!) with the piano may be a shade too heavy, but full of bloom. Recommended.
Adrian Cue, France


Schumann: Complete Works For Violin And Orchestra(Hybrid SACD)
Schumann: Complete Works For Violin And Orchestra(Hybrid SACD)
Price: £14.67

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars schmann's final concerto's : beautiful and awkward, 23 Nov 2011
This disc has received a positive response here and elsewhere. And, indeed, BIS should be complemented for giving us Schumann's complete oeuvre for violin and orchestra on one single disk. In that sense, and from a collector's point of view, it is already a must. The final work, however, has always been and still remains a problematic piece. For a better understanding we have to delve a bit deeper. Much has been said about Schumann's orchestration. Many, and certainly not his least famous colleagues, have expressed reservations about the orchestral parts of his solo concerti, finding it often too heavy and in places too `congested'. Shostakovich, for instance, re-orchestrated the cello concerto, correcting what he thought were mistakes, making the orchestral fabric lighter and leaner. Nice though it undeniably is, the result is, to my mind, too recognizably Shostakovich, with ample use of wind instruments. Schumann's own transcription for the violin, thought to have been an attempt to save the concerto by replacing his not so well received cello concerto to a solo instrument which, in those days, was more common, fares better. I was not familiar with it and I would not be surprised if some prefer it over the original cello version. It stands up in its own right. Especially with regard to the accomplished way Ulf Wallin handles the violin part. (I am eagerly awaiting his rendition of all three Schumann violin sonatas to be issued shortly by BIS). During Schumann's lifetime something must have gone amiss, because it was only after rediscovery of a transcript that the first performance took place as late as 1987. A similar fate underwent his d minor violin concerto, of which the dedicatee, Joseph Joachim, found the solo part too difficult and the instrumentation too awkward. Clara Schumann asked him to re-write the third movement and Joachim put forward suggestions which met with Schumann's refusal. A try-out in Leipzig (Gewandhaus 1858) turned out to be a disaster and Joachim finally decided not to play it ever again. Since Clara Schumann had her doubts and Brahms did not want to include it in the Breitkopf Gesamtausgabe (of which he was the editor), the three of them decided not to publish the concerto. Being his last major composition, Schumann was already suffering from a mental breakdown and against this background it may have been meant for his best, such as not to `lay a shadow over his output during his most creative years'. Be that as it may, the concerto was put away for a long time and its first public performance took place in Germany (The German Government insisted, as they claimed the copy rights) with Georg Kulenkampff as soloist (November 1937). Paul Hindemith helped him with numerous changes in the difficult third movement in order to make it more playable. The result (a historic recording is available on You Tube) is not great. Despite fervent supporters, like Yehudi Menuhin and Gidon Kremer, the violin concerto has never reached the popularity of Bruch and Mendelssohn. It seems nonetheless to have had a magical attraction to some violinists, if only as a challenge to make something out of a basically beautiful concerto hindered by unfortunate scoring. The biggest problem lies in the third movement: slow polonaise rhythm, repetitious and too many notes for the soloist. It needs a very skilled player and an alert `Chef'. In less competent hands the final movement quickly becomes a nightmare. In his interpretation, Ulf Wallin, like Thomas Zehetmair, has gone back to the original score. The result, however, is less convincing than one would have hoped for. The somewhat clumsy score remains. Compared to Gidon Kremer's 1983 recording with Ricardo Muti and the Philharmonia Orchestra (EMI), the first and second movements come off quite well, but I have heard a better third movement (Frank Peter Zimmerman). Whereas Kremer tries to wash away the odd bits in a fast tempo, Wallin's is so slow that it emphasizes the weak points. The flow of the music is broken, the repetitions become troublesome and the many notes leaves one with the impression of someone practicing rather than playing. There seems to be friction between soloist and orchestra. I do not blame the performers as it is inherent in the score. Perhaps most revealing of the controversial problems posed to soloist, conductor and orchestra alike, is that Gidon Kremer revisited the concerto, apparently seeking to `correct' his first approach by another recording (1994 with Harnoncourt), playing the final movement much slower resulting in a `sluggish' and hardly any better performance (I am not familiar with his third attempt).
Ulf Wallin's liner notes are superb and the recording up to BIS' usual standard. You may want to listen to this disk, reflect upon it and form you own opinion, it certainly is a rewarding exercise.
Adrian Cue
France
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 16, 2012 7:32 AM BST


Stenhammar: String Quartets 3-6 (Cpo: 777426-2)
Stenhammar: String Quartets 3-6 (Cpo: 777426-2)
Price: £28.07

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Romantic String Quartets of the 20th century, 23 Nov 2011
`Wilhelm Stenhammars string quartets don't enjoy the popularity they deserve'. It sounds banal. We have heard that so often when new works of `forgotten' composers surface. Most of the time the reason `why' appears after listening to them a couple times. At first they sound like Haydn, Mozart etc. but after a while it becomes clear that they lack their genius. And that's probably why they have been forgotten. Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean that they were bad compositions. In the chamber music department many compositions had no other purpose than to please the listener. The pop music of their time, so to speak. Many works of Haydn, Mozart and a number of romantic successors served to a large extent the same purpose. But theirs remained. Evergreens, you might say, to stick to the metaphor. So, what about Stenhammar's string quartets? If you look at his vital statistics you will see that he was born in 1871 and died in 1927. In the second half of the 19th century, Brahms was seen as a `late-flowering' romantic. Stenhammar, therefore, is `way out of phase' as these quartets, composed at the beginning of the 20th century, are romantic pieces in the style of Mendelssohn and Schumann. Not devoid of self-esteem, he himself considered his quartets as building upon Beethoven's heritage. He clearly was not an innovative composer, and he admitted this in so many words (and I quote from the excellent liner notes): "...in these Arnold Schönberg times I dream of art far away from Arnold Schönberg, clear, joyful, and naïve". Would this be the reason why his string quartets have largely been forgotten? In Central Europe times were changing and Stenhammar choose to play no part in it (like other composers of Nordic chamber music, by the way). However, listening to his quartets it becomes clear that they do not lack quality. On the contrary, they are full bodied and well-constructed (sounds like good wine!) and we must be grateful for CPO having brought them to the surface. And not only for that, but also for contracting the eminent Oslo String Quartet to convey its beauty in first rate Multi-Channel Super Audio format, albeit with some resonance due to the recording venue (Jar Kirke -church-, Oslo, Norway). The playing is precise, romantic and forceful. They make for excellent Sunday morning entertainment.
Adrian Cue
France


Schubert: Wanderer Fantasy
Schubert: Wanderer Fantasy
Price: £13.58

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Schubert under the right hands, 19 Oct 2011
This is a delight. Hideyo Harada gives us a performance of both the Wanderer Fantasy and the Sonata D 960 that can measure up with the best. For me Schubert is not quite suited for power players. It would seem that most of his solo piano compositions are better served by tenderness, `sehnsucht', `leidenschaft' and a reflective approach. Harada has all that. She is, of course, not new to this kind of repertoire. Some 8 years ago she launched an ambitious Schubert cycle in Tokyo, not only covering the complete music for piano solo, but also the various pieces Schubert wrote for chamber players. From the well documented liner notes one learns that she won a number of prizes in international piano competitions. However, the real the proof of the pudding is in the eating, i.e. in the concert hall, or, in this particular case, the recording studio. Harara does not disappoint. Aided with a beautiful piano sound, so well captured by the Audite engineers (in PCM), and her flawless technical skills, she brings us an interesting coupling of two key works. The Wanderer Fantasy, perhaps the most monumental piece of Schubert's piano `oeuvre', comes off very well. Energetically, yet thoughtfully played. But for me the best part of this disk is her intelligent, romantic and sometimes dreaming performance of Schubert's final Piano Sonata. One of the difficulties with Schubert is that his sonatas can become all too easily fragmented in less competent hands, whereby the soloist loses the flow and hence the coherence of the overall structure. Harada's careful approach and her often light and clear `toucher' keeps the structure intact from the first till the very last note, whilst, at the same time, revealing the deeply emotional feelings which Schubert has hidden in the score, notwithstanding the key of B flat Major and the quasi optimistic singing melodies in the third movement. I was completely spell-bound and I cannot but wholeheartedly recommend this disk.


Schumann: Piano Trios Nos. 1 & 2
Schumann: Piano Trios Nos. 1 & 2
Price: £15.29

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Their masters' voice, 9 Oct 2011
I was not familiar with the Swiss Piano Trio. This is their second performance on SACD and thus being a welcome addition to its library, I took the chance and bought this disk. And I'm glad to say it was a lucky one. As a matter of precision: The trio is not entirely Swiss. The violinist is Ukrainian. In fact, the trio was formed in 1998 for a concert in Kiev. The result was such that they remained together ever since. According to the excellent notes, the trio has won several prices and they performed with success in the Wigmore Hall, London: Often a spring-board for young and coming musicians for a rewarding international career. This said, what is their playing like and how do they compare to the same works recorded by the Beaux Arts Trio (Philips RBCD 432 165-2, recorded in 1989 at the American Academy & Institute of Arts & Letters, New York). Not an easy comparison as the recorded sound (good though the Philips still is) differs quite a bit. That is to say - and I'm aware that this is very much a matter of personal appreciation - a comparison between the masters playing in the other room (as it were) and the pupils `live' in your listening room. I, for one, am prepared to accept well `live' over excellent `on the radio'. However, in this case the choice did not have to be made. It was a pleasant surprise to hear the Schweizer Klaviertrio play these wonderful Schumann Trios as though they had been coached by the masters themselves. And, indeed, the notes reveal that the members of the trio received important artistic impulses from Menahem Pressler, the Beaux Arts pianist. So, if you liked them, you will like the `live' next best, too. The Ukrainian violinist, Angela Golubeva, sets a virtuoso, yet sensual tone to both trios, with skilled piano playing by Martin Lucas Staub and an almost voluptuous cello of Sébastien Stinger. They play as a team, each coming in turn to the forefront as required. The tempi are carefully chosen. Never too much, never too little. A delight! The second trio was recorded in 2007 and the first, more recently, in 2010. No DSD, but the PCM 44.1 24 bits guarantees nevertheless a beautiful sound and the engineers placed the musicians in a perfect balance to one another. Recommended.


Delius: Double Concerto/Violin Concerto/ Cello Concerto]
Delius: Double Concerto/Violin Concerto/ Cello Concerto]
Price: £17.44

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A treasure trove, 9 Oct 2011
May be due to stiff competition I was less enthusiastic about Tasmin Little's performance in Elgar's Violin Concerto than many others were. But this time I cannot but express my greatest admiration for her sensitive playing in Delius' Violin Concerto. In fact the whole disk is a treasure trove: Programme, soloists, orchestra, conductor and, last but not least, the typical Chandos sound. Delius' background is not as British as one would think. Of German descent, he has spent a large part of his life in France. `External' influences are noticeable, though more German than French, as he did not mingle much with the French musical world. Yet, most listeners are convinced that his music is firmly rooted in the Anglo-Saxon tradition and that, in order to flourish and bring out the beauty, performances are best served by `native' English interpreters. This may largely be the result of the admiration of the late Sir Thomas Beecham for the compositions of Delius and his continued efforts to bring these to the attention of British audiences. Delius' markings like `rather quiet, `rather quicker' etc. have a typically British flavour, too, and it would seem that you have to be born and grown into understanding this kind of lyrical country style inspired music to recreate what seems to have been meant by him. On my side of the Channel, British music does not enjoy the same popularity as it does `over there'. With this disk, however, Chandos makes a most convincing statement. In the hands of the chosen performers, Delius becomes so much more than `On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring'. We have here the three major solo works for strings (excluding the Caprice and Elegy, for Cello and Orchestra and the Suite for Violin and Orchestra): The seldom played double concerto, the better known violin concerto and, finally, his melodious Cello Concerto. Tasmin Little and Paul Watkins are a perfect team in the Double Concerto and the latter excels in the Cello Concerto, turning it into a most memorable experience. Together with Tasmin Little's aforementioned playing in the Violin Concerto, nothing but praise, therefore, and that includes Andrew Litton and his musicians. Those who are not familiar with Delius' larger compositions can't do better than buying this disk and enjoy it as much as I did.
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Strauss: Ein Heldenleben
Strauss: Ein Heldenleben
Price: £15.33

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strauss' life in a hero performance., 1 July 2011
This latest issue of Yannick Nézet-Séguin and his Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra underlines once again what a gifted conductor he is and how he is able to shape an orchestra and tackle major repertoire with apparent ease showing nonetheless deep insight in these demanding works. We are grateful for BIS having put it on record. Nothing in the playing reflects the dark clouds hanging over the future of this orchestra due to imminent deep cuts in government funding. On the contrary, it rather looks as though they, inspired by the youthful energy of their new Chef Québecois (since 2008 Valery Giergiev's successor at the helm of the Rotterdam Philharmonic), want to give the best of themselves and hence to the audience. To paraphrase an old saying: the more difficult the going gets the better the results are. The program on this disk is a well-chosen combination of Strauss' life as a `hero' and the premonition of his death in the final of his four last songs `Im Abendrot'.
There still remains some doubt as to whom the hero in `Ein Heldenleben' is. In a letter to his father Strauss leaves it open: `I am supposed to be the hero myself, which is, however, only partly correct'. It would seem that Strauss did project himself in the role of the hero realizing, however, the amount of wishful thinking involved. All too human! (Think of politicians writing their `memoires'). This being `programme' music, i.e. telling a story with notes rather than words, it is up to the interpreters to get the message across to the audience. Well, Nézet-Séguin reveals himself as an excellent story teller. We can almost `see' and `feel' the moods of the Hero in all its detail, giving preference to colouring, clear textures and articulate phrasing over heaviness and drama. The musicians excel in all these departments. A special mention deserves the leader of the RPhO (the R standing for Rotterdam and not Royal), Igor Gruppmann, for his violin solos.
The `Vier Letzte Lieder' are, in its orchestrated form, a benchmark for singers. All the big names have recorded them with more and sometimes less success. In spite of what the word 'Lied' suggests, the combination and orchestration of these songs add up to a 'poème symphonique' for soprano and orchestra. It is not only the quality of the singer which counts, but also to what extent the conductor (and the recording engineer!) is able to create the right balance between singer and orchestra. Many of us, I take it, are familiar with Jessey Norman's account with Kurt Masur and the Gewandhaus Orchester (and keep listening to it in spite of Super Audio) where the balance is so good that the singer becomes part of the orchestral 'fabric'. Another, not to be neglected element, is the fact that the score allows for a choice between a soprano and a mezzo-soprano. (Kirsten Flagstad, Strauss's personal choice for the first performance, was a soprano becoming a mezzo later on). This can make a considerable change in mood from `operatic' (soprano) to more `intimate' (mezzo-soprano). Some prefer the first (Karita Mattila), others the latter choice (Waltraud Meier). All a matter of personal taste. There is even a (piano) version for baritone (Konrad Jarnot) available. Dorothea Röschmann is a soprano whose voice is particularly suitable for Mozart's operas. In Straus's Four Last Songs she is nevertheless most convincing and she manages to encompass both moods: operatic and intimate. Listen to her `Beim schlafengehen': Vividly emotional, with a perfectly controlled voice and the additional advantage of singing (and hence the understanding and the correct interpretation of the text) in her native language. She cannot replace Jessey Norman as the timbre of their voices is incomparable. But Dorothea Röschmann's warmth and perfection, as well as her distinctly restraint personality in each of the four Lieder, does set a new standard amongst the best interpretations available. The balance between voice and orchestra is perfect, the recording excellent and the booklet full of interesting information. Highly recommended.


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