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Horowitz - Complete Deutsche Grammophon Recordings [BOX SET]
Horowitz - Complete Deutsche Grammophon Recordings [BOX SET]
Price: £18.90

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Priceless Horowitz, 3 Dec. 2010
No 20th Century pianist has such a unique hallmark as Vladimir Horowitz, no one is so incomparable, so supremely self-indulgent, so divinely soaring above all the pianistic "rules", nowadays considered necessary to make a decent playing. Sudden changes of rhythm and tempo, unintentional lapses, frolics and whims,unexpected persussion explosions in the bass, incredible silver glitter in the treble, naive simplicity or amazing virtuosity - and whatever he made, he always made it the right way, and always, like a cat, landed on all four feet, in an artistic glory, seldom heard (and seen)!
Horowitz' whole register is exuberantly demonstrated by the six CDs of this box: "Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon", all produced after his magnificent return to the concert hall in the 1980s. Mozart is, perhaps a bit astonishingly, in the center, in relaxed, humble and distinctly perfect interpretations: the Concerto No 23 in A major (with a very discreet, almost pedestrian accompaniment from Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala under Carlo Maria Giulini, tenderly considerate behind the matchless piano maestro), three Sonatas (one of them is doubled, Horowitz rarely played identical versions), one Adagio and one Rondo, all of it solely worth the price of the box. Also Schubert is generously represented - with - among other things - the great Sonata in B flat major D960 in an unforgettable and unparalleled version, and so is Schumann - both "Kreisleriana" and "Kinderszenen" are extremely enjoyable highlights here. Furthermore, of course Chopin, and Liszt (Valse oubliée No 1 makes a stupendous impression!), and Russian composers like Rachmaninov and Scriabin, and some sonatas by Scarlatti, and a Bach/Busoni. A tremendous offering, indeed!
Horowitz is often and rightly called a magician, but after all he was a dreamer too, and a mystic, devoted to that particular mysticism of music and art.
Though comparatively modern, these recordings are like a pleasurable journey back to those times when pianists didn't hide themselves behind a flawless rendering of the scores and a revering obeisance for the composer, but appeared as the natural focus of the performance, generously and spontaneously inviting you to listen to music in their own private sanctuary. The personality of the pianist was the catalyst, illuminating the composer (whoever he was) and the score (how expressionless it was in itself). Maybe modern pianists should learn a little from Horowitz and button up their immaculate coats a shade more...
This box is of inestimable value and a bit beyond the five-star scale, discs you will return to for ever and ever, and never cease enjoying.

Puccini: La Bohème
Puccini: La Bohème

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Golden Legendary Bohème, 19 Aug. 2010
This review is from: Puccini: La Bohème (Audio CD)
Reviewing a more than fifty year old recording like Sir Thomas Beecham's legendary one of Puccini's La Bohème from 1956 seems to be a presumptuous and superfluous enterprise. It belongs to the EMI series of Great Recordings of the Century. And it certainly is such a treasure that it appears to be somewhat of a sacrilege to touch it with critical remarks. The casting is still extraordinarily superb, a remarkably harmonious ensemble, indeed: Victoria de los Angeles touching and vulnerable, and singing with a great emotional radiance, in a tremendously vivid co-singing with Jussi Björling, that incomparable tenor with his glowing crystalline timbre, and in this case with feelings and singing in perfect interplay; Robert Merrill as a virile and hearty Marcel, Lucine Amara as a cheerful Musetta, Giorgio Tozzi as a overwhelmingly melancholy Colline in his song to his old coat. And last but not least, Sir Thomas Beecham himself, with such an outstanding drive in his conducting as a Puccini opera demands to reveal all its dramatic qualities, the intensiveness of which is more or less unsurpassed in the history of opera. Beecham realized, according to the booklet, the marvels of Puccini's orchestration and his "flowing synthesis of words, music and action, and that highly developed inner visual sense which lies deep in the consciousness of all great theatre composers."
Even though the sound is slightly antiquated, it gives the listener a more than satisfying rendering of the golden voices and of the remarkably fine sonority of the RCA Victor Orchestra. In all, this disc beams forth a wondrous warmth and joy, despite the tragic events, and conveys an elated experience of great musical drama.

Puccini: Madama Butterfly
Puccini: Madama Butterfly
Price: £11.80

76 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Madama Butterfly of Rare Beauty, 6 Aug. 2010
Antonio Pappano's recording of Madama Butterfly is likely to be considered as legendary as, for example, Victor de Sábata's Tosca with Callas-di Stefano-Gobbi or Sir Thomas Beecham's Bohème with De los Angeles-Björling-Merrill. It is a formidable performance, full of dynamics, vitality and heartbreaking despair, much due to the magnificent singing of Angela Gheorghiu in the principal part, the most vulnerable and disconsolate heroine in the whole opera repertoire. She is tender, with subtle distinctions, and voluminously awe-inspiring in her desperation. Her "Un bel di vedremo" is incomparable and will, I suppose, go on to be so. In all, this is a role creation of a kind that makes even superlatives turn pale.
She is well assisted by Jonas Kaufmann, who makes a maximum of the ungrateful anti-hero role of Pinkerton, his tenor being the most versatile and expressive one among young tenors to-day. Enkelejda Shkosa and Fabio Capitanucci complement the leading couple excellently as Suzuki and Sharpless, the latter a classical Italian baritone of Gobbi-like stature. All the lesser parts are well filled, and Santa Cecilia Chorus and Orchestra seem to glow with particular ardour and elevate themselves to a maximum level under the inspiring guidance of Pappano.
Puccini mostly had an exceptional capacity for pushing the melodious web into an absorbing climax in the end of the acts, and Pappano and his singers triumph in these peaks. The fiery love duet in the end of Act I is rapturous, as is the bitter end of Act II, breathtakingly tragic, with that thrill of horror that is true to the dramatic meaning of a real tragedy.
Highly recommended, of course! This is a trustworthy winner and an everlasting joy, not to be neglected by any opera lover.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 17, 2011 7:54 PM BST

Adams: Nixon In China
Adams: Nixon In China
Price: £12.49

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The "Nixon" of Naxos - an artistic revelation, 14 May 2010
This review is from: Adams: Nixon In China (Audio CD)
Just imagine - it is just little more than twenty years since John Adams premièred his opera Nixon in China. What a sensation it was then - politicians still alive were on the opera stage, caricatured, even cartooned, and all the same they were real persons taken from a history only seventeen years ago! And now a new fresh recording after the pioneering Nonesuch disc, establishing it as a classic, an opera to be put beside, let us say, Fidelio, A Masked Ball, Tosca, Madame Butterfly and War and Peace!
Yes, what a grandiose opera it is! Adams' minimalist music, more Glass-like than I remember it from the brilliant TV-performance, but much diversified, varying its tonal themes regularly and with an intensifying effect, enhancing them to sudden triumphs of dramatic expression. This is really an overwhelming new form of dramma in musica, a new creation functioning very well as advanced music theatre, a great artistic revelation.
And what a rich and sophisticated libretto Alice Goodman wrote, well worked-out, with unsuspected variations and sometimes such a high level of purport that you are grateful to have the whole text in front of you. Humor as in the first act, terror as in the second act, and a wonderful meditative ending with Chou En-Lai's resigned monologue.
And this recording, made by Opera Colorado, with musically and dramatically glorious singers and an expressive and perfectly disciplined chorus-and-orchestra under Marin Alsop, is a masterpiece that will, I am sure, be considered as the standard disc for a very long time to come. As for rendering modern American music, with all the typical American styles from folk music and musical to minimalism, from jazz to pop music, Marin Alsop is absolutely unsurpassed today, and she knows precisely how to mingle the perfectionism that minimalism demands with a warm humanism. And in all its disillusion and relativity, this is, believe it or not, an opera and a recording of humanist dignity and elevation.
So the "Nixon" of Naxos is not to be missed. It will be a good companion to return to many times, in order to discover incessantly new dimensions in that masterly piece of work by John Adams and Alice Goodman.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 2, 2011 3:32 PM GMT

Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 1-7; Kullervo [LSO/Colin Davis]
Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 1-7; Kullervo [LSO/Colin Davis]
Price: £17.10

35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Sibelius Symphonies in Splendid Re-Creation, 24 April 2010
British conductors and orchestras seem to have a specially refined feeling for the works of Sibelius. I once learnt to love the symphonies of the great Finnish composer through Sir John Barbirolli's interpretations, much underrated nowadays, I'm afraid. And now it will be most plausible that when I want to return to the Sibelian masterpieces I will yearn for Sir Colin Davis's new set of versions, because they own such an incontestable value of undisputed renewal and strongly personal design - about the same way as Leonard Bernstein's Mahler symphonies are incomparable.
Sir Colin mostly chooses slow tempi and a subdued, thoughtful sound, with appropriate climaxes, and he completely avoids the super-dynamic tendency that is in fashion in our time - thanks Heaven! You immediately hear that his versions are amazingly fresh, yes, sort of revolutionary, and they have a universal stamp at the same time, a bit different from the great national Finnish tradition, starting with Robert Kajanus and leading up to Salonen, Berglund, Kamu, Segerstam, Saraste and Vänskä in later days. There is an astounding and compelling originality in the majestic Sibelian sound world of these four live discs, with excellent playing of LSO.
Symphony No 1 is powerful and relievingly un-Tchaikovskyan, the great Second and Fifth magisterially soaring in the upper regions of music. No 3 has a lighter, almost pastoral character, much attractive. No 4 owns nothing of that gloomy "bark bread" character that traditionally is attached to it. No 6, the symphony with four fast tempi, is surprisingly slow and moderate, until the enormously effective finale comes. And I think I have never heard No 7, a symphony often difficult to structure well, so winningly and convincingly played. What a delightful and glorious symphony it is!
The Kullervo Symphony at last: a consummate interpretation of the symphony Sibelius wished to deport into oblivion. What a shame to this solemn and grandiose work it had been, if succeeded, is effacaciously proved by Sir Colin and his London Symphony Orchestra, by brilliant soloists like Monica Groop (mezzo) and Peter Mattei (baritone), and finally by the London Symphony Chorus, singing in grave Finnish, as if thay had done nothing else in their previous choral activities.
So why hesitate? Take your time and listen och relisten, until you are captivated by the magic and the mysteries of the splendid interpretations of this box. It belongs to the category of "eternal companions".

Martha Argerich - Chopin
Martha Argerich - Chopin
Price: £8.52

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Irresistible Chopin playing!, 24 Mar. 2010
Beware of old radio recordings, transmitted to new discs by eager gramophone companies, convinced they will sell solely by the name of a prominent artist! They are not always up to the standard you have the right to expect from them.
Martha Argerich, however, never makes you disappointed! Here are lovely Chopin recordings from the Berlin and Köln radios in the fifties and sixties, from a technical as well as an artistic point of view beautifully, not to say excitingly rendered. The Ballade no 1 in G minor originates from 1959 and is young Martha at her best och in her most riveting virtuoso manner, like a waterfall of tones in dazzling sunlight. The Etude in C sharp minor, op 10, no 4, is more, to go on with poetical metaphors, like a string of dew-drops, illuminated by a grass fire on the Argentinean Pampas. Of the two nocturnes, played here, the one in F major, op. 15, no 1 appears to have the strongest appeal in its magnificent outburst towards the end, an elemental force of joy and enthusiasm.
According to the sleeve, The Ballade as well as the Etude are here recorded for the first time, adding essential contributions to the discography of Martha Argerich's. So are some of the mazurkas presented, and I think they are the most attractive numbers of the disc. They are played with an unusual rythmic verve, emphasizing their character of lively dances more than is normal in modern performances. They are simply stirring and captivating. Finally, the Sonata no 3 gives us an overwhelming version of this most majestic of Chopin's piano sonatas, with a not too celestial slow movement, and a Finale of youthful force and zest.
I wouldn't be surprised if more than one listener will chose this record as the Disc of the Chopin Anniversary Year 2010!

Die Schone Mullerin
Die Schone Mullerin
Price: £14.02

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Müllerin, 6 Mar. 2010
This review is from: Die Schone Mullerin (Audio CD)
Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin is a somewhat gentler and less overwhelming variant of Die Winterreise, the poems written by the same Wilhelm Müller, a minor poet who seems to have been obsessed by the sad theme of "Love's Labour Lost". But in its musical form, it is still a enormously beautiful and moving story of failed love, though it demands another approach to attain a result as touching and winning as the songs of the winter journey.
This is what James Gilchrist, tenor, and Anna Tilbrook, piano, have realized when recording this disc. Listen to Anna Tilbrook's unassuming, very simple accompaniment, like a slow murmuring and rippling of the brook that is such an important symbol in the story. And James Gilchrist starts in a light and slightly tentative manner in the first song, "Das Wandern". But his clear and precise tenor becomes more and more expressive and appealing, as the story evolves. This is a good, unpretentious strategy, making the whole of the inner drama more and more visible (or rather audible), until the final lied, the tenderly sorrowful "Des Baches Wiegenlied", accomplishes the perfect beauty of the totality. The conclusion will be one of breathless satisfaction. Gilcrist and Tilbrook seem to have a perfect understanding, and the sound is attractive, though it needs a very precise tuning-in on your CD-player.
To sum up, this is a very sympathetic disc. I think every lieder lover will submit to it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 23, 2010 10:32 AM BST

Franz Schubert: Winterreise (Mark Padmore/Paul Lewis)
Franz Schubert: Winterreise (Mark Padmore/Paul Lewis)
Price: £13.25

27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Winterreise As Drama, 4 Mar. 2010
Not long ago, there were apprehensions about how to develop the art of lieder singing further, due to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's sublime mastership, hard to surpass and elaborate. Nowadays there seem to be many new paths to tread in order to transcend the borderline without denying the Master's supremacy and to make it new and different. When Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis take hold of such a fundamental piece as Schubert's Die Winterreise, probably the foremost song-cycle ever composed, they do so with an overwhelming authority and on a level that is stunningly high from the beginning and still augmenting the musical intensity to the bitter and very melancholy end without losing any artistic detail.
There is a perfect balance between Padmore's light and sensationally expressive voice and Lewis's congenial piano playing. A balance, but also a certain tension that increases the dramatical character. Normally, the singing dominates the piano in song-cycles like these, but here you find an absolute equality and a regular alterations of accents. As a matter of fact, you can listen to many of the piano parts here as a suite of exquisite piano pieces, accompanied by a melodious song voice, and enjoy the cycle that way, so beautifully as it is executed by Paul Lewis. Though as a rule there is a convincing interplay, a rarely fine teamwork, enhancing the emotional effect of these heart-rending songs.
For this is romance singing as drama! From the bitter-sweet memories over the alienation of the wandering to the dark, sorrowful ending. Listen to the shrill horror-stricken timbre of Mark Padmore's voice in songs like "Die Krähe" or "Letzte Hoffnung" or the breathless sighing tone in the last songs! First time I listened to the record, it was impossible to stop until the last one, "Der Leierman", was over and with that the whole drama. It had been a sacrilege to interrupt the emotional spell of the recording.
So finally, I have to use Schubert adequate German words to express my appraisal: vollendet! wunderbar!

Vaughan Williams: Piano Concerto (Piano Concerto/ The Wasps/ English Folk Song Suite - Sc)
Vaughan Williams: Piano Concerto (Piano Concerto/ The Wasps/ English Folk Song Suite - Sc)
Price: £5.99

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Piano Concerto, 1 Mar. 2010
The link combining the disparate numbers on this Naxos record is the folk-song inspiration by which Ralph Vaughan Williams was aroused, as so many other composers of his generation. It offers an unpretentious and basic presentation of the popular Aristophanic Suite from the incidental music for The Wasps. These are the kindest of wasps ever composed indeed, and to tell the truth, there isn't much of a mischievously witty Aristophanic character either, just something endlessly amiable and entertaining, and well - though a bit routine-likely (a very slow Overture!) - played by Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra with James Judd as conductor. Nice is the well-known English Folk Song Suite too, orchestrated by Gordon Jacob, with those pleasurable renderings of "Seventeen come Sunday" and "My Bonny Boy". "The Running Set" on the other hand is seldom heard or recorded, appearing to be a fairly ravishing piece, built on tunes like "Barrack Hill" and "Irish Reel" among others. Nice to have it on record!
The main item here, however, is the remarkable Piano Concerto in C, finished in 1930. and one of RVW's most original numbers. What a piano concerto it is! First a toccata in Allegro moderato, then a Romanza in a most seducing Lento, beautifully performed by Ashley Wass, the pianist, and the Liverpool Orchestra, and finally a Busoni-inspired Fuga cromatica con finale alla tedesca. Good gracious, what a break against all modern concerto traditions this is and how impressively it is carried out here, executed by a dare-devil pianist like Wass and a very pliable orchestra - this advanced and far from easily performed piece really demands a sensitive co-operation. So the concerto is solely good value for the pleasing Naxos price. And hopefully, this brilliant demonstration of the musical qualities of the concerto will be an incentive for great pianists to add it to their repertoire. It is well worth some more bold attempts!

Chopin: Piano Concertos
Chopin: Piano Concertos
Price: £15.29

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Glory of Chopin's Piano Concertos, 8 Jan. 2010
This review is from: Chopin: Piano Concertos (Audio CD)
I was immediately impressed by the lustre and harmony of this CD, its simplicity and its subtlety. Rafal Blechacz is a young Polish pianist, a student among Zimmerman's, already having produced a couple of Chopin records. This is his grand appearance, with Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam - the best orchestra 2009 according to The Gramophone -, excellently conducted by Jerzy Semkow. What is especially attractive in his playing is the sonority, which is mellow and distinct at the same time, and very atmospheric, but also the youthful lightness of his style, a seemingly heedless and intimate playing, combined with a strict accuracy. I don't think I have heard such a gracefully relaxed playing since the heyday of Radu Lupu's. The score does not appear to present any difficulties to him, it is just a supreme joy to perform, and he has a perfect feeling for the whole and the balance, particularly in the first movement of the first concerto, op 11, in e-minor, more than twenty minutes long as it is, and very demanding.
I have never appreciated the second concerto, op 21, in f-minor, as much as the first one, but Blechacz made me yield to it. His version is ravishingly fine, accentuating its still juvenile bliss. After all, these concertos are youthful creations, and Blechacz's way of playing is in deepest harmony with them. Royal Concertgebouw under Semkow supports him with all its accomplished splendor.
So this is a first choice by now? Why not? I certainly prefer these interpretations to Zimerman's, which are a bit too magisterial and monumental to my taste, brilliant and admirable though they are. Of course, Martha Argerich is in her own class. But pull down all this ranking; after all music is no sports and athletics, but a superb dialogue of many voices and players, contributing to the manifoldness of these divine musical works. And Blechacz versions are a very convincing contribution to this dialectical process around Chopin's piano concertos. I think every one listening to this record will, like me, return to it many times, partake in the process, swept off by its enchantment and longing for a relistening.

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