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Nobody "Alan Boyes" (Newcastle, England)
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Bartók: The Wooden Prince; Cantata Profana
Bartók: The Wooden Prince; Cantata Profana
Price: £8.49

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mysteries of the Forest and One Irate Squirrel, 26 Feb 2014
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There are few recordings available of the complete Wooden Prince ballet but if you wanted to trust a score of such sumptuous impressionistic and late romantic palette to anyone then Boulez would be your man. His apparent cold calculation, if that's what it is, only manages to eke the maximum colour, detail and expression out of one of Bartok's least fashionable scores. Aided by fine sound engineering and the Chicago Symphony orchestra this is a version that will take some beating.

The score itself has a flimsy fairy tale synopsis but the heart of the piece is the mystery and beauty of nature and the forest. As Bartok returned to that theme in the Cantata Profana it was clearly a subject matter close to his heart. Boulez leaves us in no doubt that this isn't a mere pretty ballet but a score of real substance. Marin Alsop apparently was influenced by Boulez when she tackled the full ballet on Naxos but there were no other works coupled with it your first choice must be this one.

The Cantata Profana takes the tale of a son and his brothers out hunting in the forests being transformed into stags. This story comes from Romanian carols and the music has a strong Romanian influence, particularly the remarkable duets between father and son. Bartok had mean't the Cantata to be one panel of a triptych which he never completed. the large resources required probably account for its comparatively rare performances. It is still an impressive work. the DG sound engineers again do the work proud but this is not the best available version. My preference is for the Hungaraton version with Jozsef Reti as tenor, Budapest Chorus and Budapest SO under Janos Ferenscik. That recording dates back to 1967 and was coupled with many Bartok choral rarities: a must for Bartok admirers but is now coupled with a recording of the Concerto for Orchestra. It is afar more idiomatic performance and I mention the tenor because he sounds, well, more like a stag. Tenor and baritone sound more like father and son. In the Boulez version, John Aler's voice is far to high and thin - hence the reference to the admittedly and rather cruel reference to an irate squirrel. I appreciate that his high tenor allows him to hit the high tessitura that some struggle with but this sounds less like father and son and more like father and baby. Both Aler and John Tomlinson sound very awkward with the Hungarian text too.

Overall I thoroughly recommend this recording for the Wooden Prince and the Cantata Profana is a nice bonus, albeit flawed here. The Cantata is crying out for an updated Hungarian version - it is a magnificent work. So get this for the Wooden Prince and check out the old Hungaraton Bartok choral cd (if still available) that also includes the Village Scenes, Five Songs, Five Hungarian Folk Songs and Seven Choruses.


Atterberg: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1
Atterberg: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1
Price: £7.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Attractive appetisers, 15 Feb 2014
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The two symphonies here couldn't be more affable and good natured if they tried. the music has quite a conservative harmonic language for its time but that's not a fault. The "Dollar" Symphony is the more well known but I can see why other reviewers prefer the Fourth. Personally, I like the humour of the "Dollar" Symphony and its bright and perky opening movement grab my attention from the start. The Suite is more impressionistic, as is the "Varmlandrhapsodi", making a programme with enough contrast to keep your attention.

I would agree with others that despite Atterberg's gift for melody, the music doesn't linger in the mind after hearing. It's neat and chirpy orchestration is a delight but I do crave something more weighty after hearing the symphonies. Improbable as it might seem, listening to one of Allan Pettersson's troubled symphonies afterwards makes an effective combination. I guess that's not to many people's tastes though.

The recording is excellent with the Gothenberg SO in fine form under Neeme Jarvi. The Chandos sound engineering is excellent though I would have preferred slightly less reverb in the Fourth Symphony. This may not be premier league music but what's not to like here? Recommended.


Pettersson: Symphonies Nos. 7 and 11
Pettersson: Symphonies Nos. 7 and 11
Price: £7.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping music with no hiding places, 31 Jan 2014
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Some have criticised Pettersson for displaying too much self pity, given his debilitating physical plight but such restriction would normally drive an artist to fantasy and escapism. The constant struggle here is of an artist looking life straight in the eye and not blinking and is, as such, quite heroic and inspiring.

Pettersson's Seventh Symphony is the only one of the cycle to achieve any widespread popularity. If you have been brave enough to get familiar with it you'll find the Eleventh, coupled with it here, is every bit as engaging even if it is a tougher work on the surface. The Seventh's popularity might be due to its extended central section having a consoling melancholy not unlike a Mahler adagio even if the overall effect of the expansive adagio is quite bleak. the Eleventh, only half the length, has an inexorable logic moving from the same consoling melancholy through intensifying struggle that refuses to resolve: it feels like a gradual tightening of the screw. As a symphonic structure it feels more inevitable and convincing than the Seventh.

This recording is part of BIS' venture to record the full cycle. Currently the baton, literally, is with Christian Lindberg but Leif Segerstam and the Norrkoping Orchestra are excellent here, aided by the usual high class BIS sound engineering. So if you're new to Pettersson this is a a good place to start with the promise of great rewards in the rest of the cycle.

The Seventh is popular but this version is as good as any and, unlike Albrecht's version on CPO, you have another symphony coupled with it. this is the first time I've come across the Eleventh and I'm very impressed.


Aho: Symphony No. 15, Double Bass Concerto & Minea
Aho: Symphony No. 15, Double Bass Concerto & Minea
Price: £7.49

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Riches of Maturity, 27 Jan 2014
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The BIS recording of Aho's 14th Symphony "Rituals" was intended as a concert programme by the composer with a song cycle and viola concerto included. This programme is so coherent with so many common strands it's as if this recording was intended as a concert programme.

These are all relatively recent works though the Double Bass Concerto has been released by BIS before. Aho talks of incorporating non western classical thinking and orchestration into his works and all three works here do so. Both the tone poem "Minea" and the Symphony feel like they are improvised around a motif or scale throughout: a little like a raga. The array of drums in both make them both hypnotic and dance like.

In some ways though it is the Double Bass Concerto that steals the show. Here is an instrument that cannot project its voice far and I did wonder whether Aho would have been tempted to use some form of amplification. Instead he provides five beautifully and subtly orchestrated and balanced movements that allow the quiet voice of the Double Bass to shine. It's an exquisite piece and the sign of a composer at the height of his powers.

As for points of reference: yes there is music of the middle east and India but Shostakovich's voice is there and the mix of exotic percussion and floating harmonies has much in common with later Britten even if that's not the intention. Those familiar with Aho's work won't need any persuading but for those new to his work this recording will be delightful surprise.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 11, 2014 7:04 AM BST


Adès: In Seven Days / Nancarrow Studies Nos. 6 & 7
Adès: In Seven Days / Nancarrow Studies Nos. 6 & 7
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Brief But Brilliant, 27 Jan 2014
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I must to have only purchased the download so cannot speak about the video qualities. Even without the visuals this piano concerto is highly energetic and evocative with a clear sense of direction and purpose from beginning to end. As much a virtuoso piece as "In Seven Days" is for both the soloist and orchestra it is in effect an overwhelming and highly effective tone poem.

The two Nancarrow arrangements are excellent too but, alas, the recording feels like it's finished almost before it's begun. There was plenty of space for more but given the quality of what is on over it would be churlish to deduct a star from the ratings.


Brett Dean: The Lost Art of Letter Writing
Brett Dean: The Lost Art of Letter Writing
Price: £18.06

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Art of Communication, 21 Jan 2014
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The first draw of this excellent programme is the Grawemeyer Prize winning "The Lost Art of letter Writing" - a Violin Concerto in all but name. The four movements take as their starting point letters written during the nineteenth century but though the music is both poetic and descriptive it works equally well as absolute music too. The musical language is reminiscent of Berg's Violin Concerto and there are hints of quotes from Brahms in the first movement.

"Testament", the second work, is based on Beethoven's own testament following diagnosis of his deafness and the work quotes his Razumovsky Quartet. The music for the violas only includes the composer as one of the performers and recalls the musical language of Alfred Schnittke in one of his less capricious works. Short though the work is it carries plenty of expressive weight.

The final work in the programme, "Vexations and Devotions" carries on the theme of human communication, or rather the de-humanisation of it. It's a reflection of contemporary social media and communication systems, written for choir, tape, sampling and orchestra. The mood is dark almost throughout with the first movement setting a poem that reflects on the loneliness of living life through watching others on TV. The second has a chilling and increasingly surreal answer phone message as its centre piece with a seemingly more soulful poem sung by the choir in the background. However, both texts end in the same place. The finale sets the banal and chilling texts of company mission statements but ends with a ray of hope from a poem "A Path to your Door" that suggests we are all richer and more complex than the depressingly automated and commercially driven texts that precede it. To me this ray of hope seems like a slight cop out and might have worked better if it had framed the work at beginning and end to provide context to the dark material that dominates the work. For an old fart like me the message of the work pretty well panders to my own vexations making it the most stimulating work in the programme even if the Concerto is arguably the greater work.

It's worth noting that BIS provide us with 86 minutes of music. The concerto is played by the Sydney orchestra under Jonathan Nott; "Testament" is performed by the BBC viola players whilst "Vexations and Devotions" is superbly recorded from a live Proms performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under David Robertson. All in all each work is directly communicative without ever being comfortably listening. This is the second Brett Dean BIS recording I have purchased and they're proving to be a revelation. However many layers Brett Dean employs his orchestration always serves its function and his method serves the message: first class.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 3, 2014 8:00 PM GMT


Mahler: Symphony No.3 (2 CDs)
Mahler: Symphony No.3 (2 CDs)
Price: £11.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Mahler Concertgebouw Classic, 3 Jan 2014
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Until recently, my favourite version of the Symphony was Haitink’s Philips recording with the Concertgebouw. It is an extremely well thought out, paced and superbly played by the orchestra that seemingly can always be relied on to produce the finest Mahler performances. This is, however, well over forty years old and so the once excellent sound engineering can’t quite compete with more recent recordings. The problem has been that none of the more recent versions were as good.

Thankfully Chailly’s version is like a well-polished refurbishment of the original Haitink / Philips recording. The sound could hardly be bettered in a work that craves good sound quality because of the colourful orchestration and the antiphonal effects throughout. Chailly matches Haitink and the Concertgebouw are at their best. I can’t say this is the best available – I haven’t heard them all but you really can’t go far wrong with this superb recording.


Mahler, G.: Symphony No. 7
Mahler, G.: Symphony No. 7
Price: £7.49

5.0 out of 5 stars It Gets My Vote, 26 Dec 2013
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Mahler listeners are truly spoiled by the quality of reviews on Amazon. this recording is a case in point with excellent arguments for and against this particular recording. I feel that all I can do is simply say whether I like it or not. The answer is yes, very much even though I can see some of the points made against it make sense to me; in particular, the sound is excellent for the most part, if a little dry. The guitar, mandolin and cowbells ring out but the brass are flattened a bit by the acoustic and details are lost.

That said; I loved this. there is plenty of drama but Jansons seems to take the cue for this piece being centred around son - the clue's in the work's title. The is plenty of dance too in all the movements with the Ivesian collage in the finale making perfect sense and really feeling like a celebration covered from all angles. As for the argument about Kubelik's recordings of the Seventh; yes I like them though, sound wise, they're starting to show their age a bit.

There are shadows in this symphony but Mahler was more of a classicist than he is sometimes given credit for and he'll have realised that an hour and a quarter needed some shadows to make the joy more real. I would not claim this is th ebest recording available but I've thoroughly enjoyed it and can recommend wholeheartedly.


Mahler: Symphony No. 1
Mahler: Symphony No. 1
Price: £6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stunning Playing But it Doesn't Quite Add Up., 23 Dec 2013
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I've always enjoyed Ivan Fischer's thoughtful approach to Mahler, aided as ever by excellent sound and fine playing but this version of the First sounds a little too mannered for me with the symphonic line being lost, particularly in the first movement. In fairness, the First isn't the most well balanced of the set with the rousing finale at odds with the more modest dimensions of the previous movements. Even so, as interpretations go this is well behind the leaders, my favourite being Kubelik on Audite. Don't get me wrong, this still sounds wonderful but there's better to be had.


Britten: War Requiem (2 CDs)
Britten: War Requiem (2 CDs)
Price: £11.99

5.0 out of 5 stars An Iconic Recording, 23 Dec 2013
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There is plenty for others to add in new recordings but the original is priceless. The addition of the recording of the rehearsals is quite revealing too: interesting to hear Britten's unqualified enthusiasm for Vishnevskaya's voice and his dry sense of humour. So much has been said about this recording that there's nothing for me to add. No serious collection should be without it.


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